Twin Peas in a Pod


IN the First Baptist Sunday School, where I was a reluctant but regular scholar, the session was sometimes prolonged by a talk from a returned missionary, back from the foreign field to drum up funds to carry the light to millions sitting in darkness. His appeal did not move me. Indeed it quite spoiled my day. It was already long past the usual First Baptist Sunday dinner hour, which under ordinary circumstances was two hours later than the week-day meal. I was hungry and skeptical. Had n’t the Chinese as much right to be heathen as we had to be Baptists? As the missionary described them, they seemed far more interesting in their heathen wickedness and strange clothes, sitting in darkness, than transformed into neat rows of near-Christians, sitting on hard benches on a hot Sunday in their best clothes, with their shoes blacked and their hair slicked.

I meditated that if I should contribute the penny clutched in my sweaty fist to his propaganda I should be the means of establishing more Baptist Sunday Schools in China and blighting the lives of more Chinese boys and girls, who, though undoubtedly heathen, had never done me any harm. Besides, there were other uses for a penny. But I was weak, and a victim of the system under which I lived. When the collection was taken up, in an instrument something like a dumb ukulele, my contribution went in with the rest. Now I know that if I am ever so fortunate as to visit China I shall suffer from the fruits of my indiscretion. For I shall find it neither Chinese nor Baptist. What might have been a jolly Oriental country will be diluted with a thin stream of what we complacently call our Western civilization, evident from the flotsam and jetsam on the surface, mainly hard-boiled derby hats, which look so funny on Oriental heads — and, for that matter, on Nordic heads also. Fancy exchanging the mellowed philosophy of Confucius for the ethical standards of the First Baptist Church of Galesburg, or the flowery, flowing silks of the Celestial Kingdom for long pants!

In the course of time I became an advertising man, and with the proceeds and profits of my occupation I traveled. The rebellious state of mind engendered by waiting too long for dinner, together with the diversion of pennies from their legitimate use, has been strengthened rather than diminished by what I have seen. There has been too much missionary work. When it was not religion, it was business. I regard without enthusiasm the signs so visible in European countries that they are earnestly striving to make themselves acceptable in the eyes of American tourists by adopting, or at least offering, American comforts and conveniences, — installing bathrooms, opening American bars, dispensing nut sundaes, serving ice with drink, contriving tiny elevators in stair wells, — but chiefly by abandoning costumes intrinsically picturesque and admirably adapted to their daily needs for the ugly and commonplace garments of the Western world.

How well I remember my first trip abroad, my first sight of England! I was fearful it would not come up to the advance notices. I savored every scene and incident that was peculiarly and indubitably English. I relished even the discomforts. I should have been disappointed if the rooms had been warm, the beer cold, or the coffee good. I drank tea for breakfast, scorned the Paris edition of the New York Herald, and took in the Morning Post. I rejoiced that a sensational murder-story should be hidden behind so noncommittal a head as ‘The Pimlico Affair.’ At Tilbury where we docked was a P. & O. steamship tied up alongside. From a porthole protruded a gayly turbaned head, with a black-bearded East Indian face beneath it, a timely symbol of Britain’s far-flung empire. I felt as if this gorgeously illuminated footnote had been set just here at the beginning of the very first chapter of my English experiences for my sole delectation.

As we rode up to London I regarded the landscape with a jealous eye. I was delighted with the haycocks standing in the fields, each wearing a tidy hairnet of rope, weighted at each corner with a stone. In London the bobby with the mysterious striped cuff on the outside of his right coat-sleeve, the ‘darks’ with shabby top-hats and tightly rolled umbrellas, the Horse Guardsmen with their preposterous bearskin shakos, sights so familiar and so new, helped me to chant with thankfulness, ‘So this is England.’ It was England, the England I had known from boyhood, familiar from years of reading, from inherited tradition, from Mother Goose, from the toys I had played with — London Bridge, Banbury Cross, Tooley Street, Wapping Old Stairs, Tottenham Court Road, names so packed with meaning and association they resembled those tightly rolled Chinese paper flowers which so mysteriously open and expand when thrown into water.

Even then I was already late. Progress had ripped out whole chapters of Dickens and built modern and sanitary structures in their stead. But Crosby Hall still stood. Hansom cabs still plied. The Charterhouse school was where it had been when Thackeray attended it. Temple Bar had been rusticated, but Mr. Bush had not yet erected his London version of an American skyscraper. There was still enough of London to make me happy — there is yet, for that matter — and outside London lay rural England, a symposium of everything I had read from Chaucer to Thomas Hardy. I was not confronted at every turn by the triumphant commercial supremacy of my own country.

That was twenty years ago. Last summer I visited England with intent to explore its highways and byways in search of cathedrals, almshouses, inns, and cottages, but chiefly of that pastoral charm which pervades the pages of such old books as Our Village and Selborne. It was a delightful outing, for England is still England, war or no war, and in the country one is less conscious of change, the change the economist commends, in the course of which a people sloughs off the habit and habits that have no right to exist, except that they are old and picturesque and human and lovable.

The hayricks still wear their hairnets. The farmsteads remind one of mezzotints after George Morland. The hedgerows are still gay with flowers, the fields spangled with poppies. The skies continue to look like backgrounds in Constable’s paintings. Flocks of sheep still go to market on the hoof, offering difficult problems to the navigator of a motor-car; but the shepherd no longer wears smock and gaiters. He is entirely out of the picture in clothes that are a sketchy caricature of the most commonplace costume man has devised since Adam and Eve made themselves aprons of fig leaves.

There are yet thatched cottages, but the examples of England’s new housingimprovements in between are as raw and ugly as they are no doubt sanitary and comfortable. The great landed estates are fringed with new buildings, bearing a striking family resemblance to the dreary and disconsolate realiestate developments to be seen on Long Island and in the Bronx. In the towns the dingy façade of High Street is rubricated with the shining red-and-gold front of the five-and-ten-cent store, not at all mitigated by the fact that they are here known as three-penny-sixpenny shops. Everywhere are evidences of the enterprise of the American salesman. The windows of the shops in even remote and out-of-the-way villages, villages where cottages are still thatched and shops still have bowed windows, are filled with American goods — safety razors, toothpastes, shaving-creams, soaps, cosmetics, sewing machines, typewriters, collars, and phonographs. They have become, those villages which bear names that are poems of rich and musical suggest fulness, — Bibury, and Much Wenlock, and Nether Stowey, and Malmsbury, and Godaiming, and Great Tew, — red-headed tacks in the map of an American sales-manager.

In a little inn in a tiny village in the West Riding of Yorkshire I was offered with considerable pride a bottle of a well-known American condiment as a relish to my dinner — a thoroughly English dinner, it was, with choice of soup, ‘thick or clear,’fish, joint, boiled potatoes, ditto cabbage, a sweet, cheese, and a stalk of celery to taper off with. But the soup was oxtail; the fish, salmon taken by a gentleman visitor in the neighboring Wharfe; the joint, Southdown mutton; the sweet, plum tart with thick Devonshire clotted cream; and the cheese, Cheddar, with those delicious, thin, almost impalpable Carr’s Biscuit, washed down — glory be — with a pint of pale ale in a pewter tankard with a glass bottom. Cross and Blackwell, yes, or Lea and Perrin, would go with such a dinner. They are English, and have even got into English literature; but this American sauce! It is a good sauce, better than any of its British compeers, without doubt.

I have said so a thousand times, for it is one of the products to which I devote my business life. Its manufacturer is a valued client. I am in a way responsible for its being there in that remote English village at the gateway to Wharfedale. I of all people should not mind instances of American commercial prowess. But yet, when I have laid aside the advertising guise, and go elsewhere for the sake of viewing man and nature in aspects new and strange, it disconcerts me to find there the tin cans and long pants of everyday American life.


One fine evening in the spring of 1912 I was riding along the pleasant road that runs beside the Cher, as is the delightful habit of French roads, from Chenonceaux to Tours. We had just dined at the Hotel of the Good Laborer which stands close to the castle gate, and were on our way to spend the night at the Hotel of the Universe at Tours. It was such an evening as comes only in spring and only in France. The delicate rose-color of the sky was reflected in the mirror of the slowly moving river. On the tops of the rounded hills that sloped up from the banks on either side were peasants, both Tourangeaux and Tourangelles, engaged in seeding the fields with corn, broadcasting the grain in handfuls from sacks at their girdles, with the practised sweep that has not changed since Christ told how a certain sower went forth to sow. The peasants were silhouetted against the sky in time-honored poses and attitudes, making a series of Millet-like pictures. It was a scene so primitive and pictorial we felt we were indeed in the Old World.

But when we reached Tours, and I wandered out into the beautiful Court House Square where Balzac’s statue stands, I found it full of American agricultural machinery. Some sort of fair was in progress, and here were McCormick, Deering, Walter A. Wood, Plano, and Adriance, glistening and shiny with red and yellow paint. Up and down between the rows of labor-saving machinery walked sun-browned peasants, — in their light-opera costumes, with straws between their teeth, gazing at the strange new devices with speculative inquiry,— whose confrères had so short a time before delighted us with the primitive methods along the road to the town. I realized that this spelled the end of that. The fertile fields watered by the Loire would in time be cultivated by the same ugly, useful contrivances I had so often seen, and indeed worked with, on the prairies of Western Illinois. In due course, by some mysterious association of ideas, the peasant dress would be exchanged for the coats, long pants, derby hats, and shirts of civilization and progress.

I do not begrudge the French peasant his reaper and twine-binder. Surely France needs all the economic help she can get. But along with the old, primitive, back-breaking implements and utensils disappear so many innocent and pleasant customs and costumes. Perhaps the old and the new will not mingle. Possibly the peasant can no longer think progressively in the clothes that once so perfectly expressed him when they were the evolution of his environment, way of life, and native arts. There might be something incongruous in the picture of a Breton farmer with his big black broad-rimmed hat, his short jacket and gayly embroidered waistcoat, his trunk hose and wooden shoes, riding on a Ford tractor. But is n’t the fault with Ford? Could n’t the tractor be made to harmonize with the peasant dress as much as the high two-wheeled cart? It could, but it never will. For the bagpipe has given place to the phonograph, in which exchange surely no economic need is evident.

The picturesqueness of the peasant’s garb, like that of his dwelling, is due to isolation, to lack of interchange of ideas. As the world opens up, local customs give way to national and international standards, but it is disappointing that it should standardize, if it must standardize, on the one pattern most lacking in all the qualities that made the local so appealing and likable. Already at this same visit, twelve years ago, one often saw the old mother in the cap of her pays, the daughter beside her wearing a Paris hat which, if not the latest style, was a hundred years or so later than her mother’s. Country girls who go up to the city to enter service generally retain the bonnet, but this is probably due to the taste of the mistress. The maid, no doubt, would gladly throw it aside or throw it over the windmill, for that matter.

Italy has more comfort to offer the contrite advertising man than either France or England. She may be furiously engaged in altering her social system, but one feels that some of the most charming and sightly spots in Italy are beyond the reach of modern progress. What efficient use, for instance, can be made of a hill town? It utterly defies that connecting link of civilization, the railroad. Perched on its lofty peak, it maintains the atmosphere of the fifteenth century, while the train shrieks harmlessly by in the valley below.

In their time these hill towns were the expression of the one-hundredper-cent efficiency of their age. War was the chief business, and warriors were the captains of industry. When Tuscan or Etruscan princes built cities they had but one object — to make them safe from attack. They had no more intention of making them picturesque than a modern business-man has of making a factory picturesque. The steep hills were natural fortifications, extended higher by the unbroken walls. When the railroads came they ran their lines close to the foot of the hill, tunneled under it in some instances, but the town remained on its eyrie, serene and unperturbed, untouched by this near approach of the modern world. No fear that five-and-ten-cent stores wall ever punctuate Orvieto’s Corso Cavour (odious name; this is a modern touch). It may in time be a station on an airplane line. It is well situated for that, but at present it remains a wellpreserved museum piece.

My feeling about these things is not unique, if I am to judge from the occasional outburst of spleen in the writings of sensitive travelers, but, like Mrs. Gummidge, I feel it more than other people. This complaint is the grievance of a deaf traveler. People go abroad for different reasons, but with me it is always to see. I want something more than change of sky. I want to see the people in their habits as they live, and not a caricature of what I have seen all my life at home. Deafness debars me from intimate contacts, from actual acquaintance with the natives, by which I should learn those differences of speech and thought which go so far toward strengthening the impression of the foreignness of a country. I cannot hear the European mind. I can only observe the European scene, shops, houses, and clothes, the pageant and panorama of its daily life, and so I quarrel violently with those who in the name of religion or business seek to destroy the ancient landmarks. Europe is my show, my supreme recreation.

I view with alarm, a selfish and personal alarm, the tendency to standardize the stage settings and the costumes of the actors to a pattern which has unfortunately come to be regarded as the symbol of progress.


Apparently progress is not a steady march, as we sometimes suppose, but a series of waves. Each wave sets the mark a little higher up the beach, but there is always a recession which leaves the beach for a time uncovered, an interval when the new is still unassimilated and the old already obliterated. The immediate effect is distressing, like a wound skillfully dressed and sterilized and sure to heal nicely with scarcely any scar, but, for the time being, raw and ugly. Each old craft displaced by a wonder-working machine has gone its way, taking with it something individual and fine, but leaving behind, to be sure, increased comfort, convenience, and cheapness.

When the typesetting machine displaced setting by hand, typography was disorganized. The craftsmanship of five centuries was scrapped and thrown into the discard, and there seemed to be nothing to take its place. The old-time printer disappeared, with all his faults, but with all his virtues, too, and a new race of machine-operators arose, without history or tradition. A new laborsaving invention is concerned at first only with material results, such as economy and large-scale production. It takes time to acquire a spirit of craftsmanship in a new method, and when it is acquired it must come, not from the workman, but from his boss, the head of the business.

Already the new typography begins to lift its head, and will no doubt find itself in time. The manufacturers of the two principal typesetting machines have invoked the taste of master typographers and are applying it to the problem of machine composition. We begin to identify machine-set type by more promising earmarks than the eternal etaion and shrdlu of the careless make-up man.

When I first began my trips abroad the vessel that carried me, while driven by steam, still bore a remote resemblance to a ship. It still showed in its lines some memory of its splendid ancestry, just as the earliest motor-cars reflected the coach and carriage. And in those days a frequent spectacle in the ocean lanes was that most magnificent creation of man, the cathedral of the sea, a square-rigger, every sail set and drawing and the sunlight painting purple shadows on the bellying canvas. And now sail has disappeared almost entirely from the seven seas, merely hastened a bit by ruthless torpedoes, and with the ship has gone the deep-sea sailor, with all his inherited lore and skill, his hitches and his chanteys, and particularly the character his occupation bred. No modern turn of fortune will ever again produce those strong quiet men with far-looking eyes whom you still see sitting around in front of hydrangea-decked white cottages on Cape Cod. The men who now perform menial tasks on ocean liners are not sailors, although they wear springbottomed trousers and flowing collars. One need only watch them pick up a rope and make it fast like a grocer’s clerk tying up a bundle. And the steamship has become a floating palace, with elevators and fireplaces, and swimming-pools and Ritz restaurants, with so little of the atmosphere of the ocean about it that one must go to the rail and look at the waves to remain convinced he is really afloat.

I am under no illusion about either the printer or the sailor. The printer was often a tramp, frequently locked up in the calaboose to sober up, and the sailor on shore leave became a proverb; but each within the limits of his craft was a master of an art, while the failings and shortcomings of both were merely poor human nature, which we still have.

My earliest heroes were the printer, with his sleeves rolled up to display his red undershirt, and the old shellback taking his trick at the wheel. I might have realized a double ambition by becoming that ultramarine printer who puts in type the menu cards and concert programmes on an ocean liner, thus blending the tradition of Caxton with that of Cabot, but a printshop on a ship is a reductio ad absurdum.

There is something sterile about operating a machine. The craftsman, no matter how humble his art, — thatcher, hedger, stonecutter or woodcarver, — left some impress of himself on his material, some individuality which gave it its charm. The older countries are rich with the personality of such workmen; the uplifting arch of a stone bridge, the topiary work of an English garden, the grotesques on the misereres of choir stalls, the neat haycocks, the groups of vegetables on a market gardener’s wagon, the gayly painted carts of the Sicilian peasants — all these things are humble art expressions of inherited crafts, and are more delightful and soul-satisfying, I am afraid, than rows of efficient factories, shiny machines, reënforced concrete bridges, mill-cut trim, and the other standardized products of our prosperous new age.

That word ‘standardization’ has become a favorite catch-phrase in modern business. I was once at a meeting where the chairman continued to refer to me as St. Elmo Calkins, a natural mistake when one considers the extraordinary number of St. Elmos there are in the advertising profession. When I finally corrected him and politely remonstrated against my undeserved canonization, St. Elmo Lewis rose and gravely reprimanded me, advising me to have my name standardized and avoid future embarrassment. I might very well have explained that more than my name was involved. I am unable to standardize even my mind.

I am unable to like the idea of standardization or enjoy the results of it. Secretary Hoover said recently that all nuts and bolts in this country are now interchangeable, the same thread for the same size, and I cannot refrain from the unholy hope that there is at least one radical rebel nut which insists on its affinity.

But however logical and convenient uniformity in nuts and bolts and other mechanical adjuncts, the standardization of the human unit may be carried so far as to make us a nation of Babbitt Robots.

I look out my office window on the fifteenth of May, a date as weighty in sartorial history as St. Bartholomew’s in ecclesiastical, and see thousands of men all wearing the same hard, stiff, flat-topped straw hat with a black band as if they all belonged to one Bund. A man who has delayed making the change feels self-conscious, while those who have followed the hests of custom and the hatters have an air of complacency as of having done their duty. It is something more, something stronger than fashion, that impulse to conform to the approved pattern of the American standardized business-man. Its uniformity and conformity are t ypical of a state of mind in this country, of our disappearing individuality and our overwhelming fear of asserting the little individuality we have left. In me it creates an irresistible desire to violate the tradition and indulge in some peculiarity of dress, but if I dared thus risk my standing as an American business-man some sartorial St. Elmo would gravely call me to account.

For instance, I wear a beard. It is a very small beard, but enough to constitute a heresy against the cleanshaven tradition. One esteemed manufacturer of shaving-soap is devoting his advertising to warning me and my fellow heretics, showing photographs of awful examples from a hirsute age, when baseball-players wore sideburns. To-day the few wearers of beards are those who have burned their ships, and ask nothing of the age socially or financially. They have either arrived or abandoned hope.

Somehow, I should like to look at a world where the inhabitants wore beards or not as they chose, and changed to a straw hat if and when they wanted to, and adopted whatever clothes they liked, without loss of social or business prestige. It was this freedom from concerted action that made the streets of London and Paris so fascinating a pageant, a quality they are in a fair way to lose under the inexorable propaganda of the most successful nation in the world.

One recalls the time when newspapers, while far less efficient news-gathering machines, were as different as the men who made them, when even small country dailies had Bill Nyes, Petroleum V. Nasbys, M. Quads, and Danbury Newsmen, while the greater ones were lengthened shadows of Danas, and Bowleses, and Greeleys. To-day such men would be syndicated, along with Ed Howe, Walt Mason, and Dr. Crane, and share with the comic strip, the syndicated cartoon, patent insides, boiler plate, and the Associated Press, the ungracious credit of making each paper an echo of all the others. A traveler who sits down to his breakfast in a chain hotel and unfolds the local Times or News learns that the paper is increasing its circulation by a voting contest to send the most popular quicklunch cashier to Paris or give the most popular school-teacher a piano, as was apparently the case at every stop. He may have changed his sky, but certainly not his grapefruit, or breakfast food, or newspaper, or hotel. Out on Main Street the movie theatres, each a faithful replica of all other movie theatres, show nightly the same film that is entertaining thousands in all the other towns and cities, while over the radio are coming the same jazz and bedtime stories, and around the public square are parked legions of Ford cars.

If a newspaper, or a magazine, or a business house adopts an idea which for a moment seems likely to distinguish it from its fellows a bit, that idea is promptly snapped up and used by all the others in the same class, and the danger of individuality is again averted. It is as if public opinion said, ‘Right dress,’ and every person or thing promptly adjusted itself, pulled in its stomach, stuck out its chest, and toed the line.

It is this uniformity, this hen-mindedness, which makes advertising so successful. The reactions of the public in the mass can be counted on. It explains the vogue of such things as crossword puzzles, Mah Jongg, ‘Yes, we have no bananas,’ bobbed hair, quotas, conventions, jazz, movies, radio, motor-cars. In a machine age human nature takes on the technique and characterization of the machine. And the result, as far as a deaf man is concerned, is a much less interesting world to look at.

Does n’t the tendency to create a standardized world spoil the picture of the many Utopias from that of Sir Thomas More to the latest effort of H. G. Wells? They smooth out the differences, the variety in fortune and circumstance, that make for adventure and romance, and the picturesqueness of life goes along with it. Even the Book of the Revelation, with which John whiled away his exile at Patmos by imagining an ideal Heaven, offers nothing interesting. His picture of a hard, shiny, nineteen-jeweled Heaven reads like a realtor’s booklet describing some luxurious and banal Park Avenue apartment house—‘Foursquare . . . the length and the breadth and the height of it are equal,’ with the first floor finished in jasper, the second in sapphire, the third in chalcedony, and so on up to twelve stories. As a boy I felt it had little if anything on the other place. I was never quite sure whether perpetual gnashing of teeth was n’t at least as amusing as perpetual singing of hosannas.

In a recent issue of the newspaper there is an item headed, ‘American Workers Americanizing the Near East.’ The transforming medium is baseball. What has so hindered the development of these backward nations into Christian Americanized communities, according to the writer, is lack of baseball. ‘These people have been unable to play the game of life according to American ideals of sportsmanship!’

Meanwhile I am not at all cheered to learn that a flat in the New York manner is to rise on the site of famous Devonshire House in London, that gasoline launches are replacing gondolas on the Grand Canal at Venice, and that a telephone system has been installed in Lhasa, the forbidden city of Tibet.