Chapter 3 From Miss Sturdy, At Newport, To Mrs. Draper, In Florence
I promised to tell you how I like it, but the truth is, I have gone to and fr_o often that I have ceased to like and dislike. Nothing strikes me a_nexpected; I expect everything in its order. Then, too, you know, I am not _ritic; I have no talent for keen analysis, as the magazines say; I don't g_nto the reasons of things. It is true I have been for a longer time tha_sual on the wrong side of the water, and I admit that I feel a little out o_raining for American life. They are breaking me in very fast, however. _on't mean that they bully me; I absolutely decline to be bullied. I say wha_ think, because I believe that I have, on the whole, the advantage of knowin_hat I think—when I think anything—which is half the battle. Sometimes,
indeed, I think nothing at all. They don't like that over here; they like yo_o have impressions. That they like these impressions to be favourable appear_o me perfectly natural; I don't make a crime to them of that; it seems to me,
on the contrary, a very amiable quality. When individuals have it, we cal_hem sympathetic; I don't see why we shouldn't give nations the same benefit.
But there are things I haven't the least desire to have an opinion about. Th_rivilege of indifference is the dearest one we possess, and I hold tha_ntelligent people are known by the way they exercise it. Life is full o_ubbish, and we have at least our share of it over here. When you wake up i_he morning you find that during the night a cartload has been deposited i_our front garden. I decline, however, to have any of it in my premises; ther_re thousands of things I want to know nothing about. I have outlived th_ecessity of being hypocritical; I have nothing to gain and everything t_ose. When one is fifty years old—single, stout, and red in the face—one ha_utlived a good many necessities. They tell me over here that my increase o_eight is extremely marked, and though they don't tell me that I am coarse, _m sure they think me so. There is very little coarseness here—not quit_nough, I think—though there is plenty of vulgarity, which is a very differen_hing. On the whole, the country is becoming much more agreeable. It isn'_hat the people are charming, for that they always were (the best of them, _ean, for it isn't true of the others), but that places and things as wel_ave acquired the art of pleasing. The houses are extremely good, and the_ook so extraordinarily fresh and clean. European interiors, in comparison,
seem musty and gritty. We have a great deal of taste; I shouldn't wonder if w_hould end by inventing something pretty; we only need a little time. O_ourse, as yet, it's all imitation, except, by the way, these piazzas. I a_itting on one now; I am writing to you with my portfolio on my knees. Thi_road light loggia surrounds the house with a movement as free as the expande_ings of a bird, and the wandering airs come up from the deep sea, whic_urmurs on the rocks at the end of the lawn. Newport is more charming eve_han you remember it; like everything else over here, it has improved. It i_ery exquisite today; it is, indeed, I think, in all the world, the onl_xquisite watering-place, for I detest the whole genus. The crowd has left i_ow, which makes it all the better, though plenty of talkers remain in thes_arge, light, luxurious houses, which are planted with a kind of Dutc_efiniteness all over the green carpet of the cliff. This carpet is ver_eatly laid and wonderfully well swept, and the sea, just at hand, is capabl_f prodigies of blue. Here and there a pretty woman strolls over one of th_awns, which all touch each other, you know, without hedges or fences; th_ight looks intense as it plays upon her brilliant dress; her large paraso_hines like a silver dome. The long lines of the far shores are soft and pure,
though they are places that one hasn't the least desire to visit. Altogethe_he effect is very delicate, and anything that is delicate counts immensel_ver here; for delicacy, I think, is as rare as coarseness. I am talking t_ou of the sea, however, without having told you a word of my voyage. It wa_ery comfortable and amusing; I should like to take another next month. Yo_now I am almost offensively well at sea—that I breast the weather and brav_he storm. We had no storm fortunately, and I had brought with me a supply o_ight literature; so I passed nine days on deck in my sea-chair, with my heel_p, reading Tauchnitz novels. There was a great lot of people, but no one i_articular, save some fifty American girls. You know all about the America_irl, however, having been one yourself. They are, on the whole, very nice,
but fifty is too many; there are always too many. There was an inquirin_riton, a radical M.P., by name Mr. Antrobus, who entertained me as much a_ny one else. He is an excellent man; I even asked him to come down here an_pend a couple of days. He looked rather frightened, till I told him h_houldn't be alone with me, that the house was my brother's, and that I gav_he invitation in his name. He came a week ago; he goes everywhere; we hav_eard of him in a dozen places. The English are very simple, or at least the_eem so over here. Their old measurements and comparisons desert them; the_on't know whether it's all a joke, or whether it's too serious by half. W_re quicker than they, though we talk so much more slowly. We think fast, an_et we talk as deliberately as if we were speaking a foreign language. The_oss off their sentences with an air of easy familiarity with the tongue, an_et they misunderstand two-thirds of what people say to them. Perhaps, afte_ll, it is only OUR thoughts they think slowly; they think their own often t_ lively tune enough. Mr. Antrobus arrived here at eight o'clock in th_orning; I don't know how he managed it; it appears to be his favourite hour;
wherever we have heard of him he has come in with the dawn. In England h_ould arrive at 5.30 p.m. He asks innumerable questions, but they are easy t_nswer, for he has a sweet credulity. He made me rather ashamed; he is _etter American than so many of us; he takes us more seriously than we tak_urselves. He seems to think that an oligarchy of wealth is growing up here,
and he advised me to be on my guard against it. I don't know exactly what _an do, but I promised him to look out. He is fearfully energetic; the energ_f the people here is nothing to that of the inquiring Briton. If we shoul_evote half the energy to building up our institutions that they devote t_btaining information about them, we should have a very satisfactory country.
Mr. Antrobus seemed to think very well of us, which surprised me, on th_hole, because, say what one will, it's not so agreeable as England. It's ver_orrid that this should be; and it's delightful, when one thinks of it, tha_ome things in England are, after all, so disagreeable. At the same time, Mr.
Antrobus appeared to be a good deal pre-occupied with our dangers. I don'_nderstand, quite, what they are; they seem to me so few, on a Newport piazza,
on this bright, still day. But, after all, what one sees on a Newport piazz_s not America; it's the back of Europe! I don't mean to say that I haven'_oticed any dangers since my return; there are two or three that seem to m_ery serious, but they are not those that Mr. Antrobus means. One, fo_nstance, is that we shall cease to speak the English language, which I prefe_o much to any other. It's less and less spoken; American is crowding it out.
All the children speak American, and as a child's language it's dreadfull_ough. It's exclusively in use in the schools; all the magazines an_ewspapers are in American. Of course, a people of fifty millions, who hav_nvented a new civilisation, have a right to a language of their own; that'_hat they tell me, and I can't quarrel with it. But I wish they had made it a_retty as the mother-tongue, from which, after all, it is more or les_erived. We ought to have invented something as noble as our country. The_ell me it's more expressive, and yet some admirable things have been said i_he Queen's English. There can be no question of the Queen over here, o_ourse, and American no doubt is the music of the future. Poor dear future,
how "expressive" you'll be! For women and children, as I say, it strikes on_s very rough; and moreover, they don't speak it well, their own though it be.
My little nephews, when I first came home, had not gone back to school, and i_istressed me to see that, though they are charming children, they had th_ocal inflections of little news-boys. My niece is sixteen years old; she ha_he sweetest nature possible; she is extremely well-bred, and is dressed t_erfection. She chatters from morning till night; but it isn't a pleasan_ound! These little persons are in the opposite case from so many Englis_irls, who know how to speak, but don't know how to talk. My niece knows ho_o talk, but doesn't know how to speak. A propos of the young people, that i_ur other danger; the young people are eating us up,—there is nothing i_merica but the young people. The country is made for the rising generation;
life is arranged for them; they are the destruction of society. People talk o_hem, consider them, defer to them, bow down to them. They are always present,
and whenever they are present there is an end to everything else. They ar_ften very pretty; and physically, they are wonderfully looked after; they ar_coured and brushed, they wear hygienic clothes, they go every week to th_entist's. But the little boys kick your shins, and the little girls offer t_lap your face! There is an immense literature entirely addressed to them, i_hich the kicking of shins and the slapping of faces is much recommended. As _oman of fifty, I protest. I insist on being judged by my peers. It's to_ate, however, for several millions of little feet are actively engaged i_tamping out conversation, and I don't see how they can long fail to keep i_nder. The future is theirs; maturity will evidently be at an increasin_iscount. Longfellow wrote a charming little poem called "The Children'_our," but he ought to have called it "The Children's Century." And b_hildren, of course, I don't mean simple infants; I mean everything of les_han twenty. The social importance of the young American increases steadily u_o that age, and then it suddenly stops. The young girls, of course, are mor_mportant than the lads; but the lads are very important too. I am struck wit_he way they are known and talked about; they are little celebrities; the_ave reputations and pretentions; they are taken very seriously. As for th_oung girls, as I said just now, there are too many. You will say, perhaps,
that I am jealous of them, with my fifty years and my red face. I don't thin_o, because I don't suffer; my red face doesn't frighten people away, and _lways find plenty of talkers. The young girls themselves, I believe, like m_ery much; and as for me, I delight in the young girls. They are often ver_retty; not so pretty as people say in the magazines, but pretty enough. Th_agazines rather overdo that; they make a mistake. I have seen no grea_eauties, but the level of prettiness is high, and occasionally one sees _oman completely handsome. (As a general thing, a pretty person here means _erson with a pretty face. The figure is rarely mentioned, though there ar_everal good ones.) The level of prettiness is high, but the level o_onversation is low; that's one of the signs of its being a young ladies'
country. There are a good many things young ladies can't talk about; but thin_f all the things they can, when they are as clever as most of these. Perhap_ne ought to content one's self with that measure, but it's difficult if on_as lived for a while by a larger one. This one is decidedly narrow; I stretc_t sometimes till it cracks. Then it is that they call me coarse, which _ndoubtedly am, thank Heaven! People's talk is of course much more chatie_ver here than in Europe; I am struck with that wherever I go. There ar_ertain things that are never said at all, certain allusions that are neve_ade. There are no light stories, no propos risques. I don't know exactly wha_eople talk about, for the supply of scandal is small, and it's poor i_uality. They don't seem, however, to lack topics. The young girls are alway_here; they keep the gates of conversation; very little passes that is no_nnocent. I find we do very well without wickedness; and, for myself, as _ake my ease, I don't miss my liberties. You remember what I thought of th_one of your table in Florence, and how surprised you were when I asked yo_hy you allowed such things. You said they were like the courses of th_easons; one couldn't prevent them; also that to change the tone of your tabl_ou would have to change so many other things. Of course, in your house on_ever saw a young girl; I was the only spinster, and no one was afraid of me!
Of course, too, if talk is more innocent in this country, manners are so, t_egin with. The liberty of the young people is the strongest proof of it. Th_oung girls are let loose in the world, and the world gets more good of i_han ces demoiselles get harm. In your world—excuse me, but you know what _ean—this wouldn't do at all. Your world is a sad affair, and the young ladie_ould encounter all sorts of horrors. Over here, considering the way the_nock about, they remain wonderfully simple, and the reason is that societ_rotects them instead of setting them traps. There is almost no gallantry, a_ou understand it; the flirtations are child's play. People have no time fo_aking love; the men, in particular, are extremely busy. I am told that sor_f thing consumes hours; I have never had any time for it myself. If th_eisure class should increase here considerably, there may possibly be _hange; but I doubt it, for the women seem to me in all essentials exceedingl_eserved. Great superficial frankness, but an extreme dread of complications.
The men strike me as very good fellows. I think that at bottom they are bette_han the women, who are very subtle, but rather hard. They are not so nice t_he men as the men are to them; I mean, of course, in proportion, you know.
But women are not so nice as men, "anyhow," as they say here. The men, o_ourse, are professional, commercial; there are very few gentlemen pure an_imple. This personage needs to be very well done, however, to be of grea_tility; and I suppose you won't pretend that he is always well done in you_ountries. When he's not, the less of him the better. It's very much the same,
however, with the system on which the young girls in this country are brough_p. (You see, I have to come back to the young girls.) When it succeeds, the_re the most charming possible; when it doesn't, the failure is disastrous. I_ girl is a very nice girl, the American method brings her to grea_ompleteness—makes all her graces flower; but if she isn't nice, it makes he_xceedingly disagreeable—elaborately and fatally perverts her. In a word, th_merican girl is rarely negative, and when she isn't a great success she is _reat warning. In nineteen cases out of twenty, among the people who know ho_o live—I won't say what THEIR proportion is— the results are highl_atisfactory. The girls are not shy, but I don't know why they should be, fo_here is really nothing here to be afraid of. Manners are very gentle, ver_umane; the democratic system deprives people of weapons that every on_oesn't equally possess. No one is formidable; no one is on stilts; no one ha_reat pretensions or any recognised right to be arrogant. I think there is no_uch wickedness, and there is certainly less cruelty than with you. Every on_an sit; no one is kept standing. One is much less liable to be snubbed, whic_ou will say is a pity. I think it is to a certain extent; but, on the othe_and, folly is less fatuous, in form, than in your countries; and as peopl_enerally have fewer revenges to take, there is less need of their bein_tamped on in advance. The general good nature, the social equality, depriv_hem of triumphs on the one hand, and of grievances on the other. There i_xtremely little impertinence; there is almost none. You will say I a_escribing a terrible society,—a society without great figures or great socia_rizes. You have hit it, my dear; there are no great figures. (The grea_rize, of course, in Europe, is the opportunity to be a great figure.) Yo_ould miss these things a good deal,—you who delight to contemplate greatness;
and my advice to you, of course, is never to come back. You would miss th_mall people even more than the great; every one is middle-sized, and you ca_ever have that momentary sense of tallness which is so agreeable in Europe.
There are no brilliant types; the most important people seem to lack dignity.
They are very bourgeois; they make little jokes; on occasion they make puns;
they have no form; they are too good- natured. The men have no style; th_omen, who are fidgety and talk too much, have it only in their coiffure,
where they have it superabundantly. But I console myself with the greate_onhomie. Have you ever arrived at an English country-house in the dusk of _inter's day? Have you ever made a call in London, when you knew nobody bu_he hostess? People here are more expressive, more demonstrative and it is _leasure, when one comes back (if one happens, like me, to be no one i_articular), to feel one's social value rise. They attend to you more; the_ave you on their mind; they talk to you; they listen to you. That is, the me_o; the women listen very little—not enough. They interrupt; they talk to_uch; one feels their presence too much as a sound. I imagine it is partl_ecause their wits are quick, and they think of a good many things to say; no_hat they always say such wonders. Perfect repose, after all, is not ALL self-
control; it is also partly stupidity. American women, however, make too man_ague exclamations—say too many indefinite things. In short, they have a grea_eal of nature. On the whole, I find very little affectation, though we shal_robably have more as we improve. As yet, people haven't the assurance tha_arries those things off; they know too much about each other. The trouble i_hat over here we have all been brought up together. You will think this _icture of a dreadfully insipid society; but I hasten to add that it's not al_o tame as that. I have been speaking of the people that one meets socially;
and these are the smallest part of American life. The others—those one meet_n a basis of mere convenience—are much more exciting; they keep one's tempe_n healthy exercise. I mean the people in the shops, and on the railroads; th_ervants, the hackmen, the labourers, every one of whom you buy anything o_ave occasion to make an inquiry. With them you need all your best manners,
for you must always have enough for two. If you think we are TOO democratic,
taste a little of American life in these walks, and you will be reassured.
This is the region of inequality, and you will find plenty of people to mak_our courtesy to. You see it from below—the weight of inequality is on you_wn back. You asked me to tell you about prices; they are simply dreadful.