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Chapter 4 From the Honourable Edward Antrobus, M.P., In Boston, To th_onourable Mrs. Antrobus

  • October 17.
  • My Dear Susan—I sent you a post-card on the 13th and a native newspape_esterday; I really have had no time to write. I sent you the newspaper partl_ecause it contained a report—extremely incorrect—of some remarks I made a_he meeting of the Association of the Teachers of New England; partly becaus_t is so curious that I thought it would interest you and the children. I cu_ut some portions which I didn't think it would be well for the children t_ee; the parts remaining contain the most striking features. Please point ou_o the children the peculiar orthography, which probably will be adopted i_ngland by the time they are grown up; the amusing oddities of expression,
  • etc. Some of them are intentional; you will have heard of the celebrate_merican humour, etc. (remind me, by the way, on my return to Thistleton, t_ive you a few examples of it); others are unconscious, and are perhaps o_hat account the more diverting. Point out to the children the difference (i_o far as you are sure that you yourself perceive it). You must excuse me i_hese lines are not very legible; I am writing them by the light of a railwa_amp, which rattles above my left ear; it being only at odd moments that I ca_ind time to look into everything that I wish to. You will say that this is _ery odd moment, indeed, when I tell you that I am in bed in a sleeping- car.
  • I occupy the upper berth (I will explain to you the arrangement when _eturn), while the lower forms the couch—the jolts are fearful—of an unknow_emale. You will be very anxious for my explanation; but I assure you that i_s the custom of the country. I myself am assured that a lady may travel i_his manner all over the Union (the Union of States) without a loss o_onsideration. In case of her occupying the upper berth I presume it would b_ifferent; but I must make inquiries on this point. Whether it be the fac_hat a mysterious being of another sex has retired to rest behind the sam_urtains, or whether it be the swing of the train, which rushes through th_ir with very much the same movement as the tail of a kite, the situation is,
  • at any rate, so anomalous that I am unable to sleep. A ventilator is open jus_ver my head, and a lively draught, mingled with a drizzle of cinders, pour_n through this ingenious orifice. (I will describe to you its form on m_eturn.) If I had occupied the lower berth I should have had a whole window t_yself, and by drawing back the blind (a safe proceeding at the dead o_ight), I should have been able, by the light of an extraordinary brillian_oon, to see a little better what I write. The question occurs to me,
  • however,—Would the lady below me in that case have ascended to the uppe_erth? (You know my old taste for contingent inquiries.) I incline to think
  • (from what I have seen) that she would simply have requested me to evacuate m_wn couch. (The ladies in this country ask for anything they want.) In thi_ase, I suppose, I should have had an extensive view of the country, which,
  • from what I saw of it before I turned in (while the lady beneath me was goin_o bed), offered a rather ragged expanse, dotted with little white woode_ouses, which looked in the moonshine like pasteboard boxes. I have bee_nable to ascertain as precisely as I should wish by whom these modes_esidences are occupied; for they are too small to be the homes of countr_entlemen, there is no peasantry here, and (in New England, for all the cor_omes from the far West) there are no yeomen nor farmers. The information tha_ne receives in this country is apt to be rather conflicting, but I a_etermined to sift the mystery to the bottom. I have already noted down _ultitude of facts bearing upon the points that interest me most—the operatio_f the school- boards, the co-education of the sexes, the elevation of th_one of the lower classes, the participation of the latter in political life.
  • Political life, indeed, is almost wholly confined to the lower middle class,
  • and the upper section of the lower class. In some of the large towns, indeed,
  • the lowest order of all participates considerably—a very interesting phrase,
  • to which I shall give more attention. It is very gratifying to see the tast_or public affairs pervading so many social strata; but the indifference o_he gentry is a fact not to be lightly considered. It may be objected, indeed,
  • that there are no gentry; and it is very true that I have not yet encountere_ character of the type of Lord Bottomley,—a type which I am free to confess _hould be sorry to see disappear from our English system, if system it may b_alled, where so much is the growth of blind and incoherent forces. It i_evertheless obvious that an idle and luxurious class exists in this country,
  • and that it is less exempt than in our own from the reproach of preferrin_nglorious ease to the furtherance of liberal ideas. It is rapidly increasing,
  • and I am not sure that the indefinite growth of the dilettante spirit, i_onnection with large and lavishly-expended wealth, is an unmixed good, eve_n a society in which freedom of development has obtained so many interestin_riumphs. The fact that this body is not represented in the governing class,
  • is perhaps as much the result of the jealousy with which it is viewed by th_ore earnest workers as of its own—I dare not, perhaps, apply a harsher ter_han—levity. Such, at least, is the impression I have gathered in the Middl_tates and in New England; in the South-west, the North-west, and the fa_est, it will doubtless be liable to correction. These divisions are probabl_ew to you; but they are the general denomination of large and flourishin_ommunities, with which I hope to make myself at least superficiall_cquainted. The fatigue of traversing, as I habitually do, three or fou_undred miles at a bound, is, of course, considerable; but there is usuall_uch to inquire into by the way. The conductors of the trains, with whom _reely converse, are often men of vigorous and original minds, and even o_ome social eminence. One of them, a few days ago, gave me a letter o_ntroduction to his brother-in-law, who is president of a Western University.
  • Don't have any fear, therefore, that I am not in the best society! Th_rrangements for travelling are, as a general thing, extremely ingenious, a_ou will probably have inferred from what I told you above; but it must at th_ame time be conceded that some of them are more ingenious than happy. Some o_he facilities, with regard to luggage, the transmission of parcels, etc., ar_oubtless very useful when explained, but I have not yet succeeded i_astering the intricacies. There are, on the other hand, no cabs and n_orters, and I have calculated that I have myself carried m_mpedimenta—which, you know, are somewhat numerous, and from which I canno_ear to be separated—some seventy, or eighty miles. I have sometimes though_t was a great mistake not to bring Plummeridge; he would have been useful o_uch occasions. On the other hand, the startling question would have presente_tself—Who would have carried Plummeridge's portmanteau? He would have bee_seful, indeed, for brushing and packing my clothes, and getting me my tub; _ravel with a large tin one—there are none to be obtained at the inns—and th_ransport of this receptacle often presents the most insoluble difficulties.
  • It is often, too, an object of considerable embarrassment in arriving a_rivate houses, where the servants have less reserve of manner than i_ngland; and to tell you the truth, I am by no means certain at the presen_oment that the tub has been placed in the train with me. "On board" the trai_s the consecrated phrase here; it is an allusion to the tossing and pitchin_f the concatenation of cars, so similar to that of a vessel in a storm. As _as about to inquire, however, Who would get Plummeridge HIS tub, and atten_o his little comforts? We could not very well make our appearance, on comin_o stay with people, with TWO of the utensils I have named; though, as regard_ single one, I have had the courage, as I may say, of a life-long habit. I_ould hardly be expected that we should both use the same; though there hav_een occasions in my travels, as to which I see no way of blinking the fact,
  • that Plummeridge would have had to sit down to dinner with me. Such _ontingency would completely have unnerved him; and, on the whole, it wa_oubtless the wiser part to leave him respectfully touching his hat on th_ender in the Mersey. No one touches his hat over here, and though it i_oubtless the sign of a more advanced social order, I confess that when I se_oor Plummeridge again, this familiar little gesture— familiar, I mean, onl_n the sense of being often seen—will give me a measurable satisfaction. Yo_ill see from what I tell you that democracy is not a mere word in thi_ountry, and I could give you many more instances of its universal reign.
  • This, however, is what we come here to look at, and, in so far as there seem_o be proper occasion, to admire; though I am by no means sure that we ca_ope to establish within an appreciable time a corresponding change in th_omewhat rigid fabric of English manners. I am not even prepared to affir_hat such a change is desirable; you know this is one of the points on which _o not as yet see my way to going as far as Lord B— . I have always held tha_here is a certain social ideal of inequality as well as of equality, and if _ave found the people of this country, as a general thing, quite equal to eac_ther, I am not sure that I am prepared to go so far as to say that, as _hole, they are equal to—excuse that dreadful blot! The movement of the trai_nd the precarious nature of the light—it is close to my nose, and mos_ffensive—would, I flatter myself, long since have got the better of a les_esolute diarist! What I was not prepared for was the very considerable bod_f aristocratic feeling that lurks beneath this republican simplicity. I hav_n several occasions been made the confidant of these romantic but delusiv_agaries, of which the stronghold appears to be the Empire City,—a slang nam_or New York. I was assured in many quarters that that locality, at least, i_ipe for a monarchy, and if one of the Queen's sons would come and talk i_ver, he would meet with the highest encouragement. This information was give_e in strict confidence, with closed doors, as it were; it reminded me a goo_eal of the dreams of the old Jacobites, when they whispered their messages t_he king across the water. I doubt, however, whether these less excusabl_isionaries will be able to secure the services of a Pretender, for I fea_hat in such a case he would encounter a still more fatal Culloden. I hav_iven a good deal of time, as I told you, to the educational system, and hav_isited no fewer than one hundred and forty—three schools and colleges. It i_xtraordinary, the number of persons who are being educated in this country;
  • and yet, at the same time, the tone of the people is less scholarly than on_ight expect. A lady, a few days since, described to me her daughter as bein_lways "on the go," which I take to be a jocular way of saying that the youn_ady was very fond of paying visits. Another person, the wife of a Unite_tates senator, informed me that if I should go to Washington in January, _hould be quite "in the swim." I inquired the meaning of the phrase, but he_xplanation made it rather more than less ambiguous. To say that I am on th_o describes very accurately my own situation. I went yesterday to th_ognanuc High School, to hear fifty-seven boys and girls recite in unison _ost remarkable ode to the American flag, and shortly afterward attended _adies' lunch, at which some eighty or ninety of the sex were present. Ther_as only one individual in trousers—his trousers, by the way, though h_rought a dozen pair, are getting rather seedy. The men in America do no_artake of this meal, at which ladies assemble in large numbers to discus_eligions, political, and social topics. These immense female symposia (a_hich every delicacy is provided) are one of the most striking features o_merican life, and would seem to prove that men are not so indispensable i_he scheme of creation as they sometimes suppose. I have been admitted on th_ooting of an Englishman—"just to show you some of our bright women," th_ostess yesterday remarked. ("Bright" here has the meaning of INTELLECTUAL.) _erceived, indeed, a great many intellectual foreheads. These curiou_ollations are organised according to age. I have also been present as a_nquiring stranger at several "girls' lunches," from which married ladies ar_igidly excluded, but where the fair revellers are equally numerous an_qually bright. There is a good deal I should like to tell you about my stud_f the educational question, but my position is somewhat cramped, and I mus_ismiss it briefly. My leading impression is that the children in this countr_re better educated than the adults. The position of a child is, on the whole,
  • one of great distinction. There is a popular ballad of which the refrain, if _m not mistaken, is "Make me a child again, just for to-night!" and whic_eems to express the sentiment of regret for lost privileges. At all event_hey are a powerful and independent class, and have organs, of immens_irculation, in the press. They are often extremely "bright." I have talke_ith a great many teachers, most of them lady-teachers, as they are called i_his country. The phrase does not mean teachers of ladies, as you migh_uppose, but applies to the sex of the instructress, who often has larg_lasses of young men under her control. I was lately introduced to a youn_oman of twenty-three, who occupies the chair of Moral Philosophy and Belles-
  • Lettres in a Western college, and who told me with the utmost frankness tha_he was adored by the undergraduates. This young woman was the daughter of _etty trader in one of the South western States, and had studied at Amand_ollege, in Missourah, an institution at which young people of the two sexe_ursue their education together. She was very pretty and modest, and expresse_ great desire to see something of English country life, in consequence o_hich I made her promise to come down to Thistleton in the event of he_rossing the Atlantic. She is not the least like Gwendolen or Charlotte, and _m not prepared to say how they would get on with her; the boys would probabl_o better. Still, I think her acquaintance would be of value to Miss Bumpus,
  • and the two might pass their time very pleasantly in the school-room. I gran_ou freely that those I have seen here are much less comfortable than th_chool-room at Thistleton. Has Charlotte, by the way, designed any more text_or the walls? I have been extremely interested in my visit to Philadelphia,
  • where I saw several thousand little red houses with white steps, occupied b_ntelligent artizans, and arranged (in streets) on the rectangular system.
  • Improved cooking-stoves, rosewood pianos, gas, and hot water, aestheti_urniture, and complete sets of the British Essayists. A tramway through ever_treet; every block of equal length; blocks and houses scientifically lettere_nd numbered. There is absolutely no loss of time, and no need of looking fo_nything, or, indeed, at anything. The mind always on one's object; it is ver_elightful.