Chapter 5 From Louis Leverett, In Boston, To Harvard Tremont, In Paris
The scales have turned, my sympathetic Harvard, and the beam that has lifte_ou up has dropped me again on this terribly hard spot. I am extremely sorr_o have missed you in London, but I received your little note, and took du_eed of your injunction to let you know how I got on. I don't get on at all,
my dear Harvard—I am consumed with the love of the farther shore. I have bee_o long away that I have dropped out of my place in this little Boston world,
and the shallow tides of New England life have closed over it. I am a strange_ere, and I find it hard to believe that I ever was a native. It is very hard,
very cold, very vacant. I think of your warm, rich Paris; I think of th_oulevard St. Michel on the mild spring evenings. I see the little corner b_he window (of the Cafe de la Jeunesse)—where I used to sit; the doors ar_pen, the soft deep breath of the great city comes in. It is brilliant, ye_here is a kind of tone, of body, in the brightness; the mighty murmur of th_ipest civilisation in the world comes in; the dear old peuple de Paris, th_ost interesting people in the world, pass by. I have a little book in m_ocket; it is exquisitely printed, a modern Elzevir. It is a lyric cry fro_he heart of young France, and is full of the sentiment of form. There is n_orm here, dear Harvard; I had no idea how little form there was. I don't kno_hat I shall do; I feel so undraped, so uncurtained, so uncushioned; I feel a_f I were sitting in the centre of a mighty "reflector." A terrible crud_lare is over everything; the earth looks peeled and excoriated; the ra_eavens seem to bleed with the quick hard light. I have not got back my room_n West Cedar Street; they are occupied by a mesmeric healer. I am staying a_n hotel, and it is very dreadful. Nothing for one's self; nothing for one'_references and habits. No one to receive you when you arrive; you push i_hrough a crowd, you edge up to a counter; you write your name in a horribl_ook, where every one may come and stare at it and finger it. A man behind th_ounter stares at you in silence; his stare seems to say to you, "What th_evil do YOU want?" But after this stare he never looks at you again. H_osses down a key at you; he presses a bell; a savage Irishman arrives. "Tak_im away," he seems to say to the Irishman; but it is all done in silence;
there is no answer to your own speech,—"What is to be done with me, please?"
"Wait and you will see," the awful silence seems to say. There is a grea_rowd around you, but there is also a great stillness; every now and then yo_ear some one expectorate. There are a thousand people in this huge an_ideous structure; they feed together in a big white-walled room. It i_ighted by a thousand gas-jets, and heated by cast-iron screens, which vomi_orth torrents of scorching air. The temperature is terrible; the atmospher_s more so; the furious light and heat seem to intensify the dreadfu_efiniteness. When things are so ugly, they should not be so definite; an_hey are terribly ugly here. There is no mystery in the corners; there is n_ight and shade in the types. The people are haggard and joyless; they look a_f they had no passions, no tastes, no senses. They sit feeding in silence, i_he dry hard light; occasionally I hear the high firm note of a child. Th_ervants are black and familiar; their faces shine as they shuffle about;
there are blue tones in their dark masks. They have no manners; they addres_ou, but they don't answer you; they plant themselves at your elbow (it rub_heir clothes as you eat), and watch you as if your proceedings were strange.
They deluge you with iced water; it's the only thing they will bring you; i_ou look round to summon them, they have gone for more. If you read th_ewspaper—which I don't, gracious Heaven! I can't—they hang over your shoulde_nd peruse it also. I always fold it up and present it to them; the newspaper_ere are indeed for an African taste. There are long corridors defended b_usts of hot air; down the middle swoops a pale little girl on parlour skates.
"Get out of my way!" she shrieks as she passes; she has ribbons in her hai_nd frills on her dress; she makes the tour of the immense hotel. I think o_uck, who put a girdle round the earth in forty minutes, and wonder what h_aid as he flitted by. A black waiter marches past me, bearing a tray, whic_e thrusts into my spine as he goes. It is laden with large white jugs; the_inkle as he moves, and I recognise the unconsoling fluid. We are dying o_ced water, of hot air, of gas. I sit in my room thinking of these things—thi_oom of mine which is a chamber of pain. The walls are white and bare, the_hine in the rays of a horrible chandelier of imitation bronze, which depend_rom the middle of the ceiling. It flings a patch of shadow on a small tabl_overed with white marble, of which the genial surface supports at the presen_oment the sheet of paper on which I address you; and when I go to bed (I lik_o read in bed, Harvard) it becomes an object of mockery and torment. I_angles at inaccessible heights; it stares me in the face; it flings the ligh_pon the covers of my book, but not upon the page— the little French Elzevi_hat I love so well. I rise and put out the gas, and then my room becomes eve_ighter than before. Then a crude illumination from the hall, from th_eighbouring room, pours through the glass openings that surmount the tw_oors of my apartment. It covers my bed, where I toss and groan; it beats i_hrough my closed lids; it is accompanied by the most vulgar, though the mos_uman, sounds. I spring up to call for some help, some remedy; but there is n_ell, and I feel desolate and weak. There is only a strange orifice in th_all, through which the traveller in distress may transmit his appeal. I fil_t with incoherent sounds, and sounds more incoherent yet come back to me. _ather at last their meaning; they appear to constitute a somewhat ster_nquiry. A hollow impersonal voice wishes to know what I want, and the ver_uestion paralyses me. I want everything—yet I want nothing—nothing this har_mpersonality can give! I want my little corner of Paris; I want the rich, th_eep, the dark Old World; I want to be out of this horrible place. Yet I can'_onfide all this to that mechanical tube; it would be of no use; a mockin_augh would come up from the office. Fancy appealing in these sacred, thes_ntimate moments, to an "office"; fancy calling out into indifferent space fo_ candle, for a curtain! I pay incalculable sums in this dreadful house, an_et I haven't a servant to wait upon me. I fling myself back on my couch, an_or a long time afterward the orifice in the wall emits strange murmurs an_umblings. It seems unsatisfied, indignant; it is evidently scolding me for m_agueness. My vagueness, indeed, dear Harvard! I loathe their horribl_rrangements; isn't that definite enough? You asked me to tell you whom I see,
and what I think of my friends. I haven't very many; I don't feel at all e_apport. The people are very good, very serious, very devoted to their work;
but there is a terrible absence of variety of type. Every one is Mr. Jones,
Mr. Brown; and every one looks like Mr. Jones and Mr. Brown. They are thin;
they are diluted in the great tepid bath of Democracy! They lack completenes_f identity; they are quite without modelling. No, they are not beautiful, m_oor Harvard; it must be whispered that they are not beautiful. You may sa_hat they are as beautiful as the French, as the Germans; but I can't agre_ith you there. The French, the Germans, have the greatest beauty of all—th_eauty of their ugliness—the beauty of the strange, the grotesque. Thes_eople are not even ugly; they are only plain. Many of the girls are pretty;
but to be only pretty is (to my sense) to be plain. Yet I have had some talk.
I have seen a woman. She was on the steamer, and I afterward saw her in Ne_ork—a peculiar type, a real personality; a great deal of modelling, a grea_eal of colour, and yet a great deal of mystery. She was not, however, of thi_ountry; she was a compound of far-off things. But she was looking fo_omething here—like me. We found each other, and for a moment that was enough.
I have lost her now; I am sorry, because she liked to listen to me. She ha_assed away; I shall not see her again. She liked to listen to me; she almos_nderstood!