Henry Pearson Gratton.

As a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home online

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said, "Mrs. - - , that was excellent tooth-powder you placed at my
disposal; can you give me the name of the maker?" The hostess fairly
screamed. "What," she exclaimed, "the powder in the urn?" "Yes," replied
the officer, startled; "was it poison?" "Worse, worse," said she; "you
swallowed Aunt Jane!" Conceive of this wretched taste. The guest had
actually cleaned his teeth with the cremated dust of the general's aunt;
yet he told the story before a dinner assemblage, and it was received
with shouts of laughter.

I did not hear the intellectual conversation at dinner I had expected.
Art, science, literature, were rarely touched upon, although I
invariably met artists, litterateurs, and scientific men at these
dinners. They all talked small talk or "told stories." I was informed
that if I wished to hear the weighty questions of the day discussed I
must go to the women's clubs, or to Madam - - 's Current Topics Society.
The latter is an extraordinary affair, where society women who have no
time to read the news of the day listen to short lectures on the news of
the preceding week, discussed pro and con, giving these women in a
nutshell material for intelligent conversation when they meet senators
and other men at the various receptions before which they wish to make
an agreeable impression.

The American has many clubs, but is not entirely at home in them. He
uses them as places in which to play poker or whist, to dine his men
friends, and in a great measure because it is the "proper thing." At
many a room is set apart for the national game of poker - a fascinating
game to the player who wins. Poker was never mentioned in my presence
that some did not make a joke on a supposed Chinaman named Ah Sin; but
the obscurity of the joke and my lack of knowledge regarding American
literature caused the point to elude me at first, which was true of many
jokes. The Americans are preeminently practical jokers, and the ends to
which they go is beyond belief. I heard of jokes which, if perpetrated
in China, would have resulted in the loss of some one's head. To
illustrate this, in the Spanish-American War the camps at Tampa were
besieged with newspaper reporters, and one from a large journal was
constantly trying to secure secret news by entertaining certain officers
with wine and cigars; so they determined to get rid of his
importunities, and what is known as a "job" in America was "put up" on
him. He was told that Colonel - - had a detailed map of the forthcoming
battle, and if he could get the officer intoxicated he doubtless could
secure the map. This looked very easy to the correspondent, so the story
goes, and he dropped into the colonel's tent one night with a basket of
wine, and began to celebrate its arrival from some friends. Soon the
colonel pretended to become communicative, and the map was brought out
and finally loaned to the correspondent under the promise that it would
not be used. This was sufficient. The correspondent hied him to his
tent, wrote an article and sent the map to his paper in one of the
large cities, where it was duly published. It proved to be what
dressmakers call a "Butterick pattern," a maze of lines for cutting out
dresses for women. The lines looked like roads, and the practical jokers
had merely added towns and forts and bridges here and there.

The Americans are excellent parents, though small families are general.
The domestic life is charming. The family is denied nothing needed, the
only limit being the purse of the head of the family, so called, the
real head in many cases being the wife, who does not fail to assert
herself if the proper occasion opens. Well-to-do families have every
luxury, and no nation is apparently so well off, so completely supplied
with the necessities of life as the American. One is impressed by their
business sagacity, their cleverness in finance, their complete grasp of
all questions, yet no people are easier gulled or more readily
victimized. An instance will suffice. In making my investigations
regarding methods of managing railroads, I not only obtained information
from the road officials, but questioned the employees whenever it
happened that I was traveling. One day, observing that it was the custom
to "tip" the porters (give money), I asked the conductor what the men
were paid. "Little or nothing," was the reply; "they get from
seventy-five to one hundred dollars a month out of the _passengers_ on a
long run." "But the passengers paid the road for the service?" "Yes, and
they pay the salary of the porter also," said the man. With that in view
the men are poorly paid, and the railroad knows that the people will
make up their salaries, as they do. If you refused you would have no

This rule holds everywhere, in hotels and restaurants. Servants receive
little pay where the patronage is rich, with the understanding that they
will make it up out of the customers. Thus if you go to a hotel you fee
the bell-boy for bringing you a glass of water. If you order one of the
seductive cocktails you fee the man who brings it; you fee the
chambermaid who attends to your room. Infinite are the resources of
these servants who do not receive a fee. You fee the elevator or lift
boy, or he will take the opportunity to jerk you up as though shot out
of a gun. You fee the porter for taking up your trunk, and give a
special fee for unstrapping it. You fee the head waiter, and when you
fee the table waiter he whispers in your ear that a slight fee will be
acceptable to the cook, who will see that the _Count_ or the _Judge_
will be cared for as becomes his station. When you leave, the sidewalk
porter expects a fee; if he does not receive it the door of the carriage
may possibly be slammed on the tail of your coat. Then you pay the
cabman two dollars to carry you to the station, and fee him. Arriving at
the station, he hands you over to a red-hatted porter, who carries your
baggage for a fee. He puts you in charge of the railroad porter, who is
feed at the rate of about fifty cents per diem.

The American submits to this robbery without a murmur; yet he is
sagacious, prudent. I can only explain his gullibility on the ground of
his innate snobbery; he thinks it is the "thing to do," and does it, and
for this reason it is carried to the most merciless lengths. To
illustrate. In the season of 1902, when I was at Newport, Mr. - - , a
conspicuous member of the New York smart set, known as the "Four
Hundred," lost his hat in some way and rode to his home without one.
The ubiquitous reporter saw him, and photographed him, bareheaded, and
his paper, the New York - - , gave a column the following day to a
description of the new fad of going without a hat. Thus the fashion
started, and the amazing spectacle was seen the summer following of men
and women of fashion riding and walking for miles without hats. This is
beyond belief, yet it attracted no attention from the common people, who
perhaps got the cast-off hats. Despite this, the Americans are
hard-fisted, shrewd, and as a nation a match for any in the field of

I can explain it in no way than by assuming that it is due to
overanxiety to do the correct thing. Their own actors satirize them, one
especially taking them off in a jingle which read, "It's English, quite
English, you know." It is said of the men of the "Four Hundred" that
they turn up their trousers when it rains in London, special reports of
the weather being sent to the clubs for the purpose; but I cannot vouch
for this. I have seen the trousers turned up in all weathers, and found
no one who could explain why he did so. What can you make of so
contradictory a people?



The most remarkable feature of America is the women. Divest your mind of
any woman you know in order to prepare yourself to receive my
impressions. To begin with, the American woman ranks with her husband;
indeed, she is his superior in that all men render her homage and
deference. It is accounted a point of chivalry to stand as the defender
of the weaker sex. The American girl is educated with the boys in the
public school, grows up with them, and studies their studies, that she
may be their intellectual equal, and there is a strong party, led by
masculine women, who contend for complete political rights for women.
In some States they vote, and in nearly all may be elected to boards of
various kinds and to minor offices. The Government departments are
filled with women clerks, and all, from the lowest to the highest, are
equal; hence, it is a difficult matter to find a native-born American
who will become a servant. They all aspire to be ladies, and even aliens
become salesladies, cook ladies, laundry ladies. They are on their
dignity, and able to protect it from any point of attack.

The lower classes are particularly uninteresting, for they have no
individuality, and ape the class above them, the result being a cheap,
ludicrous imitation of a lady - an absurd abstraction. The women of the
lower classes who are unmarried work in shops, factories, and
restaurants, often in situations the reverse of sanitary; yet prefer
this to good situations in families as servants, service being beneath
their dignity and tending to disturb the balance of equality. I doubt if
a native-born woman would permit herself to be called a servant; indeed,
all the servants are Irish, Swedes, Norwegians, French, German, or
negroes; the American girls fill the factories and the sweat-shops of
the great cities. When I refer these girls to the lower classes it is
merely to classify them, as morally and intellectually they are
sometimes the equal of the higher classes. The middle-class women or
girls are an attractive type, well educated and often beautiful. You
obtain an idea of them in the great shops and bazaars of the great
cities, where they fill every conceivable position and receive from five
to six dollars per week.

But it is with the higher classes that you will be most interested, and
when I say that the American girl, the product of the first families,
is at once beautiful, refined, cultured, charming physically and
mentally, I have but faintly expressed it; yet the most pronounced
characteristic is their "daring," or temerity. There is no word exactly
to cover it. I frequently met women at dinners. With few exceptions, it
appears impossible for the American girl to take one of our race, an
Oriental, seriously. She can not conceive that he may be a man of
intelligence and education, and I can not better describe her than to
sketch in its detail a dinner to which I was invited by the - - at
Washington. The invitation was engraved on a small card and read "The
- - and Mrs. - - request the honor of the presence of the - - at
dinner on Wednesday at eight o'clock, etc." I immediately sent my valet
with an acceptance and a basket of orchids to the hostess, this being
the mode among the men who are _au fait_.

A week later I went to the dinner, and was taken up to the dressing-room
for men, where I found a dozen or more, all in the conventional evening
dress I have described - now with tails, it being a ladies' affair. In a
corner was a table, and by it stood a negro, also in a dress suit,
identical with that of the others. I was cordially greeted by a guest,
who said, "Let me introduce you to our American minister to Ijiji and
Zanzibar," and he presented me to the tall negro, who was turning out
some bottled "cocktail." I shook hands with him, and he laughed, showing
a set of teeth like an elephant's tusks, and asked me "what I would
have." He was a servant dealing out "appetizers," and this was an
American joke. The perpetrator of this joke was a minor official in the
State Department, yet the entire party apparently considered it a good
joke. Fortunately, I could disguise my real feeling, and I merely relate
the incident to give you an idea of the sense of the proprieties as
entertained by certain Americans. All that winter the story of the
American minister to Zanzibar was told at my expense without doubt.

Having been "fortified," and some of the men took two or three
"cocktails" before they became "tuned up," we went down to the
drawing-room, where I paid my respects to the host and hostess, who
stood at the end of a beautiful room. As I approached the lady greeted
me with a charming smile, extending her gloved hand almost on a direct
line with her face, grasping it firmly, not shaking it, saying, "Very
kind of you, - - . Delighted, I am sure. General" - turning to her
husband - "you know the - - , of course," and the general shook my hand
as he would a pump-handle, and whispered, "Our minister to Zanzibar
treated you all right, eh?" and with a wink indescribable, closing the
right eye for a second, passed me on. The story had got down-stairs
before me. Americans of the official class have, as a rule, an absolute
lack of _savoir faire_ and social refinement; lack them so utterly as to
become comical.

I now joined other groups of officers and officials, there being about
thirty guests, half of whom were ladies. The latter were all in what is
termed full dress. Why "full" I do not know. Here you see one of the
most extraordinary features of American life - the dress of women. The
Americans make claim to being among the most modest, the most religious,
the most proper people in the world, yet the appearance of the ladies
at many public functions is beyond belief. All the women in this house
were beautiful and covered with jewels. They wore gowns in the French
court fashion, with trains a yard or two in length, but the upper part
cut so low that a large portion of the neck and shoulders was exposed. I
was embarrassed beyond expression; such an exhibition in China could
only be made by a certain class. These matrons were of the highest
respectability. This remarkable custom of a strange people, who deluge
China with missionaries from every sect under the sun and at home commit
the grossest solecisms, is universal, and not thought of as improper.
There was not much opportunity for introspective analysis, yet I could
not but believe that such a custom must have its moral effect upon a
nation in the long run.

It was a mystery to me how the upper part of some of the gowns was
supported. In some instances there was no strap over the shoulders, the
upper third of these alabaster torsos and arms being absolutely naked,
save for a band of pearls, diamonds, or other gems, of a size rarely
seen in the Orient; but I learned later that the bone or steel corset,
which molds the form, constituted the support of the gown. I gradually
became habituated to the custom, and did not notice it. My friend - - ,
an artist of repute, explained that it all depends on the point of view.
"Our people are essentially artistic," he said. "There is nothing more
beautiful than the divine female contour; the American women realize
this, and sacrifice themselves at the altar of art." Yet the Americans
are such jokers that exactly what my friend had in mind it was difficult
to arrive at.

After being presented to these marvelously arrayed ladies we passed
into the dining-room, where I found myself with one of the most charming
of divinities, a woman famous for her wit and literary success. I have
described the typical dinner, so I need not repeat my words. My
companion held the same extraordinary attitude toward me that all
American women do; amused, half laughing, refusing absolutely to take me
seriously, and probing me with so many absurd questions that I was
forced to ask some very pointed ones, which only succeeded in making her
laugh. The conversation proceeded something as follows: "I am charmed
that I have fallen to your Highness." "Equally charmed," I replied; "but
my rank does not admit the adjective you do me the honor to apply."
"No?" was the answer. "Well, I'll wager you anything that when the
butler pours your wine in the first course he will call you Count, and
in the next Prince. You see, they become exhilarated as the dinner
progresses. But tell me, how many wives have you in China, you look
_very_ wicked?" Imagine this! But I rallied, and replied that I had
none - a statement received with incredulity. Her next question was,
"Have you ever been a highbinder?" Ministers of grace! and this from a
people who profess to know more than any nation on earth! I explained
that a highbinder ranked with a professional murderer in this country,
whereupon she again laughed, and, turning to General - - , in a loud
voice said, "General, I have been calling the - - a highbinder," at
which the company laughed at my expense. In China, as you know, a guest
or a host would have killed himself rather than commit so gross a
solecism; but this is America.

The second course was oysters served in the shell, and my companion,
assuming that I had never seen an oyster [ignorant that our fathers ate
oysters thousands of years before America was heard of and when the
Anglo-Saxon was living in a cave], in a confidential and engaging
whisper remarked, "This, your 'Highness,' is the only animal we eat
alive." "Why alive?" I asked, looking as innocent as possible; "why not
kill them?" "Oh, the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
will not permit it," was her reply. "You see, if they are swallowed
alive they are immediately suffocated, but if you cut them up they
suffer horribly while the soup is being served. How large a one do you
think you can swallow?" Fancy the daring of a young girl to joke with a
man twice her age in this way! I did not undeceive her, and allowed her
to enlighten me on various subjects of contemporaneous interest. "It's
so strange that the Chinese never study mathematics," she next remarked.
"Why, all our public schools demand higher mathematics, and in the
fourth grade you could not find a child but could square the circle."

In this manner this volatile young savage entertained me all through the
dinner, utterly superficial herself, yet possessed of a singular
sharpness and wit, mostly at my expense; yet she was so charming I
forgave her. There is no denying that you become enraged, insulted,
chagrined by these women, who, however, by a look, dispel your
annoyance. I do not understand it. I found that while an author of a
novel she was grossly ignorant of the literature of her own country, yet
she possessed that consummate American froth by which she could
convince the average person that she was brilliant to the point of
scintillation. I fancy that any keen, well-educated woman must have seen
that I was laughing at her, yet so inborn was her belief that a Chinaman
must be an imbecile that she was ever joking at my expense. The last
story she told me illustrates the peculiar fancy for joking these women
possess. I had been describing a storm at Manchester-by-the-Sea and the
splendor of the ocean. "Did you see the tea-leaves?" she asked,
solemnly. "No," I replied. "That is strange," she said. "I fear you are
not very observing. After every storm the tea-leaves still wash up all
along Massachusetts Bay," alluding to the fact that loads of tea on
ships were tossed over by the Americans during the quarrel with England
before the Revolution.

The daring of the American woman impressed me. This same lady asked me
not to remain with the men to smoke but go on the veranda with her,
where _tête-à-tête_ she produced a gold cigarette-case and offered me a
cigarette. This I found not uncommon. American women of the fast sets
drink at the clubs; an insidious drink - the "high-ball" - is a common
one, yet I never saw a woman under the influence of wine or liquor. The
amount of both consumed in America, is amazing. The consumption per head
in the United States for beer alone is ten and a half gallons for each
of the eighty millions. My friend, a prohibitionist, a member of a
political party whose object is to ruin the wine industry of the world,
put it stronger, and, backed by facts, said that if the wine, beer,
whisky, gin, and alcoholic drinks of all kinds and the tea and coffee
drank yearly by the Americans could be collected it would make a lake
two miles square and ten feet deep. The alcoholic drinks alone if
collected would fill a canal one hundred miles long, one hundred feet
wide, and ten feet deep. May their saints propitiate this insatiate

It would amuse you to hear the American women of literary tendency boast
of their schools, yet when educational facilities are considered the
average American is ignorant. They are educated in lines. Thus a girl
graduate will speak French with a good accent, or she will converse in
Milwaukee German. She can prove her statement in conic sections or
algebra, but when it comes to actual knowledge she is deficient. This is
due to the ignorance of the teachers in the public schools and their
lack of inborn culture. No better test of the futility of the American
public-school education can be seen than the average girl product of
the public school of the lower class in a city like Chicago or New York.
Americans affect to despise Chinese methods because the Chinese girl or
boy is not crammed with a thousand thoughts of no relative value. China
has existed thousands of years; her people are happy; happiness and
content are the chief virtues, and if China is ever overthrown it will
be not because, as the Americans put it, she is behind the times, but
because the fever of unrest and the craze for riches has become a
contagion which will react upon her. The development of China is normal,
that of America hysterical. Our growth has been along the line of peace;
that of other nations has been entirely opposed to their own religious
teaching, showing it to be farcical and pure sophistry.

If I should tell you how many American women asked me why Chinese women
bandage their feet you would be amazed; yet every one of these submitted
to and practised a deformity that has seriously affected the growth and
development of the race. I am no iconoclast, but listen to the story of
the American woman who, with one hand, deforms her waist in the most
barbarous fashion, while waving the other in horror at her Chinese
sister with the bound feet. American women change their fashions twice a
year or more. Fashions are in the hands of the middle classes, and the
highest lady in the land is completely at their mercy; to disobey the
mandates of fashion is to become ridiculous. The fashion is set in Paris
and various cities by men and women who have skilled artists to draw
patterns and paint pictures showing the new mode. These are published in
certain papers and issued by millions, republished in America, and no
woman here would have the temerity to ignore them. The laws of the Medes
and Persians are not more inexorable.

It is not a suggestion but an order, a fiat, a command, so we see this
free nation really truckling to or dominated by a class of tradesmen.
The object of the change of style is to create a sale for new goods,
give work for laborers, and enable the producer to reach the pocketbook
of the rich man; but the "fashions" have become so fixed, so thoroughly
a national feature, that they affect rich and poor, and we have the
spectacle of every woman studying these guides and conforming to them
with a servility beyond belief. I once said to a lady, "The Chinese lady
dresses richer than the American, but her styles have been very much the
same for thousands of years," but I believe she doubted it. It would be
futile, indeed impossible, for me to explain the extravagances of
American fashion. Their own press and stage use it as a standard butt.
At the present time tablets or plates of fashion insist upon an outline
which shows the form completely, the antipodes of a Chinese woman; and
this is intensified by some of the women who, when in the street, grasp
the skirt and in an ingenious way wrap it about so that the outline of
the American divinity is sufficiently well defined to startle one. Such
a trick in China could but originate with the demimonde, yet it is taken
up by certain of the Americans who are constantly seeking for variety.
There can be no question but that the middle-class fashion designer
revenges himself upon the _beau monde_. They will not receive him
socially, so he forces them to wear his clothes.

Some years ago women were made to wear "hoops," pictures of which I
have seen in old publications. Imagine, if you can, a bird-cage three
feet high and four feet across, formed of bone of the whale or some
metal. This was worn beneath the dress, expanding it on either side so
that it was difficult to approach a lady. A later order was given to

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Online LibraryHenry Pearson GrattonAs a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home → online text (page 3 of 12)