Henry Pearson Gratton.

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

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Chinese drug shops and laugh at the "heathen" drugs, and wonder why the
Chinaman is alive. America has a body of physicians and surgeons who are
a credit to the world, modest, conscientious, and with a high sense of
honor, but they are as a dragon's tooth in a multitude to the so-called
"quacks," who take the money of the masses and prey upon them, protected
in many cases by the law. No one profession so demonstrates the abject
credulity of the great mass of Americans as that of medicine.

One other incident may further illustrate the jokes these so-called
doctors play upon the common people. In a country town was a "quack"
doctor, who professed to be a "head examiner," giving people charts
according to their "bumps," a fad which has many followers. "This,
ladies and gentlemen," said the lecturer, holding out a small skull, "is
the skull of Alexander the Great at the age of six. Note the prominent
brow. This [holding up a larger skull] is the same at the age of ten.
This [holding out another] at the age of twenty-one; [then stepping out
to the front of the stage] this is the _complete_ skull of Alexander at
the time of his death." All of which appeared to be accepted in good

Of the best physicians in America one can not say enough in praise. I
was most impressed by their high sense of honor. They have an agreement
which they call their "ethics," by which they will not advertise or call
attention to their learning. Consequently, the lower and ignorant
classes are caught by the blatant chaff of the patent-medicine venders
and the quack doctors. What the word "quack" means in this sense I do
not quite know; literally, it is the cry of the goose. The "regular
doctor" will not take advantage of any medicine he may discover, or any
instrument; all belongs to humanity, and one doctor becomes famous over
another by his success in keeping people from dying. The grateful
patient saved, tells his friends, and so the doctor becomes known. In
all America I never heard of a doctor that acted on the principle which
holds among our doctors, that the best way to cure is to watch the
patient and keep him well, or prevent him from being taken sick. The
Americans, in their conceit, consider Chinese doctors ignorant fakers;
yet, so far as I can learn, the death-rate among the Chinese, city for
city, country for country, is less than among Americans. The Chinese
women are longer lived and less subject to disease. In what is known as
New England, the oldest well-populated section of the country, people
would die out were it not for the constant accession of immigrants. On
the other hand, the Chinese constantly increase, despite a policy of
non-intercourse with foreigners. The Americans have, in a civilization
dating back to 1492, already begun to show signs of decadence, and are
only saved by constant immigration. China has a civilization of
thousands of years, and is increasing in population every day, yet her
doctors and their methods are ridiculed by the Americans. The people
have many sayings here, one of which is, "The proof of the pudding lies
in the eating." It seems applicable to this case.



One finds it difficult to learn the language fluently because of a
peculiar second language called "slang," which is in use even among the
fashionable classes. I despair of conveying any clear idea of it, as we
have no exact equivalent. As near as I can judge, it is first composed
by professional actors on the stage. Some funny remark being constantly
repeated, as a part of a taking song, becomes slang, conveying a certain
meaning, and is at once adopted by the people, especially by a class who
pose as leaders in all towns, but who are not exactly the best, but
charming imitations of the best, we may say. To illustrate this
"jargon," I took a drive with a young lady at Manchester - a seaside
resort. Her father was a man of good family, an official, and she was an
attendant at a fashionable school. The following occurred in the
conversation. Her slang is italicized:

Heathen Chinee: "It is very dull this week, Miss - - ."

Young lady, sententiously: "_Bum._"

Heathen Chinee: "I hope it will be less bum soon."

Young lady: "_It's all off with me all right_, if it don't change soon,
_and don't you forget it_!"

Heathen Chinee: "I wish I could do something."

Young lady: "Well, you'll have to _get a move on you_, as I go back to
school to-morrow; then there'll be _something doing_."

Heathen Chinee: "Have you seen - - lately?"

Young lady: "Yes, and isn't he _a peach_? Ah, he's a _peacharina_, and
_don't you forget it_!"

Young lady (passing a friend): "_Ah, there_! why _so toppy_? _Nay, nay,
Pauline_," this in reply to remarks from a friend; then turning to me,
"Isn't she a _jim dandy_? _Say_, have you any girls in China that can
_top_ her?"

These are only a few of the slang expressions which occur to me. They
are countless and endless. Such a girl in meeting a friend, instead of
saying good-morning, says, "_Ah, there_," which is the slang for this
salutation. If she wished to express a difference of opinion with you
she would say, "_Oh, come off._" This girl would probably outgrow this
if she moved in the very best circle, but the shop-girl of a common type
lives in a whirl of slang; it becomes second nature, while the young men
of all classes seem to use nothing else, and we often see the jargon of
the lowest class used by some of the best people. There has been
compiled a dictionary of slang; books are written on it, and an adept,
say a "rough" or "hoodlum," it is said can carry on a conversation with
nothing else. Thus, "Hi, cully, what's on?" to which comes in answer,
"Hunki dori." All this means that a man has said, "How do you do, how
are you, and what are you doing?" and thus learned in reply that
everything is all right. A number of gentlemen were posing for a lady
before a camera. "Have you finished?" asked one. "Yes, _it's all off_,"
was the reply, "and _a peach_, I think." It is unnecessary to say that
among really refined people this slang is never heard, and would be
considered a gross solecism, which gives me an opportunity to repeat
that the really cultivated Americans, and they are many, are among the
most delightful and charming of people.

They have strange habits, these Americans. The men chew tobacco,
especially in the South, and in Virginia I have seen men spitting five
or six feet, evidently taking pride in their skill in striking a
"cuspidore." In every hotel, office, or public place are
cuspidores - which become targets for these chewers. This is a national
habit, extraordinary in so enlightened a people. So ridiculous has it
made the Americans, so much has been written about it by such visitors
as Charles Dickens, that the State governments have determined to take
up the "spitting" question, and now there is a fine of from $10 to $100
for any one spitting in a car or on a hotel floor. Nearly all the
"up-to-date" towns have passed anti-spitting laws. Up to this time, or
even during my college days in America, this habit made walking on the
sidewalk a most disagreeable function, and the interior of cars was a
horror. Is not this remarkable in a people who claim so much? In the
South certain white men and women chew snuff - a gross habit.

In the North they also have a strange custom, called chewing gum. This
gum is the exudation from certain trees, and is manufactured into plates
and sold in an attractive form, merely to chew like tobacco, and young
and old may be seen chewing with great velocity. The children forget
themselves and chew with great force, their jaws working like those of a
cow chewing her cud, only more rapidly; and to see a party of three or
four chewing frantically is one of the "sights" in America, which
astonishes the Heathen Chinee and convinces him that, in the slang of
the country, "_there are others_" who are peculiar. There are many
manufactories of this stuff, which is harmless, though such constant
chewing can but affect the size of the muscles of the jaw if the theory
of evolution is to be believed; at least there will be no atrophy of
these parts.

In New England, the northeastern portion of the country, this habit
appeared to be more prevalent, and I asked several scientific persons if
they had made any attempt to trace the history of the habit or to find
anything to attribute it to. One learned man told me that he had made a
special study of the habit, and believed that it was merely the modern
expression in human beings of the cud chewing of ruminating mammals, as
cows, goats, etc. In a word, the gum-chewing Americans are trying to
chew their cud as did their ancestors. Any habit like this is seized
upon by manufacturers for their personal profit, and every expedient is
employed to induce people to chew. The gum is mixed with perfumes, and
sold as a breath purifier; others mix it with pepsin, to aid the
digestion; some with something else, which is sold on ships and
excursion-boats as a cure or preventive for seasickness, all of which
finds a large sale among the credulous Americans, who by a clever leader
can be made to take up any fad or habit.

The Americans have a peculiar habit of "treating"; that is, one of a
party will "treat" or buy a certain article and distribute it
gratuitously to one or ten people. A young lady may treat her friends to
gum, ice-cream, soda-water, or to a theater party. A matron may treat
her friends to "high-balls" or cocktails at the club. The man confines
his "treats" to drinks and cigars. Thus five or six Americans may meet
in a club or barroom for the sale of liquors. One says, "Come up and
have something;" or "What will you have, gentlemen; this is on me;" or
in some places the treater says, "Let's liquor," and all step up, the
drinks are dispensed, and the treater pays. You might suppose that he
was deserving of some encomium, but not at all; he expects that the
others will take their turn in treating, or at least this is the
assumption; and if the party is engaged in social conversation each in
turn will "treat," the others taking what they wish to drink or smoke.
There is a code of etiquette regarding the treat. Thus, unless you are
invited, it would be bad form among gentlemen to order wine when invited
to drink unless the "treater" asks you to have wine; he means a drink of
whisky, brandy, or a mixed drink, or you may take soda or a cigar, or
you may refuse. It is a gross solecism to accept a cigar and put it in
your pocket; you should not take it unless you smoke it on the spot.

Drinking to excess is frowned upon by all classes, and a drunkard is
avoided and despised; but the amount an American will drink in a day is
astonishing. A really delightful man told me that he did not drink much,
and this was his daily experience: before breakfast a champagne
cocktail; two or three drinks during the forenoon; a pint of white or
red wine at lunch; two or three cocktails in the afternoon; a cocktail
at dinner, with two glasses of wine; and in the evening at the club
several drinks before bedtime! This man was never drunk, and never
_appeared_ to be under the influence of liquor, yet he was in reality
never actually sober; and he is a type of a large number in the great
cities who constitute what is termed the "man about town."

The Americans are not a wine-drinking people. Whisky, and of a very
excellent quality, is the national drink, while vast quantities of beer
are consumed, though they make the finest red and white wines. All the
grog-shops are licensed by the Government and State - that is, made to
pay a tax; but in the country there is a political party, the
Prohibitionists, who would drive out all wine and liquor. These, working
with the conservative people, often succeed in preventing saloons from
opening in certain towns; but in large cities there are from one to two
saloons to the block in the districts where they are allowed.

Taking everything into consideration, I think the Americans a temperate
people. They organize in a thousand directions to fight drinking and
other vices, and millions of dollars are expended yearly in this
direction. A peculiar quality about the American humor is that they joke
about the most serious things. In fact, drink and drinking afford
thousands of stories, the point of which is often very obscure to an
alien. Here is one, told to illustrate the cleverness of a drinker. He
walked into a bar and ordered a "tin-roof cocktail." The barkeeper was
nonplussed, and asked what a tin-roof cocktail was. "Why, it's on the
house." I leave you to figure it out, but the barkeeper paid the bill.
The ingenuity of the Americans is shown in their mixed drinks. They have
cocktails, high-balls, ponies, straights, fizzes, and many other drinks.
Books are written on the subject. I have seen a book devoted entirely to
cocktails. Certain papers offer prizes for the invention of new drinks.
I have told you that, all in all, America is a temperate country,
especially when its composite character is considered; yet if the nation
has a curse, a great moral drawback, it is the habit of drinking at the
public bar.



One of the best-known American authors has immortalized the Chinaman in
some of his verses. It was some time before I understood the smile which
went around when some one in my presence suggested a game of poker. I
need not repeat the poem, but the essence of it is that the "Heathen
Chinee is peculiar." Doubtless Mr. Harte is right, but the Chinaman and
his ways are not more peculiar to the American than American customs and
contradictions are to the Chinaman. If there is any race on the earth
that is peculiar, it is the "Heathen Yankee," the good-hearted,
ingenuous product of all the nations of the earth - black, red, white,
brown, all but "yellow." Imagine yourself going out to what they call a
"stag" dinner, and having an officer of the ranking of lieutenant shout,
"Hi, John, pass the wine!"

Washington can not be said to be a typical American city. It is the
center of _official_ life, and abounds in statesmen of all grades. I
have attended one of the President's receptions, to which the diplomats
went in a body; then followed the army and navy, General Miles, a
good-looking, soldier-like man, leading the former, and Admiral Dewey
the latter, a fine body of men, all in full uniform, unpretentious, and
quiet compared to similar men in other nations. I passed in line, and
found the President, standing with several persons, the center of a
group. The announcement and presentation were made by an officer in full
uniform, and beyond this there was no formality, indeed, an abundance
of republican simplicity; only the uniforms saved it from the

The President is a man of medium size, thick-set, and inclined to be
fleshy, with an interesting, smooth face, eye clear and glance alert. He
grasped me quickly by the hand, but shook it gingerly, giving the
impression that he was endeavoring to anticipate me, called me by name,
and made a pleasant allusion to - - of - - . He has a high forehead and
what you would term an intelligent face, but not one you would pick out
as that of a great man; and from a study of his work I should say that
he is of a class of advanced politicians, clever in political intrigue,
quick to grasp the best situation for himself or party; a man of high
moral character, but not a great statesman, only a man with high ideals
and sentiments and the faculty of impressing the masses that he is
great. The really intelligent class regard him as a useful man, and
safe. It is a curious fact that the chief appreciation of President
McKinley, I was informed, came from the masses, who say, "He is so kind
to his wife" (a great invalid); or "He is a model husband." Why there
should be anything remarkable in a man's being kind, attentive, and
loyal to an invalid spouse I could not see. Her influence with him is
said to be remarkable. One day she asked the President to promote a
certain officer, the son of one of the greatest of American generals, to
a very high rank. He did so, despite the fact that, as an officer said,
the army roared with laughter and rage.

The influence of women is an important factor in Washington life. I was
presented to an officer who obtained his commission in the following
manner: Two very attractive ladies in Washington were discussing their
relative influence with the powers that be, when one remarked, "To show
you what I can do, name a man and I will obtain a commission in the army
for him." The other lady named a private soldier, whose stupidity was a
matter of record, and a few days later he became an officer; but the
story leaked out.

President McKinley is a popular President with the masses, but the
aristocrats regard him with indifference. It is a singular fact, but the
Vice-President, Mr. Roosevelt, attracts more attention than the
President. He is a type that is appreciated in America, what they term
in the West a "hustler"; active, wide-awake, intense, "strenuous," all
these terms are applied to him. Said an officer in the field service to
me, "Roosevelt is playing on a ninety-nine-year run of luck; he always
lands on his feet at the right time and place." "What they call a man
of destiny," I suggested. "Yes," he replied; "he is the Yankee Oliver
Cromwell. He can't help 'getting there,' and he has a sturdy, evident
honesty of purpose that carries him through. A team of six horses won't
keep him out of the White House." This is the general opinion regarding
the Vice-President, that while he is not a remarkable statesman, he
already overshadows the President in the eyes of the public. I think the
secret is that he is young and a hero, and what the Americans call an
all-around man; not brilliant in any particular line, but a man of
energy, like our - - .

He looks it. A smooth face, square, determined jaw, with a look about
the eye suggestive that he would ride you down if you stood in the way.
I judge him to be a man of honor, high purpose, as my friend said, of
the Cromwell type, inclined to preach, and who also has what the
Americans call the "get-there" quality. In conversation Vice-President
Roosevelt is hearty and open, a poor diplomat, but a talker who comes to
the point. He says what he thinks, and asks no favor. He acts as though
he wished to clap you on the shoulder and be familiar. It will be
difficult for you to understand that such a man is second in rank in
this great nation. There are no imposing surroundings, no glamor of
attendance, only Roosevelt, strong as a water-ox in a rice-field,
smiling, all on the surface, ready to fight for his friend or his
country. Author, cowboy, stockman, soldier, essayist, historian,
sportsman, clever with the boxing-gloves or saber, hurdle-jumper, crack
revolver and rifle shot, naturalist and aristocrat, such is the
all-around Vice-President of the United States - a man who will make a
strong impression upon the history of the century if he is not shot by

I have it from those who know, that President McKinley would be killed
in less than a week if the guards about the White House were removed. He
never makes a move without guards or detectives, and the secret-service
men surround him as carefully as possible. It would be an easy matter to
kill him. Like all officials, he is accessible to almost any one with an
apparently legitimate object. Two Presidents have been murdered; all are
threatened continually by half-insane people called "cranks," and by the
professional Socialists, mainly foreigners. Both the President and
Vice-President are well-dressed men. President McKinley, when I was
granted an audience, wore a long-tailed black "frock coat" and vest,
light trousers, and patent leather or varnished shoes, and standing
collar. The Vice-President was similarly dressed, but with a "turn-down"
collar. The two men are said to make a "strong team," and it is a
foregone conclusion that the Vice-President will succeed President
McKinley. This is already talked of by the society people at Newport.
"It is a long time," said a lady at Newport, "since we have had a
President who represented an old and distinguished family. The McKinleys
were from the ordinary ranks of life, but eminently respectable, while
Roosevelt is an old and honored name in New York, identified with the
history of the State; in a word, typical of the American aristocracy,
bearing arms by right of heritage."

I have frequently met Admiral Dewey, already so well known in China. He
is a small man, with bright eyes, who already shows the effects of
years. Nothing could illustrate the volatile, uncertain character of the
American than the downfall of the admiral as a popular idol. Here a
"peculiarity" of the American is seen. Carried away by political and
public adulation, the old sailor's new wife, the sister of a prominent
politician, became seized with a desire to make him President. Then the
hero lovers raised a large sum and purchased a house for the admiral;
but the politicians ignored him as a candidate, which was a humiliation,
and the donors of the house demanded their money returned when the
admiral placed the gift in the name of his wife; and so for a while the
entire people turned against the gallant sailor, who was criticized,
jeered at, and ridiculed. All he had accomplished in one of the most
remarkable victories in the history of modern warfare was forgotten in
a moment, to the lasting disgrace of his critics.

One of the interesting places in Washington is the Capitol, perhaps the
most splendid building in any land. Here we see the men whom the
Americans select to make laws for them. The looker-on is impressed with
the singular fact that most of the senators are very wealthy men; and it
is said that they seek the position for the honor and power it confers.
I was told that so many are millionaires that it gave rise to the
suspicion that they bought their way in, and this has been boldly
claimed as to many of them. This may be the treasonable suggestion of
some enemy; but that money plays a part in some elections there is
little doubt. I believe this is so in England, where elections have
often been carried by money.

The American Senate is a dignified body, and I doubt if it have a peer
in the world. The men are elected by the State legislatures, not by the
people at large, a method which makes it easy for an unprincipled
millionaire or his political manager to buy votes sufficient to seat his
patron. The fact that senators are mainly rich does not imply unfitness,
but quite the contrary. Only a genius can become a multi-millionaire in
America, and hence the senators are in the main bright men. When
observing these men and enabled to look into their records, I was
impressed by the fact that, despite the advantages of education, this
wonderful country has produced few really great men, and there is not at
this time a great man on the horizon.

America has no Gladstone, no Salisbury, no Bright. Lincoln, Blaine and
Sumner are names which impress me as approximating greatness; they made
an impression on American history that will be enduring. Then there are
Frye, Reed, Garfield, McKinley, Cleveland, who were little great men,
and following them a distinguished company, as Hanna, Conkling, Hay,
Hayes, and others, who were superior men of affairs. A distinctly great
national figure has not appeared in America since Daniel Webster, Henry
Clay, and Rufus Choate - all men too great to become President. It
appears to be the fate of the republic not to place its greatest men in
the White House, and by this I mean great statesmen. General Grant was a
great man, a heroic figure, but not a statesman. Lincoln is considered a
great man. He is called the "Liberator"; but I can conceive that none
but a very crude mind, inspired by a false sentiment, could have made a
horde of slaves, the most ignorant people on the globe, the political
equals of the American people. A great man in such a crisis would have
resisted popular clamor and have refused them suffrage until they had
been prepared to receive it by at least some education. Americans are
prone to call their great politicians statesmen. Blaine, Reed, Conkling,
Harrison were types of statesmen; Hanna, Quay, and others are

The Lower House was a disappointment to me. There are too many ordinary
men there. They do not look great, and at the present time there is not
a really great man in the Lower House. There are too many cheap lawyers

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Online LibraryHenry Pearson GrattonAs a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home → online text (page 5 of 12)