Henry Pearson Gratton.

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

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and third-rate politicians there. Good business men are required, but
such men can not afford to take the position. I heard a great captain of
industry, who had been before Congress with a committee, say that he
never saw "so many asses together in all his life"; but this was an
extreme view. The House may not compare intellectually with the House of
Commons, but it contains many bright men. A fool could hardly get in,
though the labor unions have placed some vicious representatives there.
The lack of manners distressed a lady acquaintance of mine, who, in a
burst of indignation at seeing a congressman sitting with his feet on
his desk, said that there was not a man in Congress who had any social
position in Washington or at home, which, let us trust, is not true.

As I came from the White House some days ago I met a delegation of
native Indians going in, a sad sight. In Indian affairs occurs a page of
national history which the Americans are not proud of. In less than four
hundred years they have almost literally been wiped from the face of the
earth; the whites have waged a war of extermination, and the pitiful
remnant now left is fast disappearing. In no land has the survival of
the fittest found a more remarkable illustration. But the Indians are
having their revenge. The Americans long ago brought over Africans as
slaves; then, as the result of a war of words and war of fact, suddenly
released them all, and, at one fell move, in obedience to the hysterical
cries of their people, gave these ignorant semisavages and slaves the
same political rights as themselves.

Imagine the condition of things! The most ignorant and debased of races
suddenly receives rights and privileges and is made the equal of
American citizens. So strange a move was never seen or heard of
elsewhere, and the result has been relations more than strained and
always increasing between the whites and the blacks in the South. As
voters the negroes secure many positions in the South above their old
masters. I have seen a negro[2] sitting in the Vice-President's chair in
the United States Senate; while white Southern senators were pacing the
outer corridors in rage and disgust. There are generally one or more
black men in Congress, and they are given a few offices as a sop. With
one hand the Americans place millions of them on a plane with themselves
as free and independent citizens, and with the other refuse them the
privileges of such citizenship. They may enter the army as privates, but
any attempt to make them officers is a failure - white officers will not
associate with them. It is impossible for a negro to graduate from the
Naval Academy, though he has the right to do so. I was told that white
sailors would shoot him if placed over them. Several negroes have been
appointed as students, but none as yet have been able to pass the
examination. Here we see the strange and contradictory nature of the
Americans. The white master of the South had the black woman nurse his
children. Thousands of mulattoes in the country show that the whites
took advantage of the women in other ways, marriage between blacks and
whites being prohibited. When it comes to according the blacks
recognition as social equals, the people North and South resent even the
thought. The negro woman may provide the sustenance of life for the
white baby, but I venture to say that any Southern man, or Northern one
for that matter, would rather see his daughter die than be married to a
negro. So strong is this feeling that I believe in the extreme South if
a negro persisted in his addresses to a white woman he would be shot,
and no jury or judge could be found to convict the white man.

In the North the negro has certain rights. He can ride in the
street-cars, go to the theater, enter restaurants, but I doubt if large
hotels would entertain him. In the South every train has its separate
cars for negroes; every station its waiting-room for them; even on the
street-cars they are divided off by a wire rail or screen, and sit
beneath a sign, which advertises this free, independent, but black
American voter as being not fit to sit by the side of his political
brother. This causes a bitter feeling, and the time is coming when the
blacks will revolt. Already criminal attacks upon white women are not
uncommon, and a virtual reign of terror exists in some portions of the
South, where it is said that white women are never left unprotected; and
the negro, if he attacks a white woman, is almost invariably burned
alive, with the horrible ghastly features that attend an Indian
scalping. The crowd carry off bits of skin, hair, finger-nails, and rope
as trophies. In fact, these "burnings" are the most extraordinary
features in this "enlightened" country. The papers denounce them and
compare the people to ghouls; yet these same people accuse the Chinese
of being cruel, barbarous, insensible to cruelty, and "pagans." It is
true we have pirates and criminals, but the horrible features of the
lynchings in America during the last ten years I believe have no
counterpart in the history of China in the last five hundred.

In Washington the servants are blacks; irresponsible, childlike, aping
the vanities of the white people. They are "niggers"; the mulattoes, the
illegitimate offspring of whites, form another and totally distinct
class of colored society, and are the aristocracy. Rarely will a mulatto
girl marry a black man, and _vice versa_. They have their clubs and
their functions, their professional men, including lawyers and doctors,
as have the white people. They present a strange and singular feature.
Despised by their fathers, half-sisters, and brothers, denied any social
recognition, hating their black ancestry, they are socially "between the
devil and the deep sea." The negro question constitutes the gravest one
now before the American people. He is increasing rapidly, but in the
years since the civil war no pure-blooded negro has given evidence of
brilliant attainments. Frederick Douglas, Senator Bruce, and Booker T.
Washington rank with many white Americans in authorship, diplomacy, and
scholarship; but Douglas and Bruce were mulattoes, and Booker
Washington's father was an unknown white man. These men are held in high
esteem, but the social line has been drawn against them, though Douglas
married a white woman.

Balls are a feature of life in Washington. The women appear in full
dress, which means that the arms and neck are exposed, and the men wear
evening dress. The dances are mostly "round." The man takes a lady to
the ball, and when he dances seizes her in an embrace which would be
considered highly improper under ordinary circumstances, but the
etiquette of the dance makes it permissible. He places his right arm
around her waist, takes her left hand in his, holds her close to him,
and both begin to move around to the special music designed for this
peculiar motion, which may be a "waltz," or a "two-step," or a "gallop,"
or a "schottische," all being different and having different music or
time, or there may be various kinds of music for each. At times the
music is varied, being a gliding, scooping, swooping slide,
indescribable. When the dancers feel the approach of giddiness they
reverse the whirl or move backward.

Many Washington men have become famous as dancers, and quite outshadow
war heroes. All the officers of the army and navy are taught these
dances at the Military and Naval Academies, it being a national policy
to be agreeable to ladies; at least this must be so, as the men never
dance together. To see several hundred people whirling about, as I have
seen them at the inaugural of the President, is one of the most
remarkable scenes to be observed in America. The man in Washington who
can not dance is a "wallflower" - that is, he never leaves the wall.
There is a professional champion who has danced eight out of
twenty-four hours without stopping. A yearly convention of
dancing-school professors is held. These men, with much dignity, meet in
various cities and discuss various dances, how to grasp the partner, and
other important questions. Some time ago the question was whether the
"gent" should hold a handkerchief in the hand he pressed upon the back
of the lady, a professor having testified before the convention that he
had seen the imprint of a man's hand on the white dress of a lady. The
acumen displayed at these conventions is profound and impressive. Here
you observe a singular fact. The good dancer may be an officer of high
social standing, but the dancing-teacher, even though he be famous as
such, is _persona non grata_, so far as society is concerned. A
professional dancer, fighter, wrestler, cook, musician, and a hundred
more are not acceptable in society except in the strict line of their
profession; but a professional civil or naval engineer, an organist, an
artist, a decorator (household), and an architect are received by the
elect in Washington.

I have alluded to the craze for joking among young ladies in society. At
a dinner a reigning beauty, and daughter of - - , who sat next to me,
talked with me on dancing. She told me all about it, and, pointing to a
tall, distinguished-looking man near by, said that he had received his
degree of D. D. (Doctor of Dancing) from Harvard University, and was
extremely proud of it; and, furthermore, it would please him to have me
mention it. I did not enlighten the young lady, and allowed her to
continue, that I might enjoy her animation and superb "nerve" (this is
the American slang word for her attitude). The gentleman was her uncle,
a doctor of divinity, who was constitutionally opposed to dancing; and I
learned later that he had a cork leg. Such are some of the pitfalls in
Washington set for the pagan Oriental by charming Americans.

Dancing parties, in fact, all functions, are seized upon by young men
and women who anticipate marriage as especially favorable occasions for
"courtship." The parents apparently have absolutely nothing to do with
the affair, this being a free country. The girl "falls in love" with
some one, and the courtship begins. In the lower classes the girl is
said to be "keeping company" with so and so, or he is "her steady
company." In higher circles the admirer is "devoted to the lady." This
lasts for a year, perhaps longer, the man monopolizing the young lady's
time, calling so many times a week, as the case may be, the familiarity
between the two increasing until they finally exchange kisses - a
popular greeting in America. About now they become affianced or
"engaged," and the man is supposed to ask the consent of the parents. In
France the latter is supposed to give a _dot_; in America it is not
thought of. In time the wedding occurs, amid much ceremony, the bride's
parents bearing all the expense; the groom is relieving them of a future
expense, and is naturally not burdened. The married young people then go
upon a "honeymoon," the month succeeding the wedding, and this is long
or brief, according to the wealth of the parties. When they return they
usually live by themselves, the bride resenting any advice or espionage
from her husband's mother, who is the mother-in-law, a relation as much
joked about in America as revered in China.

Sometimes the "engaged" couple do not marry. The man perhaps in his
long courtship discovers traits that weary him, and he breaks off the
match. If he is wealthy the average American girl may sue him for
damages, for laceration of the affections. One woman in the State of New
York sued for the value of over two thousand kisses her "steady company"
had taken during a number of years' courtship, and was awarded three
thousand dollars. The journal from which I took this made an estimate
that the kisses had cost the man one dollar and a half each! Sometimes
the girl breaks the engagement, and if presents have been given she
returns them, the man rarely suing; but I have seen record of a case
where the girl refused to return the presents, and the man sued for
them; but no jury could be found to decide in his favor. A distinguished
physician has written a book on falling in love. It is recognized as a
contagious disease; men and women often die of it, and commit the most
extraordinary acts when under its influence. I have observed it, and,
all things considered, it has no advantages over the Chinese method of
attaining the marriage state. The wisdom of some older person is
certainly better than what the American would call the "snap judgment"
of two young people carried away by passion. One might find the chief
cause of divorce in America to lie in this strange custom.

I was invited by a famous wag last week to meet a man who could claim
that he was the father of fifty-three children and several hundred
grandchildren. I fully expected to see the _Gaikwar of Baroda_, or some
such celebrity, but found a tall, ministerial, typical American, with
long beard, whom - - introduced to me as a Mormon bishop, who, he
said, had a virtual _congé d'élire_ in the Church, at the same time
referring to me as a Chinese Mormon with "fifty wives." I endeavored to
protest, but - - explained to the bishop that I was merely modest. The
Mormons are a sect who believe in polygamy. Each man has as many wives
as he can support, and the population increases rapidly where they
settle. The ludicrous feature of Mormonism is that the Government has
failed to stop it, though it has legislated against it; but it is well
known that the Mormon allows nothing to interfere with his
"revelations," which are on "tap" in Utah.

I was much amused at the bishop's remarks. He said that if the American
politicians who were endeavoring to kill them off would marry their
actual concubines, and _all_ Americans would do the same, the United
States would have a Mormon majority the next day. The bishop had the
frailties and moral lapses of prominent people in all lands at his
fingers' ends, and his claim was that the whole civilized world was
practising polygamy, but doing it illegally, and the Mormons were the
only ones who had the honor to legitimatize it. The joke was on - - ,
who was literally bottled up by the flow of facts from the bishop, who
referred to me to substantiate him, which I pretended to do, in order
totally to crush - - , who had tried to make me a party to his joke. The
bishop, who invited me to call upon him in Utah, said that he hoped some
time to be a United States senator, though he supposed the women of the
East could create public sentiment sufficient to defeat him.

I once stopped over in Utah and visited the great Mormon Temple, and I
must say that the Mormon women are far below the average in
intelligence, that is, if personal appearances count. I understand they
are recruited from the lowest and most ignorant classes in Europe, where
there are thousands of women who would rather have a fifth of a husband
than work in the field. In the language of American slang, I imagine the
Americans are "up against it," as the country avowedly offers an asylum
for all seeking religious liberty, and the Mormons claim polygamy as a
divine revelation and a part of their doctrine.

The bishop, I believe, was not a bishop, but a proselyting elder, or
something of the kind. The man who introduced me to him was a type
peculiar to America, a so-called "good fellow." People called him by his
first name, and he returned the favor. The second time I met him he
called me Count, and upon my replying that I was not a count he said,
"Well, you look it, anyway," and he has always called me Count. He knows
every one, and every one knows him - a good-hearted man, a spendthrift,
yet a power in politics; a _remarkable_ poker player, a friend worth
knowing, the kind of man you like to meet, and there are many such in
this country.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] Probably Senator Bruce.




CHAPTER X

THE AMERICAN IN LITERATURE


I have been a guest at the annual dinner of the - - , one of the leading
literary associations in America, and later at a "reception" at the
house of - - , where I met some of the most charming men and delightful
women, possessed of manners that marked the person of culture and the
_savoir faire_ that I have seen so little of among other "sets" of
well-known public people. But what think you of an author of note who
knew absolutely nothing of the literature of our country? There were
Italians, French, and Swedes at the dinner, who were called upon to
respond to toasts on the literature of their country; but was I called
upon? No, indeed. I doubt if in all that _entourage_ there was more than
one or two who were familiar with the splendid literature of China and
its antiquity.

But to come to the "shock." My immediate companion was a lady with just
a _soupçon_ of the masculine, who, I was told, was a distinguished
novelist, which means that her book had sold to the limit of 30,000
copies. After a toast and speech in which the literature of Norway and
Sweden had been extolled, this charming lady turned to me and said, "It
is too bad, - - , that you have no literature in China; you miss so much
that is enjoyed by other nations." This was too much, and I broke one of
the American rules of chivalry - I became disputatious with a lady and
slightly cynical; and when I wish to be cynical I always quote Mr.
Harte, which usually "brings down the house." To hear a Chinese heathen
quote the "Heathen Chinee" is supposed to be very funny.

I said, "My dear madam, I am surprised that you do not know that China
has the finest and oldest literature known in the history of the world.
I assure you, my ancestors were writing books when the Anglo-Saxon was
living in caves."[3] She was astonished and somewhat dismayed, but was
not cast down - the clever American woman never is. I told her of our
classics, of our wonderful Book of Changes, written by my ancestor Wan
Wang in 1150 B. C. I told her of his philosophy. I compared his idea of
the creation to that in the Bible. I explained the loss of many rare
Chinese books by the piratical order of destruction by Emperor Che
Hwang-ti, calling attention to the fact that the burning of the famous
library of Alexandria was a parallel. I asked her if it were possible
that she had never heard of the _Odes of Confucius_, or his _Book of
History_, which was supposed to have been destroyed, but which was found
in the walls of his home one hundred and forty years before Christ, and
so saved to become a part of the literature of China.

Finally she said, "I have studied literature, but that of China was not
included." "Your history," I continued, "begins in 1492; our written
history begins in the twenty-third century before Christ, and the years
down to 720 B. C. are particularly well covered, while our legends run
back for thousands of years." But my companion had never heard of the
_Shoo-King_. It was so with the _Chun Tsew_[4] of Confucius and the
_Four Books_ - _Ta-h[ue]-[uo]_,[5] _Chung-yung_,[6] _Lun-yu_,[7]
_M[ua]ng-tsze_.[8] She had never heard of them. I told her of the
invention of paper by the Marquis Tsae several centuries before Christ,
and she laughingly replied that she supposed that I would claim next
that the Chinese had libraries like those Mr. Carnegie is founding. I
was delighted to assure her that her assumption was correct, and drew a
little picture of a well-known Chinese library, founded two thousand
years ago, the Han Library, with its 3,123 classics, its 2,706 works on
philosophy, its 2,528 books on mathematics, its 790 works on war, its
868 books on medicine, 1,318 on poetry, not to speak of thousands of
essays.

I could not but wonder as I talked, where were the Americans and their
literature when our fathers were reading these books two thousand years
ago! Even the English people were wild savages, living in caves and
huts, when our people were printing books and encyclopedias of
knowledge. I dwelt upon our poetry, the National Airs, Greater Eulogies,
dating back several thousand years. I told her of the splendors of our
great versifier, _Le-Tai-Pih_; and I might have said that many American
poets, like Walt Whitman, had doubtless read the translations to their
advantage. I had the pleasure at least of commanding this lady's
attention, and I believe she was the first American who deigned to take
a Chinaman seriously. The facts of our literature are available, but
only scholars make a study of it, and so far as I could learn not a word
of Chinese literature is ever taught in American schools, though in the
great universities there are facilities, and the best educated people
are familiar with our history.

The American authors, especially novelists, who constitute the majority
of authors, are by no means all well educated. Many appear to have a
faculty of "story-telling," which enables them to produce something that
will sell; but that all American authors, and this will surprise you,
are included among the great scholars, is far from true. Some, yes many,
are deplorably ignorant in the sense of broad learning, and I believe
this is a universal, national fault. If one thing Chinese more than
another is ridiculed in America it is our drama. I met a famous
"play-writer" at the - - dinner, who thought it a huge joke. I heard
that his income was $30,000 per annum from plays alone; yet he had never
heard of our "Hundred Plays of the Yuen Dynasty," which rests in one of
his own city libraries not a mile distant, and he laughed
good-naturedly when I remarked that the modern stage obtained its
initiative in China.

A listener did me the honor to question my statement that Voltaire's
"_L'Orphelin de la Chine_" was taken from the _Orphan of Chaou_ of this
collection, which I thought every one knew. All the authors whom I met
seemed surprised to learn that I was familiar with their literature and
could not compare it synthetically with that of other nations, and even
more so when I said that all well-educated Chinamen endeavored to
familiarize themselves with the literature of other countries.

I continually gain the impression that the Americans "size us up," as
they say, and "lump" us with the "coolie." We are "heathen Chinee," and
it is incomprehensible that we should know anything. I am talking now
of the half-educated people as I have met them. Here and there I meet
men and women of the highest culture and knowledge, and this class has
no peer in the world. If I were to live in America I should wish to
consort with her real scholars, culled from the best society of New
York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore, and other cities. In
a word, the aristocracy of America is her educated class, the education
that comes from association year after year with other cultivated
people. I understand there is more of it in Boston and Philadelphia than
anywhere; but you find it in all towns and cities. This I grant is the
real American, who, in time - several thousand years perhaps - as in our
own case, will demonstrate the wonderful possibilities of the human race
in the West.

I would like to tell you something about the books of the literary men
and women I have met, but you will be more interested in the things I
have seen and the mannerisms of the people. I was told by a
distinguished writer that America had failed to produce any really great
authors - I mean to compare with other nations - and I agreed with him,
although appreciating what she has done. There is no one to compare with
the great minds of England - Scott, Dickens, Thackeray. There is no
American poet to compare with Tennyson, Milton, and a dozen others in
England, France, Italy, and Germany; indeed, America is far behind in
this respect, yet in the making of books there is nothing to compare
with it. Every American, apparently, aspires to become an author, and I
really think it would be difficult to find a citizen of the republic who
had not been a contributor to some publication at some time, or had not
written a book. The output of books is extraordinary, and covers every
field; but the class is not in all cases such as one might expect. The
people are omnivorous readers, and "stories," "novels," are ground out
by the ton; but I doubt if a book has been produced since the time of
Hawthorne that will really live as a great classic.

The American authors are mainly collected in New York, where the great
publishing houses are located, and are a fine representative class of
men and women, of whom I have met a number, such as Howells, the author
and editor, and Mark Twain, the latter the most brilliant litterateur in
the United States. This will be discovered when he dies and is safe


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Online LibraryHenry Pearson GrattonAs a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home → online text (page 6 of 12)