Henry Pearson Gratton.

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

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beyond receiving all possible benefits from such recognition. Many men
in America make reputations as humorists, and find it impossible to
divest their more serious writings from this "taint," if so it may be
called. They are not taken seriously when they seriously desire it; a
fact I fully appreciate, as I am taken as a joke, my "pigtail," my
"shoes," my "clothes," my way of speaking, all being objects of joking.

The literary men have several clubs in New York, where they can be
found, and many have marked peculiarities, which are interesting to a
foreigner. Several artists affect a peculiar style of dress to advertise
their wares. One, it is said, lived in a tree at Washington. It is not
so much with the authors as with the methods of making books that I
think you will be interested. I met a rising young author at a dinner in
Washington who confided to me that the "book business" was really ruined
in America by reason of the mad craze of nearly all Americans to become
writers. He said that he as an editor had been offered money to publish
a novel by a society woman who desired to pose as an authoress. This
author said that there were in America a dozen or more of the finest and
most honorable publishing houses in the world, but there were many more
in the various cities which virtually preyed upon this "literary
disease" of the people. No country in the world, said my acquaintance,
produces so many books every year as America; so many, in fact, that the
shops groan with them and the forests of America threaten to give out,
and the supply virtually clogs and ruins the market. So crazy are the
people to be authors and see themselves in print that they will go to
any length to accomplish authorship.

He cited a case of a carpenter, a man of no education, who was seized
with the desire to write a book, which he did. It was sent to all the
leading publishers, and promptly returned; then he began the rounds of
the second-class houses, of which there are legion. One of the latter
wrote him that they published on the "cooperative" plan, and would pay
_half_ the expenses of publishing if he would pay the other half. Of
course _his_ share paid for the entire edition and gave the clever
"cooperative" publisher a profit, whether the edition sold or not. And
my informant said that at least twenty firms were publishing books for
such authors, and encouraging people to produce manuscripts that were so
much "dead wood" in the real literary field. He later sent me the
prospectus of several such houses which would take any manuscript, if
the author would pay for the publishing, revise it and send it forth. I
was assured that thousands of books are produced yearly by these houses,
who are really "printers," who advertise in various ways and encourage
would-be authors, the idea being to get their money, a species of
literary "graft," according to my literary informant, who assured me I
must not confuse such parasites with the large publishers of America,
who will not produce a book unless their skilled readers consider it a
credit to them and to the country, a high standard which I believe is

Perhaps the most interesting phase of literature in America is found in
the weekly and monthly magazines, of which there is no end. Every sport
has its "organ," every great trade, every society, every religion; even
the missionaries sent to China have their organs, in which is reported
their success in saving _us_ and divorcing us from our ancient beliefs.
The great literary magazines number perhaps a dozen, with a few in the
front rank, such as the Century, Harper's, Scribner's, The Atlantic,
Cosmopolitan, McClure's, Dial, North American Review, Popular Science
Monthly, Bookman, Critic, and Nation. Such magazines I conceive to be
the universities of the people, the great educators in art, literature,
science, etc. Nothing escapes them. They are timely, beautiful, exact,
thorough, scientific, the reflex of the best and most artistic minds in
America; and many are so cheap as to be within the reach of the poor. It
is interesting to know that most of these magazines are sources of
wealth, the money coming from the advertisements, published as a feature
in the front and back. These notices are in bulk often more than the
literary portion, and the rate charged, I was told, from $100 to $1,000
per page for a single printing.

The skill with which appeals are made to the weaknesses of readers is
well shown in some of the minor publications not exactly within the same
class as the literary magazines. One that is devoted to women is a most
clever appeal to the idiosyncrasies of the sex: There are articles on
cooking, dinners, luncheons, how to set tables, table manners, etiquette
(one would think they had read Confucius), how to dress for these
functions; and, in fact, every occupation in life possible to a woman is
dealt with by an extraordinary editor who is a man. Whenever I was joked
with about our men acting on the stage as women, I retorted by quoting
Mr. - - , the male editor of the female - - , who is either a consummate
actor or a remarkably composite creature, to so thoroughly anticipate
his audience. The mother, the widow, the orphan, the young maiden, the
"old maid," are all taken into the confidence of this editor, who in
his editorials has what are termed "heart to heart" talks.

I send you a copy of this paper, which is very clever and very
successful, and a good illustration of the American magazine that, while
claiming to be literature, is a mechanical production, "machine made" in
every sense. One can imagine the introspective editor entering all the
foibles and weaknesses of women in a book and in cold blood forming a
department to appeal to each. I was informed that the editors of such
publications were "not in business for their health," but for money; and
their energies are all expended on projects to hold present readers and
obtain others. The more readers the more they can charge the
"advertiser" in the back or side pages, who here illustrate their deadly
corsets, their new dye for the hair, their beauty doctors, freckle
eradicators, powders for the toilet, bustles, and the thousand and one
things which shrewd dealers are anxious to have women take up.

The children also have their journals or "magazines." One in New York
deals with fairies and genii, on the ground that it is good for the
imagination. Another, published in Boston, denounces the fairy-story
idea, and gives the children stories by great generals, princes of the
blood, captains of industry, admirals, etc.; briefly, the name of the
writer, not the literary quality of the tale, is the important feature.
There are papers for babes, boys, girls, the sick and the well.

The most conspicuous literary names before the people are Howells,
Twain, and Harte, though one hears of scores of novelists, who, I
believe, will be forgotten in a decade or so. As I have said
previously, I am always joked with about the "Heathen Chinee." I have
really learned to play "poker," but I seldom if ever sit down to a game
that some one does not joke with me about "Ah Sin." Such is the American
idea of the proprieties and their sense of humor; yet I finally have
come to be so good an American that I can laugh also, for I am confident
the jokers mean it all in the best of feeling.

There are in America a class of litterateurs who are rarely heard of by
the masses, but to my mind they are among the greatest and most advanced
Americans. They are the astronomers, geologists, zoologists,
ornithologists, and others, authors of papers and articles in the
Government Reports of priceless value. These writers appear to me, an
outsider, to be the real safety-valves, the real backbone of the
literary productions of the day. With them science is but a synonym of
truth; they fling all superstition and ignorance to the winds, and
should be better known. Such names as Edison, Cope, Marsh, Hall, Young,
Field, Baird, Agassiz, and fifty more might be mentioned, all authors
whose books will give them undying fame, men who have devoted a lifetime
to research and the accumulation of knowledge; yet the author of the
last novel, "My Mule from New Jersey," will, for the day, have more
vogue among the people than any of these. But such is fame, at least in
America, where erudition is not appreciated as it is in "pagan" China.


[3] As a frontispiece to this volume, the cover design used on one of
these old Chinese books is shown.

[4] Spring and Autumn Annals.

[5] Great Learning.

[6] Confucian Analects.

[7] Doctrine of the Mean.

[8] Works of Mencius.



At an assembly-room in New York I met a famous American political
"boss." Many governors in China do not have the same power and
influence. I had letters to him from Senators - - and - - . I expected
to meet a man of the highest culture, but what was my surprise to see a
huge, overgrown, uneducated Irishman, gross in every particular, who
used the local "slang" so fiercely that I had difficulty in
understanding him. He had been a police officer, and I understand was a
"grafter," but that may have been a report of his enemies, as he
commanded attention at the time of the election.

This man had a fund of humor, which was displayed in his clapping me on
the back and calling me "John," introducing me to a dozen or so of as
hard-looking men in the garb of gentlemen as I have ever seen. I heard
them described later as "ward beetles," and they looked it, whatever it
meant. The "Boss" appeared much interested in me; said he had heard I
was no "slouch," and knew I must have a "pull" or I would not be where I
am. He wished to know how we run elections on "the Ho-Hang-Ho." When I
told him that a candidate for a governmental office never obtained it
until he passed one of three very difficult literary examinations in our
nine classics, and that there were thousands competing for the office,
he was "paralyzed" - that is, he said he was, and volunteered the
information that "he would not be 'in it' in China." I thought so
myself, but did not say so.

I told him that the politicians in China were the greatest scholars;
that the policy of the Government was to make all offices competitive,
as we thus secured the brightest, smartest, and most gifted men for
officials. "Smart h - - !" retorted the "Boss." "Why, we've got smart
men. Look at our school-teachers. Them guys[9] is crammed with guff,[10]
and passing examinations all the time; but there ain't one in a thousand
that's got sense enough to run a tamale[11] convention. The State
governor would get left here if all the boys that wanted office had to
pass an examination. We've got something like it here," he said, "that
blank Civil Service, that keeps many a natural-born genius out of
office; but it don't 'cut ice with me.' I'm the whole thing in the

Despite his rough exterior, - - was a good-hearted fellow, as they
say, no rougher than his constituents, and I was with him several days
during a local election with a view to studying American politics. Much
of the time was spent in the saloons of the district where the "Boss"
held out, and where I was introduced as a "white Chinee," or as a "white
Chink," and "my friend." I wish I had kept a list of the drinks the
"Boss" took and the cigars he smoked _per diem_. Perhaps it is as well I
did not; you would not believe me. I was always "John" to this crowd,
that was made up of laboring people in the main, of whom Irish and
Germans predominated. The "Boss" was what they called a "bulldozer." If
a man differed with him he tried to talk or drink him down; if it was an
enemy and he became too disputatious, he would knock him out with his
fist. In this way he had acquired a reputation as a "slugger," that
counted for much in such an assemblage, and he confided to me one
evening that it was the easiest way to "stop talk," and that if he "laid
down," the opposition would walk off with all his "people." He was
"Boss" because he was the boss slugger, the best executive, the best
drinker and smoker, the best "persuader," and the best public speaker in
his ward. So you see he had a variety of talents. In China I can imagine
such a man being beheaded as a pirate in a few weeks; this would be as
good an excuse as any; yet men like this have grown and developed into
respectable persons in New York and other cities.

"For ways that are dark and tricks that are vain, the Heathen Chinee is
peculiar," but I doubt if he is more so than the political system of the
United States, where every man is supposed to be free, but where a few
men in each town own everything and everybody politically. The American
thinks he is free, but he has in reality no more freedom than the
Englishman; in fact, I am inclined to think that the latter is the
freest of them all, and I doubt if too much freedom is good for man.
Politics in America is a profession, a trade, a science, a perfect
system by which one or two men run or control millions. Politics means
the attainment of political power and influence, which mean office. Some
men are in politics for the love of power, some for spoils ("graft" they
call it in slang), and some for the high offices. In America there are
two large parties, the Republican and the Democratic. Then there are the
Labor, Prohibition (non-drinking), and various other parties, which, in
the language of politics, "cut no ice." The real issues of a party are
often lost sight of. The Republicans may be said to favor a high
tariff; the Democrats a low tariff or free trade; and when there is not
sufficient to amuse the people in these, then other reasons for being a
Democrat or a Republican are raised, and a platform is issued. Lately
the Democrats have espoused "free silver," and the Republicans have
"buried" them. The Democrats are now trying to invent some new
"platform"; but the Republicans appear to have included about all the
desirable things in their platform, and hence they win.

In a small town one or two men are known as "bosses." They control the
situation at the primaries; they manage to get elected and keep before
the people. Generally they are natural leaders, and fill some office.
When the senator comes to town they "escort" him about and advise him as
to the votes he may expect. Sometimes the ward man is the postmaster,
sometimes a national congressman, again a State senator; but he is
always in evidence, and before the people, a good speaker and talker and
the "boss." Every town has its Republican and Democratic "boss," always
striving to increase the vote, always striving for something. The larger
the city, the larger the "boss," until we come to a city like New York,
where we find, or did find, Boss Tweed, who absolutely controlled the
political situation for years.

This means that he was in politics, and manipulated all the offices in
order to steal for himself and his friends; this is of public record. He
was overthrown or exposed by the citizens, but was followed by others,
who manipulated the affairs of the city for money. Offices were sold;
any one who had a position either bought it or paid a percentage for it.
Gambling-dens and other "resorts" paid large sums to "sub-bosses," who
become rich, and if the full history of some of the "bosses" of New
York, Philadelphia, Chicago, or any great American city could be
exposed, it would show a state of affairs that would display the
American politician in a dark light. Repeatedly the machinations of the
politicians have been exposed, yet they doubtless go on in some form.
And this is true to some extent of the Government. The honor of no
President has been impugned; they are men of integrity, but the enormous
appointing power which they have is a mere form; they do not and could
not appoint many men. The little "boss" in some town desires a position.
He has been a spy for the congressman or senator for years, and now
aspires to office. He obtains the influence of the senator and the
congressman, and is supported by a petition of his friends, and the
President names him for the office, taking the senator for his sponsor.
If the man becomes a grafter or thief, the President is attacked by the

In a large city like New York each ward will have its "boss," who will
report to a supreme "boss," and by this system, often pernicious, the
latter acquires absolute control of the situation. He names the
candidates for office, or most of them, and is all powerful. I have met
a number of "bosses," and all, it happened, were Irish; indeed, the
Irish dominate American politics. One, a leader of Tammany in New York,
was a most preposterous person, well dressed, but not a gentleman from
any standpoint; ignorant so far as education goes, yet supremely sharp
in politics. Such a man could not have led a fire brigade in China, yet
he was the leader of thousands, and controlled Democratic New York for
years. He never held office, I was told, yet grew very rich.

The Republican "boss" was a tall, thin, United States senator. I was
also introduced to him - a Mephistophelian sort of an individual - to me
utterly without any attraction; but I was informed that he carried the
vote of the Republican party in his pocket. How? that is the mystery. If
you desired office you went to him; without his influence one was
impotent. Thousands of office-holders felt his power, hated him,
perhaps, but did not dare to say it.

The "boss" controls the situation, gives and "takes," and the other
citizens get the satisfaction of thinking they are a free people. In
reality, they are political slaves, and the "boss," "sub-boss," and the
long line of smaller "bosses" are their masters. Very much the same
situation is seen in national politics. The party is controlled by a
"boss," and at the present this personage is a millionaire, named Hanna,
said to be an honest, upright man, with a genius for political
diplomacy, a puller of wires, a maker of Presidents, having virtually
placed President McKinley where he is. This man I met. Many of the
politicians called him "Uncle Mark." He has a familiar way with
reporters. He is a man of good size, with a face of a rather common
type, with very large and protruding ears, but two bright, gleaming
eyes, that tell of genius, force, intelligence, power, and executive
talents of an exalted order. I recall but one other such pair of eyes,
and those were in the head of Senator James G. Blaine, whom I saw during
my first visit to America. Hanna is famous for his _bonhomie_, and is a
fine story-teller. Indeed, unless a man can tell stories he had better
remain out of politics, or rather he will never get into politics.

As an outsider I should say that the power of the "boss" was due to the
fact that the best classes will have none of him, as a rule (I refer to
the ordinary "boss"), and as a consequence he and his henchmen control
the situation. I think I am not overstating the truth when I say that
every city in the United States has been looted by the politicians of
various parties. It is of public record that Philadelphia, Chicago, St.
Louis, and New York citizens have repeatedly risen and shown that the
city was being robbed in the most bare-handed manner. Bribery and
corruption have been found to exist to-day in the entire system, and if
the credit of the republic stands on its political _morale_ this vast
union of States is a colossal failure, as it is being pillaged by
politicians. Every "boss" has what are termed "heelers," one function
of whom is to buy votes and do other work in the interest of "reform." A
friend told me that he spent election day in the office of a candidate
for Congress in a certain Western town, and the candidate had his safe
heaped full of silver dollars. All day long men were coming and going,
each taking the dollars to buy votes. By night the supply was exhausted,
and the man defeated. I expressed satisfaction at this, but my friend
laughed; the other fellow who won paid more for votes, he said. I was
told that all the great senatorial battles were merely a question of
dollars; the man with the largest "sack" won.

On the other hand, there are senators who not only never paid for a vote
but never expressed a wish to be elected. The foreign vote - Italians and
others - are swayed by cash considerations; the negroes are bought and
sold politically. The "bosses" handle the money, and the senators
consider it as "expenses," and doubtless do not know that some of it has
been used to influence legislators. The Americans have a remarkable
network of laws to prevent fraudulent voting. Each candidate in some
States is required to swear to an expense account, yet the wary
politician, with his "ways that are dark," evades the law. The entire
system, the control of the political fortunes of 80,000,000 Americans,
is in the hands of a small army of political "bosses," some of whom, had
they figured as grafters in "effete" China, would have been beheaded
without mercy.


[9] Slang for citizens.

[10] Slang for information, facts.

[11] Mexican hash in corn-husk.



A fundamental idea with the American is to educate children. This is
carried to the extent of making it an offense not to send those above a
certain age to school, while State or town officers, called "truant
police," are on the alert to arrest all such children who are not in
school. The following was told me by a Government official in
Washington, who had obtained it from a well-known literary man who
witnessed the incident. The literary man was invited to visit a Boston
school of the lower grade, where he found the teacher, an attractive
woman, engaged in teaching a class of "youngsters," the progeny of the
working class. After the visitor had listened to the recitations for
some time, he remarked to the teacher, "How do you account for the
neatness and cleanliness of these children?" "Oh, I insist upon it," was
the reply. "The Board of Education does not anticipate all the
desiderata, but I make them come clean and make it a part of the
course;" then rising and tapping on the table, she said, "Prepare for
the sixth exercise." All the children stood up. "One," said the teacher,
whereupon each pupil took out a clean cloth handkerchief. "Two," counted
the teacher, and with one concerted blast every pupil blew his or her
nose in clarion notes. "Three," came again after a few seconds, and the
handkerchiefs were replaced. At "four" the student body sank back to
their seats without even smiling, or without having "cracked a smile."
You could search the world over and not find a prototype. It goes
without saying that the teacher was a wit and wag, but the lesson of
handkerchiefs and their use was inculcated.

Education is a part of the scheme to make all Americans equal. A more
splendid _system_ it is impossible to conceive. Every possible facility
is afforded the poorest family to educate their children. Public schools
loom up everywhere, and are increased as rapidly as the children, so
there is no excuse for ignorance. The schools are graded, and there is
no expense or fee. The parents pay a tax, a small sum, those who have no
children being taxed as well as those who have many. There are schools
to train boys to any trade; normal free schools to make teachers; night
schools for working boys; commercial schools to educate clerks; ship
schools to train sailors and engineers. Then come the great
universities, in part free, with all the splendid paraphernalia, some
being State institutions and others memorials of dead millionaires.
Then there are the great technical schools, as well as universities
(where one can study Chinese, if desired). There are schools of art,
law, medicine, nature, forestry, sculpture; schools to teach one how to
write, how to dress, how to eat, and how to keep well; schools to teach
one how to write advertisements, to cultivate the memory, to grow
strong; schools for shooting, boxing, fencing; schools for nurses and
cooks; summer schools; winter schools.

And yet the American is not profoundly educated. He has too much within
his reach. I have been distinctly surprised at crude specimens I have
met who were graduates of great universities. The well-educated
Englishman, German, and American are different things. The American is
far behind in the best sense, which I am inclined to think is due to
the teachers. Any one can get through a normal school and become a
teacher who can pass the examination, and I have seen some singular

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Online LibraryHenry Pearson GrattonAs a Chinaman saw us; passages from his letters to a friend at home → online text (page 7 of 12)