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poets, the present Minister to the Court of St.
James's, represents that of most foreigners, and
it is difficult to see that it is essentially unfair :

" Of all the sarse that I can call to mind
England doos make the most onpleasant kind :
It's you're the sinner oilers, she's the saint :
Wat's good's all English, all that isn't ain't.
She's praised herself ontil she fairly thinks
There ain't no light in Natur' when she winks."

Such characteristics are not amiable, and the
laws of heredity have transmitted them to our
Transatlantic cousins. It is, indeed, probable that


the Americans are, intrinsically, as disagreeable as
ourselves ; for although, on the continent of
Europe, they are comparatively popular, this is
probably because they are less known. Annually,
a flight of pork-packers and successful tradesmen
cross the Atlantic, with their families, to complete
an education, which has in reality not begun, by a
contemplation of Paris hotels and Rhine steam-
boats. But the American pork-merchant is silent
in the presence of his peacock-voiced wife and
daughters ; and the complete party, Philistine
though it be, is infinitely preferable to the swarm
of London shop-boys with their sweethearts, whose
uproarious felicity makes hideous all foreign re-
sorts in the near neighbourhood of England. In
the continental dislike of England is an element of
jealousy and suspicion in which America has no
part. We have fought and bullied in every quarter
of the world, and, to-day, we stand with crossed
swords with Russia in Central Asia and Armenia,
with France in China and Egypt. Eight hundred
years of victory for the English never own a defeat
has left much soreness on every side, while the
too fortunate Yankee, navyless and armyless, is
not regarded, in a city like Paris, as a past or
future enemy, but merely as the welcome victim of
hungry shopkeepers. If America were as closely


connected with Europe as is England, her citizens
would be as much disliked as Englishmen. The
two nations, however diverse their special character-
istics may appear to a superficial observer, are
curiously alike.. The true Americans are unaffected
by the stream of German or Scandinavian or Irish
emigration, with which they have never mingled.
They are now, and will remain, Englishmen in
thought, genius and weaknesses the physical type
modified by an uncongenial climate mostly in
extremes, the commercial spirit intensified by
unrivalled opportunities for its successful employ-
ment, and the national genius for mechanical
invention developed by the high wages of labour,
precisely as the monkey developed a prehensile



AN English characteristic, strongly developed
and even grotesquely caricatured in America, is
the love of big things, which is, after all, a failing
akin to virtue, and which will guide America into
fair pastures when adversity and Mr. Matthew
Arnold shall have chastened and purified Philistia.
At present, Americans are satisfied with things
because they are large ; and if not large, they must
have cost a great deal of money. One evening, at
the Madison Square Theatre, an American observed
to me, " That is the most expensive drop-scene in
the world." It was a glorified curtain of em-
broidery, with a golden crane and a fairy land-
scape, and might justly have been claimed as the
most beautiful drop-scene in the world ; but this
was not the primary idea in the Yankee mind.
The two houses most beautiful architecturally in


the Michigan Avenue at Chicago were shown to
me as half-a-million-dollar houses. A horse is not
praised for his points, but as having cost so many
thousand dollars ; a man, who certainly may
possess no other virtue, as owning so many
millions. The habit of making size a reason for
admiration is less jarring to an educated taste than
that of making money the standard of beauty and

Full in front of the White House at Washington
as a warning to all future Presidents to avoid the
penalties which attach to patriotism, a column
of white marble is slowly rising to the memory of
Washington. It is intended eventually to appear
as an obelisk of six hundred feet, "the highest
structure ever raised by man, excepting the Tower
of Babel." Whether the design, which would seem
to have been framed in the spirit which brought
confusion on the builders of its prototype, will ever
be completed it is impossible to say. The corner-
stone was laid thirty-five years ago, and something
more than half the destined height has been already
reached. Colonel Casey, in charge of the work,
promises its early completion ; but if America
continues to depart from that standard of free and
honest administration which the high-minded,
chivalrous, and clean-handed founder of the


Republic set up, it would seem that for very shame
the monument will be left unfinished, to symbolise
as the tower of a shot manufactory or a cotton-mill,
the triumph of industrial enterprise rather than ot
successful patriotism. In no case will it possess
any interest beyond its size. Many nations have
begged or stolen obelisks from Egypt to decorate,
with dubious taste, their capitals. Half-a-dozen
may be found in odd corners in Rome ; London,
and Paris, and New York have each their trophy ;
and modern imitations have been raised in
cemeteries and on battle-fields in memory of those
whom the affection of friends or the gratitude of
nations have not thought worth an original design.
But the obelisk is a monolithic feature in Egyptian
architecture proportional to and in harmony with
surrounding buildings, and never placed by itself.
On the banks of the Potomac, and to the memory
of the most distinguished American, this gigantic
obelisk, although embellished with three large
windows and a patent elevator for country visitors,
is incongruous and absurd. When the next saviour
of his country shall have liberated America from
the tyranny of rings and monopolists, as much
heavier than that of George III. as were the
scorpions of Rehoboam compared with the whips
of his father, a grateful people must logically raise



a pyramid, greater than that of Cheops, to his

The Metropolitan Opera House at New York
which has been opened this season, is the latest
illustration of the American love of big things
because they are big. This theatre is said to be
the largest in the world, and was built by wealthy
New Yorkers who were unable to buy boxes at
the original Opera House, as their proprietors did
not think fit to die or vacate as quickly as the
aspirants made money. The result has been the
present house, in which may be nightly seen the
miserable and unmusical millionaires, from Van-
derbilt, like royalty, in the centre, to Jay Gould in
the depth of his stage-box, like a financial spider
waiting to suck the blood of a new victim, feigning
a pleasure they do not feel, applauding, with
consistent ignorance, at the wrong time and in the
wrong place. A similar scene of anguish was
surveyed by Satan when, in Milton's song, he rose
from the fiery marl and addressed his peers. The
new house cannot be compared with those of Paris,
Vienna, Moscow, and London, which have all
and each their special charm. Its architect visited
Europe, and carefully collected for reproduction
everything that he could find ugly or inconvenient,
and then built the largest, the meanest, the most


ill-arranged opera-house, the worst for sight and
sound, to be found in the world. New York,
whose opera-going society is hardly a twentieth of
that of London in the season, cannot support two
opera-houses ; and on the six or seven occasions
that I have been in the new house it was half
empty. But the love of big things has been
gratified, although the interests of music and the
public have been sacrificed.

If a stranger were to ask an intelligent and well-
informed American what, in his opinion, was the
thing best worth seeing in the United States, he
would probably name the pork-packing establish-
ments at Chicago. To this loathsome favour, like
Yorick's skull, all must come. The young beauty
on her honeymoon tour ; the statesman, the
tourist, all are drawn by some mysterious fasci-
nation to the shambles. They watch the unfortunate
swine hurry up the broad way which leads to de-
struction ; in absorbed horror, they see the throats
of the victims cut, and the descent of the body,
living or dead, it matters little, into the boiling
sea below, the scraping, the disembowelling and all
the revolting details of the toilette of the dead.
Few are permitted to escape the spectacle. Lord
Coleridge, carried to the shambles by his friends of
the Chicago bar, after having witnessed a few

C 2


executions, begged to be allowed to retire, as other-
wise he would be unable to eat sausages again.
Whether Matthew Arnold saw and reflected on
the mystery I know not, but we will hope that the
apostle of culture refused to follow this worse than
Ashantee custom. When I declined absolutely to
witness the pig-killing, my Chicago acquaintances
were distinctly ruffled. It was hardly to be en-
dured that a mere tourist, filled with the idle
sentiment of Europe, should despise the institution
which had done most to make their city famous.
But I was firm. I respectfully pointed out that
among the evil qualities which I had inherited or
acquired, a love of seeing pigs killed was not in-
cluded ; that if I were possessed of this unamiable
monomania I could gratify it in Europe, and that
I would cheerfully pay fifty dollars to avoid the
sight. I was reluctantly excused. But I foresee
that generations of tourists yet unborn will be less
fortunate ; and the pork-packing establishments of
Chicago will continue the cynosure of a nation's
eyes, ranking with the Abbey of Westminster,
the Parthenon of Athens and the Duomo of

The only sight which, in American eyes, disputes
the pre-eminence of the Chicago slaughter-yards
is Niagara, and there may be some who would


unhesitatingly assign it the palm. Its chief beauty
consists in its being the largest waterfall in the
world, with greater capacity than any other for
producing by water-power those manufactured
abominations which, as American fabrics or novel-
ties, are gradually debasing the taste of the civilised
world. Its one drawback is that the left bank of
the Niagara river being English territory and the
main body of the fall being situated therein, Ame-
ricans are unable to claim a monopoly in this
natural marvel for the States. It is fortunate for
posterity that the Canadian English have control
over the finer portion of the Niagara scenery, as
this alone protects it from such ruin as vulgarity
and greed combined can bring on nature. On a
small island, midway across the American fall, the
authorities of the State of New York whose names
I would hand down to eternal infamy were I not
convinced that, being New York officials, they are
already as infamous as it is possible for officials to
be have permitted the erection of a paper-mill,
hideous in its architectural deformity, and blight-
ing with a curse the beauty of Niagara. It is not
possible to describe the effect that this building has
upon a sensitive visitor. The outrage on good
taste is so extreme, and the state of nervous irrita-
tion induced by the unconscious vandalism of the


American people is so acute, that I am disposed to
consider a visit to Niagara a source of more pain
than pleasure. This mill is the outward and visible
sign, blazoned voluntarily to the world, of American
Philistinism. The Boston journals may announce
the advent of the millennium of good taste ; Messrs.
James and Howells and White may set forth their
poor platitudes to prove the cultured and refined
sentiments of their countrymen ; but the Niagara
paper-mill raises its tall chimney high above the
everlasting roar of the torrent to give them all
the lie.

Nor is this the only outrage on good taste at
Niagara. The torture of the paper-mill ceases with
the daylight, and its presence may be forgotten.
The traveller then, in frantic search for an emotion,
may hope to wander alone to the edge of the
avalanche of waters, and there commune with
such soul as waiters, rival touts, and coachmen
may have allowed him to retain. In the solemn
moonlight the wonderful pageant seems more
weird and mysterious than ever. But what is this
new and unknown effect of the moonbeams ? Is
it yes, it is the coloured lime-light, red, green,
and blue, thrown upon the hoary fleece of Niagara
by American cockneys ! In sheer disgust and
exasperation the traveller turns his back on the


insult and retires sulkily to bed. I remember, some
years ago, arriving at Naples in the evening with
two ladies who had never seen Vesuvius, and, as
the volcano was in eruption, I anticipated great
pleasure in showing them the glorious spectacle.
Darkness fell, and the red lines of the molten
rivers of lava burnt into sight, and the sullen
clouds above the crater turned to crimson. But
suddenly a long line of bright points of light
appeared from the observatory along the crest of
the mountain. These were lamps of electric light,
which the Neapolitan municipality, who would
make a profit out of the Day of Judgment if it
were possible, had set up to guide visitors along a
wire tramway to the summit. If I remember
rightly, the work was afterwards destroyed by the
lava, and I sincerely trust its promoters and con-
structors were burnt with it. But the disgust with
which I saw those electric lights degrading the
most majestic of nature's phenomena to the level
of Cremorne or Mabille was repeated in my heart
as I looked upon the lime-lights at Niagara.

On the whole, and always excepting the Chicago
pig-shambles, I am disposed to think Niagara the
sight best worth seeing in America, though I will
never return there until the paper-mill shall have
been removed. I will not attempt to describe the


indescribable, and would merely note for the benefit
of future travellers that the effect of Niagara is as
follows. On the first day it is distinctly disappoint-
ing : the roar of the waters is not so loud, the fall
so high, or the current so fierce as was imagined.
On the second day this natural though irrational
disappointment has been gradually and un-
consciously swallowed up by the waterfall, which
has become omnipresent, tremendous, and soul-
absorbing. On the third day Niagara has grown
a monster so oppressive to soul and sense
that the visitor hurries from the place with the
feeling that another day's communing with the
waters would make him mad. Such, at any rate,
were my sensations, and I found them almost
identical with those of my three fellow travellers.
The last, though by no means the least,
annoyance connected with Niagara is the
all-prevading presence of brides. When a young
American's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of
love, he vibrates to Niagara as the needle to the
pole. Here he brings his bride for the honey-
moon, whether from the facilities offered for
suicide, or for other and more recondite reasons,
unconnected with the beauty of the scenery, I know
not ; though my belief, founded on prolonged
observation, is that the choice is due to the fact


that Niagara is the place in the world where two
persons, who have nothing to say to each other,
can remain silent without embarrassment for the
longest period of time, the noise of the water
forbidding all but pantomimic conversation. How-
ever this may be, brides and bridegrooms are
everywhere to be seen, making demonstrative if
silent love under every tree and on every point
of danger overhanging the torrent. There are
perhaps earthly conditions in which the identity
of a bride may remain concealed, for other women
besides her are demonstrative in their affection
and wear new frocks. But Niagara, with its
almost perpendicular descents to the river, is
peculiarly favourable to the display of the
feminine foot and ankle ; and the bride invariably
wears new boots, which is done by no other sane
woman on a country excursion. The time to
visit Niagara is in the early spring or in the late
autumn, before the arrival, or after the departure,
of tourists, and when all hotels save one are closed.
The visitor may then, for a time, be happy,
especially if he has induced Mr. Patrick Ford,
the editor of the Irish World, to blow up the
paper-mill with the dynamite collected for his
scientific war with England.

In the Mississippi, the Americans may confidently


boast of possessing- a river larger and longer than
any to be found elsewhere. The Thames and the
Tiber, the Danube and the Ganges, though not
without historical interest or commercial import-
ance, are pigmies beside this river giant. Yet, in
beauty, the Mississippi is not to be compared with
the clear St. Lawrence, or fifty smaller American
streams. Indeed its waters are but liquid mud,
and the scenery, in the lower part of its course, is
chiefly composed of swamps and sand banks.
Further to the north its beauty increases, and at
St. Paul in Minnesota, two thousand miles from
its mouth, the river flows between cliffs which
would be imposing were it not that they are
decorated with the announcement, in letters twenty
feet high, that " Smith's chewing tobacco is the best."
At St. Louis, nearly a thousand miles nearer the
sea, and after its junction with the Missouri, the
river has become a superb volume of pea-soup ;
and thence pursues a thoroughly uninteresting and
unlovely course to the sea, doing as much mis-
chief as it can on the way.

The manner in which Americans permit their
most beautiful scenery to be spoiled by the
rapacity of vulgar advertisers, notifying their
respective swindles on rocks and stones and trees,
or by the erection of the most commonplace or


ugly buildings in most incongruous situations,
is hardly to be explained except on the sup-
position that the long and absorbed contem-
plation of the dollar has destroyed any popular
appreciation of natural beauty. The question
is one of great psychological interest, and some
obscurity, for the deepest love of nature and the
fullest delight in natural beauty fill the works of
such American poets as Bryant and Longfellow,
and dignify the obscene ravings of Walt Whitman.
Yet on what reasonable ground can we account for
the Niagara paper-mill ? It is not that the love of
freedom in the States is so keen that the individual
right of the manufacturer to erect his building over
the waterfall cannot be safely disputed. The
whole argument of this book is to show that such
cannot be the explanation, since individual right
is not regarded in America when opposed to the
wishes or prejudices of the majority, or of that
minority which, by impudence and audacity,
has usurped the prerogatives of the majority.
Democracy is everywhere tyranny ; in the same
sense and only differing in degree from that
socialistic tyranny which Mr. Herbert Spenser
has made the text of his latest warning. If the
New York people thought the Niagara paper-mill
the outrage on decency which it is, they would


sweep it away without a thought of the individual
rights which they well know have been acquired by
bribing the State officials. It would almost seem
that the sense of beauty was so faint in Americans
that the desecration of beautiful scenery excited no
sensation of annoyance in their minds. The
elevated railway in New York is a striking
example of this bluntness of aesthetic perception.
To a stranger this work appears altogether fatal to
the beauty of the streets. But no one has ever
heard a New Yorker object to it on aesthetic
grounds. On the contrary, it is considered a
chief glory of the city, and a noteworthy sign
of its marvellous enterprise and activity. One
memorable event has occurred in modern American
history which would, at first sight, appear to
suggest the existence of a popular love of natural
beauty. This was the Act of Congress in 1872,
constituting that strange region in the north-
western part of the territory of Wyoming, which
is undoubtedly one of the most remarkable and
beautiful districts in the known world, a public
park or pleasure-ground for the benefit and enjoy-
ment of the people. But this action, though de-
serving of every commendation, is still open to
criticism. The Yellowstone National Park is 3,575
square miles in extent, that is to say, the size of


Kent, Sussex, and Surrey together ; and it is ob-
vious that as the country becomes populated, and
Wyoming passes from a wild and uninhabited
Territory to the higher political rank of an inde-
pendent State, the Act of Congress will be a dead
letter. As well attempt to hold Leviathan with a
hook as to maintain this enormous tract of country
in savage isolation. Before many years shall have
passed the paper-maker will have his inevitable
chimneys over trie Mammoth Falls, and the rocks
of the Grand Canon will invite the traveller to
invest in Trego's Teabury Tooth Wash or Conger's
Chest Shields. The whole transaction was a piece
of swagger which was known to be meaningless.
Probably no single member of Congress who voted
for the Bill had ever seen the Yellowstone country.
Even to this day it is not visited by Americans,
and, with the exception of the " free-lunchers "
who were drawn in Mr. Villard's ephemeral
triumph across the continent last autumn, on the
occasion of the opening of the Northern Pacific
Railway, I have never met an American who had
seen the Yellowstone Park. Of twenty tourists
who have visited it, nineteen are Englishmen ; and
Americans will tell you that they have a great deal
too much to do to be fooling around looking after
beautiful scenery. Saratoga and Newport are quite


distant enough for their holiday, while the more
enthusiastic will penetrate to Lakes George and
Champlain, the White Mountains and the banks of
the St. Lawrence. In the most beautiful parts of
the Rocky Mountains, in the finest season of the
year, I do not remember to have met a single
American travelling for pleasure and enjoyment
of the scenery.



I HAVE already said that America is the country
of disillusion and disappointment, in politics, litera-
ture, culture, and art ; in its scenery, its cities, and
its people ; and I would here explain the limited
sense in which this criticism is intended to apply
to scenery and cities. My remarks can only be
general, seeing that I have no ambition to enter
into competition with the guide-books, or do
more than note those superficial characteristics of
America which cannot fail to attract the at-
tention of every intelligent traveller. I would
then observe that to a person who has travelled
much and has seen the most striking and
beautiful parts of both Europe and Asia, the
scenery of the United States and Canada appears
singularly unattractive and tame. There is some
fine scenery, but the country is so vast, and


the distances to be traversed so wearisome, that
the impression made by the oases of loveliness is
effaced by the monotony of the general ugliness.
The prairie has been the favourite theme of poets
and novelists : its illimitable extent ; its carpet of
flowers and its canopy of stars ; its mysterious
silences ; its terrible awakening to life in whirl-
wind and fire. But the prairie of real life is a
dull, uniform plain, for most part of the year
burnt a dead brown ; stretching in unbroken
monotony for hundreds and even thousands of
miles, precisely like those dismal Russian steppes
across which, month after month, the poor victims
of tyranny drag their failing limbs to their
Siberian grave.

As the prairies are too large to be beautiful, so
are the great American lakes, Superior, Michigan,
and Ontario. They have much of the beauty which
belongs to the sea ; but on their southern shores
there is little scenery of interest ; and it is only
where they narrow to form the St. Lawrence
river, and for forty miles take the name of the
Lake of the Thousand Islands, that they are in

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Online LibraryLepel Henry GriffinThe great republic → online text (page 2 of 11)