Lilian Bell.

Abroad with the Jimmies online

. (page 11 of 13)
Online LibraryLilian BellAbroad with the Jimmies → online text (page 11 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

at once into the conversation which had been broken off the day before.
It was evident that he had been thinking about our country, and was
eager for more information.

"I became very well acquainted with your ambassador, Mr. White, while he
was in this country," he began. "I found him a man of wide experience,
of great culture, and of much originality in thought. I learned a great
deal about America from him. It must be wonderful to live in a country
where there is no Orthodox Church, where one can worship as one pleases,
and where every one's vote is counted."

Jimmie coughed politely, and looked at me.

"It encourages individuality," he added. "Do you not find your own
countrymen more individual than those of any other nation?" he added,
addressing Jimmie directly for the first time.

"I think I do," said Jimmie, carefully weighing out his words as if on
invisible scales. Jimmie is largely imbued with that absurd fear of a
man who has written books, which is to me so inexplicable.

"Your country appeals to Russians, strongly," pursued the count,
evidently bent upon drawing Jimmie out.

"I have often wondered why," said Jimmie. "It couldn't have been the

"No, not entirely the wheat, although the news of your generosity spread
like wildfire through all classes of society, and served to open the
hearts of the peasants toward America as they are opened toward no other
country in the world. The word 'Amerikanski' is an _open sesame_ all
through Russia. Have you noticed it?"

"Often," said Jimmie. "And often wondered at it. But that wheat was a
small enterprise to gain a nation's gratitude. It is the more surprising
to us because it was not a national gift, but the result of the
generosity and large-mindedness of a handful of men, who pushed it
through so quietly and unostentatiously that millions of people in
America to this day do not know that it was ever done, but over here we
have not met a single Russian who has not spoken of it immediately."

"The Russians are a grateful people," observed Mrs. Jimmie, "but it
seems a little strange to me to discover such ardent gratitude among the
nobility for assistance which reached people hundreds of miles away from
them, and in whose welfare they could have only a general interest,
prompted by humanity."

"Ah! but madame, Russians are more keenly alive to the problem of our
serfs than any other. Many of our wealthy people are doing all that they
can to assist them, and, when a crisis like the famine comes, it is
heart-breaking not to be able to relieve their suffering. Consequently,
the sending of that wheat touched every heart."

"Then, too, we are not divided, - the North against the South, as you
were on your negro question," said the little countess. "The peasant
problem stretches from one end of Russia to the other."

"We are a diffuse people," I said. "Perhaps that is the result of our
mixed blood and the individuality that you spoke of, but your books are
so widely read in America that I believe people in the North are quite
as well informed and quite as much interested in the problem of the
Russian serf as in our own negro problem."

Bee gave me a look which in sign language meant, "And that isn't saying
half as much as it sounds."

"Undoubtedly there is a strong point of sympathy between our two
countries. Like you, we have many mixed strains of blood, and, though we
are so much older, we have civilised more slowly, so that we are both in
youthful stages of progress. Your great prairies correspond in a large
measure to our steppes. America and Russia are the greatest
wheat-growing countries in the world. Our internal resources are the
only ones vast enough to support us without assistance from other

"Is that true of Russia?" Jimmie cut in, his commercial instinct getting
the better of his awe of Tolstoy. "Where would you get your coal?"

"True," said Tolstoy, "we could not do it as completely as you, and
your very resources are one reason for our admiration of America."

"In case of war, now, - " went on Jimmie. He stopped speaking, and looked
down in deep embarrassment, remembering Tolstoy's hatred of war.

"Yes," said Tolstoy, kindly. "In case the whole civilised world waged
war on the United States, I dare say you could still remain a tolerably
prosperous people."

"At any rate," said Jimmie, recovering himself, "it would be a good many
years before we would be a hungry nation, and, in the meantime, we could
practically starve out the enemy by cutting off their food supply, and
disable their fleets and commerce for want of coal, so there is hardly
any danger, from the prudent point of view, of the world combining
against us."

"If the diplomacy at Washington continues in its present trend, under
your great President McKinley, your country will not allow herself to be
dragged into the quarrels of Europe. We older nations might well learn
a lesson from your present government."

"Oh!" I cried, "how good of you to say that. It is the first time in all
Europe that I have heard our government praised for its diplomacy, and
coming from you, I am so grateful."

Jimmie and the consul also beamed at Tolstoy's complimentary comment.

"Now, about your men of letters?" said Tolstoy. "It is some time since I
have had such direct news from America. What are the great names among
you now?"

At this juncture Countess Tolstoy drew nearer to Bee and Mrs. Jimmie,
and our groups somewhat separated.

"Our great names?" I repeated. "Either we have no great names now, or we
are too close to them to realise how great they are. We seem to be
between generations. We have lost our Lowell, and Longfellow, and Poe,
and Hawthorne, and Emerson, and we have no others to take their places."

"But a young school will spring up, some of whom may take their places,"
said Tolstoy.

"It has already sprung up," I said, "and is well on the way to manhood.
One great drawback, however, I find in mentioning the names of all of
them to a European, or even to an Englishman, is the fact that so many
of our characteristic American authors write in a dialect which is all
that we Americans can do to understand. For instance, take the negro
stories, which to me are like my mother tongue, brought up as I was in
the South. Thousands of Northern people who have never been South are
unable to read it, and to them it holds no humour and no pathos. To the
ordinary Englishman, it is like so much Greek, and to the continental
English-speaking person it is like Sanskrit. In the same way the New
England stories, which are written in Yankee dialect, cannot be
understood by people in the South who have never been North. How then
can we expect Europeans to manage them?"

"How extraordinary," said Tolstoy. "And both are equally typical, I

"Equally so," I replied.

"The reason she understands them both," broke in Jimmie, "is because her
mother comes from the northernmost part of the northernmost State in
the Union, and her father from a point almost equally in the South.
There is but one State between his birthplace and the Gulf of Mexico."

"About the same distance," said Tolstoy, "as if your mother came from
Petersburg and your father from Odessa."

"But there are others who write English which is not distorted in its
spelling. James Lane Alien and Henry B. Fuller are particularly noted
for their lucid English and literary style; Cable writes Creole stories
of Louisiana; Mary Hartwell Catherwood, stories of French Canadians and
the early French settlers in America; Bret Harte, stories of California
mining camps; Mary Hallock Foote, civil engineering stories around the
Rocky Mountains; Weir Mitchell, Quaker stories of Pennsylvania; and
Charles Egbert Craddock lays her plots in the Tennessee mountains. Of
all these authors, each has written at least two books along the lines I
have indicated, and I mention them, thinking they would be particularly
interesting to you as descriptive of portions of the United States."

"All these," said Tolstoy, meditatively, "in one country."

"Not only that," I said, "but no two alike, and most of them as widely
different as if one wrote in French and the other in German."

"A wonderful country," murmured Tolstoy again. "I have often thought of
going there, but now I am too old."

"There is no one in the world," I answered him, "in the realm of letters
or social economics, whom the people of America would rather see than

He bowed gracefully, and only answered again:

"No, I am too old now. I wish I had gone there when I could. But tell
me," he added, "have you no authors who write universally?"

"Universally," I repeated. "That is a large word. Yes, we have Mark
Twain. He is our most eminent literary figure at present."

"Ah! Mark Twain," repeated Tolstoy. "I have heard of him."

"Have you indeed? I thought no one was known in Europe, except Fenimore
Cooper. He is supposed to have written universally of America, because
he never wrote anything but Indian stories! In France, they know of Poe,
and like him because they tell me that he was like themselves."

"He was insane, was he not?" said Tolstoy, innocently.

I bit my lip to keep from laughing, for Tolstoy had not perpetrated that
as a jest.

"But many of our most whimsical and most delicious authors could not be
appreciated by Europe in general, because Europeans are all so ignorant
of us. There is Frank Stockton, whose humour continentals would be sure
to take seriously, and then Thomas Nelson Page writes most effectively
when he uses negro dialect. His story 'Marse Chan,' which made him
famous, I consider the best short story ever written in America.
Hopkinson Smith, too, has written a book which deserves to live for
ever, depicting as it does a phase of the reconstruction period, when
Southern gentlemen of the old school came into contact with the Northern
business methods. Books like these would seem trivial to a European,
because they represent but a single step in our curious history."

"I understand," said Tolstoy, sympathetically. "Of course it is
difficult for us to realise that America is not one nation, but an
amalgamation of all nations. To the casual thinker, America is an
off-shoot of England."

"Perfectly true," said Jimmie, "and that barring the fact that we speak
a language which is, in some respects, similar to the English, no
nations are more foreign to each other than the United States and
England. It would be better for the English if they had a few more
Bryces among them."

"If it weren't for the dialects," said Tolstoy, "I think more Europeans
would be interested in American literature."

"That is true," I said, "and yet, without dialects, you wouldn't get the
United States as it really is. There are heaps and heaps of Americans
who won't read dialect themselves, but they miss a great deal. Take, for
instance, James Whitcomb Riley, a poet who, to my mind, possesses
absolute genius, - the genius of the commonplace. His best things are
all in dialect, which a great many find difficult, and yet, when he
gives public readings from his own poems, he draws audiences which test
the capacity of the largest halls. I myself have seen him recalled
nineteen times."

"America and Russia are growing closer together every day," said
Tolstoy. "Every year we use more of your American machinery; your plows,
and threshers, and mowing-machines, and all agricultural implements are
coming into use here. Every year some Americans settle in Russia from
business interests, and we are rapidly becoming dependent on you for our
coal. If you had a larger merchant marine, it would benefit our mutual
interests wonderfully. Is your country as much interested in Russia as
we are in you?"

"Equally so," I said. "Russian literature is very well understood in
America. We read all your books. We know Pushkin and Tourguenieff. Your
Russian music is played by our orchestras, and your Russian painter,
Verestchagin, exhibited his paintings in all the large cities, and made
us familiar with his genius."

"All art, all music has a moral effect upon the soul. Verestchagin
paints war - hideous war! Moral questions should be talked about and
discussed, and a remedy found for them. In America you will not discuss
many questions. Even in the translations of my books, parts which seem
important to me are left out. Why is that? It limits you, does it not?"

"I suppose the demand creates the supply," I ventured. "We may be
prudish, but as yet the moral questions you speak of have not such a
hold on our young republic that they need drastic measures. When we
become more civilised, and society more cancerous, doubtless the public
mind will permit these questions to be discussed."

"The time for repentance is in advance of the crime," said Tolstoy.

"American prudery is narrowing in its effect on our art," I ventured,

"Is that the reason for many of your artists and authors living abroad?"

"It may be. We certainly are not encouraged in America to depict life as
it is. That is one reason I think why foreign authors sell their books
by the thousands in America, and by the hundreds in their own country."

"Then the taste is there, is it?" asked Tolstoy.

"The common sense is there," I said, bluntly, - "the common sense to know
that our authors are limited to depicting a phase instead of the whole
life, and then, if you are going to get the whole life, you must read
foreign authors. It's just as if a sculptor should confine himself to
shaping fingers, and toes, and noses, and ears because the public
refuses to take a finished study."

"But why, why is it?" said Tolstoy, with a touch of impatience. "If you
will read the whole thing when written by foreign authors, why do you
not encourage your own?"

"I am sure I don't know," I said, "unless it is on the simple principle
that many men enjoy the ballet scene in opera, while they would not
permit their wives and daughters to take part in it."

"America is the protector of the family," said Jimmie, regarding me
with a hostile eye.

Tolstoy tactfully changed the subject out of deference to Jimmie's

"Do many Russians visit America?" asked Tolstoy.

"Oh, yes, quite a number, and they are among our most agreeable
visitors. Prince Serge Wolkonsky travelled so much and made so many
addresses that he made Russia more popular than ever."

"Do you know how popular you are in America?" said Jimmie, blushing at
his own temerity.

"I know how many of my books are sold there, and I get many kind letters
from Americans."

"Isn't he considered the greatest living man of letters in America?"
said Jimmie, appealingly to me boyishly.

"Undoubtedly," I replied, smiling, because Tolstoy smiled.

"Whom do you consider the greatest living author?" asked Jimmie.

"Mrs. Humphrey Ward," said Tolstoy, decisively.

This was a thunderbolt which stopped the conversation of the other
members of the party.

"And one of your greatest Americans," went on Tolstoy, "was Henry

"From a literary point of view, or - "

"From the point of view of humanity and of the Christian."

Jimmie and I leaned back involuntarily. Judged by these standards, we
were none of us either Christians or human, in our party at least.

The Countess Tolstoy, who seemed to be in not the slightest awe of her
illustrious husband, having become somewhat impatient during this
conversation, now turned to me and said:

"It has been so interesting to talk with your sister and Mrs. Jimmie
about Paris fashions. We see so little here that is not second hand, and
your journey is so fascinating. It seems incredible that you can be
travelling simply for pleasure and over such a number of countries!
Where do you go next?"

"We have come from everywhere," I said, laughing, "and we are going

The countess clasped her hands and said:

"How I envy you, but doesn't it cost you a great deal of money?"

"I suppose it does," I said, regretfully. "I am going to travel as long
as my money holds out, but the rest are not so hampered."

"Alas, if I could only go with you," said the countess, "but we are
under such heavy expense now. It used to be easier when we had three or
four children nearer of an age who could be educated together. Then it
cost less. But now this boy, my youngest, necessitates different tutors
for everything, and it costs as much to educate this last one of
thirteen as it did any four of the others."

"But then you educate so thoroughly," I said. "Russians always speak
five or six, sometimes ten languages, including dialects. With us our
wealthy people generally send their children to a good private school
and afterward prepare them by tutor for college. Then the richest send
them for a trip around the world, or perhaps a year abroad, and that
ends it. But the ordinary American has only a public school education.
Americans are not linguists naturally."

"Ah! but here we are obliged to be linguists, because, if we travel at
all, we must speak other languages, and, if we entertain at all, we meet
people who cannot speak ours, which is very difficult to learn. But
languages are easy."

"Oh! _are_ they?" said Jimmie, involuntarily, and everybody laughed.

"Jimmie's languages are unique," said Bee.

"Are you going to Italy?" said the countess.

"Yes, we hope to spend next spring in Italy, beginning with Sicily and
working slowly northward."

"How delightful! How charming!" cried the countess. "How I wish, how I
_wish_ I could go with you."

"Go with us?" I cried in delight. "Could you manage it? We should be so
flattered to have your company."

"Oh, if I could! I shall ask. It will do no harm to ask."

We had all stood up to go and had begun to shake hands when she cried
across to her husband:

"Leo, Leo, may I go - "

Then seeing she had not engaged her husband's attention, who was
talking to Jimmie about single tax, she went over and pulled his sleeve.

"Leo, may I go with them to Italy in the spring? Please, dear Leo, say

He shook his head gravely, and the little countess smiled at her
mother's enthusiasm.

"It would cost too much," said Tolstoy, "besides, I cannot spare you. I
need you."

"You need me!" cried the countess in gay derision. Then pleadingly, "Do
let me go."

"I cannot," said Tolstoy, turning to Jimmie again.

The countess came back to us with a face full of disappointment.

"He doesn't need me at all," she whispered. "I'd go anyway if I had the

As I said before, Russia and America are very much alike.

As we left the house my mind recurred to Max Nordau, whose personality
and methods I have so imperfectly presented. The contrast to Tolstoy
would intrude itself. In all the conversations I ever had with Max
Nordau, he spent most of the time in trying to be a help and a benefit
to me. The physician in him was always at the front. His aim was
healing, and I only regret that their intimate personality prevents me
from relating them word for word, as they would interest and benefit
others quite as much as they did me.

The difference between these two great leaders of thought - these two
great reformers, Nordau and Tolstoy - is the theme of many learned
discussions, and admits many different points of view.

To me they present this aspect: Tolstoy, like Goethe, is an interesting
combination of genius and hypocrisy. He preaches unselfishness, while
himself the embodiment of self. Max Nordau is his antithesis. Nordau
gives with generous enthusiasm - of his time, his learning, his genius,
most of all, of himself. Tolstoy fastens himself upon each newcomer
politely, like a courteous leech, sucks him dry, and then writes.

Max Nordau, like Shakespeare, absorbs humanity as a whole. Tolstoy
considers the Bible the most dramatic work ever written, and turns this
knowledge of the world's demand for religion to theatrical account.
Tolstoy is outwardly a Christian, Nordau outwardly a pagan. Tolstoy
openly acknowledges God, but exemplifies the ideas of man, while Max
Nordau's private life embodies the noble teachings of the Christ whom he

It was not until months afterward, we were back in London in fact, when
Jimmie's opinion of Tolstoy seemed to have crystallised. He came to me
one morning and said:

"I've read everything, since we left Moscow, that Tolstoy has written.
Now you know I don't pretend to know anything about literary style and
all that rot that you're so keen about, but I do know something about
human nature, and I do know a grand-stand play when I see one. Now
Tolstoy is a genius, there's no gainsaying that, but it's all covered up
and smothered in that religious rubbish that he has caught the ear of
the world with. If you want to be admired while you are alive, write a
religious novel and let the hoi polloi snivel over you and give you gold
dollars while you can enjoy 'em and spend 'em. That's where Tolstoy is a
fox. So is Mrs. Humphrey Ward. She's a fox, too. They are getting all
the fun _now_. But it's all gallery play with both of 'em."

I said nothing, and he smoked in silence for a moment. Then he added:

"But I _say_, what a ripper Tolstoy could write if he'd just cut loose
from religion for a minute and write a novel that didn't have any damned
_purpose_ in it!"

Verily, Jimmie is no fool.



In going to Europe timid persons often cover their real design by
claiming the intention of taking German baths, of "doing" Switzerland,
or of learning languages. But everybody knows that the real reason why
most women go abroad is to shop. What cathedral can bring such a look of
rapture to a woman's face as New Bond Street or what scenery such
ecstasy as the Rue de la Paix?

Therefore, as I believe my lot in shopping to be the common lot of all,
let me tell my tale, so that to all who have suffered the same agonies
and delights this may come as a personal reminiscence of their own,
while to you who have Europe yet to view for that blissful first time,
which is the best of all, this is what you will go through.

When I first went to Europe I had all of the average American woman's
timidity about asserting herself in the face of a shopgirl or salesman.
Many years of shopping in America had thoroughly broken a spirit which
was once proud. I therefore suffered unnecessary annoyance during my
first shopping in London, because I was overwhelmingly polite and
affable to the man behind the counter. I said "please," and "If you
don't mind," and "I would like to see," instead of using the martial
command of the ordinary Englishwoman, who marches up to the show-case in
flat-heeled boots and says in a tone of an officer ordering "Shoulder
arms," "Show me your gauze fans!" I used to listen to them standing next
me at a counter, momentarily expecting to see them knocked down by the
indignant salesman and carried to a hospital in an ambulance.

My own tones were so conversational when I said, "Will you please show
me your black satin ribbon?" that, while I did not say it, my voice
implied such questions as "How are your father and mother?" and "I hope
the baby is better?" and "Doesn't that draught there on your back annoy
you?" and "Don't you get very tired standing up all day?"

It was Bee, as usual, who gave me my first lesson in the insolent
bearing which alone obtains the best results from the average British

Still without having thoroughly asserted myself, not having been to that
particular manner born, I went next to Paris, where my politeness met
with the just reward which virtue is always supposed to get and seldom

I consider shopping in Paris one of the greatest pleasures to be found
in this vale of tears. The shops, with the exception of the Louvre, the
Bon Marché, and one or two of the large department stores of similar
scope, are all small - tiny, in fact, and exploit but one or two things.
A little shop for fans will be next to a milliner who makes a specialty
of nothing but gauze theatre bonnets. Perhaps next will come a linen
store, where the windows will have nothing but the most fascinating
embroidery, handkerchiefs, and neckware. Then comes the man who sells
belts of every description, and parasol handles. Perhaps your next
window will have such a display of diamond necklaces as would justify
you in supposing that his stock would make Tiffany choke with envy, but
if you enter, you will find yourself in an aperture in the wall, holding
an iron safe, a two-by-four show-case, and three chairs, and you will
find that everything of value he has, except the clothes he wears, are

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13

Online LibraryLilian BellAbroad with the Jimmies → online text (page 11 of 13)