Richard Harding Davis.

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The big men who received degrees on the day
I was present were treated rather mildly. All
but a very fat professor from Dublin University,
who was hailed as " the best Dublin Stout," and
an Indian Prince who appeared in cloth of gold
and covered with stars and orders. He had a
somewhat dusky countenance, and one of the
voices asked, anxiously, " Now, sir, have you
used Pears' soap?" which called forth a chorus
of " Shame !" and the foreign prince was loudly
cheered to make up for the only remark of the
morning which struck one as being ungentle-



ON DON always impresses one at any
time, in season or out of
season, as such a great
show city, a show city
where all classes of peo-
ple may find entertain-
ment in the life of the
city itself an entertainment which
is not dependent on a pretty taste
in architecture, or a knowledge of
the city's historical values, or even
upon a familiarity with its language. It presents
so many and such dissimilar points of view that
the Frenchman who objects to its sombreness will
find something else to take the place of the light-
ness and gayety of his own capital, as the Afri-
can monarch who visited London last summer
found his greatest delight not in the majesty of
its great extent, but in the " blue kings," as he
called those who stood at the meeting of the
highways, and who, by a mere raising of the
hand, directed the flow of traffic, and stopped
even him until an omnibus passed by.


And the show is so free. There is so much
which comes to one for nothing, which is given
without the payment of a shilling fee, and which
requires no guide-book. An idle man can find
entertainment from early morn until midnight,
though not later than that, at no greater cost
than the mere exercise of living and standing
on one side to watch. He does not necessarily
have to hunt for the interesting things. They
will come to him en route. There is nothing
so picturesque in any other city of the world,
perhaps, or which gives you such a start of cu-
rious pleasure, as the Bluecoat boy swinging
along the crowded street, as unconscious of his
yellow legs and flapping skirts and of the rain
beating on his bare head as is the letter-carrier
at home of his mail-bag. Or the Lord Mayor's
carriage blocks your way when you go into the
City to draw on your letter of credit ; or a
couple of young barristers in waving gowns and
with wigs askew dash in front of your hansom;
or you are stopped by a regiment of soldiers,
or a group of negro minstrels dancing in the
street with as little concern as though they were
separated from you by a row of foot-lights ; or
you meet the Despatch and the other coaches
coming along Piccadilly and going down the
steep hill from that street to St. James's Palace
on a trot, and at the risk of every one's neck,
apparently ; or the Lifeguards go by with shin-


ing helmets, and with the lonely rear-guard two
hundred yards behind the rest to prevent an un-
expected attack from that quarter, from whom I
never could guess ; or you come suddenly upon
the proud and haughty Piccadilly goat in its ram-
bles, or a line of sandwich-men dressed like sail-
ors or cooks ; or you note the contrast between
the victoria with the men on the box in pink silk
stockings and powdered hair, and the little cos-
ter's cart piled high with cabbages as incongru-
ous a sight to any other city as would be a yoke
of oxen on Fifth Avenue.

But what make the streets of London most
interesting are not the badges of office and of-
ficial uniforms, but the unofficial garb and in-
signia which the masses have adopted the
milkman's white apron and wooden yoke, the
commissionnaire's medals which tell of cam-
paigns in Egypt and India, or the bootblack's
red coat. In America we hate uniforms because
they have been twisted into meaning badges of
servitude; our housemaids will not wear caps,
nor will our coachmen shave their mustaches.
This tends to make every class of citizen look
more or less alike. But in London you can al-
ways tell a 'bus-driver from the driver of a four-
wheeler, whether he is on his box or not. The
Englishman recognizes that if he is in a certain
social grade he is likely to remain there, and so,
instead of trying to dress like some one else in


a class to which he will never reach, he " makes
up " for the part in life he is meant to play, and
the 'bus-driver buys a high white hat, and the
barmaid is content to wear a turned-down collar
and turned -back cuffs, and the private coach-
man would as soon think of wearing a false nose
as a mustache. He accepts his position and is
proud of it, and the butcher's boy sits up in his
cart just as smartly, and squares his elbows and
straightens his legs and balances his whip with
as much pride, as any driver of a mail-cart in the

All this helps to give every man you meet an
individuality. The hansom -cab driver is not
ashamed of being a hansom-cab driver, nor is he
thinking of the day when he will be a boss con-
tractor and tear up the streets over which he
now crawls looking for a fare, and so he buys
artificial flowers for himself and his horse, and
soaps his rubber mat, and sits up straight and
business-like, and if you put him into livery
you would not have to teach him how to look
well in it. He does not, as do our own drivers,
hang one leg over the edge of his seat, or drive
with one leg crossed over the other and leaning
forward with shoulders stooped as though he
were fishing with his whip. The fact that you
are just as good as the next man, as the Con-
stitution says you are, does not absolve you for
performing the very humble work you chance to


be doing, in spite of the Constitution, in a slov-
enly spirit.

The first show of the day in London is the pro-
cession of horses in the Row. It lasts from nine
to eleven. It used to take place in the afternoon,
but fashion has changed that ; and Englishmen
who have been in the colonies, and who come
home on leave, and walk out to the Row at four
to see the riders, seldom find more than a dozen
from which to pick and choose ; and they will
find even a greater difference, if they go at the
right hour, in the modern garb of both the men
and the women. At least it was so last summer.
The light habit and high hat of the girls and the
long trousers and cutaway coat of the men had
given way to a dishabille just as different as dress
can be, and just as rigorous in its dishabille as in
its previous correctness and " form." The women
who rode last summer wore loose belted blouses
and looser coats that fell to their knees, straw
hats, and their hair, instead of being bound tight-
ly up, was loose and untidy, and the men ap-
peared in yellow boots, or even leggings, and
serge suits and pot-hats. All these things were
possible because the hour was early, and because
women who follow the hounds dress more with
an eye to comfort than they did, and others dress
like them to give the idea that they too follow
the hounds.

The Row, with six hundred horses on it, is one


of the finest sights of this show city. It would
not be possible were it not for the great leisure
class, and it and all the other features of Hyde
Park show not only how the leisure class is rec-
ognized as an institution in the way the author-
ities have set aside places for it, but how the
people themselves not of that class bow to it,
and give it the right of way. There is nothing
so curious or incomprehensible to an American
as this tacit recognition that somebody is better
than somebody else. We never could get any
one to admit that in this country except those
who thought they were the better ones, and they
are so many !

After you have seen the Row, you can walk
down to St. James's Palace and watch them
change the guard. This is a very innocent recre-
ation, but it is a pretty sight, and it illustrates
what I am trying to show that there is so much
to see in London that is done simply because it
is decorative and pretty to look at ; that it is a
thing we do not, I think, sufficiently consider.
We do things, first, because they are necessary or
convenient, or because they save time ; and later,
very much later, we make them look presentable.
Any one who saw the trees in Madison Square
hung with colored lanterns on the occasion of the
Columbian celebration in New York must have
been struck with this. The awe of the people
who walked through that very beautiful park that


night, and their bewilderment at having some-
thing given them for nothing, which had no use,
which was merely ornamental, was rather pa-
thetic. They could have understood the lighting
of the city by electricity in place of gas, but not
the hanging of orange globes in the green branch-
es of a public square. But the English go about
this differently ; they still light their streets by
gas, but they take a band of music to do as sim-
ple a thing as changing a guard. We have no
guards in America, not even around the White
House, but if we had, we would relieve it at a
quickstep and in a most business-like manner.

But in London the band plays every day at a
quarter to eleven, and a great crowd of people
gathers, and the soldiers and the crowd listen to
three selections from the band, and then the men
salute the flag, and march off proudly to a swing-
ing march ; and the crowd breaks up and goes
off about its business, and there is no great harm
done ; and there has been, on the contrary, some
very good music and a brave showing of red
coats, which helps the recruiting sergeants.

If you hurry from St. James's Palace yard to
Trafalgar Square, you will be in time to see the
coaches start from in front of the Hotel Victoria.
That is also a pretty sight, and as there are sel-
dom less than a dozen coaches, and as there are
a great many passengers to mount, and cold
Scotches to be taken, and extra pulls to be


given to the harness, it takes some time. If you
make a habit of going down to see the coaches
start, you will soon notice that there are many
more who do the same thing, and you will see
the same gentlemen gather there every morning
in very long coats and very curly hats, who ex-
amine the same legs of the same horses, and com-
ment on Mr. King's being behind time, or on the
fact that Arthur Fownes is not going to drive, or
on some such other important matter. There is
a great deal of color and cheery ringing blasts of
the horns, and jangling of chains, and old-time
picturesqueness in the red-and-green coats of the
guards and the familiar names on the panels, and
it is rather interesting to note that it is owing to
the delight which the visiting American takes in
this out-of-town travel that the coaches are able
to start with all the places taken.

Of course the best of all the free shows in Lon-
don are the Houses of Parliament. They are
more interesting to an American than our Upper
and Lower House are to an Englishman, because
the American knows more about what he is go-
ing to see than does the Englishman, and because
he, having read history and the foreign column
of his daily paper, enjoys that rare pleasure of
finding things just as he has been told he would
find them, and knows what is going on. He
speaks the language, as it were, and knows his
way about, and does not have to keep his nose


in the libretto, and so miss all the acting. I once
met an Englishman I knew at a club in America
which happened to be crowded with famous men,
and told him he was very fortunate in seeing so
many distinguished Americans gathered in one
place and at one time, and I began pointing them
out. But as he had never heard of any of them,
he saw nothing but a number of elderly gentle-
men in evening dress, and did not benefit by his
opportunity ; so I took him on to an athletic
club, where he shot at a mark, and apparently
enjoyed himself very much. An American of
the same class would have read the books or the
speeches of the men pointed out, and could have
talked to them, if he had met them, with benefit
to both.

This is a characteristic of the American which
our English cousin misunderstands in a most
aggravating fashion. He explains the fact that
we know more about his country and its laws
and great men than he does about ours as a
perfectly natural tribute to its superiority, just
as the Western man is expected to know who is
Governor of New York State, while the inhabi-
tant of New York is excused if he does not recol-
lect who may be Governor of Idaho or Dakota.
This is not the proper view at all. The American
knows more about England than Englishmen
know about America because he is interested in
the world at large, and not only in the county


or borough in which he exists. He would feel
ashamed if he did not know. The Englishman
is not ashamed. He thinks it perfectly natural
that you should recognize all the principal men
of both benches in the House of Commons, but
he does not feel that he has missed anything, or
that there is anything missing in him, when he
sees nothing in the House of Representatives but
a large room filled with men of whom he has
never heard. A member of the cabinet of last
June asked me whether our cabinet ministers
did or did not speak from the floor of the House.
It did not strike him that that question was not
so much an exhibition of interest on his part as
of ignorance. He asked it quite innocently, just
as if it were something he could not possibly be
expected to know. So I told him, gently, that
the public - school children in America knew
whether cabinet ministers in England spoke in
the House, and that with us we considered know-
ing just such things part of the education of a
gentleman, like knowing how to mount a lady on
horseback, and that not to know them was as
something to hide, like a soiled pair of cuffs, and
of which it was proper to be ashamed. It was
not that we looked up to these other nations and
studied them in consequence, as the "saleslady"
reads the society column which treats of the
Four Hundred, but because with us we were ex-
pected to know of Freycinet and Caprivi and


Rudini and Gladstone, just as we were of Cleve-
land or Reed.

As Goethe says, " One only finds in Rome
what one takes there." The Englishman takes
nothing to America but himself. The Ameri-
can takes to England and the rest of Europe
the accumulated learning of his lifetime, a quick
interest, which is not curiosity, and a fore-
knowledge of the traditions and present daily
life of what he sees. And so when he enters the
House of Parliament he enters it with the full
knowledge of all that it means and has meant
for centuries. He sees the trial of Warren Hast-
ings and the entrance of Cromwell ; and the
white marble statues along the corridor from the
old Hall to the new House are alive to him, and
pregnant with intelligence. He does not exclaim,
" These are the halls of my ancestors," " Blood
is thicker than water," and " I am only, after all,
returning to mine inheritance."

That is the sort of stuff American consuls talk
at London dinners. That is the way the Eng-
lishman bores one by trying to explain the inter-
est one takes in his history.

"Ah, yes !" he says, " you feel that, after all, we
are the same people."

Some Americans may feel that way, and thrill
over it. I know one American who does not.
It is not that we were once one. people, but that
the Houses of Parliament are something of


which we have read and heard, and are not
England's alone, but the world's. We would
thrill in the same way over the Pyramids or the
field of Marathon or the Champs-Elysees.

I once heard a dear old lady from the country
say to her equally dear old husband in a New
York horse-car, " Henry, do you appreciate the
fact that we are on Broadway?" Broadway to
her was a great name and place that she had
thought would be always a name, and she found
herself part of it, and it thrilled her simple old
heart. It was not because her great-grandfather
had once kept a shop on Broadway. And so
when we go into the gallery and look down on
all the men of whom we have heard so long we
feel things, and it is not because our great-grand-
father once sat in those halls and made the laws
for their sovereign, but because we feel we are
watching men make history. But an English-
man cannot understand that.

It is impossible not to take advantage of a com-
parison already familiar and liken the interior of
the Houses of Parliament to a well-ordered club.
That is the simplest and most direct way of de-
scribing it. The decoration is no more serious
nor no more handsome than is that of some of
the older clubs on Pall Mall, and the attitude of
the ushers, or whatever those dignitaries are
called who look like bishops and wear gold chains,
who think they can get you the order of the day,


and who are yet human enough to take even
a shilling for doing so, is strongly suggestive of
the club servant. The smoking-room is like any
other smoking-room, with its leather cushions and
electric buttons and red-waistcoated waiters, and
the grill-room just as hot, over-lighted, and noisy
as most club grill-rooms ; and the tea on the ter-
race while the heavy barges with their brown
sails and the penny excursion boats go by, and
with Lambeth Palace across the way, is much
more suggestive of the Lyric Club's terrace far-
ther up the Thames than the breathing-ground of
a great legislative body. I am sure the tea on
that terrace has had much more influence on
the politics of Great Britain than all the much
stronger drinks served in the smoking-room be-
low-stairs. And if it were wise to put a screen in
front of the women in the House itself, it would
seem even better wisdom to screen them off the
terrace as well. They could not do very much
harm from the gallery, even were the lattice taken
away, but out there on the terrace, in the late
English twilight, and with the moon perhaps
hanging over St. Paul's, and all the various lights
of the Surrey side and of the passing craft show-
ing on the black surface of the river, they are
v.ery dangerous indeed. How many men, one
might question, have decided that Conservatives
were, after all, very nice people, and their wives
and daughters at least most innocent, and that


Liberal - Unionist sounds better than Liberal,
which people will translate Radical, and that it
is rather pleasant to be taken up by such smart
people and to pour out tea for them.

The first impression one gets of the chamber
of the House of Commons is that it is so very
small. It does not surprise you to find the
House of Peers a hall of somewhat limited pro-
portions. That seems to be in keeping with the
exclusiveness of its members.

But the House of Commons sounds so mo-
mentous, and such great things have been car-
ried out there, that one rather looks for some-
thing grand and imposing and impressive. And
when you take your place in the gallery, and
lean over the railing to look down upon the high
hats of the members, you feel that you are rather
in a private chapel than in a legislative hall, and
that by reaching out your hand you could al-
most touch the Speaker in his high chair, which
always wickedly suggested a Punch -and -Judy
show to me, and the top of which, I was grieved
to note, was not dusted.

I found it very hard at first to grasp the fact
that the gentlemen sitting on the benches or
walking in and out, and making little bows to
the Speaker whenever they did so, whether he
was looking at them or not, were the real men
themselves of whom we have read, and with
whom Punch's " Essence of Parliament " and the


illustrated papers have made us familiar. It
was interesting to think you were hearing be-
fore any one else the speeches or the arguments
that were to be read the next morning in Amer-
ica and India. Going to the House day after
day was like a procession of " first nights" given
with a star cast. I caught myself commenting
with some surprise on how like the men were
to their pictures, and that there really was a lat-
ticed grating, and that the shadowy, moving fig-
ures behind it, like the ghostly jury in "The Bells,"
were real women and young girls, guarded from
view like slaves in a harem ; and that there were
a mace and a gangway and a master-of-arms with
a sword, just as Harry Furniss draws him, and a
reporters' gallery, where Warrington and Charles
Dickens once sat ; and that Mr. Balfour did wear
gaiters, and Mr. Gladstone high -peaked collars;
and that the Irish members were as obnoxious as
I had been led to believe they would be ; and that
the Lord Chancellor in the Upper House looked
just as he did in " lolanthe."

It was like seeing one of Shakespeare's plays
on the stage for the first time after one had
studied it only from the book. What impressed
me most about the House was the air of good-
breeding which prevailed there, and the strict-
ness of the etiquette the fact that the members
might not read a newspaper within its limits, and
the courtesy with which they bowed and gave to


each other the full title. It seemed so cosey
and comfortable legislation made easy, as it
were the colors were so harmonious and the
coats of arms so numerous, and the ubiquitous
policemen in the lobbies and halls outside so ob-
sequious, that a member's life, one thought, must
be a happy one. And they have such amusing
privileges outside the House. Their hansoms
may, for instance, go through any block at Wa-
terloo Bridge, no matter how heavy the traffic may
be, and if they are cabinet ministers they can go
through a block anywhere. If I were a cabinet
minister I would take a hansom by the hour, and
spend my time riding around to find blocks that
I might be let through, and so make other people
envious. And inside the House they are allowed
to ask their friends to dinner, and to wear their
hats all the time and everywhere, even, or espe-
cially for some of the Liberals are silly enough
to make a point of it when the Prince of Wales
takes his seat in the gallery.

The most interesting moments in the House
to one who is not so fortunate as to be present
at any great debate is question-time, when mem-
bers of both parties ask questions of the govern-
ment. These questions, in order that they may
be answered by the proper persons, require the
actual presence of the greater number of the
cabinet or of their under-secretaries, so that one
hears and sees the most interesting men of the


party in power under fire, or at least on the de-
fensive. It used to be that a member could ask
a question of the government without giving any
warning as to what the question was to be ; but
this privilege became so grossly abused by those
who asked only embarrassing questions meant to
embarrass that the questions were ordered to be
printed arid sent in advance to the heads of the
different departments who were expected to an-
swer them. This gave them some time to pre-
pare their reply, and to avoid telling too much or
too little.

In the order of the day, which is furnished
the members at each sitting, these questions
now appear numbered and titled, with the name
of the man who is to ask them. When his
turn comes, he rises and takes off his hat, and
asks the Right Honorable the Secretary of State
for the Home Department, for instance, to an-
swer question twenty -nine. Then the gentle-
man or his under-secretary makes a more or less
satisfactory answer in a very few words. The
value of these questions to the visitor is that
they show how far-reaching and multitudinous
are the interests of the House of. Commons.
There no topic is so trivial that, if it concerns a
British subject, it is not important enough to
command the attention of the House, and you
get a glimpse of a paternal government which
one moment causes a smile, and the next fills you


with wonder at the greatness of the system that
can reach out from Westminster and hold an
army at check at the Khyber Pass, or protect
the whaling- master in Bering Sea, or punish a
policeman on the Strand. Nothing is too little

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Online LibraryRichard Harding DavisOur English cousins → online text (page 7 of 10)