W. Fraser (William Fraser) Rae.

Westward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons online

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the Democrats, who are now the majority here, to
persecute and expel the Chinese will prove success-
ful remains to be seen. The Alta California, which
is an upholder of the Union rather than a mere
organ of party, has made a bold and firm stand in
favour of justice to the Chinaman. In one of many
articles on the subject it remarks that if the
Chinese were expelled, the value of landed property
would at once decline 25 per cent. ; that if they
were excluded, the act would be a token of bar-
barism ; and that not only unrestricted intercourse
with China, but also kind treatment of the Chinese,
is demanded by the spirit of the age. Furthermore,
it is said that the old war cry of ' America for
Americans ' is out of date, and there is no proba-
bility that ' America for Irishmen ' will be substi-
tuted. It is unquestionable that Chinese labour is
a great boon to California. It is reasonable that if
the Chinamen obey the law they should be protected
by the law. Fortunately, the statesmen of America
have recently succeeded in rendering it all but im-
possible to desecrate the grand principles of the
Republic by persecuting men on account of acci-


dents of parentage, and establishing a class of
Pariahs in the great home of a people in whose eyes
rank is but a trivial distinction, and who glory in
maintaining that birth alone neither entails disgrace
nor confers honour.




AMONG the earliest questions put by an American
lady or gentleman to a traveller from England who
lands at Boston, New York, or Baltimore this one
is certain to be included : ' How do you like
America?' If, however, the traveller should first tread
the sacred soil of the Union when stepping ashore
at San Francisco, he will as certainly be asked :
' What do you think of California ? ' In the former
case, the reply is expected that America is a great
country ; in the latter, that California is a paradise.
The observer to whom the second inquiry has been
addressed is soon led to think that the love of the
Californians for their country has been absorbed
in a singular and exceptional affection for their
State. They sometimes appear to consider the old
Bear flag as noble an ensign as the national Stars
and Stripes. They talk as if f the States ' were mere
adjuncts to California, satellites revolving round
their sun. This sentiment is more excusable than the


inflated provincial arrogance which puts the native
streamlet on a par with the foreign river; which
rates the native hills as the equals of distant moun-
tains ; which regards the native village as the centre
and measure of the universe. The frog would never
have striven to match the ox in size had the frog
been less contemptible. Were California a small
and insignificant State the exaggerated provin-
cialism of its inhabitants would be simply ludicrous
It is, however, the reverse of paltry and despicable.
So extensive is its area that twenty such States as
Massachusetts could be carved out of it. The popu-
lation is small, yet it exceeds that of the old State
of Connecticut. San Francisco alone contains more
citizens than the entire State of Rhode Island. In
the State of California there are 65,000,000 of acres
which can be brought under tillage, and as yet not
more than three per cent, of the whole has been
cultivated. Within the ample bounds of this large
and fertile State 20,000,000 of people can be ac-
commodated with pleasant homes. The soil yields
everything which human beings require to support
and ameliorate existence. All the metals which
men value most highly can be procured in abun-
dance and disposed of at a profit. The rivers swarm
with fish ; the woods are filled with game ; the fields
are alive with the savoury birds which, in less


favoured localities, are the luxuries of the rich.
The climate is as glorious as that which must have
prevailed in those f summer isles of Eden lying in
dark purple spheres of sea,' which the poet has
depicted as the regions of perfect terrestrial beauty
and happiness. That the dwellers in a State lavishly
endowed by nature and incontestably superior to
many other States in the Union, should be prone to
forget that they are the least part of what they see
and enjoy, is by no means unnatural, yet it fairly
lays them open to criticism.

Indeed, the Californians have so thoroughly iden-
tified themselves with their State as to be among
the greatest self-deceivers on the Continent of
America. They appear to live under the delusion
that the rich gold mines, the unrivalled grain,
the magnificent fruit, the delightful climate are all
creations of their own. Tell them that gold is
quite as abundant in Australia, that nature has
been as kind to dwellers on other portions of the
globe, and they will appear to think that an affront
is intended. Add that in some respects they are
not the equals of others who inhabit this Continent,
that the culture and polish of New England are
not among their adornments, that they pay a dis-
proportionate respect to material when compared
with intellectual achievements, and they will repel


the charges as malignant calumnies. In short,
Californians in general will marvel at the temerity
of the daring speaker or writer who ventures to
assure them that, even if they live in a paradise,
they are not wholly without spot or blemish.

It is hardly possible to reside for a day in
California without hearing some reference made to
the 'Pioneers.' To have come here in 1849 is
held to be a mark of distinction like that accorded
in Massachusetts to the Puritans who crossed the
ocean in the Mayflower and like that awarded in
England to the descendants of those who crossed
the Channel with William the Norman. In Europe
the spirit which originally led to the formation, and
still sanctions the continuance, of orders of nobility
is the same as that which prompts the pioneer-
worship of Californians. The spelling of f lord '
may be greatly varied without altering the actual
result. The Virginians had a form which, if clumsy
in appearance, answered the purpose nearly as well
as any other. The man who, in the Old World,
would be dubbed a viscount or a baron was known
in the Old Dominion as an F. F. V., that is, he
belonged to one of the First Families in Virginia.
It is probable that the two-fold effects of war and
emancipation may prove fatal to the continuance
of this petty form of aristocracy. Yet so long as


the ( Pioneers ' of California are regarded as excep-
tional men, the Great Republic will continue to
have specimens on a small scale of the antiquated
arrangements which its enlightened citizens regard
as the bane of the Old World. These < Pioneers '
are aristocrats at heart if not in name; they are

* nobles ' in their own estimation. If to have settled
in California in 1849 be admitted to be so meri-
torious as to command admiration, the children of
the ( Pioneers ' will claim superiority over others on
the ground that their fathers were the most distin-
guished citizens in the State and thus a hereditary
hallucination will be propagated.

It was at Chicago that I first had the grati-
fication of seeing several of these remarkable
( Pioneers.' A deputation arrived there with a
view to fraternise with their Eastern brethren and
exhibit themselves as examples of Californian
greatness. They were welcomed with the warmth
shown towards conquerors returning home after
the performance of heroic exploits. Had the

* Pioneers ' saved the Union single-handed their
presence could hardly have aroused greater enthu-
siasm. It was also my good fortune to become
personally acquainted with some of these extraor-
dinary men. They described California in a way
which led me to suppose that the country must be a


modern Eden. If they had added that it was Eden
after the fall they would have guarded themselves
against exciting expectations which were doomed
to be unfulfilled. By omitting to do this they led
me astray. They assured me that the citizens of
California were the superiors of all others on the
Continent, were endowed with every excellence of
character which adorns and exalts mankind. Their
achievements, I was emphatically told, had been
unparalleled in grandeur and unequalled in im-
portance, while all that had been performed and
all that was now rendered easy and possible had
its source in the conduct and character of the
6 Pioneers.' Such is the gist of the statements to
which I listened with attention. If I do not accept
them as wholly accurate, it is because I have failed
to substantiate them by an examination of the facts.
Moreover, granting the truth of the allegations, I
am reluctantly obliged to challenge the propriety
of the homage of which the e Pioneers ' are the
willing and gratified recipients. They went to
California in order to get riches: they succeeded
in their object; that their enrichment must be
pleasing to them is quite in the nature of things.
But to bow down before them because they have
been successful is simply to revive the worship
of the Golden Calf. When a man makes a for-


tune, he is not necessarily transformed into a demi-

Two qualities, I was told, distinguished the
citizens of San Francisco. They were generous to
a degree almost unique, and noted for hospitality
beyond the rest of the world. Among my intro-
ductions were some to gentlemen who, by com-
mon consent, were ranked as representative men,
citizens who occupied prominent positions as mag-
nates and millionaires. Soon after my arrival I
presented my introduction to one of these gentle-
men. He was a banker, and I thought it natural
that he should be rich ; he was an ornament to San
Francisco, and I deemed it a matter of course that
he should be estimable. His reception of me sur-
passed any which I had received from the many
affable Americans whose acquaintance I made in
a similar mariner. To call it cordial is but imper-
fectly to characterise it. Everything this gentle-
man could do to serve me he professed himself
anxious to perform. His country-seat, his horses
and his carriage were placed at my disposal with
an alacrity which was startling. It resembled
nothing so much as the sham politeness of the
Spaniard who asks the stranger to consider himself
the proprietor of all his possessions, and who never
for a moment thinks that he will be taken at his


word. I am sorry to have to record as the result
of experience gained not only from this case, but
from others, that among the legacies of the
Spaniards to the Californians the peculiar Spanish
views about hospitality have been included. It so
happened that I had no occasion for availing myself
of the banker's services, and was unable to put
his kindness to the test. Shortly before my de-
parture, I called to thank him for his courtesy and
to express regret at my inability to profit by his
liberal offers. Fancying, apparently, that I had
come to ask him to give effect to his promises, he
appeared strangely oblivious as to having seen me
before ; but, no sooner had I explained my errand,
than his countenance cleared, the former cordiality
of manner returned, and he emphatically expressed
a hope, of which I perfectly understood the mean-
ing, that he might have the pleasure of seeing me
the next time I visited San Francisco.

If the Californians were less addicted to eulo-
gising themselves, they might be praised more
unreservedly by strangers. It is wise policy for
the citizens of a new State to imitate the custom
of the inhabitants of Tasmania and New South
Wales and studiously refrain from provoking in-
discreet and minute inquiries. That society in
San Francisco and Sacramento should be composed


of heterogeneous materials, and that the f prominent
citizens ' should not always be conspicuous for their
high breeding and their learning ought to excite no
astonishment. The gold discoveries acted as a
magnet which drew to the same spot a mixed
crowd of adventurers. Some came to dig for gold ;
others to get gold in exchange for goods, for their
personal charms, for their professional advice. In
this keen struggle the most illiterate and unscrupu-
lous had a great advantage over the scholar and the
man of honour. The men who achieved the greatest
success were in some respects changed for the worse.
If vulgar and commonplace before, their rapidly
acquired riches served to render these failings still
more obvious. Their greatest gain consisted in the
training which had made them self reliant to a
degree which is unattainable except by those who
have lived in a community where Judge Lynch
administers the wild justice of revenge, and where
a bullet from a revolver or a stab made by a
bowie-knife is the only argument potent enough to
command instant acquiescence. The dwellers in
cities well guarded by policemen know nothing of
what it is to inhabit a mining camp swarming with
robbers and murderers. Those who have passed
through the ordeal have gained an experience like
that of the hunter who has lived for years by the


produce of his rifle, and has executed the double
task of shooting the game wherewith to sustain life
and guarding himself against being shot by Indians
who hate and pursue him as they do a wild beast.
The hunter's career generally unfits him for living
in the society of his fellows : he prefers a lonely but
active life in the forest or on the mountain to a
dreary and monotonous existence amid the solitude
of a great city. This was not the case with respect
to the gold-hunters. Having suddenly grown rich,
they were eager to enjoy the luxuries which money
can purchase. They imported into the city the
manners and customs of the camp. To order
drinks for s the crowd ' was the habit of a hospitable
Californian miner : to give drinks to their acquaint-
ances is the habit of the prosperous Californian
citizen. A gentleman who was pointed out to me
enjoyed immense popularity in San Francisco. He
was very rich. His greatest merit, as far as I
could learn, consisted in this, that sometimes he
expended 500 dollars a day in treating his friends
to drinks. When, then, Californians vaunt about
their hospitality they mean that they are the most
liberal with their whisky of any people on earth.

It would be an error, however, to regard the
Californians as sp end-thrifts. While parting osten-
tatiously with their money, they are perpetually


anxious to amass more wealth. The shrewdest
Yankee cannot excel them in looking after the
main chance. They seem to think that the whole
duty of man consists in getting money. But to
employ their accumulated wealth in a way which
will benefit the less fortunate, cannot be numbered
among the objects of their ambition. Many stories
of unpardonable niggardliness are current. One of
the best authenticated relates to ' The Mercantile
Library ' of San Francisco. Seventeen years ago
the lovers of literature resolved upon founding a
library here which should resemble the public
libraries which do credit to the generous foresight
of the inhabitants of the principal cities in the
Eastern States. This collection of books and periodi-
cals is large and valuable ; the building wherein it
is stored is a noble structure. Yet the existence
of the association itself has been a never-ending
struggle with poverty. The stranger who visits
the library learns with amazement that the managers
( cannot point to one bequest or donation, save by
some kind-hearted actor, musician or lecturer, the
proceeds of whose generosity have been devoted to
the purchase of new books.' The undertaking was
originated and has been sustained by a few private
citizens, ( most of them young and dependent on
their daily employment for a livelihood.' It is


added, by the unimpeachable authority from which
the foregoing quotations have been made, that
* these facts, so creditable to the literary culture of
San Francisco, are less so to the intelligent libe-
rality of her millionaires.'*" Until these millionaires
shall have ceased to be living incarnations of purse-
proud selfishness, it will be permissible, when de-
scribing them, to employ the stinging sarcasm 01
Burke, and say that the ledger is their Bible and
Mammon their God.

Happily, there is another and a brighter side to
be contemplated. Although the lowest form of
materialism is the creed of the majority, and Dives
alone commands general respect, yet in California
there is a small and precious leaven of men who
cultivate letters and art with pure affection, and
who promise to become masters of their craft. I
visited a gallery of paintings by Californian artists,
and saw enough to warrant the belief that the land-
scapes of the Pacific slope will hereafter be worthily
reproduced on canvas by artists who have lived
among the scenes they portray. The desire and
ability to do this have been unmistakeably mani-
fested. Of material there is no lack. That California
will hereafter be illustrated by its artists as well as
enriched by manufacturers and merchants is one of

* The Alia California, 3rd October, 1869.


the most cheering among the possibilities of the
future. In literature the harvest bids fair to be
sooner ripe and more copious. The number of
books of native growth is but small ; yet the capa-
city for producing books bright with the charm of
originality and impressed with the stamp of home
production has been clearly demonstrated. Two
years ago a magazine entitled the Overland Monthly
was first issued by an enterprising publisher of San
Francisco, and that magazine has already taken
rank with the best periodicals which America pro-
duces. Were a competitive examination instituted,
the Overland Monthly might even take high honours
among the magazines which do credit to England.
It is entitled to the rare distinction of being readable
from cover to cover and yet to be able to maintain
its place without being propped up by an instalment
from a novel. The short tales in it are noteworthy
alike for artistic treatment and freshness of subject.
They are based on actual experience of life at the
gold diggings ; hence they have the attraction of
displaying new varieties of existence and new types
of character. It is probable that their authors were
educated men who joined in the rush to California
in the hope of succeeding better by wielding pick-
axes than they had done by the exercise of their
pens. Whether they were disappointed or not in


their immediate design, it is certain that they gained
much profitable experience which they are utilizing
for literary purposes. These productions are not
the only coinage of note from the intellectual mint
of California. The critiques on current literature
are quite refreshing in their genuineness, and very
effective pieces of writing. The conventionalities
of literary cliques do not seem to hamper and
emasculate the writers. Having opinions of their
own to express, they couch them in plain and
straightforward language, and they appear to write
with a thorough knowledge of the subjects which
they discuss. Many literary oracles of greater age
and pretensions, give forth feebler and more uncer-
tain sounds and do less towards maintaining a high
standard in literature, than the Overland Monthly.
In support of these opinions and in justification of
this praise I ought to cite examples. If I could
do so within moderate limits, I should have no
difficulty in substantiating my case. The discern-
ing readers whose curiosity is piqued, or whose
scepticism is aroused, can easily ascertain how far I
have written at random, and whether I have strewn
flowers of eulogy in error. If they turn to the
Overland Monthly and judge for themselves they
will have their reward, for they are certain to dis-
cover therein much of which the originality will



afford them pleasure even should they be unable to
admit the relative excellence and absolute supe-
riority of the magazine as a whole.

The Pacific Railway has been regarded as an in-
strument designed to advance the prosperity of San
Francisco and to multiply the attractions of Cali-
fornia. As regards the people themselves that
means of intercommunication will prove fraught
with results quite as important. Their comparative
isolation has led to the growth of a local pride
hardly justified by facts and not deserving of ad-
miration. The young men who left their homes in
the Eastern States twenty years ago, and are . now
wealthy citizens of California, have remained prac-
tically ignorant of the changes which, during that
long interval, have been wrought in the cities of
their birth. They have not known that progress
has moved with giant strides in New York, St.
Louis, and Chicago as well as in San Francisco
and Sacramento. They compare what they see
around them with what they imagine to exist else-
where and they glory in their achievements. Now
that facilities for travel enable them to draw just
comparisons, their self-importance may possibly re-
ceive a shock and the ' Pioneers ' may soon be
deposed from the high pedestal which they have
occupied in the estimation of themselves and their


neighbours. In reality there is no more merit in
having been a f Californian Pioneer ' than in draw-
ing a prize in a lottery. The holders of prizes
deserve congratulations, but no honour. Having
made money these men may think that they have
earned glory. The folly is not theirs so much as
of the simpletons who accede to a ridiculous de-

Nature, which has already done much for Cali-
fornia, will doubtless do as much to render the race
which is being moulded here a splendid branch of
the human family. The physical conditions under
which human beings exist in this favoured region
are well adapted for imparting to them the qualities
which lead to greatness in all departments of exer-
tion. A century hence it is probable that the
Californians will be a power in the Union and
will make their influence felt throughout the world.
As their intrinsic merit becomes more tangible their
shortcomings will afford less ground for comment.
When they have stronger reasons for boasting, they
will leave to others the task of trumpeting forth
their praises.




THE boldest figures of speech used by poets hardly
outstrip the figurative names which have been con-
ferred upon cities and places. It is difficult to
fathom the reason for calling the harbour of Stam-
boul the Golden Horn and the entrance to the Bay
of San Francisco the Golden Gate. There is
nothing auriferous about either. With regard to
the latter, however, there is an explanation which
justifies the title. Along the Pacific coast a range
of mountains rises to the height of five thousand
feet. The bank of fog, which nearly always broods
over this locality, seldom ascends above the summits
of these mountains. The only break in the rock-
bound barrier forms the inlet to the quiet waters of
San Francisco Bay. When the fog is dense and the
sky obscured without, the sun shines brightly and
the sky is clear within. The effect observed, upon the
gap being reached, is that of a mellow golden haze.
Hence the origin of the appellation. The sailors who
came hither long before the discovery of the famous
gold diggings or the advent of Californian e Pioneers '


rejoiced when they could distinguish the glittering
yellow veil which indicated that the desired haven
had been reached, and they were nearly as en-
chanted at the sight as they would have been if the
rocks between which they sailed were in truth portals
of solid gold. If the earlier mariners who approached
this coast had, on landing, ascended the mountain
known by the name of Tamalpais, or Table Rock,
and beheld the detested fog rolling beneath their
feet and gazed on the beautiful prospect around
them, they might have entertained thoughts iden-
tical with those of the storm-tossed wanderers when
arriving at the land of the Lotos Eaters. Indeed,

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Online LibraryW. Fraser (William Fraser) RaeWestward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons → online text (page 19 of 27)