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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discomfort of sitting where the unpleasant effects
caused by the rotation of the screw-propeller were
even more to be dreaded than the motion of the

B 2


steamer as she pitches, when the waves are dashing
against her bows, or when she rolls heavily under
the influence of cross seas. In this case, however,
the law of compensation operated in a manner which
afforded a grim pleasure to the disappointed. Those
who had established a claim to the best seats did
not always appear to occupy them. Circumstances
over which they had no control frequently forced
them to remain in their berths or on the deck while
feasting and mirth prevailed in the saloon.

After the China had steamed a short distance
down the river she was stopped, in order to allow
a tender, bearing the latest despatches, to come
alongside. Several persons who had embarked at
Liverpool now went on shore in this tender. There
were the usual painful scenes which occur when
partings take place between those who cannot see
each other for a long interval, or who are doubtful
about meeting again. A demonstration, of a marked
and unusual kind, made it evident that a passenger
of note was on board. As he stepped forward to
acknowledge the greetings of those about to depart,
and lifted his hat to return them, the noble features
of a great American poet were recognised by many
persons, who congratulated themselves on the good
fortune which had accidentally made them the


fellow-travellers of Mr. Longfellow, on his return
home, after a protracted sojourn in Europe.

The first evening at sea was unmarred by any of
the discomforts which frequently attend those who
go down to the sea in ships. Every one ate,
drank, and made merry. There were many children
on board the steamer. As they gambolled about
the deck, much more to their own satisfaction than
to that of their elders, the more cynical passengers
remarked that the Irish Channel was almost too
smooth and the breeze too light. The fineness of
the weather enabled us to view the coast of Wales
to great advantage. Places were pointed out
where large ships had gone to pieces during the
raging of the terrific storms of winter. For the
present these dangerous headlands were gazed at
with pleasure by those who delighted to view with-
out risk the bold, rugged outlines of stupendous
cliifs, which are generally the terror of the sailor,
but were now objects to be admired. At an early
hour on Sunday morning the steamer reached
Queenstown, where, after a detention of ten hours,
the last mails were embarked ; and then the voyage
across the ocean may be said to have really begun.
Rounding the south coast of Ireland, the long
Atlantic swell imparted to the steamer an amount


of motion which cast down the spirits of the bad
sailors whose hearts had beat high at the hope of a
voyage devoid of suffering, because made across a
sea as placid as a land-locked bay. Still, the move-
ment was not sufficiently great to produce incon-
venience to the most timid or sensitive. Never
have I witnessed a more beautiful spectacle than
that which was presented at nightfall. It was one
which no poet could adequately reproduce in words,
nor any painter in colours. The grand Atlantic
waves were slowly heaving with a long and mea-
sured motion; the full-orbed moon was set in a
serene and cloudless sky, and the wind was still.
The spray, raised by the steamer's prow swiftly
cleaving the dark blue water, fell back in a shower
of fire, or fitfully flashed along the steamer's sides
in a stream of dazzling light. As the moon's ivory
beams quivered upon the agitated water in the
vessel's track, and mingled with one of the phos-
phorescent flashes on the crests of tiny waves, the
combination of colours thus produced was magical
alike in variety and vividness. These effects, being
not continuous, but intermittent, a watchful eye
had to be kept for a glimpse of unexpected beauties.
Far on into the night did many passengers gaze on
the attractive and novel spectacle, and sate their
eyes with its loveliness. It was one which they


might never again behold during a passage across
the Atlantic.

On the morrow the scene changed. The angry-
coursers of Neptune were careering over the deep,
and spending their fury against the steamer's stout
sides. Strong head-winds retarded her progress.
By not a few, life on the ocean was found to be
vexation of spirit, a burden too terrible to be borne
without murmuring. The noisy children of the
preceding day were now lying like logs in out-of-
the-way corners ; passengers who had been jubilant
as to the prospects of the voyage now shook their
heads and bemoaned their lot. The attendance at
meals was agreeably select.

The state of things during the remainder of the
voyage cannot be set forth more truthfully as
regards the majority of the passengers than in the
words which the late Lord Jeffrey wrote in his
journal when crossing the Atlantic in 1813. Ac-
cording to him, the pleasures of a voyage were :
Imprimis : Oppression and intolerable sickness, cold-
ness, loathing, and vertigo. Secundo : Great occa-
sional fear of drowning, and penitence for the folly
of having come voluntarily in the way of it.
Tertio : There is the impossibility of taking any
exercise, and the perpetual danger of breaking your
limbs if you try to move from your chair to your


bed, or even to sit still without holding. Quarto :
An incessant and tremendous noise of the ship
groaning and creaking, cracking and rattling to
say nothing of the hissing of the wind, and the
boiling and bubbling of the sea. Quinto : The
eternal contact of the whole crew, whom you hear,
see, feel, and smell, by day as well as by night,
without respite or possibility of escape ; crying
children, chattering Frenchmen, prosing captain,
and foolish women, all with you for ever, and no
means of getting out of their hearing. Sexto : The
provoking uncertainty of your fate, now going
150 miles in one day on your way, and then taking
seven days to 100 ; the agreeable doubt whether
your voyage is to last three weeks or three months.
Septimo : The horrid cooking, and the disgusting
good appetites of those who are used to it. Octavo :
The uniformity and narrowness of your view and
its great ugliness.' Jeffrey adds, that there are
twenty other items which might be mentioned, but
these are enough.

Two of the distinguished contributors to the
renowned ' Review ' of which Jeffrey was the dis-
tinguished editor, were more fortunate than he,
and they regarded a voyage not as an affliction to
be dreaded, but as an opportunity for profitable
reading and careful composition. When Sir James


Mackintosh went to India he learnt German, and
pursued a regular course of study while on board
ship ; and on his return voyage he studied meta-
physical problems, penned sketches of historical
characters, and composed the introduction to his
projected ( History of England.' Macaulay is said
to have turned a similar opportunity to account by
adding a thorough acquaintance with the works of
St. Chrysostom to the vast stores of his miscella-
neous knowledge.

Those among my fellow-passengers who were
in good health seemed to care little about im-
proving their minds. They smoked; played at
cards ; watched the heaving of the log ; speculated
as to the length of the run made during the
twenty-four hours ; were assiduous in eating all the
five copious repasts provided between eight in the
morning and nine at night, and were ready to
initiate novices into the mysteries of f cock-tails.'
Some of them were able to communicate pieces
of information much more curious than useful.
The peculiarities of English custom had been
carefully noted by an American gentleman, who
plumed himself upon the accuracy and extent of
his attainments. He expressed to me his surprise
at the continued existence in England of relics of
a more barbarous age. One monopoly he regarded


as peculiarly obnoxious. This was the assumed
necessity of a wedding-ring being stamped by the
Goldsmiths' Company in order to render the mar-
riage contract valid and binding. When I assured
him that, not only was this notion a pure fiction,
but that two persons could be legally married in
England without a wedding-ring being used at all,
he shook his head incredulously, and expressed his
opinion that I was not well ' posted' as to the
practices and laws of the country in which I lived.

The sceptics as to the utility of daily newspapers
would change their views after they had been a
week at sea. For the first day or two the several
passengers have some personal topics about which
to converse ; but these are soon exhausted, and the
dearth of ideas becomes painfully evident. Gloomy
dulness characterises some, while a childish queru-
lousness is manifested by others. Their minds
being no longer occupied in discussing the rise and
fall of stocks, the ins and outs of politics, the
guilt or innocence of the last alleged criminal, are
now concentrated on counting the hours which
must elapse before they will again set foot on
shore, or else busied in finding fault with every
imaginable thing. As soon as the pilot brings
newspapers on board, the scene changes. Tongues
that had been still, or had been moved only to


utter complaints, now wag cheerfully and pleasantly
again. The alteration is so great as to be mar-
vellous. If permanently deprived of newspapers,
Englishmen and Americans would become as taci-
turn as Turks.

When the voyage was drawing to its end, a no-
tice was posted up outside of the saloon, to the effect
that the Government of the United States required
every passenger to fill up a form with particulars
as to age, occupation, last legal residence, purpose
in visiting America, and as to whether or not this
was the first visit. Such an intimation took the
majority by surprise. If it had emanated from the
despotic Government of Russia, or from the Go-
vernment of the police-ridden kingdom of Prussia,
no surprise might have been exhibited. Despots
are fond of asking impertinent questions, and are
wont to act as if travellers ought to be placed in
the same category as the plague, and treated ac-
cordingly. While the war lasted, the Government
of the United States was justified in resorting to
the obnoxious passport system, and treating every
stranger as a foe or a spy in disguise. Happily,
this excuse cannot be urged now that treason has
been extinguished and the Union has triumphed.
The Americans on board were as much puzzled and
annoyed as the visitors to the land of freedom.


They used vigorous terms in characterising what
was simply an indefensible demand. They were the
more angry because they knew that a similar inter-
ference with liberty of action does not take place
when a steamer nears the coast of the United King-
dom, and they disliked the comparison which could
be drawn to the disadvantage of their own country.
The last day of the voyage being nearly as fine
as the first, a large number of passengers mustered
on deck and occupied seats at table. To all ap-
pearance, they had suffered severely. Their pale
faces and tottering steps were unmistakable tokens
of the bitterness of the ordeal through which they
had passed. A newly-married pair, who had chosen
to make a wedding-trip to America, instead of pay-
ing the customary visit to the continent of Europe,
excited general commiseration. Their first ten
days of matrimony had been the reverse of blissful
and satisfactory. Of the two, the gentleman was
the more thoroughly prostrated. He resembled
one who, having been smitten with a malignant
fever, had barely escaped with his life. An elderly
American lady was in some respects a spectacle
still more deplorable. From the moment that the
steamer had begun to rock, she felt convinced that
her death was imminent. Nearly every time that
the vessel lurched and pitched she believed that a


catastrophe was at hand. Her husband vainly
tried to reassure her. He began by speaking
soothing and inspiriting words, but without success.
Appeals to her common sense were in like manner
disregarded. Nor did strong and threatening lan-
guage have any better result. In truth, the poor
lady was thoroughly unnerved, and had temporarily
ceased to be able to control herself. The sight of
land gave her a certain relief, but her longing to
be safely on shore again was intensified by the

The approach to New York by sea has been eulo-
gised in glowing terms, yet nothing that has been
said or written outstrips the reality. The most
high-flown anticipations are gratified to the full.
After Sandy Hook is passed, the panorama on
either side is most beautiful. On the right, the
shore of Long Island, with its white beach and
rows of neat houses, may be perceived in the dis-
tance. On the left, the luxuriant foliage and the
dark green vegetation remind the English traveller
of the richest and most charming rising grounds in
Kent. The water is studded with steamers and
sailing vessels. In the distance are islands covered
with verdure, and in the background are the masses
of redbrick buildings which constitute the chief
city of the Empire State. Conspicuous among the


various structures is a towering edifice, imposing in
outline and white in colour. I was told that this
was the office of the New York Herald. There is
something alike significant and appropriate in the
fact that the office of one of the most enterprising
anlong American newspapers should be the most
conspicuous object beheld by the stranger who ap-
proaches New York from the sea.

The landing-stage of the Cunard steamers is at
Jersey City, on the side of the river immediately
opposite to New York. To pass his effects through
the Custom House is the traveller's first task. This
office is as dingy and uncomfortable a place as any
one of the sort to be met with elsewhere. Thinking
that the rules which were in force here resembled
those of the Custom Houses of the Old World, I
first hunted for my luggage, and then, having found
it, waitecl patiently till an officer was disengaged.
On appealing to one who was unemployed, I was
told that, before the examination could take place,
I should have to fill up and sign a paper describing
the various articles I had with me. I went to the
official who gave out and countersigned those papers.
He was seated, quietly smoking a cigar, and indis-
posed to say much in response to those who plied
him with questions and requests. He was addressed
as 'Judge.' He certainly did not display any


interest in the proceedings, or show much con-
cern for those who were most anxious to obey his
orders. After glancing at and countersigning my
paper, he returned it, and then I had little trouble
in getting the examination completed. Varying and
contradictory statements have been made about the
conduct of the American Custom House officers. I
was told that they were the most exacting, over-
bearing, and detestable of any upon earth. My
own experience did not bear out this opinion. They
seemed to be overworked. So many articles being
liable to duty, the search they make must neces-
sarily be minute. The examination of my luggage
was most thorough ; but of ill-manners, or of an
intentional desire to give annoyance, I could not
detect a trace. Indeed, a Prussian Custom House
officer would not only have given me more trouble,
but he would also have done his part in a way which
proved that he gloried in the opportunity to be
disagreeable and inquisitorial. Nor would he have
acted like his American brother, and helped to re-
fasten the articles which had been laboriously opened
for his inspection. If this officer expected to receive
a bribe for neglecting his duty, or a gratuity for
showing civility, his manner belied his thoughts. It
may be that these officials are corrupt, and that a
money present will cause them to be conveniently


shortsighted. But the persons who should share
the blame are those who tempt them to betray their
trust. Several of my fellow-passengers, who had
various effects on which duty was chargeable,
boasted of the immunity which they had purchased
for a sovereign. If a tithe of what I heard were
true, then the utmost vigilance of the officers is
required in order to circumvent the stratagems of
dishonest travellers. An English acquaintance, who
meant no harm, but whose manner was a little too
abrupt to please the officials of the Republic, had
some reason to complain of the treatment he re-
ceived. He was a solicitor, of high standing and in
large practice, who had determined to improve his
holiday by paying a hurried visit to the United
States. He would as soon think of smuggling as
of committing the smallest breach of professional
etiquette. An officer, who was too astute by half,
fancied that this gentleman had resolved upon sur-
reptitiously importing watches into the Great Re-
public. Being sharply questioned as to whether or
not he had more than one watch in his possession,
my acquaintance, astonished at the query, replied
in a manner that seemed to confirm the suspicion
which his demeanour had excited. To his surprise
and annoyance, he was ordered to step into a room,
where he was subjected to a minute personal search.


The natural conclusion is that an American Custom
House has its good and its bad side ; that the offi-
cers are neither wholly immaculate nor uniformly
unbearable; that the warning against being too
precipitate ought to be carefully observed there ;
that patience and courtesy go a great way towards
ensuring considerate treatment ; that much depends
on the temperament, the manners, and the appear-
ance of the individual and not a little on the merest
chance whether a traveller shall denounce all con-
nected with it in the harshest terms of opprobrium,
or speak of its officials as persons who discharge a
difficult duty in a rational and defensible manner,
and admit that they are neither much superior nor
vastly inferior to Custom House officials all over
the world.

There is nothing strange or foreign to English
eyes in New York when beheld for the first time.
The impression made on the traveller who, after
having crossed the straits of Dover and landed at
Boulogne or Calais, sees French soldiers in their
national uniform, workmen in their blue blouses,
servant girls in their neat white caps ; who notices
the peculiar arrangement of the shops, with prices
marked in a foreign currency and signs printed in a
foreign tongue ; who hears the people on every side
conversing in a language which he never heard



spoken before, is an impression far more startling
and lasting than that which his mind receives after
the long voyage of three thousand miles is over
and he alights in the streets of New York. If the
feeling be one of disappointment at the absence of
marked novelty in the spectacle, it is dispelled as
soon as he enters one of the monster hotels for which
America is famous. He then becomes conscious of
the fact that Liverpool and London, Edinburgh and
Dublin are indeed far away, and he discovers that
any experience he may have gained when travelling
through France, Germany, and Italy avails him
nothing. All the arrangements are new to him : he
is emphatically an ignorant and bewildered foreigner
in an English-speaking land. Fortunately, he has
not much trouble in learning the ways of the house.
The arrangements are as simple as they are com-
plete. Many of them are admirable. They are
designed so as to combine the maximum of comfort
to the visitor with the minimum of labour on the
part of the servants. Grumblers who would stig-
matise Paradise as a detestable place of abode if it
differed in petty details from the land of their birth,
have written bitter things about the hotels of New
York and have been far too successful in mislead-
ing and prejudicing the English readers of their
books. The truth is that in the Old World there



are royal palaces in which the occupants are less
luxuriously housed and enjoy a smaller share of
life's minor comforts than would be their lot if they
sojourned in the splendid and well-appointed hotels
which have been erected in the United States for
the reception and use of the Sovereign People.





WHEN I first saw New York it did not appear to
me a foreign city in the same sense as Paris, or
Frankfort, or Milan. A closer and more leisurely
examination produced a different impression. Ho
walk along Broadway recalls a walk along Regent
Street, but it also recalls a walk along the Rue
de la Paix. What seems to be English is rivalled,
if not outdone, by what is unmistakably French,
while many things have neither a French, nor an
English impress. The architectural effects are ex-
traordinary in their variety. The want of simplicity
and repose is as marked as the absence of a dis-
tinctively national style. Everyone has apparently
followed the bent of his fancy, and the straining
after originality has led to a confusion of ideas and
a clashing of aims.

All nationalities seem to have sent their repre-
sentatives to this city. Half the languages of
Europe are spoken by the motley gathering. The


English tongue is in the ascendant; but the eye
fails to see many figures or faces to match the here-
ditary language. The ladies are dressed after the
latest French mode, yet the fashion of their apparel
is the only thing they have borrowed from Paris.
Their looks are native to the soil, and to call them
good is not to speak of them in language suffi-
ciently eulogistic. The men are dressed with a
regard for appearances which is more common in
Paris than in London. There is none of the uni-
formity in their attire which is akin to monotony.
All do not seem to have been condemned, by a law
which cannot be gainsaid, to wear the same hideous
hat. The ' wideawake ' is as common as the
( chimney pot ' and the mixture of the two produces
a pleasing effect.

The purity of the air is delicious. If a dwelling
be built of marble, or brick, or stone, the beholder
has no difficulty in pronouncing as to the nature of
the material, and has the satisfaction of duly appre-
ciating the whiteness of the delicate marble, the
warmth of the brick, the solidity of the stone. The
principal streets are broad : the principal squares
are spacious. The several Avenues which run
parallel to each other throughout the greater part
of the city are so wide that the tramways which are
laid in them do not in the slightest degree interfere


with the traffic. For the passage of all conveyances
there is room enough and to spare. At the upper
end of the city is the Central Park. This public
ground covers an area of more than 800 acres. It
is laid out in a style resembling the Bois de Bou-
logne rather than Hyde Park and Kensington
Gardens. Several years hence when the trees shall
have attained their full height the Central Park will
be second to no other place of the kind.

Quite as remarkable as the cosmopolitan aspect
of New York streets is the contrast between the
different portions of the city. The business quarter
has a finished and substantial look ; the offices seem
as if they had been built for some time. Proceed-
ing westward the several edifices are evidently
built for show and are apparently of comparatively
recent date. In the former case the buildings have
a money-making impress upon them : in the latter
the stamp of the successful millionaire is unmis-
takeable. From the fine mansions of the rich in a
fashionable Avenue, the transition is rapid to the
miserable shanty of the Irish squatter. At the
one end gorgeous carriages roll along : at the other
geese are feeding among the grass. Another con-
trast is that between the splendour of the buildings
and the wretchedness of the pavement. The streets
are filled with ruts. For this the City Fathers are


severely censured; but they can afford to brave the
indignation of their fellow-citizens so long as they

Online LibraryW. Fraser (William Fraser) RaeWestward by rail : a journey to San Francisco and back and a visit to the Mormons → online text (page 3 of 27)