HOLIDAY FEVER

We shall always be thankful that we paid a visit to Atlantic City. It is
not, I believe, one of the places of which Americans are particularly
proud. The trains which connect it with New York have indeed the
reputation of being the fastest in the world, but that may not be
because every one is in a great hurry to get to Atlantic City. They run
at high speed both ways, and it is quite possible that some men may be
in an equal hurry to get away. Our friends were certainly a little cold
when we said we were going there. Left to ourselves, or meekly
following, as we generally do, the advice given to us by well-instructed
people, we should not have gone to Atlantic City. But we were shepherded
there by circumstance, fate, or whatever the power is called which
regulates the minor affairs of life. And we were glad we went. No one,
says Tennyson, can be more wise than destiny. Our visit to Atlantic City
went to prove the truth of that profound remark.

The mean which destiny used for getting us to Atlantic City was a play.
We had a play of our own, and it was produced there for the first time
on the west side of the Atlantic. American theatrical managers believe
in experimenting with a play in some minor place before taking the
plunge of the New York production. They call this—in a phrase not
unknown in England—”trying it on the dog.” It seems to me rather a good
plan. The verdict of the dog is not indeed of great value. Dogs, human
dogs, are the same everywhere. They are afraid to say they like anything
which has not got the seal of a great city’s approval set on it. They
take refuge in damning with dubious phrase; and, in fact, no one with
any experience much minds what they say. But the experimental production
has a value of its own apart from the opinion of the dog. The company
shakes down and learns to work together. The first performance in an
important place, when the time comes for it, is much more likely to go
smoothly if the actors have faced audiences, even audiences of the dog
kind, every night for a week beforehand.

We did not understand the philosophy of these dog productions at first,
and were therefore a little nervous all the time we were in Atlantic
City, but not, I am glad to say, nervous enough to have our enjoyment of
the place spoiled. Nothing would induce me to say, or for a single
moment to think, that Atlantic City is in any way a characteristic
product of American civilization. All our civilizations produce places
of this kind. But it is fair, I think, to say that America does this
particular thing better than any other country. Superior people might
say that America does it worse; but I am not superior. I recognize that
the toiling masses have a right to revel during their brief holidays in
the way that appeals to them as most delightful. I do not revel in that
way myself; but that is not because I have found better ways, but only
because I am growing older and prefer to take my humble pleasures
quietly. When I was young I enjoyed tumultuous pleasures as much as any
one. I revelled with the best of my day in the town of Douglas; and, if
I did not get as much out of it as I might now if I were young again, it
was only because there was not, in those days, nearly so much in it. The
holiday resort has been enormously developed during the last twenty-five
years, and America, judging by Atlantic City—and I am told Coney Island
is better—is in the very van of human progress.

I have seen Portrush, our humble Irish attempt at a pleasure city. I
have seen Blackpool, which far surpasses Portrush in its opportunities
for delight. I have seen the Lido, where the Germans bathe. I have seen
Brighton, which is spoiled by a want of _abandon_ and a paralyzing
respect for gentility. Atlantic City outdoes them all. Atlantic City is
Portrush, Blackpool, Brighton, the Lido, and Ostend rolled into one, and
then, in all the essential features of such places, raised to the third
power, so to speak; multiplied by itself and then multiplied by itself
again.

Our friends, as I have hinted, warned us against Atlantic City. They
said:

“You won’t enjoy _that_ place.”

Or, varying the emphasis in a way very flattering to our reputations for
cultivated gentility:

“_You_ won’t enjoy that place.”

Or, altering the emphasis once more, after we had explained
apologetically that we went there on business:

“You won’t _enjoy_ that place.”

When we persisted in going, they took it for granted that we wanted to
argue with them. Then they closed the discussion with an emphatic
insistence on the one word which had hitherto escaped them.

“You _won’t_ enjoy that place.”

One friend, mistaking us for cynical students of the weaknesses and
follies of humanity, varied the warning in another way:

“You won’t,” he said, “enjoy it _now_. It’s not the season.”

They were all wrong. In spite of the private anxiety which gnawed at our
hearts, we did enjoy Atlantic City. We enjoyed it all the more because
we went there out of season. It is our deliberate practice to visit
places of this kind out of season, and the date of the production of our
play at Atlantic City was a most fortunate one for us. We no longer want
to revel. The time for that is past for us, but we do want to
understand, and we seem to get nearer that when the chief side shows are
closed, when the hotels are being painted, and when the sea has given up
the attempt to sparkle and look cheerful. In one of Mr. Anthony Hope’s
novels there is a statesman of great craftiness who warns a Prince
Consort that he must not think he knows the Queen, his wife, because he
is allowed to see her in her stays. I daresay there is a good deal in
the warning. But I cannot help feeling that you would understand a queen
better if you saw her frequently, let us say in her dressing gown, than
if you never saw her except in her robes of state, with the crown royal
firmly fixed on her head with hairpins. It must be the same with
pleasure cities. One knows them, not well, but a little better when they
have tucked up their skirts, put on old blouses and turned to the task
of cleaning up after the festivities.

It is more instructive to walk along the broad sea front of Blackpool
through a fine chill mist of January rain than to stand there on a
blazing August day when the colliers’ week of holiday is in full swing.
Deeper thoughts come to him who gazes at the forlorn rows of notices
that lodgings are to let within than to him who hurries through street
after street, looking for some place in which to lay his head. I am sure
that I catch the essential spirit of the Lido when the November sea is
brown, when the sands are drab, when the thousands of bathing boxes
stand locked and empty, than I would if smiling wavelets enticed plump
Germans to splash in them and _bruat paars_ lingered, indecently
affectionate, in the shadows behind. I did once, accidentally, see
Portrush in the very height of its season, and it was a disappointment
to me. Bevies of girls, hatless but with hair elaborately dressed,
paraded the streets with their arms round each others’ waists. Critical
young men, in well-creased suits of the kind supposed to be suitable for
yachting, watched other girls being taught to swim in a deep pool.
Nursemaids helped children to build sand castles. Mothers of forty years
of age or thereabouts sat uncomfortably knitting with their backs
against the rocks. More than five thousand people carried hand cameras
about. Lovers, united for a day or two, wrote each others’ names in huge
letters on the sand, where the retiring tide had left it smooth and dry.
There was too much to feel, far too much to think about. I grew confused
and desperate. I could not understand. Out of season the observer has a
better chance. If Portrush confused me, Atlantic City, seen in its full
glory, would have bewildered me utterly. Also out of season I am not
tormented with vain regrets. I am spared the vexation of feeling that a
yachting suit, carefully creased, would no longer lift my heart up to
the skies. It is not forced upon me that my pulses no longer throb
wildly at the sight of girls who smile. I do not think how sad it is
that I shall never again want to win the applause of a crowd by taking a
header into deep water from a giddy height. I am glad that we visited
Atlantic City out of season.

I forget how many piers Atlantic City has, but it is unusually rich in
these structures, and I have no doubt that the builders of them were
wise. A pier makes an irresistible appeal to the pleasure-seeker. He
would rather dance on a pier, under proper shelter, of course, and on a
good floor, than in a well-appointed salon on solid land. He would
rather eat ices on a pier than in an ordinary shop, though he has to pay
more for them, the cost of the ice being the same and the two pence for
entry into the enchanted region being an extra. A cinematograph show
draws more customers if it is on a pier. The reason of this is that the
normal and properly constituted holiday-maker wants to get as much sea
as he can. When he is not in it he likes to have it all round him, or as
nearly all round him as possible without going in a boat. Boats, for
several reasons, are undesirable. They sometimes make people sick. They
are expensive. They demand an undivided allegiance. You cannot have a
cinematograph, for instance, in a boat. The nearest thing to a boat is a
pier. It is almost surrounded by the sea. That is why piers are a
regular feature of up-to-date pleasure cities, and why Atlantic City has
so many of them. It is all to the credit of our revelers that they love
to be near the sea, to feel it round them, to hear it splashing under
their feet. The sea is the cleanest thing there is. You can vulgarize
it, but it is almost impossible, except at the heads of long estuaries,
to dirty it. It seems as if pleasure-seekers, who are also seekers of
the sea, must be essentially clean people, clean-hearted, otherwise they
would not feel as strongly impelled as they evidently do to get into
touch with the ocean. And it is real ocean at Atlantic City. Far out one
sees ships passing, the lean three-masted schooners of the American
coasting trade, trawlers in fleets, tramp steamers, companionless
things, all of these given to the real business of the sea, not to
pleasure voyaging. The eye lingers on them, and it is hard afterwards to
adjust the focus of the mental vision to the long wooden parade, itself
almost a pier, the flaunting sky signs, the innumerable tiny shops where
every kind of useless thing is sold. Atlantic City has, indeed, some
boats of its own, boats which go out from a haven tucked away behind the
north corner of the parade, and pass up and down across the sea front.
Their sails are covered with huge advertisements of cigarettes and
chewing gums. They are manned, no doubt, by the kind of longshoremen who
cater for the trippers’ pleasure. They have in them as passengers
whoever in America corresponds to the London cockney. Among ships which
sail these are surely as the women of the streets. But you cannot
altogether degrade a boat. She retains some pathetic remnant of her
dignity, even if you make her sails into advertisement hoardings. It was
good to watch these boats, their masts set far forward, after the
American catboat fashion, making short, swift tacks among the sand banks
over which the Atlantic rollers foamed threateningly.

It is easy to understand why the shops along seafronts of places like
Atlantic City are for the most part devoted to the sale of useless
things. Picture postcards I reckon to be very nearly useless. They give
a transient gleam of pleasure to the buyer, none at all to the person
who receives them. The whole class of goods called souvenirs is entirely
useless. The photographs taken by seaside artists are not such as can
give any satisfaction to the sitters afterwards. Yet the impulse to buy
these things and to be photographed is almost irresistible. We yielded,
not to the seductions of the photographers, nor to the lure of the
souvenir-sellers, but with shameless self-abandonment to the postcard
shops. I found it very hard to pass any of them without buying. I still
have many of the Atlantic City postcards, and I look at them whenever I
feel in danger of growing conceited in order to reduce myself to a
proper condition of humility. We also—moved by what strange
impulse?—bought several instruments for cutting up potatoes. Under
ordinary circumstances a potato-chopper has no attractions whatever for
me. I could pass a shop window filled with them and not feel one prick
of covetous desire. And Atlantic City, of all places in the world, was
for us—I suppose in some degree for every visitor—most unsuitable for
the purchase of kitchen utensils. We knew, even while we bought them,
that we should have to haul them with us round America and back across
the Atlantic, that they would be a perpetual nuisance to us all the
time, and in all probability no use whatever when we got them home. Yet
we bought them. If the dollar we spent on them had been the last we
possessed we should have bought them all the same. Such is the strange
effect of places like Atlantic City on people who are in other places
sane enough. I can analyze and understand the impulse well enough though
I cannot resist it. It is the holiday spirit of the place which gets a
hold on visitors. All a whole long year we commonplace people, who are
not millionaires, are spending our money warily on things of carefully
calculated usefulness. We watch each shilling and see that it buys its
full worth of something which will make life more tolerable or pleasant.
Then comes the brief holiday, and with it the sudden loosing of all
bonds of ordinary restraint. Our souls revolt against spending money on
things which are any real good to us. We want, we are compelled to fling
it from us, asking in exchange nothing but trifles light as air. In
desperate reaction against the tyranny of domestic economics we even
insist on buying things, like potato cutters, which will be an actual
encumbrance to us afterwards.

Cowper represents John Gilpin’s wife as insisting on taking her own wine
on a pleasure party and writes of her that

“Though on pleasure she was bent
She had a frugal mind.”

I refuse to believe that of any human being, and I count Cowper a good
poet but a bad psychologist. The man who brought a load of
potato-cutters down to Atlantic City was probably not a poet at all, but
he had a profound knowledge of human nature. He knew that he would sell
the things there. It was the place of all places in the world for his
trade. It is a high tribute to Atlantic City as a holiday resort that it
forced us to buy two of these machines. None of the other pleasure
cities we have visited have had such a drastic effect upon us. Postcards
we yield to everywhere. Even the dreariest of second-rate watering
places can sell them to us. In Blackpool I found a paper-knife
irresistible. In Portrush I once bought a colored mug. Atlantic City
alone could have sold me potato-choppers, two of them.

In towns and rural districts where men and women live their ordinary
lives, work, love and ultimately die, it is the rarest thing possible to
see any grown person wheeled about in a perambulator or bath chair.
Occasionally some pitiful victim of a surgeon’s skill is lifted out of
the door of a nursing home and placed tenderly in one of these vehicles.
He is wheeled about in the fresh air in obedience to the doctor’s
orders, no doubt in hope that he will recover sufficient strength to
make another operation possible. But a bath chair, even now when surgery
has become a recognized form of sport, is a very unusual sight. In all
pleasure cities it is quite common. In Brighton, for instance, or at
Bournemouth, any one who can, with any chance of being believed,
represent himself as an invalid, takes advantage of his infirmity to get
himself wheeled about in a bath chair. At international exhibitions and
in some of the greater picture galleries which are also pleasure resorts
it is generally possible to hire a bath chair. Atlantic City, being, as
I believe, the greatest of all such places, has devised a kind of
glorified perambulator, something far more seductive than a bath chair.
It has room for two in it, and this in itself is a great advance. It has
the neatest imaginable hood, which you can pull over you in case of rain
or if you desire privacy. It looks something like a very small but
sumptuously appointed motor car.

You need not even pretend to be a cripple in Atlantic City in order to
make good your right to enter one of these chairs. All sorts of people,
brisk-looking young girls and men whose limbs are plainly sound, are
wheeled about, not only shamelessly but with evident enjoyment. There
are immense numbers of these vehicles, more, surely, than there are
invalids in the whole world. Out of season, when we saw them, they are
absurdly cheap, almost the only thing in America except oysters and
chocolates, and, curiously enough, silk stockings, which are cheap
judged by European standards. I longed very earnestly to go in one of
these vehicles, but at the last moment I always shrank from the
strangeness of it. Neither the taxi of the London streets nor the
outside car of my native land ever made so strong an appeal to me as
these perambulators of Atlantic City. I suppose it was the holiday
spirit of the place again. Girls and young men, certainly middle-aged
men, would feel like fools if they sat in perambulators anywhere else,
but it is a sweet and pleasant thing—according to a Latin poet who must
have known—to play the fool in the proper place. Atlantic City is the
proper place. Hence the enormous numbers of perambulators.

The hotels in Atlantic City are, most of them, as fantastic in
appearance as the place itself. I imagine that the architects who
planned them must, before they began their work, have been kept for
weeks on the sea-front and forced to go to all the entertainments which
offered themselves by day and night. They were probably fed on crab
dressed in various ways and given gin rickeys to drink. Then, when
allowed to drop to sleep in the early morning, they would naturally
dream. At the end of a fortnight or so of this treatment their dreams
would be imprinted on their memories and they would draw plans of hotels
suitable for Atlantic City. Only in this way, I think, can some of the
newer hotels have been conceived. They are not ugly, far from it. Crab,
dressed as American cooks dress it, does not induce nightmares, nor is a
gin rickey nearly so terrific a drink as it sounds. The architect merely
dreams, as Coleridge did when his Kubla Khan decreed a stately pleasure
dome in Xamadu. But Coleridge dreamed on opium and his visions were of
stately things. The Atlantic City hotel is less stately than fantastic.
It is a building which any one would declare to be impossible if he did
not see it in actual existence.

It will always be a source of regret to me that I did not stay in one of
these hotels which captivated me utterly. It was just what, as a boy, I
used to imagine that the palace of the Sleeping Beauty must be. A look
at it brought back dear memories of the transformation scenes of
pantomimes, in the days before transformation scenes went out of
fashion. It was colored pale green all over, and, looked at with
half-closed eyes, made me think of mermaids. I am sure that it was
perfectly delightful inside; but we did not stay there. A friend had
recommended to us another hotel, of great excellence and comfort, but
built before Atlantic City understood the proper way to treat
architects. In any case we could not have stayed in the pale green
hotel. It was closed. We were in Atlantic City out of season.

Our luck, which had up to that point been as good as luck could be,
failed us miserably when we started for Chicago. The very day before we
left New York there was a blizzard and a snowstorm. Not in New York
itself. There was only a very strong wind there. Nor in Chicago, but all
over the district which lay between. One train was held up for eighteen
hours in a snowdrift. The last fragments of food in the restaurant car
were consumed, and the passengers arrived chilled and desperately hungry
at their destination. We might have been in that train. It was not,
indeed, possible for us to leave New York a day sooner than we did; but
I cannot see why the blizzard could not have waited a little.
Twenty-four hours’ delay would have made no difference to it. It might
even have gathered force. To us it would have made all the difference in
the world. We missed a great experience. That is why I say that our luck
failed us at this point.

It would not, at the moment, have been a pleasant experience, and I do
not pretend that we should have enjoyed either the cold or the hunger;
and we are not the sort of people who, under such circumstances, secure
the last sardine. We should, owing to our feebleness in self-assertion,
have been among the first to go foodless. But afterwards we could have
thought about it and all our lives told steadily improving stories about
the adventure. The recollection of it would have added zest to every
remaining hour of comfort in our lives. What is a short spell of
suffering compared to such enduring joys? But in these matters we have
been singularly unlucky through life. We have never been in a shipwreck
or a railway accident or been forced to escape from a burning house.
Only once did a horse run away with us, and it fell almost immediately
after making its dash for liberty. No burglar has roused us to do battle
with him in the middle of the night. It seems hard, when we have been
denied all the great adventures of life, to miss by the narrow margin of
a single day the minor excitement of being snowed up in a train.

However, it is useless to complain. The thing was not to be and it was
not. Our journey was commonplace and unadventurous. We hired what is
called a drawing-room car on our train. This is an extravagant thing to
do. For people of our humble means it is almost criminally reckless.
Some day when we cannot afford to have our boots re-soled, when we are
looking at the loaves in the windows of bakers’ shops with vain desire,
when we have neither money nor credit left to us, we shall think with
poignant regret of the huge sums we spent on that drawing-room car. We
shall be sorry, at least one of us will be sorry that we were not more
careful when he or she, the survivor, cannot afford a simple tombstone
to mark the grave of the other. But at the moment the money, in spite of
Atlantic City, being actually in our pockets, we felt that the
drawing-room car was an absolute necessity. I should take it again if I
were going to Chicago. But then we are not yet reduced to penury.

The alternative to a drawing-room car, on most trains, is a section in a
Pullman sleeping-car. Against this we rose in revolt. I cannot imagine
how the Americans, who are in many ways much more highly civilized than
Europeans, tolerate the existence of Pullman sleeping-cars. I am not
physically—though I am in every other way—an exceptionally modest man.
I have, for instance, no objection to mixed bathing, and it does not
make me blush to meet one of the housemaids in a hotel when, dressed
only in my pajamas, I am searching for the bathroom. But I do object to
undressing in the corridor of a Pullman sleeping-car, and I cannot, not
being a professional acrobat, undress in my berth. For a lady the thing
is, of course, much worse. Besides the undressing and the still more
difficult dressing again, there is the business of washing in the
morning, washing and, for most men, shaving. You go into a sort of
dressing-room to do that. There are not nearly basins enough. There is
not room enough. Somebody is sure to walk on your sponge, will walk on
your toothbrush, too, unless you happen to be a clerk, and therefore
practiced in the art of holding things behind your ear.

I think Americans are beginning to recognize that these sleeping-cars
are barbarous. I met one lady who told me that she would always gladly
sacrifice a new dress in order to spend the money on a drawing-room car.
I entirely sympathize with her; but, even if you are prepared for these
heroic extravagances, you cannot always get a drawing-room car. There
was one occasion on which we failed, though we telegraphed three days
before to engage one. On some of the best trains of the best lines there
are also what are called “compartments.” These are comparable in comfort
to the cabins of the International Company of Wagon Lits on the
Continental trains de luxe, though inferior to the London and North
Western Railway Company’s sleeper. No one has any right to grumble who
secures a compartment. Unfortunately, it is not every railway company
which has them, and it is by no means every train on which they are run.

The drawing-room car, when you get it, is in itself a comfortable thing
to travel in. There is a good deal of room in it. There is satisfactory
lavatory accommodation. The attendants are civil and competent. Any one
who can sleep in a train at all could sleep in a drawing-room car if
only he were not waked up every time the train stops or starts. Trains
must stop occasionally, of course. But there is no real need for
emphasizing the stops as American trains do. It is possible—I know
this, because both the French and English trains do it—to stop without
giving inexperienced passengers the impression that there has been a
collision. Stopping is not a thing a train ought to be proud of. There
is no reason why the attention of passengers should be drawn to it
forcibly. For starting with a bang there is, of course, more excuse. To
start at all is a triumph. It is a victory of mind over inert matter,
and any one who accomplishes it wants, naturally and properly, to be
admired. I can understand the annoyance of the train, conscious of being
able to start, at feeling that its passengers, who ought to be praising
it, are perhaps sound asleep. Yet I cannot help thinking that all the
admiration any train ought to want might be secured without excessive
violence. Suppose a notice were hung up in every coach: “This train will
stop twice during the night and after each stop will start again.
Passengers are requested to realize that this is not an easy thing to
do. They will therefore admire the train.” No passenger with a spark of
decent feeling in him would refuse an appreciative pat to the engine in
the morning. We do as much for horses who cannot drag us nearly so far
or half so fast. We do it for dogs who do not drag us at all, only fetch
things for us. We should certainly treat engines with the same kindness
if they were a little tenderer to us. But I refuse to pat, stroke or in
any way fondle an engine which, out of mere vanity, wakes me up by
starting boisterously.

We ran during the night through the tail of the snowstorm which had
stopped the train the day before. We had left New York in pleasant
autumn weather, on one of those days which, without being cold, has an
exhilarating nip about it. We arrived in Chicago in what seemed to us
midsummer weather, though I believe it was not really hot for Chicago.
We passed on our way through a snow-covered district and had the
greatest difficulty in keeping warm during the night. This is one of the
advantages of traveling in America. The distances are so immense that in
the course of a single journey you have the chance of trying several
kinds of climate. In England you get the same result by staying in one
place. But the American plan is much better. There, having discovered a
climate which suits you, you can settle down in it with a fair amount of
confidence that it will remain what it is for a week or two at a time.
In England, whether you travel about or stay still, you have got to
accustom yourself to continual variety.

After breakfast, when the train had passed the snow-covered region and
the air became a little warmer, we sat on the platform at the end of the
observation car and looked out at the country through which we were
going. Nothing could conceivably be more monotonous. The land was quite
flat, the railway line was absolutely straight. The train sped on at a
uniform pace of about forty miles an hour. As far back as the eye could
see were the rails of the track, narrowing and narrowing until they
looked like a single sharp line, ruled with remorseless precision from
some point at an infinite distance in the east. On each side of us were
broad spaces of flat land, reaching, still flat, to the horizons north
and south of us. Every half-hour or so we passed a village, a collection
of meanly conceived, two-storied houses with a hideous little church
standing just apart from them. Hour after hour we rushed on with no
other change of scenery, no mountain, no lake, no river, just flat land,
with a straight line ruled on it. It was incredibly monotonous. I
suppose that the life of the people who inhabit that region is as
interesting, in reality, as any other life. The seasons change there, I
hope. Harvests ripen, cows calve, men die; but on us, strangers from a
very different land, the unvarying flatness of it all lay like an
intolerable weight.

Yet that journey gave me, more than anything else I saw, a sense of the
greatness of the American people. There is, I suppose, some one thing in
the history of every nation which impresses the man who realizes, even
dimly, the meaning of it, more than anything else does. Elizabethan
England’s buccaneering adventures to the Spanish main seem to me to make
intelligible the peculiar greatness of England more than anything else
her people have ever done. Revolutionary France in arms against Europe
is France at her most glorious, with her special splendor at its
brightest. So my imagination fixes on America’s settlement of her vast
central plain as the greatest thing in her story. Her fight for
independence was fine, of course; but many other nations have fought
such wars and won, or, just as finely, lost. Her civil war stirs
thoughts of greatness in any one who reads it. But this tremendous
journey of the American people from the east to the Mississippi shores,
halfway across a continent, was something greater than any war.

First, no doubt, hunters went out from the narrow strip of settled
seaboard land. They pushed their adventurous way across the Alleghanies,
finding passes, camping in strange fastnesses. They came upon the
westward-flowing waters of the great network of rivers which drain into
the Mississippi. They made their long, dim trails. They fought, with
equal cunning, bands of Indian braves. They returned, in love with
wildness, weaned from the ways of civilization, to tell their tales of
strange places by the firesides of sober men. Or they did not return.
They were great men, and their achievements very great, but not the
greatest.

More wonderful was the accomplishment of those long streams of settlers
who crossed Virginia and Pennsylvania to find the upper reaches of the
waterways which should lead and bear them mile by mile to the
Mississippi shore. It is barely a century since these men, home lovers,
not wanderers with the call of the wild in their ears, home builders,
not hunters, went floating in rude arks down the Ohio, the Cumberland,
the Tennessee. With unimaginable courage and faith they took with them
women, children, cattle, and household plenishing. Somewhere each ark
grounded and the work of settlement began. I saw the woods which stretch
for miles over rolling hills and round lakes beyond that curious colony
of very wealthy people at Tuxedo. My imagination pictured for me, as I
gazed at these woods, the outpost settlements of one hundred years ago.
The “half-faced camp,” rudest of the dwellings of civilized man, was
built. Trees were “girdled” or cut down with patient toil. A small
clearing was made amid the interminable miles of forest land. I imagined
the men, lean and grim, the anxious women, ever on the alert because of
the perpetual menace of the Indians who might lurk a stone’s throw off
among the shadows of the trees.

We can guess at the satisfaction of each triumph won; the day when the
lean-to shed with its open side gave place to the log hut, still rude
enough; the day when some great tree, sapless from its “girdling,” was
hewn down at last; the adding of acre after acre of cleared land; the
incredibly swift growth of villages and towns; the pushing out of
settlements, south and north, into yet stranger wildernesses, away from
the friendly banks of the waterways. The courage and endurance of these
settlers must have been far beyond that required of soldiers, explorers
or adventurers. Step by step, almost literally step by step, they made
this wonderful journey, conquering every acre as they passed it. Yet we
know very little about them. Homer made a list of the ships which sailed
for Troy. Who has chronicled the arks and rafts of these still braver
men? Camoens wrote his Luciad to glorify the voyage of Vasco da Gama
round the African coast. All England’s Elizabethan literature is,
rightly understood, an interpretation of the spirit of Drake and
Raleigh. No one has written an epic of these American pioneer settlers.
Yet surely if ever men deserved such commemoration they did.

Our train ran on and on at forty miles an hour, and my spirit was cowed
by the vast monotony. What sort of spirit had the men who faced it
first, to whom the conquest of a mile was a great achievement, to whom
it must have seemed that there was no end to it at all? I wonder whether
there was in them some great kind of faith, of which we have lost the
secret now, a belief that God Himself had bidden them go forward? Or
perhaps there was strong in them that instinct for the conquest of
nature which, whether he knew it or not, has always been in man, which
has made him greater than the beasts, only a little lower than the
angels. Or perhaps it was hunger for life itself, not for a fuller or a
richer life, but for the bare material existence, which sent them on,
threatened by want in civilized places, to look for ground where things
would grow, where the fruit of their toil would not be taken from them.
To find a parallel for the achievement of these men the mind must go
back to dim ages before history began, when our ancestors—why and how
we cannot guess—learned to light fires, chip flints, snare beasts, make
laws; groped through a palpable obscurity toward justice and right,
fought those impossible battles of theirs which have won for us the
kingship of the world. Theirs was an achievement greater indeed than
that of America’s pioneer settlers, but of the same kind.

I went to church in New York on Thanksgiving Day, and I, though a
stranger, was given the privilege of reading aloud that wonderful
chapter in the Book of Deuteronomy which tells how God led His people
through a great and terrible wilderness. I forgot, as I read it, all
about Israel and Sinai. I remembered how the people among whom I was had
journeyed across their vast continent. They are not my people. Their
glory is none of mine. Their Thanksgiving Day had nothing to do with me,
but emotion thrilled me strangely as I read. I wondered, thanked, and
bent my head with fear, so great was the past which is remembered, so
terrible the warning which follows the recital. “Beware lest thou at all
forget the Lord thy God.”

The observation car, with its sheltered platform at the back of it, is a
pleasant feature of the long-distance American train, one which might,
with advantage, be copied in Europe. But the best thing, the most wholly
satisfactory, about American railway traveling is that certain trains
are fined for being late. This happens in England, I think, certainly in
Ireland, in the case of mail trains. It does them a lot of good, but
gives small gratification to the suffering passengers, because the
Post-Office authorities take the money. In America the passengers get
the fine. Our train was an hour and a quarter late in getting to
Chicago, and we were handed a dollar each as compensation for our
annoyance. I felt sorrier than ever that we had not traveled the day
before in the train that was delayed by the blizzard. Then we should
have got eighteen dollars each and been able to buy several splendid
dinners to make up for our starvation.

It is not every train in America which pays for unpunctuality in this
way. I am not sure that the rule applies even to express trains all over
the continent, nor do I know whether the railway companies deal thus
justly with their passengers of their own free will. It seems very
unlikely that they do. I am inclined to think that there must be a law
on the subject, either a law made by the State of Illinois or, as I
hope, one made by Congress itself. However this may be, I have no doubt
at all that the law, if it is a law, ought to be made and strictly
enforced in every civilized country. I traveled once by a London & North
Western Railway express train, which was three hours late; and I
suffered a loss, was actually obliged to disperse no less a sum than
£2-18-0 in consequence. I tried in vain to make the company see that it
ought to pay me back that £2-18-0. I never got a penny. Yet the offense
of the American company was a trifling one in comparison. It was one
hour and a quarter late in a journey supposed to occupy twenty-three
hours. The London & North Western Railway took nine hours over a journey
which it professed to do in six. I cannot help feeling that the English
company would have got its train to London on that occasion much more
rapidly if it had known beforehand that it might have to pay each
passenger fifteen shillings at Euston. We hear a great deal on this side
of the Atlantic about the scandalous way in which American railway
magnates control American legislation. It appears that occasionally, at
all events, the legislators exercise a very salutary control over the
railways.

Charges of corrupting senates are certainly made against American
railway directors. They may conceivably be true. If they are it seems
desirable, in the interests of the passengers, that some of the British
railways would take in hand the task of corrupting the House of Commons
in the American way. The morals of that assembly could in no case be
much worse than they are, so there would be little loss in that way,
while the gain to the public would be immense if trains, even a few of
the best trains, were forced under heavy penalties to keep time.

Chicago possesses one exceedingly good hotel. We know this by
experience. The other hotels in the city may be equally good, but we
shall never try them. Having found one almost perfect hotel, we shall,
whenever we visit that city again, go back to it. But I expect that all
the other hotels there are good too, very good; for Chicago appears to
take an interest in its hotels. In most cities, perhaps in all other
cities, hotels are good or bad according as their managers are efficient
or the reverse. The city itself does not care about its hotels any more
than it cares about its bootmakers. A London bootmaker might provide
very bad leather for the soles of a stranger’s boots. “The Times” would
not deal with that bootmaker in a special article. It might be very
difficult to obtain hot water in one of the great London hotels—I have
seen it stated, on the authority of an American, that it is very
difficult—but London itself does not care whether it is or not. The
soling of boots and the comfort of casual guests are, according to the
generally prevailing view, affairs best settled between the people
directly interested, the traveler on the one hand and the bootmaker or
manager on the other. No one else thinks that he has a right to
interfere.

Chicago takes a different view. It has a sense of civic responsibility
for its hotels, possibly also for its bootmakers. I did not try the
bootmakers and therefore cannot say anything certainly about them. But I
am sure about the hotels. It happened that there was a letter awaiting
my arrival at the hotel, the very excellent hotel, in which we stayed.
This letter was not immediately delivered to me. I believe that I ought
to have asked for it, that the hotel manager expects guests to ask for
letters, and that I had no reasonable ground of complaint when the
letter was not delivered to me. Nor did I complain. I am far too meek a
man to complain about anything in a large hotel. I am desperately afraid
of hotel officials. They are all much grander than I am and occupy far
more important positions in the world. I should not grumble if a
princess trod on my toe. Princesses have a right, owing to the splendour
of their position, to trample on me. But I would rather grumble at a
princess than complain to a head waiter or the clerk in charge of the
offices of a large hotel. Princesses are common clay compared to these
functionaries. But even if I were a very brave man, and even if I
believed that one man was as good as another and I the equal of the
manager of a large hotel, I should not have complained about the failure
to deliver that letter. The hotel when we were there was very full, and
full of the most important kind of people, doctors. It was not to be
expected that such a trifle as a letter for me would engage the
attention of anybody.

Next morning there was a paragraph in one of the leading Chicago papers
about my letter and the manager of the hotel was told plainly, in clear
print, that he must do his business better than he did. I was astonished
when the manager, taking me solemnly apart, showed me the paragraph,
astonished and terror-stricken. I apologized at once for daring to have
a letter addressed to me at his hotel. I apologized for not asking for
it when I arrived. I apologized for the trouble his staff had been put
to in carrying the letter up to my room in the end. Then I stopped
apologizing because, to my amazement, the manager began. He apologized
so amply that I came gradually to feel as if I were not entirely in the
wrong. Also I realized why it is that this hotel—and no doubt all the
others in Chicago—is so superlatively good. Chicago keeps an eye on
them. The press is alive to the fact that every citizen of a great city,
even a hotel manager, should do not merely his duty but more, should
practice counsels of perfection, perform works of supererogation,
deliver letters which are not asked for.

The incident is in itself unimportant, but it seems to me to illustrate
the spirit of Chicago. It is a great city and is determined to get
things done right. It has besides, and this is its rare distinction, an
unfaltering conviction that it can get things done right. Most
communities are conscious of some limitations of their powers. For
Chicago there are no limitations at all anywhere. Whatever ought to be
done Chicago will do. Nothing is too small, nothing too great to be
attempted and carried through. It may be an insignificant matter, like
the comfort of a helpless and foolish stranger. It may be a problem
against which civilized society has broken its teeth for centuries, like
the evil of prostitution. Chicago is convinced that it can be got right
and Chicago means to do it.

I admire this sublime self-confidence. I ought always to be happy when I
am among men who have it, because I was born in Belfast and the first
air I breathed was charged with exactly this same intensely bracing
ozone of strong-willedness.

Belfast is very like Chicago. If a Belfast man were taken while asleep
and transported on a magic carpet to Chicago, he would not, on waking
up, feel that anything very strange had happened to him. The outward
circumstances of life would indeed be different, but he would find
himself in all essential respects at home. He would talk to men who said
“We will,” with a conviction that their “We will” is the last word which
can or need be said on any subject; just as he had all his life before
talked to men who said, “We won’t,” with the same certainty that beyond
their “We won’t” there was nothing.

Chicago is, indeed, greater than Belfast, not merely in the number of
its inhabitants and the importance of its business, but in the fact that
it asserts where Belfast denies. It is a greater and harder thing to say
“Yes” than “No.” But there is a spiritual kinship between the two places
in that both of them mean what they say and are quite sure that they can
make good their “yes” and “no” against the world. If all the rest of
America finds itself up against Chicago as the British empire is at
present up against Belfast, the result will be the bewilderment of the
rest of America.

I was in Chicago only for a short time. I did not see any of the things
which visitors usually see there. I went there with certain prejudices.
I had read, like every one else, Mr. Upton Sinclair’s account of the
slaughter of pigs in Chicago. I had read several times over the late Mr.
Frank Norris’s “The Pit.” I had read and heard many things about the
wonderful work of Miss Jane Addams. I had a vague idea that Chicago was
both better and worse than other places, that God and the devil had
joined battle there more definitely than elsewhere, that the points at
issue were plainer, that there was something nearer to a straight fight
in Chicago between good and evil than we find in other places.

“We are here,” says Matthew Arnold, “as on a darkling plain,
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies strive by night.”

In Chicago I felt the armies would be less ignorant, the alarms a little
less confused. I am not sure now that this is so. It may be quite as
hard in Chicago as it is anywhere else to find out quite certainly what
is right; which, in certain tangled matters, is God’s side and which the
devil’s. But I do not believe that the Chicago man, any more than the
Belfast man, is tormented with the paralysis of indecision. He may and
very likely will do a great many things which will turn out in the end
not to be good things. But he will do them quite unfalteringly. When,
having done them, he has time to look round at the far side of them, he
may discover that there was some mistake about them somewhere. Then he
will undo them and do something else instead with the same vigorous
conviction. He will, in any case, keep on doing things and believing in
them.

I was in a large bookseller’s shop while I was in Chicago. It was so
large that it was impossible to discover with any certainty what pleases
Chicago most in the way of literature. There seemed to me to be copies
of every book I had ever heard of waiting there for buyers, and, I
presume, they would not wait unless buyers were likely to come. But I
was struck with the very large number of books dealing with those
subjects which may be classed roughly under the term Eugenics. There
were more of these books in that shop than I had ever seen before. I
should not have guessed that there were so many in the world. I may, of
course, have received a wrong impression. This particular shop had its
books arranged according to subjects. There was not, as generally in
England and Ireland, a counter devoted to the latest publications, or a
series of shelves given over to books priced at a shilling. In this shop
all books on economics, for example, whether old or new, cheap or dear,
were in one place; all books on music in another; and so forth. The idea
underlying the arrangement being that a customer knows more or less the
subject he wants to read about and is pleased to find all books on that
subject ready waiting for him in rows. Our idea, on the other hand, that
which underlies the arrangements of our shops, is that a customer wants,
perhaps a new book, perhaps a ten-and-sixpenny book, perhaps a shilling
book, without minding much what the book is about. He is best suited by
finding all the new books in one place, all the ten-and-sixpenny books
in another, and all the shilling books in a third. I do not know which
is the better plan, but that adopted in the Chicago shop has the effect
of making the casual customer realize the very large number of books
there are on every subject. I may therefore have been deceived about the
popularity of books on eugenics in Chicago. There may be no more on sale
there than elsewhere. But I think there are. Of some of these books
there were very large numbers, twenty or thirty copies of a single book
all standing in a row. Plainly it was anticipated that there were in
Chicago twenty or thirty people who would want that particular book. I
never, in any book shop elsewhere, saw more than five or six copies of a
eugenic book in stock at the same time. I also noticed that the majority
of these books were cheap; not detailed and elaborate treatises on, let
us say, Weissmannism and the mechanism of heredity; but short handbooks,
statements of conclusions supposed to be arrived at and practical advice
suited to plain people. I formed the opinion that the study of eugenics
is popular in Chicago, more popular than elsewhere, and that a good many
people believe that some good is to be got out of knowing what science
has to teach on these subjects.

I was told by a man who ought to have known that these books are
steadily becoming more popular. The demand for them was very small five
years ago. It is very large now and becoming steadily larger. This seems
to me a very interesting thing. For a long time people were content just
to take children as they came, and they did not bother much about the
hows and the whys of the business. Grown-up men and women did not indeed
believe that storks dropped babies down chimneys or that doctors brought
them in bags. But they might just as well have believed these things for
all the difference such knowledge as they had made in their way of
conducting the business. Their philosophy was summed up in a proverb.
“When God sends the mouth He sends the food to fill it.” To go further
into details struck people, twenty years ago, as rather a disgusting
proceeding.

Now we have all, everywhere, grown out of this primitive innocence. We
have been driven away from our old casual ways of reproducing ourselves,
and are forced to think about what we are doing. There is nothing very
interesting or curious about this. It is simply a rather unpleasant
fact. What is interesting is that Chicago seems to be thinking more than
the rest of us, is at all events more interested than the rest of us in
the range of subjects which I have very roughly called eugenics. Chicago
is, apparently, buying more books on these subjects, and presumably buys
them in order to read them. Is this a symptom of the existence of a
latent vein of weakness in Chicago?

I am not a very good judge of a question of this sort. The whole subject
of Eugenics and all the other subjects which are associated with it are
extremely distasteful to me. I like to think of young men and young
women falling in love with each other and getting married because they
are in love without considering overmuch the almost inevitable
consequences until these are forced upon them. I fancy that in an
entirely healthy community things would be managed in this way, and that
the result, generally speaking and taking a wide number of cases into
consideration, would be a race of wholesome, sound children, fairly well
endowed with natural powers and fitted to meet the struggle of life. But
Chicago evidently thinks otherwise. The subject of Eugenics is studied
there, and, as a consequence of the study, a number of clergy of various
churches have declared that they will not marry people who are suffering
from certain diseases. They have all reason on their side. I admit it. I
have nothing to urge against them except an old-fashioned prejudice in
favor of the fullest possible liberty to the individual. Yet I cannot
help feeling that it is not a sign of strength in a community that it
should think very much about these things. A man seldom worries about
his digestion or reads books about his stomach until his stomach and his
digestion have gone wrong and begun to worry him. A great interest in
what is going on in our insides is either a sign that things are not
going on properly or else a deliberate invitation to our insides to give
us trouble. It is the same with the community. But I should not like to
think that anything either is or soon will be the matter with Chicago.
It would be a lamentable loss to the world if Chicago’s definite “I
will” were to weaken, if the native hue of this magnificent,
self-confident resolution were to be sicklied o’er with a pale cast of
thought.

At present, at all events, there is very little sign of any such
disaster. It happened that while we were in Chicago there was some sort
of Congress of literary men. They dined together, of course, as all
civilized men do when they meet to take counsel together on any subject
except the making of laws. In all probability laws would be better made
if Parliaments were dining clubs; but this is too wide a subject for me
to discuss. The literary men who met in Chicago had a dinner, and I was
highly honored by receiving an invitation to it. I wish it had been
possible for me to be there. I could not manage it, but I did the next
best thing, I read the report of the proceedings in the papers on the
following morning. One speaker said that he looked forward to the day
when Chicago would be the world center of literature, music and art. He
was not, of course, a stranger, one of the literary men who had gathered
there from various parts of America. He was a citizen of Chicago. No
stranger would have ventured to say so magnificent a thing. As long as
Chicago says things like that, simply and unaffectedly, and believes
them, Chicago can study eugenics as much as it likes, might even devote
itself to Christian Science or take to Spiritualism. It would still
remain strong and sane. For this was not a silly boast, made in the name
of a community which knows nothing of literature, music or art. Chicago
knows perfectly well what literature is and what art is. Chicago
understands what England has done in literature and art, what France has
done, what Germany has done. Chicago has even a very good idea of what
Athens did. If I were to say that I looked forward to inventing a
perfect flying machine I should be a fool, because I know nothing
whatever about flying machines and have not the dimmest idea of what the
difficulties of making them are. If Chicago were as ignorant about
literature and art as I am about aeronautics, its hope of becoming the
world center of these things would be fit matter for a comic paper. What
makes this boast so impressive is just the fact that Chicago knows quite
well what it means.

There are no bounds to what a man can do except his own self-distrust.
There is nothing beyond the reach of a city which unfalteringly believes
in itself. No other city believes in itself quite so whole-heartedly as
Chicago does, and I expect Chicago _will_ be the world center of
literature, music and art. There is nothing to stop it, unless indeed
Chicago itself gives up the idea and chooses to be something else
instead. It may, I hope it will, decide to be the New Jerusalem, with
gates of pearl and streets of gold and a tree of life growing in the
midst of it. Then Chicago will be the New Jerusalem and I shall humbly
sue to be admitted as a citizen. My petition will, I am sure, be
granted, for the hospitality of the people of Chicago seems to me to
exceed, if that be possible, the hospitality of other parts of America.
I am not sure that I should be altogether happy there, even under the
new, perfected conditions of life; but perhaps I may. I was indeed born
in Belfast, and as a young man shared its spirit. That gives me hope.
But I left Belfast early in life. I have dwelt much among other peoples,
and learned self-distrust. It may be too late for me to go back to my
youth and learn confidence again. If it is too late, I shall not be
really happy in Chicago.

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