MEMPHIS AND THE NEGRO

Chicago is generous as well as strong. There is no note of petty
jealousy in its judgment of other cities. Memphis belongs to the South
and is very different from the cities of the East and the middle West.
It is easily conceivable that Chicago might be a little contemptuous of
Memphis, just as Belfast is more than a little contemptuous of Dublin.
But Chicago displays a fine spirit. I was assured, more than once, when
I was in Chicago, that Memphis is a good business city, and I suppose
that no higher praise could be given than that. I never met a Belfast
man who would say as much for Dublin. But, of course, Chicago is not in
this matter so highly tried as Belfast is. Memphis does not assume an
air of social superiority to Chicago as Dublin does to Belfast. It is
not therefore so very hard for Chicago to be generous in her judgment.

Perhaps “generous” is the wrong word to use; “just” would be better. No
generosity is required, because Memphis really is one of those places in
which business is efficiently done. Timber, I understand, is one of the
things in which Memphis deals. Cotton is another. I do not know which of
the two is a greater source of trade, but cotton is the more impressive
to the stranger. The place is full of cotton. Mule carts drag great
bales of it to and from railway stations. Sternwheel steamers full of it
ply up and down the Mississippi. I shall never again take out a pocket
handkerchief—I use the cheaper, not the linen or silken
handkerchief—without looking to see if there is a little piece of white
fluff sticking on my sleeve. When I next visit one of the vast whirling
mills of Lancashire I shall think of a large quiet room in Memphis full
of tables on which are laid little bundles of cotton, each bearing a
neat ticket with mysterious numbers and letters written on it. As I
watch the operatives tending the huge machines which spin their endless
threads, I shall think of the men who handle the samples of the cotton
crop in that Memphis office. They take the stuff between their fingers
and thumbs and slowly pull it apart, looking attentively at the fine
fibers which stretch and separate as the gentle pull is completed. By
some exquisite sensitiveness of touch and some subtle skill of glance
they can tell to within an eighth of an inch how long these fibers are.
And on the length of the fiber depends to a great extent the value of
the crop of the particular plantation from which that sample comes.
Outside the windows of the room is the Mississippi,—a broad, sluggish,
gray river when I saw it; where the deeply laden steamers splash their
way from riverside plantations to Memphis and then down to New Orleans,
where much of the cotton is shipped to Europe.

Beyond the room where the cotton is graded is an office, a sunlit
pleasant place with comfortable writing desks and a case full of various
books. You might fancy yourself in the private room of some cultivated
lawyer in an English country town, if it were not that in a corner of
that office there stands one of those machines which, with an infinite
amount of fussy ticking, disgorge a steady stream of ribbon stamped with
figures. In New York and Liverpool men are shouting furiously at each
other across the floors of Cotton Exchanges. Prices are made, raised,
lowered by their shouts. Transactions involving huge sums of money are
settled by a gesture or two and a shouted number. A hand thrust forward,
palm outward, sells what twenty panting steamers carry to the Memphis
quays. A nod and a swiftly penciled note buys on the assurance that the
men with the sensitive fingers have rightly judged the exact length of a
fiber, impalpable to most of us. All the time the shouting and the
gestures are going on thousands of miles away this machine, with
detached and unexcited indifference, is stamping a record of the
frenzied bidding, there in the sunlit Memphis office. Chicago is no more
than just when it says that Memphis is a city where business is done.

Modern business seems to me the most wonderful and romantic thing that
the world has ever seen. A doctor in London takes a knife and cuts a bit
out of a man’s side. By doing that he acquires, if he chooses to
exercise it, the right to levy a perpetual tax on the earnings of a
railway somewhere in the Argentine Republic. No traveler on that railway
knows of his existence. None of the engine drivers, porters, guards or
clerks who work the railway have ever heard of that doctor or of the man
whose side was cut. But of the fruit of their labors some portion will
go to that doctor and to his children after him if he chooses, with the
money his victim pays him, to buy part of the stock of that railway
company. An obscure writer, living perhaps in some remote corner of
Wales, tells a story which catches the fancy of the ladies who subscribe
to Mudie’s library. He is able, because he has written feelingly of
Evangelina’s first kiss, to take to himself and assure to his heirs some
part of the steel which sweating toilers make in Pittsburgh, or, if that
please him better, he can levy a toll upon the gold dug from a mine in
South Africa. What do the Pittsburgh steel workers know or care about
him or Evangelina or the ladies who thrill over her caress? Why should
they give up part of the fruit of their toil because an imaginary man is
said to have kissed a girl who never existed? It is very difficult to
explain it, but all society, all nations, peoples and languages agree
that they must. The whole force of humanity, combined for this purpose
only, agrees that the doctor, because of his knife, which has very
likely killed its victim, and the novelist because of his silly
simpering heroine, shall have an indefeasible right to tax for their own
private benefit almost any industry in the whole wide world. This is an
unimaginable romance. So is all business; but Memphis brought home the
strangeness of it to me most compellingly.

Here is a dainty lady, furclad, scented, pacing with delicate steps
across the floor of one of our huge shops. In front of her, not less
exquisitely dressed, a handsome man bows low with the courtesy of a
great lord of other days:

“Lingerie, madam, this way if you please. The second turning to the
left. _This_ way, madam. Miss Jones, _if_ you please. Madam wishes to
see——”

And madam, with her insolent eyes, deigns to survey some frothy piles of
frilly garments, touches, appraises the material, peers at the stitches
of the hems, plucks at inserted strips of lace.

Here are broad acres of black, caked earth and all across them are rows
and rows of stunted bushes, like gooseberry bushes, but thinner and much
darker. On all their prickly branches hang little tufts of white
fluff—cotton. Among the bushes go men, women and children, black,
negroes every one of them, dressed in bright yellow, bright blue and
flaming red. From their shoulders hang long sacks which trail on the
ground behind them. They steadily pick, pick, pick the fluffs of cotton
out of the opened pods, and push each little bit into a sack. There you
have the beginning of all, the ending of part of this wonderful
substance which clothes, so they tell us, nine-tenths of the men and
women in the world who wear clothes. What is in between the dainty
English lady and the negro in Tennessee?

The plantation owner drives his mule along winding tracks through the
fields where the bushes are and watches. He is a man harassed by the
unsolvable negro problem, in constant dread of insect pests, oppressed
by economic difficulties. Men in mills nearby comb the thick seeds from
the raw cotton, press it tight and bind it into huge bales. Men grade
and sort the samples of it. Men shout at each other in great marts, buy
and sell cotton yet unsorted, unpicked, ungrown; and the record of their
doings is flashed across continents and oceans. Ships laden down to the
limit of safety plunge through great seas with tired men on their
bridges guiding them. In Lancashire, in Russia, in Austria, huge
factories set their engines working and their wheels go whirling round.
Men and women sweat at the machines. In Derry and a thousand other
places women in gaunt bare rooms with sewing machines, or in quiet
chambers of French convents with needles in their hands, are working at
long strips of cotton fabric. In shops women again, officered by men,
are selling countless different stuffs made out of this same cotton
fluff.

And the whole complex organization, the last achieved result of man’s
age-long struggle for civilization, works on the perilous verge of
breaking down. The fine lady at the one end of it may buy what she
cannot pay for and disturb the delicately balanced calculations of the
shopkeeper. Some well-intentioned Government somewhere may insist that
the women who sew shall have fire and a share of the sunlight, things
which cost money. Inspectors come, with pains and penalties ready in
their pockets, and it seems possible that they will dislocate the whole
machine. Labor, painfully organized, suddenly claims a larger share of
the profits which are flowing in. The wheels of all the factories stop
whirling. Their stopping affects every one through the whole length of
the tremendous chain, alters the manner of life in the tiniest of the
negroes’ huts. A sanguine broker may speculate disastrously and the long
chain of the organization quivers through its entire length and
threatens breaking. A ship owner raises rates, the servants of a railway
company go on strike. Some one makes a blunder in estimating the size of
a future crop. Negroes prove less satisfactory than usual as workers.
The possibilities of a breakdown somewhere are almost uncountable. Yet
somehow the thing works. It is a wonderful accomplishment of man that it
should work and break down as seldom as it does; but the dread of
breakdown is present everywhere.

Everyone, the whole way from the lady who wants lingerie to the negro
who picks at the bushes, is beset with anxiety. But fortunately no one
ever really feels more than his own immediate share of it. The cotton
planter will indeed be affected seriously by an epidemic of speculation
in New York, or a strike in Lancashire or the legislation of some
well-meaning government. He knows all this, but it does not actually
trouble him much. He has his own particular worry and it is at him so
constantly that it leaves all the other worries no time to get at him at
all. His worry is the negro.

According to the theory of the American constitution the negro is a free
man, a brother, as responsible as anyone else for the due ordering of
the state. In actual practice the negro is either slowly emerging from
the slave status or slowly sinking back to it again. It does not matter
which way you look at it, the essential thing is, whichever way he is
going, he is not yet settled down in either position. It is
impossible—on account of the law—to treat him as a slave. It is
impossible—on account of his nature, so I am told—to treat him as a
free man. He is somewhere in between the two. He is economically
difficult and socially undesirable. But he is the only means yet
discovered of getting cotton picked. If anyone would invent a machine
for picking cotton he would benefit the world at large immensely and
make the cotton planter, save for the fear of certain insects, a happy
man. But the shape of the cotton bush renders it very difficult to get
the cotton off it except by the use of the human finger and thumb. We
are not nearly so clever at inventing things as we think we are. The
cotton bush has so far defeated us. The negro, who supplies the finger
and thumb, has very nearly defeated us too. It is hard to get him to
work at all and still harder to keep him at it. He does not seem to be
responsive to the ordinary rules of political economy. If he can earn
enough in one day to keep him for three days he sees no sense in working
during the other two.

The southern American does not seem to be trying to solve this negro
problem. He makes all sorts of makeshift arrangements, tries plans which
may work this year and next year but which plainly will not work for
very many years. These seem the best he can do. Perhaps they are the
best anyone could do. Perhaps it is always wisest to be content to keep
things going and to let the remoter future take care of itself. The
cotton crop has to be picked somehow this year, and it may have to be
picked next year too. After that—well nobody speculates in futures as
far ahead as 1916.

The problem of the social position of the negro seems to be quite as
difficult to solve as that created by his indifference to the laws of
political economy. The “man and brother” theory has broken down
hopelessly and the line drawn between the white and colored parts of the
population in the South is as well defined and distinct as any line can
be. The stranger is told horrible tales of negro doings and is convinced
that the white men believe them by the precautions they take for the
protection of women. There may be a good deal of exaggeration about
these stories, and in any case the morality or immorality of the negro
is not the most difficult element in the problem. Education, the steady
enforcement of law, and the gradual pressure of civilization will no
doubt in time render outrages rarer. It is at all events possible to
look forward hopefully. The real difficulty seems to me to lie in the
strong, contemptuous dislike which white people who are brought into
close contact with negroes almost invariably seem to feel for them. In
the northern parts of America where negroes form a very small part of
the population, this feeling does not exist. A northern American or an
Englishman would not feel that he were insulted if he were asked to sit
next a negro at a public banquet. A southern American would decline an
invitation if he thought it likely that he would be called upon to do
such a thing. A southern lady, who happened to be in New York, was
offered by a polite stranger a seat in a street car next a negro. She
indignantly refused to occupy it. The very offer was an outrage.

The feeling would be intelligible if it were the outcome of instinctive
physical prejudice. An Englishwoman, who had hardly ever come into
contact with a negro, once found herself seated at tea in the saloon of
a steamer opposite a negress who was in charge of some white children.
She found it impossible to help herself to cake from the dish from which
the negress had helped herself. The idea of doing so filled her with a
sense of sickness. Yet she did not feel herself insulted or outraged at
being placed where she was. A southern American woman would have felt
outraged. But the southern American woman has no instinctive shrinking
from physical contact with black people. She is accustomed to it. She
has at home a black cook who handles the food of the household, a black
nurse who minds the children, perhaps a black maid who performs for her
all sorts of intimate acts of service. As servants she has no objection
to negroes. There is in her nothing corresponding to the Englishwoman’s
instinctive shrinking from the touch of a black hand.

Nor is the southern American’s contempt for the negroes anything at all
analogous to the contempt which most people feel for those who are
plainly their inferiors. A brave man has a thoroughly intelligible
contempt for one who has shown himself to be a coward. But this is an
entirely different thing, different in kind, not merely in degree, from
a southern white man’s contempt for a negro. It is the existence of this
feeling, intensely strong and very difficult to explain, which makes the
problem of the negro’s social future seem hopeless of solution. No moral
or intellectual advance which the negro can make affects this feeling in
the slightest. It is not the brutalized negro or the ignorant negro, but
the negro, whom the white man refuses to recognize as a possible equal.

Memphis, in spite of its negro problem, seems to me to be rapidly
emerging from the ruins of one civilization and to be pressing forward
to take a foremost place in another. I do not suppose that Memphis now
regrets the past very much or even thinks often of the terrible
humiliation of the Civil War and the years of blank hopeless ruin which
followed it. There was that indeed in the past which must have left
indelible marks behind it. It was not easy for a proud people,
essentially aristocratic in their outlook upon life, to accept defeat at
the hands of men whom they looked down upon. It is not easy to forget
the intolerable injustice which, inevitably, I suppose, followed the
defeat. But Memphis is looking forward and not back, is grasping at the
possibilities of the future rather than brooding over the past.

But if Memphis and the South generally are content to forget the past,
it does not follow that the past has forgotten them. The spirit of the
older civilization abides. It haunts the new life like some pathetic
ghost, doomed to wander helplessly among people who no longer want to
see it. There is a certain suavity about Memphis which the stranger
feels directly he touches the life of the place. It is a lingering
perfume, delicate, faint but appreciable. I am told that it is to be
traced to Europe, that the business men in Memphis have closer relations
with England, Austria and Russia than with the northern states of their
own country. I am also told that we must look to the origin of it to the
Cavalier settlers of the southern states from whom the people who live
there now claim descent. I do not like either explanation. A man does
not catch suavity by doing business with Lancashire. The quality is not
one on which the northern Englishman prides himself, or indeed which is
very obvious in his way of living. The blood of those original
cavaliers, gentlemen all of them I am sure, must have got a good deal
mixed in the course of the last two hundred years, especially as
strangers are always pouring into the South. It must be an attenuated
fluid now, scarcely capable of flavoring perceptibly a new and vigorous
life. I prefer my own hypothesis of a ghost. Some of these creatures
smell of sulphur and leave a reek of it behind them when they pay visits
to their old homes on earth. Others betray their presence by the damp,
cold earthy air they bring with them from the tombs in which their
bodies were laid. This Memphis ghost, which no one in Memphis sees, but
which yet has its influence on Memphis life, is of quite a different
kind. It is scented with pot-pourri, and the delicate rose water which
great ladies of bygone generations made and used. It is the ghost of
some grande dame like Madame Esmond, who owned slaves and used them with
no misgiving about her right to do so, whose pride was very great, whose
manners were dignified, whose ways among those of her own caste were
exceedingly gracious. There is something, some lingering suggestion of
great ladies about Memphis still, in spite of its new commercial
prosperity. I think it must be because the spirits of them haunt the
place.

Someone must surely have written a book on the philosophy of American
place names. The subject is an interesting one, and the world has a lot
of authors in it. It cannot have escaped them all. But I have not seen
the book. If I ever do see it I shall turn straight to the chapter which
deals with Memphis and Cairo, for I very much want to know how those two
places came to have Egypt for their godfather. Most American place names
are easy enough to understand, and they seem to me to surpass, in their
fascinating suggestion of romance, our older Irish and English names. It
is, of course, interesting to know that all the chesters in
England—Colchester, Dorchester, Manchester and Chester itself—were
once Roman camps; and that most of the Irish kils—Kilkenny, Kildare,
Killaloe, Kilrush—were the churches of once honored saints. But the
Romans and the saints are very remote. They were important people in
their day no doubt, but it is very hard to feel the personal touch of
them now. American place names bring us closer to men with whom we feel
that we can sympathize. There is a whole range of names taken straight
from old homes, New York, for instance, Boston, New Orleans. We do not
need to go back in search of emotions to the original meaning of York or
to worry over the derivation of Orleans. It is enough for us that these
names suggest all the pathetic nostalgia of exiles. The men who named
these places must have been thinking of dearly loved cathedral towers,
of the streets and market places of country towns whose every detail was
well remembered and much regretted, of homes which they would scarcely
hope to see again. It is not hard, either, to catch the spirit of the
Puritan settlers in theological and biblical names, in Philadelphia,
Salem and so forth. The men who gave these names to their new homes must
have felt that like Abraham they had gone forth from their kindred and
their people, from the familiar Ur of the Chaldees, to seek a country,
to find that better city whose builder and maker is God. Philadelphia is
perhaps to-day no more remarkable for the prevalence of brotherly love
among its people than any other city is. But there were great thoughts
in the minds of the men who named it first; and reading the name to-day,
even in a railway guide, our hearts are lifted up into some sort of
communion with theirs. Then there are the Indian names, of lakes,
mountains and rivers chiefly, but occasionally of cities too. Chicago is
a city with an Indian name. Perhaps these are of all the most suggestive
of romance. It must have been the hunters and explorers, pioneers of the
pioneers, who fixed these names. One imagines these men, hardened with
intolerable toil, skilled in all the lore of wild life, brave,
adventurous, picking up here and there a word or two of Indian speech,
adopting Indian names for places which they had no time to name
themselves, handing on these strange syllables to those who came after
them to settle and to build. Greater, so it seems, than the romance of
the homesick exile, greater than the romance of the Puritan with his
Bible in his hand, is the wild adventurousness which comes blown to us
across the years in these Indian names.

But there are names like Memphis which entirely baffle the imagination.
It is almost impossible to think that the people who named that place
were homesick for Egypt. What would Copts be doing on the shores of the
Mississippi? How could they have got there? Nor is it easy to think of
any emotion which the name Memphis would be likely to stir in the mind
of a settler. Memphis means nothing to most men. It is easy to see why
there should be an American Rome. A man might never have been in Rome,
might have no more than the barest smattering of its history, yet the
name would suggest to him thoughts of imperial greatness. Any one who
admires imperial greatness would be inclined to call a new city Rome.
But Memphis suggests nothing to most of us, and to the few is associated
only with the worship of some long forsaken gods. I can understand
Indianapolis. There was Indiana to start with, a name which anyone with
a taste for sonorous vowel sounds might easily make out of Indian. The
Greek termination is natural enough. It gives a very desirable
suggestion of classical culture to a scholar. But a scholar would be
driven far afield indeed before he searched out Memphis for a name.

I asked several learned and thoughtful people how Memphis came by its
name. I got no answer which was really satisfactory. It was suggested to
me that cotton grows in Egypt and also in the neighborhood of Memphis.
But cotton does not immediately suggest Egypt to the mind. Mummies
suggest Egypt. So, though less directly, does corn. If a caché of
mummies had been discovered on the banks of the Mississippi it would be
easy to account for Memphis. If Tennessee were a great wheat state one
could imagine settlers saying “There is corn in Egypt, according to the
Scriptures. Let us call our new city by an Egyptian name.” But I doubt
whether cotton suggested Memphis. It certainly did not suggest Cairo,
for Cairo is not a cotton place. I was told,—though without any strong
conviction—that the sight of the Mississippi reminded somebody once of
the Nile. It would of course remind an Egyptian fellah of the Nile; but
the original settlers in Memphis were almost certainly not Egyptian
fellaheen. Why should it remind any one else of the Nile? It reminds me
of the Shannon, and I should probably have wanted to call Memphis
Athlone if I had had a voice in the naming of it. It would remind an
Englishman of the Severn, a German of the Rhine, an Austrian of the
Danube, a Spaniard—it was, I think, a Spaniard who went there first—of
the Guadalquiver. I cannot believe that the sight of a very great river
naturally suggests the Nile to anyone who is not familiar with Egypt
beforehand.

It is indeed true that both the Mississippi and the Nile have a way of
overflowing their banks, but most large rivers do that from time to
time. The habit is not so peculiar as to force the thought of the Nile
on early observers of the Mississippi. Indeed there is a great
difference between the overflowings of the Nile and those of the
Mississippi. The Nile, so I have always understood, fertilizes the land
round it when it overflows. The Mississippi destroys cotton crops when
it breaks loose. South of Memphis for very many miles the river is
contained by large dykes, called levees, a word of French origin. These
are built up far above the level of the land which they protect. It is a
very strange thing to stand on one of these dykes and look down on one
side at the roofs of the houses of the village, and on the other side at
the river. When we were there the river was very low. Long banks of sand
pushed their backs up everywhere in the main stream and there was half a
mile of dry land between the river and the bank on which we stood. But
at flood time the river comes right up to the dyke, rises along the
slope of it, and the level of the water is far above that of the land
which the dykes protect. Then the people in the villages near the dyke
live in constant fear of inundation, and I saw, beside a house far
inland, a boat moored—should I in such a case say tethered?—to a tree
in a garden ready for use if the river swept away a dyke. I suppose the
people get accustomed to living under such conditions. Men cultivate
vines and make excellent wine on the slopes of Vesuvius though Pompeii
lies, a bleached skeleton, at their feet. I should myself rather plant
cotton behind a dyke, than do that. But I am not nearly so much afraid
of water as I am of fire.

I was told that at flood time men patrol the tops of the dykes with
loaded rifles in their hands, ready to shoot at sight anyone who
attempts to land from a boat. The idea is that unscrupulous people on
the left bank, seeing that their own dyke is in danger of collapsing,
might try to relieve the pressure on it by digging down a dyke on the
right bank and inundating the country behind it. The people on the other
side of course take similar precautions. Most men, such unfortunately is
human nature, would undoubtedly prefer to see their neighbors’ houses
and fields flooded rather than their own. But I find it difficult to
believe that anyone would be so entirely unscrupulous as to dig down a
protecting dyke. The rifle men can scarcely be really necessary but
their existence witnesses to the greatness of the peril.

I saw, while I was in Memphis, a place where the river had torn a large
piece of land out of the side of a public park. The park stood high
above the river and I looked down over the edge of a moderately lofty
cliff at the marks of the river’s violence. Some unexpected obstacle or
some unforeseen alteration in the river bed had sent the mighty current
in full force against the land in this particular place. The result was
the disappearance of a tract of ground and a semicircle of clay cliff
which looked as if it had been made with a gigantic cheese scoop. The
river was placid enough when I saw it, a broad but lazy stream. But for
the torn edge of the park I should have failed to realize how terrific
its force can be. The dykes were convincing. So were the stories of the
riflemen. But the other brought the reality home to me almost as well as
if I had actually seen a flood.

We should have been hard indeed to please if we had not enjoyed our
visits to Chicago and Memphis. We should be ungrateful now if we
confessed that there was any note of disappointment in the memory of the
joyous time we had. Yet there is one thing we regret about that journey
of ours to the Middle West and South. We should dearly have liked to see
a dozen other places, smaller and less important, which lay along the
railway line between Chicago and Memphis, and between Memphis and
Indianapolis. We made the former of these journeys entirely, and the
latter partly, by day. Some unimaginative friends warned us beforehand
that these journeys were dull, that it would be better to sleep through
them if possible, rather than spend hours looking out of railway
carriage windows at uninteresting landscapes. These friends were
entirely wrong. The journeys were anything but dull. The trains dragged
us through a whole series of small towns, and, after the manner of many
American trains, gave us ample opportunity of looking at the houses and
the streets.

In other countries trains are obliged to hide themselves as much as
possible when they come to towns. They go into tunnels when they can or
wander round the backs of mean houses so that the traveler sees nothing
except patches of half bald earth sown with discarded tins and rows of
shirts and stockings hanging out to dry. European peoples, it appears,
do not welcome trains. In America the train seems to be an honored
guest. It is allowed, perhaps invited, to wander along or across the
chief streets. I have been told by a very angry critic that this way of
stating the fact is wrong, misleading, and abominably unjust to the
American people. The towns, he says, did not invite the train, but the
train, being there first, so to speak, invited the towns to exist. Very
likely this is so. But it seems to me to matter but little whether the
train or the town came first. The noticeable thing is that the town
evidently likes the train. It is just as sure a mark of affection to lay
out a main street alongside the railway line as it would be to invite
the railway to run its line down the middle of the main street. An
English town, if it found that a railway was established on its site
before it got there would angrily turn its back to the line, would, even
at the cost of great inconvenience, run its streets away from the
railway. The American plan from the point of view of the passenger is
far better. He gets the most delightful glances of human activity and is
set wondering at ways of life that are strange to him.

Our imagination would, I think, have in any case been equal to the task
of conjuring up mental pictures of what life is like in these small
isolated inland towns. We should, no doubt, have gone grievously wrong,
but we should have enjoyed ourselves even without guidance. Fortunately
we were not left to our own imaginative blunderings. We had with us a
volume of Mr. Irvin Cobb’s stories for the possession of which we
selfishly disputed. It gave us just what we wanted, a sure groundwork
for our imaginings. We peopled those little towns with the men and women
whom Mr. Cobb revealed to us. His humor and his delightful tenderness
gave us real glimpses of the lives, the hopes, the fears, the prejudices
and memories of many people who otherwise would have been quite strange
to us. Each little town as we came to it was inhabited by friendly men
and women. Thanks to Mr. Cobb they were our friends. All that was wanted
was that we should be theirs. Hence the bitter disappointment at not
being able to stop at one after the other of the towns, at being denied
the chance of completing a friendship with people whom we already liked.
But it may well be that we should not really have got to know them any
better. We have not, alas! Mr. Cobb’s gift of gentle humor or his power
of sympathetic understanding. Also it takes years to get to know anyone.
We could not, in any case, have stayed for years in all these towns.
Life has not years enough in it.

Besides the towns there were the people we met on the trains. There was,
for instance, a man who went up and down selling apples and grapes in
little paper bags. We bought from him and while buying we heard him
speak. There was no doubt about the matter. He was an Irishman, and not
merely an Irishman by descent, the son or grandson of an emigrant, but
one who had quite recently left Ireland. His voice to our ears was like
well-remembered music. I know the feeling of joy which comes with
landing from an English-manned steamer on the quay in Dublin and hearing
again the Irish intonation and the Irish turns of phrase. But that is an
expected pleasure. It is nothing compared to the sudden delight of
hearing an Irish voice in some place thousands of miles from Ireland
where the last thing you expect to happen is a meeting with an Irishman.
I remember being told of an Irishwoman who was traveling from Singapore
to Ceylon in a steamer. She lay in her cabin, helplessly ill with some
fever contracted during her stay in the Far East. She seemed incapable
of taking an interest in anything until two men came to mend something
in the corridor outside her cabin door. They talked together and at the
sound of their voices the sick lady roused herself. She had found
something in life which still interested her. She wanted very much to
know whether the men came from County Antrim or County Down. She was
sure their homes were in one or the other. The Irish voices had stirred
her.

We were neither sick nor apathetic, but we were roused to fresh vitality
by the sound of our Irish apple seller’s voice. He came from County
Wicklow. He told us so, needlessly indeed, for we knew it by his talk.
He had been in America for two years, had drifted westward from New
York, was selling apples in a train. Did he like America? Was he happy?
Was he doing well? and—crucial, test question—would he like to go back
to Ireland?

“I would so, if there was any way I could get my living there.”

I suppose that is the way it is with the most of us. We have it fixed
somehow in our minds that a living is easier got anywhere than at home.
Perhaps it is. Yet surely apples might be sold in Ireland with as good a
hope of profit as in Illinois or Tennessee. Baskets are cheap at home,
and a basket is the sole outfit required for that trade. The apples
themselves are as easy to come by in the one place as in the other. But
possibly there are better openings in America. The profession may be
overcrowded at home. Many professions are, medicine, for instance, and
the law. Apple selling may be in the like case. At all events, here was
an Irishman, doing fairly well by his own account in the middle west of
America yet with a sincere desire to go back again to Ireland if only he
could get a living there.

There was another man whom we met and talked to with great pleasure. Our
train lingered, as trains sometimes will, for an hour or more at a
junction. It was waiting for another train which ought to have met ours,
but did not. We sat on the platform of the observation car, and gazed at
the blinking signal lights, for the darkness had come. Suddenly a man
climbed over the rail of the car and sat down beside us. He had, as we
could see, a very dirty face, and very dirty hands. He wore clothes like
those of an engine stoker. He was, I think, employed in shunting trains.
He apologized for startling us and expressed the hope that we had not
mistaken him for a murderous red Indian. He was a humorist, and he had
seen at a glance that we were innocent strangers, the sort of people who
might expect an American train to be held up by red Indians with
scalping knives. He told us a long story about a lady who was walking
from coach to coach of a train while he was engaged in shunting it about
and was detaching some coaches from it. She was crossing the bridge
between two coaches at an unlucky moment and found herself suddenly on
the line between two portions of the train. The expression of her face
had greatly amused our friend. His account of the incident greatly
amused us. But the most interesting thing about this man, the most
interesting thing to us, was his unaffected friendliness. In England a
signal man or a shunter would not climb into a train, sit down beside a
passenger and chat to him. A miserable consciousness of class
distinction would render this kind of intercourse as impossible on the
one side as on the other. Neither the passenger nor the shunter would be
comfortable, not even if the passenger were a Liberal politician, or a
newly made Liberal peer. In America this sense of class distinction does
not seem to exist. I have heard English people complain that Americans
are disrespectful. I should rather use the word unrespectful, if such a
word existed. For disrespectful seems to imply that respect is somehow
due, and I do not see why it should be. I am quite prepared to sign my
assent to the democratic creed that one man is as good as another. I
even go further than most Democrats and say that one man is generally
better than the other, whenever it happen that I am the other. I see no
reason why a railway signal man should not talk to me or to anyone else
in the friendly tones of an equal, provided of course that he does not
turn out to be a bore. It is a glory and not a shame of American society
that it refuses to recognize class distinction.

My only complaint is that America has not gone far enough in the path of
democratic equality. There are Americans who take tips. Now men neither
take tips from nor give tips to their equals. If a friend were to slip
sixpence into my hand when saying good-by I should resent it bitterly.
Unless I were quite sure that he was either drunk or mad, I should feel
that he was deliberately treating me as his inferior. I should admit
that I was his inferior if I pocketed the tip. I should feel bound to
touch my hat to him and say “Thank you, Sir,” or “Much obliged to your
honor.” No man is in any way degraded by taking wages for the work he
does, whatever that work may be, cleaning boots or lecturing in a
University. But a man does lower himself when, in addition to his wages,
he accepts gifts of money from strangers. He is being paid then not for
courtesy or civility, which he ought to show in any case, but for
servility; and that no one can render except to a recognized superior.
The tip in a country where class distinctions are a regular part of the
social order is right enough. It is at all events a natural outcome of
the theory that some men by reason of their station in life are superior
to others. In a social order which is based upon the principle of
equality among men the tip has no proper place.

The distinction between tips and wages is a real one, although it is
sometimes obscured by the fact that the wages of some kinds of work are
paid entirely or almost entirely in the form of tips. A waiter in a
restaurant or an hotel lives, I believe, mainly on tips. Tips are his
wages. Nevertheless he places himself in a position of inferiority by
allowing himself to be paid in this way. It is plain that this is so.
There is a sharp line which divides those who are tipped from those who
are not. It may, for instance, be the misfortune of anyone to require
the services of a hospital nurse; but we do not tip her however kind and
attentive she may be. She gets her wages, her salary, a fixed sum. It
would be insulting to offer her, in addition, five shillings for
herself. Hers is a profession which neither involves nor is supposed to
involve any loss of self respect. On the other hand the chambermaid who
makes the beds in an hotel is tipped. She expects it. And her
profession, in the popular estimation at least, does involve a certain
loss of self respect. The best class of young women are unwilling to be
domestic servants, but are not unwilling to be hospital nurses. Yet the
hospital nurse works as hard as, if not harder than, a housemaid. She
does the same kind of work. There is no real difference between making
the bed of a man who is sick and making the bed of a man who is well. In
either case it is a matter of handling sheets and blankets. But a
suggestion of inferiority clings to the profession of a housemaid and
none to that of a hospital nurse. The reason is that the one woman
belongs to the class which takes tips, while the other belongs to the
class which does not.

It is easy to see that in a country like America into which immigrants
are continually flowing from Europe there is sure to be a large number
of people—Italian waiters for instance, and Swedish and Irish domestic
servants—who have not yet grasped the American theory of social
equality. They have grown up in countries where the theory does not
prevail. They naturally and inevitably expect and take tips, the
largesse of their recognized superiors. No one accustomed to European
life grudges them their tips. But there are, unfortunately, many
American citizens, born and bred in America, with the American theory of
equality in their minds, who also take tips and are very much aggrieved
if they do not get them. Yet they, by word and manner, are continually
asserting their position of equality with those who tip them. This is
where the American theory of equality between man and man breaks down.
The driver of a taxicab for instance can have it one way or the other.
He cannot have it both. He may, like a doctor, a lawyer, or a plumber,
take his regular fee, the sum marked down on the dial of his cab, and
treat his passenger as an equal. Or he may take, as a tip, an extra
twenty cents, in which case he sacrifices his equality and proclaims
himself the inferior of the man who tips him, a member of a tippable
class. There ought to be no tippable class of American citizens. The
English complaint of the disrespectfulness of Americans is, in my
opinion, a foolish one, unless the American expects and takes tips. Then
the complaint is well founded and just. The tipper pays for
respectfulness when he gives a tip and what he pays for he ought to get.

It is, I think, quite possible that the custom of tipping has something
to do with the difficulty, so acute in America, of getting domestic
servants. It is widely felt that domestic service in some way degrades
the man or woman who engages in it. There is no real reason why it
should. It is not in itself degrading to do things for other people,
even to render intimate personal service to other people. The dentist
who fills a tooth for me does something for me, renders me a special
kind of personal service. He loses no self respect by supplying me with
a sound instrument for chewing food. Why should the person who cooks the
food which that tooth will chew lose self respect by doing so? There is
no real distinction between these two kinds of service. Nor is there
anything in the contention that the domestic servant is degraded by
abrogating her own will and taking orders from someone else. Nine men
out of ten take orders from somebody. From the soldier on the
battlefield, the most honorable of men, to the clerk in a bank, we are
almost all of us obeying orders, doing not what we ourselves think best
or pleasantest but what someone in authority thinks right. What is the
difference between obeying when you are told to clean a gun and obeying
when you are told to wash a jug? The real reason why a suggestion of
inferiority clings to the profession of domestic service is that
domestic servants belong to the tippable class. Society can, if it
likes, raise domestic service to a place among the honorable
professions, by ceasing to tip and paying wages which do not require to
be supplemented by tips. If this were done there would be far less
difficulty in keeping up the supply of domestic servants.

I find myself on much more difficult ground when I pass on to discuss
the impression made on me by the claim of America to be, in some special
way, a free country.

“To the West! to the West! to the land of the free.” So my farmer friend
sang to me twenty years ago. The tradition survives. The American
citizen believes that a man is freer in America than he is for instance
in England. If freedom means the power of the individual to do what he
likes without being interfered with by laws then no man can ever be
quite free anywhere except on a desert island. I, as an individual, may
earnestly desire to go out into a crowded thoroughfare and shoot at the
street cars with a revolver. I am not free to do this in any civilized
country in the world. For people with desires of that kind there is no
such thing as liberty. The freedom of the individual is everywhere a
compromise between his personal inclination and the general sense of the
community. Men are more free where the community makes fewer laws, less
free where the community makes more. In England I can, if I like, buy,
and drink at dinner, a bottle of beer in the restaurant car of any train
which has a restaurant car, in any part of the country. In certain
states in America I cannot buy a bottle of beer in the restaurant car of
the train. There is a law which stops me. It may be a very good law. The
infringement of my liberty which it entails may be for my good and the
good of society in general; but where that law exists I am certainly
less free than where it does not exist.

The tendency of modern democratic states is to make more and more laws
and thereby to confine within ever narrower limits the freedom of the
individual man. A few years ago an Englishman could send his child to
school or keep his child at home without any education just as he chose.
Now he must send his child to school. The law insists on it. The
Irishman, in most parts of Ireland, can still, if he likes, allow his
child to grow up without ever going to school. There is no law to
interfere with him. In that particular respect Ireland is freer than
England, for England has gone further along the path of curtailing
individual liberty. In the matter of buying beer England is freer than
America, because you can buy beer anywhere in England if you go to a
house licensed to sell beer. In some parts of America there are no
houses licensed to sell beer and you cannot buy it. America has, in this
particular respect, gone further than England along the path of
curtailing individual liberty.

There are several other things about which there are laws in America
which do not exist in England and with regard to which America is not so
free a country as England is. But there are also laws in England which
do not exist in America. The Englishman is more or less accustomed to
his laws. He has got into the habit of obeying them and they do not seem
to interfere with his freedom. The American laws, to which he is not
accustomed, strike him as unwarrantable examples of minor tyranny. But
it is likely that the American is, in the same way, accustomed to his
laws and is not irritated by them. He has got into the way of not
wanting to buy beer in Texas, and does not feel that his liberty is
curtailed by the existence of a law which it does not occur to him to
break. He may be, on the other hand, profoundly annoyed by English laws,
to which he is not accustomed. It may strike him, when he comes to
England, that his liberty is being continually interfered with just as
an Englishman feels himself continually hampered in America. I can, for
instance, understand that an American in England might feel that his
liberty was most unwarrantably interfered with by the law which obliges
him to have a penny stamp on every check he writes. It must strike him
as monstrous that he cannot get his own money out of a bank without
paying the government for being allowed to do so. After all it is his
money and the Government is not even a banker. Why should he pay for
taking a sovereign from the little pile of sovereigns which his banker
keeps for him when he would not have to pay for taking one out of a
stocking if he adopted the old-fashioned plan of keeping his money
there? The Englishman feels no annoyance at the payment of this penny.
He is so entirely accustomed to it that it seems to him a violation of
one of the laws of nature to write a check on a simple, unstamped piece
of paper.

On the whole, although the citizens of both countries feel free enough
when they are at home, there is probably less freedom, that is to say
there are more laws, in America than in England. America is more
thoroughly democratic in constitution than England is and therefore less
free. This seems a paradox, but is in reality a simple statement of
obvious fact, nor is there any difficulty in seeing the reason for it.
Democracies produce professional politicians. The professional
politician differs from the amateur or voluntary politician exactly as
any professional differs from any amateur. An amateur carpenter saws
wood and hammers nails for the fun of the thing, and stops sawing and
hammering as soon as sawing and hammering cease to amuse him. The
professional carpenter must go on sawing and hammering even if he does
not want to, because it is in this way that he earns his bread. He
therefore gets a great deal more sawing and hammering done in a year
than any amateur does. It is the same with politicians. The amateur
politician makes a law now and then when he feels like it. When
law-making ceases to interest him he goes off to hunt or fish. The
professional politician must go on making laws even though the business
has become inexpressibly wearisome. Thus it is that in states where
there are professional politicians, in democratic states, there are more
laws, and therefore less freedom, than in states which only have amateur
politicians. America, being slightly more democratic than England, has
slightly more laws and slightly less freedom.

But it would be easy to make too much of this difference between England
and America.

The freedom which men value most is very little affected by laws. Laws
neither give nor withhold it. Freedom is really an atmosphere in which
we are able to breathe without anxiety or fear. There are some societies
in which a man must be constantly watching himself lest he should give
expression to a thought or an opinion which is liable to offend some
powerful interest or outrage some cherished conviction. All sorts of
unpleasant consequences follow incautious utterance of an unpopular
opinion, or even the discovery that unpopular opinions are held. It may
be that the rash individual is looked on very coldly. It may be that
those who seem to be his friends gradually draw away from him. It may
be—this is not so unpleasant but quite unpleasant enough—that he is
assailed in newspapers and held up in their columns to public odium. It
may be that he is made to suffer in more material ways, that he loses
business or runs the risk of being deprived of some position which he
holds. In very uncivilized communities he is sometimes actually treated
with physical violence. The windows of his house are broken or he is
mobbed. The dread of some or all of these penalties makes him very
cautious. He goes through life glancing timidly from side to side,
always anxious, always a little frightened and therefore—since fear is
the real antithesis of liberty—never free.

All communities suffer from spasmodic fits of this kind of intolerance.
In England in the year 1900 it was not safe to be a pro-Boer, and
England at that time was not a free country. England is now free to
quite an extraordinary extent. A man may hold and express almost any
conceivable opinion without suffering for it. He can stand up in a
public assembly and say hard things about England herself, point out her
faults in plain and even bitter language. The English people as a whole
remain totally indifferent to what he says about them. If the hard thing
is said wittily they laugh. If it is said dully they yawn. In neither
case do they display any signs of anger. They succeed in giving the
stranger in their midst the impression that nothing he does or says
matters in the least so long as he avoids crossing the indefinable line
which separates “good form” from bad. His manners may get him into
trouble. His opinions will not.

America is free too in this same way, but is not, I think, so free as
England. There are several subjects about which it is not wise to talk
quite freely in America. The ordinary middle class American, the man
with whom one falls into casual conversation in a train, is sensitive
about criticism of his country and its institutions in a way that the
ordinary Englishman is not. It may very well be that in this he is the
Englishman’s superior. A perfectly detached judge of humanity, some
epicurean deity observing all things with passion-less calm and weighing
all emotion in the scales of absolute justice—might, quite conceivably,
rank a slightly resentful patriotism higher than tolerant apathy. We
Irishmen are not tolerant of criticism, and I sincerely hope that ours
is the better part. We do not like the expression of opinions which
differ from our own and are inclined to suppress them with some violence
when we can. As a nation we value truth far more than liberty; truth
being, of course, the thing which we ourselves believe; obviously that,
for we would not believe it unless we were quite sure that it was true.
Americans are not so whole hearted as we are in this matter. The more
highly educated Americans are even inclined to drift into a tolerant
agnosticism which is almost English. But most Americans are still a
little intolerant of strange opinions and still have enough conscious
patriotism to resent criticism.

It is the fault of a great quality. No society can be both enthusiastic
and free. It is the tips and the equality over again. We can not have
things both ways. If society allows a man, without pain or penalty, to
say exactly what he means, it is always because that society is
convinced, deep down in its soul, that he cannot possibly mean what he
says. A man is free to speak what he chooses, to criticize, to abuse, to
sneer, wherever his fellow men have made up their minds that it does not
matter what he says how keenly he criticizes, abuses or sneers. On the
other hand, a society which is very much in earnest about anything,—and
a great many Americans are—will not suffer differences of opinion
patiently and will always be resentful of criticism. Say to an
Englishman that American football is superior to the Rugby Union game.
He will look at you with a sleepy expression in his eyes, and, after a
short pause, politeness requiring some answer from him, he will say: “Is
it really?” His tone suggests that he does not care whether it is or
not, but that he means to go on playing the Rugby Union game if he plays
at all, a point about which he has not quite made up his mind. Say to an
American that Rugby Union football is superior to his game and he will
look at you with highly alert but slightly troubled eyes. He wants to
respect you if he can, and he does not like to hear you saying a thing
which cannot possibly be true. But he too is polite.

“There may be,” he says, “some points of superiority about the English
game—but on the whole—think of the organization of our forwards. Think
of the amount of thought required. Think of the rapid decisions which
have to be made. Think of——But come and see the match next Saturday
and then you’ll understand.”

There is still another kind of freedom—freedom to behave as we like,
freedom of manners. This is almost as important as freedom to speak and
think without fear of consequences. Indeed, for most people it is more
important. Only a few of us think, or want to say what we think. All of
us have to behave, to have manners of some sort either good or bad. It
is curious to notice that, while men everywhere are acquiescing without
much protest to the curtailment of the sort of freedom which is affected
by law, they are steadily claiming and securing more and more freedom of
manners. We are far less bound by conventions than we used to be. There
was a time when everybody possessed and once a week wore what were
called “Sunday clothes.” One hardly ever hears the phrase now, and men
go to church in coats which would have struck their grandmothers as
distinctly unsuited to a place of worship. Sunday clothes were a bondage
and we have broken free. There was, very long ago, a definite code of
manners binding upon men and women when they met together. When it
prevailed the intercourse between the sexes must have been singularly
stiff and uncomfortable. There were many things which a woman could not
do without losing her character for womanliness, and many things which a
man could not do in the company of ladies—smoke, for instance.

It is, I think, women and not men who decide how much of this sort of
liberty people are to enjoy. If I am right about this, then American
women are more generous than English women. There is much more freedom
in the matter of clothes in America than England. I remember hearing an
Englishwoman complain that no matter how she tried she never could
succeed in dressing correctly in America. In England she knew exactly
the kind of gown to wear at an afternoon party, at a small dinner, at a
large dinner, at an evening reception, in the box of a theater. In
America she perpetually found herself wearing the wrong thing. I imagine
that in reality she did not wear the _wrong_ thing, because there is no
such rigid standard of appropriateness of dress in America as there is
in England. More latitude is allowed, and if a gown is hardly ever
correct it is also hardly ever wrong. Every man who sits in the stalls
of a London theater must display eighteen inches of white shirt above
the top button of his waistcoat. In America he may wear a blue flannel
shirt if he likes, and nobody cares whether it is visible beneath his
tie or not. In England a man who dines in a very smart restaurant must
wear a tail coat and a white tie. In America he can, if he chooses, wear
a tail coat and a black tie, or a short coat and a white tie. There is
no fixed rule determining the connection between coats and ties.

It is not only the class of people who dine in smart restaurants and sit
in stalls of theaters which is subject to rules of this kind. Every
class has its own conventions, and, so far as my observation goes, every
class is a little freer in America than it is in England. No English
chauffeur with any self-respect would consent to drive a motor car about
London unless he were wearing some kind of uniform. In America the most
magnificent cars are frequently driven by chauffeurs in gray tweed suits
with ordinary caps on their heads.

I am nearly sure that it is women, the women of our own class, who
decide what clothes we shall wear and what clothes they will wear
themselves. I am quite sure that it is they who regulate the degree of
formal stiffness there is to be in our intercourse with them. English
women have to a very considerable extent given up requiring from men
those symbols of respect which had long ago ceased to be anything but
the mere conventional survivals of the mediæval idea of chivalry. Men
and women in England meet on friendlier and more equal terms than they
used to. American women have gone even further than the English in
setting themselves and us free from the old restrictions. They invite
comradeship and have, as far as possible, swept away the barriers to
free intercourse between sex and sex.

To some people liberty of any sort, liberty for its own sake, will
always seem a desirable thing. These will prefer the manners of America
to those of England, but will cling to their admiration of the
Englishman’s tolerance of criticism. There are others—it is a matter of
temperament—who prefer restraint, who like to talk cautiously, who
cling to social conventions. To them it will be a comfort to know that
in one respect the American woman is not so free as her English sister.
In England a woman may, without loss of reputation, smoke almost
anywhere, anywhere that men smoke, except in the streets and the
entrance halls of theaters. In New York there are only two or three
restaurants in which a woman is allowed to smoke. Even if she is
indifferent to her reputation and does not mind being considered fast,
she cannot smoke in the other restaurants. The head waiter comes and
stops her if she tries. This may be quite right. I do not know whether
it is or not. Many very strong arguments may be and are brought against
women smoking. It is, I am thankful to say, no business of mine to weigh
them against the other arguments which go to show that women are as well
entitled to the solace of tobacco as men are. What interests me far more
than the arguments on either side is the fact that American women are in
this one respect much less free than English women. The women of both
nations smoke, but the American woman must do it in privacy or
semi-privacy. The Englishwoman inhales her cigarette with untroubled
enjoyment in any restaurant in London. She must dress herself strictly
as convention prescribes for each occasion. She must be a little careful
in her intercourse with men. She has not yet got a vote. But she may
smoke. The American woman has much more freedom in the matter of
clothes. She can be as friendly with a man as she likes. In several
states she has a vote. But society in general frowns on her smoking and
sets its policeman, the head waiter, to prevent her doing it. I should
myself prefer a cigarette to a vote; but I am fond of tobacco, and all
elections bore me, so I am not an unprejudiced judge. American women may
be in this matter, as indeed they certainly are in other matters, nobler
than I am. They may gladly sacrifice tobacco for the sake of the
franchise, but I do not see why they should not have both.

There is a story told about Lord Beaconsfield which, if true, goes to
show that he was not nearly so astute a man as is generally supposed. A
lady, an ardent advocate of Woman Suffrage, once called on him and tried
to convince him of the justice of her cause. She was a very pretty lady
and she spoke with great enthusiasm. One imagines flashing eyes,
heightened color, graceful gestures of the hands. Lord Beaconsfield
listened to her and looked at her. When she had finished speaking he
said: “You darling!” The lady, we are told, was angry, thinking that she
had been insulted. She was perfectly right. The remark, which might
under other circumstances have been received with blushing satisfaction,
was just then and there a piece of intolerable rudeness. It was stupid
besides. But perhaps the great statesman meant to be rude. Perhaps, on
the other hand, he was carried away for the moment and ceased to be
intelligent. Perhaps the whole story was invented by some malicious
person and is entirely without foundation. In any case it is a serious
warning to the man who sits down to write about American women. It makes
him hesitate, fearfully, before venturing to say the very first thing he
must want to say. But he who writes takes his life in his hands. I
should be little better than a poltroon if I shrank from uttering the
truth.

I was asked by an able and influential editor in New York to write an
article on American women. It is not every day that I am thus invited to
write articles, so I take a pardonable pride in mentioning the request
of this American editor. It was after dinner that he asked me, and a
lady who was with us heard him do it. I looked at her before I answered.
If she had scowled or even frowned I should not now be writing about
American women. She encouraged me with a nod and a smile. Yet she
knew—she must have known—what I should write first of all. Upon her
head be at least part of the blame. She not merely smiled. She went on
to persuade me to write the article. By persuading me she helped to make
me quite certain that what I am writing is true.

The American woman is singularly charming.

Is this an insult? I think of the many American women whom I met who
were kind enough to talk to me, and I know that this is not what they
would like to have written about them. Some of them were very earnest
knights errant, who rode about redressing human wrongs. It happens
occasionally, not often, of course, but very occasionally, that women
with causes are not charming. They are inclined to overemphasize their
causes, to keep on hammering at a possible convert, to become just a
little tiresome. This is, as far as I could judge, never the case with
the American ladies who have causes. Others whom I met were learned and
knew all about philosophies dim to me. Others again were highly
cultured. I am an ignorant and stupid man. Very clever women sometimes
frighten me. I was never frightened in America. Others again, without
being learned or particularly cultured, were brilliant. They were all
charming. That is the truth. I have written it, and if the skies come
tumbling indignantly about my ears they just must tumble. “_Impavidum
ferient ruinæ_;” but I hope nothing so bad as that will happen to me.

There are people in the world who believe that we are born again and
again, rising or sinking in the scale of living things at each
successive incarnation according as we behave ourselves well or badly in
our present state. If this creed were true, I should try very hard
indeed to be good, because I should want, next time I am born, to be an
American woman. She seems to me to have a better kind of life than the
woman of any other nation, or, indeed, than anybody else, man or woman.
She is, as I hope I have suggested, more free than her European sister.
“So full of burrs,” said a great lady of old times, “is this work-a-day
world, that our very petticoats will catch them.” This is a true
estimate of the position of the European woman. They who wear petticoats
over here must walk warily with chaperons beside them. But in America
there are either fewer burrs or petticoats are made of some better
material. The American woman, even when she is quite young, can go
freely enough and no scandalous suggestions attach to her unless she
does something very outrageous. She has in other ways too a far better
time than the English woman. American social life seems to me—the word
is one to apologize for—gynocentric. It is arranged with a view to the
convenience and delight of women. Men come in where and how they can.
The late Mr. Price Collier observed this, and drew from it the deduction
that the English man tends on the whole to be more efficient than the
American, everything in an English home being sacrificed to his good.
That may or may not be true; but I think the American woman is certainly
more her own mistress than the Englishwoman, just because America does
its best for women and only its second best for men.

I do not pretend to be superior to these advantages. I like a good time
as well as any one. But I have other ambitions. And I do not want to be
an American woman only for the sake of material gains. She seems to me
to deserve her good luck because she has done her business in life
exceedingly well, better on the whole than the American man has done
his.

I am—I wish to make this clear at once—a good feminist. No man is less
inclined than I am to endorse the words of the German Emperor and
confine woman’s activities to “Kirche, Küche und Kinder.” I would, if I
had my way, give every woman a vote. I would invite her to discuss the
most intricate political problems, with a full confidence that she could
not possibly make a worse muddle of them than our male politicians do. I
should like to see her conducting great businesses, doctoring her
neighbors, pleading for them in law courts, driving railway engines,
and, if she wanted to, carrying a rifle or steering a submarine. I would
place woman in every possible way on an equality with man and confine
her with no restriction except those with which she voluntarily impedes
her own activities, like petticoats, stays, and blouses which hook up
the back. Having made this full confession of faith, I shall not, I
hope, be reproached for appearing to recognize a distinction between
woman’s business in life, the thing which the American woman has done
very well, and man’s business, which the American man seems to me to
have managed rather badly. Strictly speaking, in the ideal state all
public affairs are women’s just as much as men’s. Strictly speaking,
again in the ideal state, man is just as responsible as woman for the
arts of domestic life. But we are not yet living in the ideal state, and
for a long while now the household has been recognized as woman’s
sphere, while man has resented her interference with anything outside
the circle of social and family life.

It is in these matters which have been entrusted to her that the
American woman has shown herself superior to the American man. I admit,
of course, that the American man has done a great many things very
brilliantly. But he does not seem to me to have succeeded in making the
business of living, so far as it falls within his province, either
comfortable or agreeable. The Englishman has done better. Examples of
what I mean absolutely crowd upon me. Take the question of cooking food.
The American man, left to his own devices, is not strikingly successful
with food. The highest average of cooking in England is to be found in
good men’s clubs. You may, and often do, get excellent dinners in
private houses in England; but you are surer of an excellent dinner in a
first rate club. In America it is the other way about. Many men’s clubs
have skilful cooks, but you are on the whole more likely to get very
good food in a woman’s club or in a private house than in a man’s club.
I am not myself an expert in cooked food. The subject has never had a
real fascination for me. But I have a sense of taste like my better
educated gourmet brethren, and I am convinced that where the American
woman has control of the cooking the business is better done than it
generally is in England, and far better done than when it is left to
American men.

The kindred subjects of drinks, again, marks the superiority of the
American woman. For some reason quite obscure to me, women are not
supposed to know anything about wine. They either do not like it at all
or they like bad kinds of wine. Wine is man’s business in all countries.
In America wine is dear, and usually of indifferent quality. Man has
mismanaged the cellar. On the other hand, women are supposed—again the
reason is beyond me—to like eating sweets, to be specialists in that
whole range of food which in America goes under the name of candies. Men
have not created the demand for candies or secured the supply. They are
woman’s affair. The consequence is that American candies are better than
any others in the world, better even than the French. It is necessary to
search New York narrowly and patiently in order to find a good bottle of
claret. I speak on this matter as an outsider, for I drink but little
claret myself; but I am assured by highly skilled experts that the fact
is as I state it. On the other hand—I know this by experience—you can
satisfy your soul with an almost infinite variety of chocolates without
going three hundred yards from the door of your hotel in New York or
Philadelphia.

The one form of alcoholic drink in which America surpasses the rest of
the world is the cocktail. I have never yet seen a properly written
history of cocktails. The subject still waits its philosopher. But I am
inclined to think that the cocktail, the original of the species,
Manhattan, Bronx or whatever it may have been, was invented by a woman.
True, these drinks are now universally mixed by men. But the inspiration
is unquestionably feminine. Formulæ for the making of cocktails exist. I
was once asked to review a book which contained several hundred receipts
for cocktails. But every one agrees that the formula is of minor
importance. The cocktail depends for its excellence not on careful
measurements, but on the incalculable and indescribable thing called
personality. The most skilful pharmaceutical chemist, trained all his
life to the accurate weighing of scruples and measurement of drams,
might well fail as a maker of cocktails. He would fail if he did not
possess an instinct for the art. Now this is characteristic of all
women’s work. Man reaches his conclusions by argument, bases his
convictions on reason, and is generally wrong. Woman responds to
emotion, follows instinct, and is very often right. Man is the drudging
scientist, patient, dull. Woman is the dashing empiricist,
inconsequential, brilliant. The cocktail must be hers. I shall continue,
until strong evidence to the contrary is offered to me, to believe that
the credit for this glory of American life belongs to her and not to
man.

It would, no doubt, be insulting to say that part of the business of a
woman, as distinguished from a man, is to dress well and be agreeable. I
should not dream of saying such a thing. But there can be no harm in
suggesting that it is the duty of both sexes to do these things. There
is no real reason why an idealist, man or woman, should not be pleasant
to look at, nor is it necessary that very estimable people should
administer snubs to the rest of us. It seems to me that even very good
people are better when they have nice manners and pleasanter when they
dress well. It is not, I admit, their fault when they are not good
looking, but it is their fault if they do not, by means of clothes, make
themselves as good looking as they can. There is no excuse for the man
or woman who emphasizes a natural ugliness. Man, I regret to say, does
not often recognize his duty in these matters. Woman, generally
speaking, has done her best. The American woman has made the very most
of her opportunities and has succeeded both in looking nice and in being
an agreeable companion. In the art of putting on her clothes she has no
superior except the Parisienne, and even in Paris itself it is often
difficult to tell, without hearing her speak, whether the lady at the
next table in a restaurant is French or American. I knew an English
mother who sent her daughter to Paris for six months in order that the
girl might learn to dress herself. The journey to America would have
been longer, but once there the girl would have had just as good a
chance of acquiring the art. I am very unskilful in describing clothes,
and the finer nuances of costume are far beyond the power of any
language at my command to express. But it is possible to appreciate
effects without being able to analyze the way in which they are
produced. The effect on the emotions of a symphony rendered by a good
orchestra is almost as great for the man who does not know exactly what
the trombones are doing as it is for the musician who understands that
they are adding to the general noise by playing chromatic scales, or
whatever it is that trombones do play. It is the same with clothes. I
cannot name materials, or discuss styles in technical language, but I am
pleasantly conscious that the American woman has the air of being very
well dressed.

I am not attempting to make a comparison between the clothes of very
wealthy women of the leisured classes in America and those of women
similarly placed in other countries. Aristocracies and plutocracies are
cosmopolitan. National characteristics are to a considerable extent
smoothed off them. The women of these classes dress almost equally well
everywhere. The possibility of comparison exists only when one considers
the comparatively poor women of the middle and lower middle classes. It
is these who, in America, have the instinct for dressing well unusually
highly developed. Some women have this instinct. Others have not. It
seems to be distributed geographically. There are cities—no bribe would
induce me to name one of them—where the women are usually badly
dressed. You walk up and down the chief thoroughfares. You enter the
most fashionable restaurants and are oppressed by a sense of prevailing
dowdiness. It is not a question of money. The gowns which you see, the
coats, the hats have obviously cost great sums. For half the expenditure
women in other places look well dressed. It is not a matter of the skill
of dressmakers and milliners. A woman who has not got the instinct for
clothes might go to—I forget the man’s name, but he is the chief
costumier in Paris—might give him a free hand to do his best for her,
and afterwards she would not look a bit better dressed. It is not, I
believe, possible to explain exactly what she lacks. It is an extra
sense, as incommunicable as an ear for music. A woman either has it or
has not. The American woman has it.

I know—no one knows better than I do—that it is a contemptible thing
to take any notice of clothes. The soul is what matters. The body may be
in rags. The mind is what counts, and fine feathers do not make fine
birds. A great prophet would not be the less a great prophet though his
finger nails were black. I hope we should all adore him just the same
even if he never washed his face or wore a collar. But just at first,
before we got to know him really well, it is possible that we might be a
little prejudiced against him if he looked as if he never washed. That
is all I wish or mean to say about the American woman’s power of
dressing herself. It disarms prejudice. The stranger starts fair, so to
speak, when he is introduced to her. In the case of women who cannot, or
for any reason will not, dress themselves nicely, there are preliminary
difficulties in the way of appreciating their real worth.

But the best clothes in the world are no help when it comes to
conversation, unless, indeed, one is able to discuss them in detail, and
I am not. I have met exquisitely dressed women who were very difficult
to talk to. The American woman is not one of these. Besides being well
dressed, she is a delightful talker on all subjects. She may or may not
be profound. I am not profound myself, so I have no way of judging about
that. But profoundness is not wanted in conversation. Its proper place
is in scientific books. In conversation it is merely a nuisance, and the
American woman, when she is profound, has more sense than to show it.
She talks well because she is not in the least shy or self-conscious.
Even young American girls are not shy. Brought into sudden contact with
a middle-aged man, they treat him as an equal, with a frank sense of
comradeship. They have, apparently, no awe of advanced or advancing
years. They do not pretend to think that elderly people are in any way
their superiors, or display in the presence of the aged that kind of
chilling aloofness which is called respect. I detest people who behave
as if they respected me because I am older than they are. I recognize at
once that they are hypocrites. Boys and girls must know, in their
hearts, just as well as we do, that respect is due to the young from the
elderly and not the other way about. The ancient Romans understood this:
“_Maxima debitur reverentia pueris_” is in the Latin grammar, and the
Latin grammar is a good authority on all subjects connected with ancient
Roman civilization.

It is her power of making herself agreeable which is the greatest charm
of the American woman, a greater charm than her ability in dressing. I
am a man very little practiced in the art of conversation. A dinner
party—a party of any kind, but particularly a dinner party—is a thing
from which I shrink. I am always very sorry for the two women who are
placed beside me. I know that they will have to make great exertions to
keep up a conversation with me. I watch them suffering and am myself a
prey to excruciating pangs of self-reproach. But my agony is less in
America than elsewhere. The American woman must of course suffer as much
as the Englishwoman when I take her in to dinner; but she possesses in
an extraordinary degree the art of not showing it. She frequently
deceives me for several minutes at a time, making me think that she is
actually enjoying herself. She is able to do this because she has an
amazing vitality and a very acute kind of intelligence. Now, the highest
compliment which a woman can pay to a man is to enjoy his company. The
American woman understands this and succeeds in pretending she is doing
it. She is wise, too. Recognizing that even her powers have their
limits, and that no woman, however vital and intelligent, can go on
disguising her weariness for very long, she makes her dinners and
luncheons as short as possible, shorter than similar functions are in
England. She does not attempt anything in the way of a long-distance
contest with the heavy stupidity of the ordinary man. Her’s is the
triumph of the sprinter. For a short time she flashes, sympathizes,
subtly flatters, talks with amazing brilliance, charms. Then she
escapes. What happens to her next I can only guess, but I imagine that
she must be very much exhausted.

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