THE “HUSTLING” LEGEND

“From Dublin to Chicago.” You can take the phrase as the epitome of a
tragedy, the long, slow, century and a half old tragedy of the flight of
the Irish people from their own country, the flight of the younger men
and women of our race from the land of their birth to the “Oilean Úr,”
the new island of promise and hope across the Atlantic. Much might be
written very feelingly about that exodus. The first part of it began in
reality long ago, in the middle of the 18th century, when the farmers of
north-east Ulster were making their struggle for conditions of life
which were economically possible. When the land war of those days was
being waged and the fighters on the one side were called “Hearts of
Steel,” that war which resulted in the establishment of the once famous
Ulster Custom, hopeless men fled with their families from Belfast, from
Derry, and from many smaller northern ports. They settled in America and
avenged their wrongs in the course of the War of Independence. For the
rest of Ireland the great exodus began later. Not until the middle of
the 19th century when the famine of 1846 and the following years showed
unmistakably that the social order of Connaught and Munster was
impossible. It continued, that exodus, all through the years of the
later land war. It is still going on, though the stream is feebler
to-day. I could write a good deal about this exodus, could tell of
forsaken cottages, of sorrowful departures, of broken hearts left
behind. But it was not in the spirit of tragedy that we made our
expedition to America, from Dublin to Chicago.

The phrase has another connotation. It carries with it a sense of
adventuring. It was often, almost always, the bravest and most
adventurous of our people who went. It was those who feared their fate
too much who stayed at home. There is something fascinating in all the
records of adventuring. We think of Vasco da Gama pushing his way along
an unknown coast till he rounded the Cape of Good Hope. We think of
Columbus sailing after the setting sun, and our hearts are lifted up.
Less daring, but surely hardly less romantic, were the goings forth of
our Irish boys and girls. They went to seek sustenance, fortune, life at
its fullest and freest in an unknown land in unguessed ways. I like to
think of the hope and courage of those who went. They had songs—in the
earlier days of the adventuring—one seldom hears them now—which
express the spirit of their going. I remember taking a long drive,
twenty years ago, through a summer night with a young farmer who for the
most part was tongue-tied and silent enough. But the twilight of that
June evening moved him beyond his self-restraint and he sang to me with
immense emotion:

“To the West! to the West! To the Land of the Free!” I was vaguely
uncomfortable then, not understanding what was in his heart. I know a
little better now. He was a man with a home, settled and safe, with a
moderate comfort secured to him, but the spirit of adventuring was in
his blood, and America represented to him in some vague way the Hy
Brasil, the Isles of the Blest, which had long ago captivated the
imagination of his ancestors.

Well, we went adventuring, too; but compared to theirs our adventure was
very tame, very unworthy. Our ship was swift and safe, or nearly safe.
It seemed hardly worth while to make our wills before we started. There
were waiting for us on the other side friends who would guide our steps
and guard us from—there were no dangers—all avoidable discomfort. We
even had a friend, such is our astounding good fortune, who offered to
go with us and actually did meet us in New York. He had spent much time
in America and was well accustomed to the ways of that country. We were
dining in his company, I remember, in the familiar comfort of a London
club, when the news that we were really to go to America first came to
us.

“I’d better go, too,” he said, “you’ll want some one to take care of
you. I don’t think that either one or other of you is to be trusted to
the American newspaper reporters without an experienced friend at your
elbows.”

Next time we dined in our friend’s company it was in the restaurant of
the Ritz Carlton in New York, and very glad we were to see him, though
the newspaper reporter in America is by no means the dangerous wild
beast he is supposed to be.

There was thus little enough of real adventuring about our journey to
America. Yet to us it was a strange and wonderful thing. We felt as
Charles Kingsley did when he wrote “At Last,” for a visit to America had
long been a dream with us. There are other places in the world to which
we wanted and still want to go. Egypt is one of them, for we desire to
see the deserts where St. Antony fasted and prayed. The South Pacific
Archipelago is another, for we are lovers of Stevenson; but for me, at
least, the United States came first. I wanted to see them more than I
wanted to see the Nitrian Desert or Samoa. It was not Niagara that laid
hold on my imagination, or the Mississippi, though I did want to see it
because of “Huckleberry Finn.” What I desired most was to meet American
people in their own native land, to see for myself what they had made of
their continent, to understand, if I could, how they felt and thought,
to hear what they talked about, to experience their way of living. I
wanted to see Irish friends whom I had known as boys and girls. I had
been intimate with many of them before they went out. I had seen them,
changed almost beyond recognition, when they returned, on rare short
visits to their homes. I wanted to know what they were doing out there,
to see with my own eyes what it was which made new men and women of
them. I wanted to know why some of them succeeded and grew rich, why
others, not inferior according to our Irish judgment, came back beaten
and disillusioned to settle down again into the old ways. Neither Egypt
nor Samoa, not India, not Jerusalem itself, promised so much to me as
America did.

There is besides a certain practical advantage, in our particular case,
which America has over any other country to which we could travel. The
Americans speak English. This is a small matter, no doubt, to good
linguists, but we are both of us singularly stupid about foreign
tongues. My French, for instance, is despicable. It is good enough for
use in Italy. It serves all practical purposes in Spain and Portugal,
but it is a very poor means of conveying my thoughts in France. For some
reason the French people have great difficulty in understanding it, and
their version of the language is almost incomprehensible to me, though I
can carry on long conversations with people of any other nation when
they speak French. It is the same with my Italian, my German and my
Portuguese. They are none of them much good to me in the countries to
which they are supposed to belong. This is a severe handicap when
traveling. We both hate the feeling that we are mere tourists. We do not
like to be confined to hotels with polyglot head waiters in them, or to
be afraid to stir out of the channels buoyed out with Cook’s
interpreters. We see sights, indeed, visit picture galleries,
cathedrals, gape at mountains and waterfalls; but we never penetrate
into the inside of the life of these foreign countries. We are never
able to philosophize pleasantly about the way in which people live in
them. The best we can do is to wander after nightfall along the side
streets of cities, or to rub shoulders with the shopping crowd during
the afternoon in Naples or Lisbon. America is foreign enough. It is as
foreign as any European country, as foreign as any country in the world
in which people wear ordinary clothes. I dare say Algiers is more
foreign. I am sure that Borneo must be. But New York is just as strange
a place as Paris or Rome and therefore just as interesting, with this
advantage for us that we could understand, after a few days, every word
that was spoken round us.

Indeed this similarity of language was something of a disappointment to
us. We did not actually expect to hear people say “I guess” at the
beginning of every sentence. We knew that was as impossible as the
frequent “Begorras” with which we Irish are credited. But we had read
several delightful American books, one called “Rules of the Game” with
particular attention, and we thought the American language would be more
vigorously picturesque than it turns out to be. The American in books
uses phrases and employs metaphors which are a continual joy. His
conversation is a series of stimulating shocks. In real life he does not
keep up to that level. He talks very much as an Englishman does. There
are, indeed, ways of pronouncing certain words which are strange and
very pleasant. I would give a good deal to be able to say “very” and
“America” as these words are said across the Atlantic. “Vurry” does not
represent the sound, nor does “Amurrica,” but I have tried in vain to
pick up that vowel. I suppose I am tone deaf. I either caricature it as
“vurry” or relapse into the lean English version of the word. There are
also some familiar words which are used in ways strange to me.
“Through,” for instance, is a word which I am thoroughly accustomed to,
and “cereal” is one which I often come across in books dealing with
agriculture. But I was puzzled one morning when an attentive American
parlor maid, with her eye on my porridge plate, asked me whether I was
“through with the cereal.” Solicitors on this side of the Atlantic are
regarded as more or less respectable members of society. Some of their
clients may consider them crafty, but no one would class them, as actors
used to be classed, with vagabonds. It was therefore a surprise to me to
read a notice on an office door: “Solicitors and beggars are forbidden
to enter this building.” I made enquiries about what the solicitors had
done to deserve this, and found that “solicitor,” in that part of
America, perhaps all over America, means, not a kind of lawyer, but one
who solicits subscriptions, either for some charity or for his own use
and benefit.

There are other words, “Baggage check,” for instance, which could not be
familiar to us, because we have not got the thing to which they belong
in the British Isles. And a highly picturesque vigorous phrase meets one
now and then. There was an occasion in which a laundry annoyed us very
much. It did not bring back some clothes which had gone to be washed. We
complained to a pleasant and highly vital young lady who controlled all
the telephones in our hotel. She took our side in the dispute at once,
seized the nearest receiver, and promised to “lay out that laundry right
now.” We went up to our rooms comforted with the vision of a whole staff
of washer women lying in rows like corpses, with napkins tied under
their chins, and white sheets over them. Americans ought not to swear,
and do, in fact, swear much less than English people in ordinary
conversation. The Englishman, when things go wrong with him, is almost
forced to say “Damn” in order to express his feelings. His way of
speaking his native language offers him no alternative. The American has
at command a small battery of phrases far more helpful than any oath. It
is no temptation to damn a laundry when you can “lay it out” by
telephone.

I like the American use of the word “right” in such phrases as “right
here,” “right now,” and “right away.” When you are told, by telephone,
as you are told almost everything in America, that your luggage will be
sent up to your room in the hotel “right now,” you are conscious of the
friendliness of intention in the hall porter, which the English phrase
“at once” wholly fails to convey. Even if you have to wait several hours
before you actually get the luggage you know that every effort is being
made to meet your wishes. You may perhaps have got into a bath and find
yourself, for the want of clean clothes, forced to decide between
staying there, going straight to bed, and getting back into the dirty
garments in which you have traveled. But you have no business to
complain. The “right now” ought to comfort you. Especially when it is
repeated cheerily, while you stand dripping and embarrassed at the
receiver to make a final appeal. The word “right” in these phrases does
not intensify, it modifies, the immediateness of the now. This is one of
the things to which you must get accustomed in America. But it is a
friendly phrase, offering and inviting brotherliness of the most
desirable kind. That it means no more than the “Anon, sir, anon,” of
Shakespeare’s tapster is not the fault of anybody. Some sacrifices must
be made for the sake of friendliness.

But taken as a whole the American language is very little different from
English. I imagine the tendency to diverge has been checked by the
growing frequency of intercourse between the two countries. So many
Americans come to England and so many English go to America that the
languages are being reduced to one dead level. What used to be called
“Americanisms” are current in common talk on this side of the Atlantic
and on the other there is a regrettable tendency to drop even the fine
old forms which the English themselves lost long ago. “Gotten” still
survives in America instead of the degraded “got,” but I am afraid it is
losing its hold. “Wheel” is in all ways preferable to bicycle, and may
perhaps become naturalized here. I cannot imagine that the Americans
will be so foolish as to give it up. Whether “an automobile ride” is
preferable to “a drive in a motor” I do not know. They both strike me as
vile phrases, and it is difficult to choose between them.

America, as a country to travel in, had for us another attraction
besides its language. Some people have relations in Spain to whom they
can go and in whose houses they can stay as guests. Others have
relatives of the same convenient kind in Austria and even in Russia.
Many people have friends in France and Germany. We are not so fortunate.
When we go to those countries we spend our time in hotels, or at best in
pensions. We do not discover intimate things about the people there. It
is impossible for us to learn, except through books, and they seldom
tell us the things we want to know, whether the Austrians are morose or
cheerful at breakfast time, and whether the Germans when at home hate
fresh air as bitterly as they hate it when traveling. And these are just
the sort of things which it is most interesting to know about any
people. The politics of a foreign country are more easily studied in the
pages of periodicals like “The Nineteenth Century” than in the daily
press of the country itself. Statistics about trade and population can
be read up in books devoted to the purpose. All sorts of other
information are supplied by the invaluable Baedeker, so that it is in no
way necessary to go to Venice in order to find out things about St.
Mark’s. But very intimate details about the insides of houses, domestic
manners and so forth can only be obtained by staying in private homes.
This we thought we might accomplish in America because we had some
friends there before we started. In reality ready made friends are
unnecessary for the traveler in America. He makes them as he goes along,
for the Americans are an amazingly sociable people and hospitable beyond
all other nations. To us Irish—and we are supposed to be
hospitable—the stranger is a stranger until he is shown in some way to
be a friend. In America he is regarded as a friend unless he makes
himself objectionable, unless he makes himself very objectionable
indeed. We heard of American hospitality before we started. We feel now,
as the Queen of Sheba felt after her visit to King Solomon, that the
half was not told us. To be treated hospitably is always delightful. It
is doubly so when the hospitality enables the fortunate guest to learn
something of a kind of life which is not his own.

For all these reasons—I have enumerated four, I think—we desired
greatly to go to America; and there was still another thing which
attracted us. You cannot go to America except by sea. Even if you are
seasick—and I occasionally am, a little—traveling in a steamer is
greatly to be preferred to traveling in a train. A good steamer is
clean. The best train covers you with smuts. The noise of the train is
nerve-shattering. The noise which a steamer makes, even in a gale, is
soothing. When a train stops and when it starts again it jerks and
bumps. It also runs over things called points and then it bumps more. A
steamer stops far seldomer than a train, and does so very gently and
smoothly. It never actually bumps, and though it very often rolls or
pitches, it does these things in a dignified way with due deliberation.
We chose a slow steamer for our voyage out and if we are fortunate
enough to go to America again we shall choose another slow steamer.

Having made up our minds to go—or rather since these things are really
decided for us and we are never the masters of our movements—having
been shepherded by Destiny into a trip to America we naturally sought
for information about that country. We got a great deal more than we
actually sought. Everyone we met gave us advice and told us what to
expect. Advice is always contradictory, and the only wise thing to do is
to take none of what is offered. But it puzzled us to find that the
accounts we got of the country were equally contradictory. English
people, using a curious phrase of which they seem to be very fond,
prophesied for us “the time of our lives.” They said that we should
enjoy ourselves from the day we landed in New York until the day when we
sank exhausted by too much joy, a day which some of them placed a
fortnight off, some three weeks, all of them underestimating, as it
turned out, our capacity for enduring delight. Americans on the other
hand decried the country, and told us that the lot of the traveler in it
was very far from being pleasant. This puzzled us. A very modest and
retiring people might be expected to underestimate the attractions of
their own land. We Irish, for instance, always assert that it rains
three days out of every four in Ireland. But the Americans are not
popularly supposed to be, and in fact are not, particularly modest. I
can only suppose that the Americans we met before we started were in bad
tempers because they were for one reason or another obliged to stay in
England, and that they belittled their country in the spirit of the fox
who said the grapes were sour.

One piece of advice which we got gave us, incidentally and accidentally,
our first glimpse at one of the peculiarities of the American people,
their hatred of letter writing as a means of communication. The advice
was this:

“Do not attempt to take a sealskin coat into America, because there is a
law there against sealskin coats and the Custom House officers will hold
up the garment.”

This seemed to us very improbable. I remembered the song I have already
quoted about the “Land of the Free” and could not bring myself to
believe that a great nation, a nation that had fought an expensive war
in order to set its slaves at liberty, could possibly want to interfere
with the wearing apparel of a casual stranger. The Law, which is very
great and majestic everywhere, is, according to the proverb, indifferent
to very small matters. America, which is as great and majestic as any
law, could not possibly be supposed to concern itself with the material
of a woman’s coat. So we reasoned. But the warning was given with
authority by one who knew a lady who had tried to bring a sealskin coat
into America and failed. We thought it well to make sure. An inquiry at
the steamboat office was useless. The clerk there declined to say
anything either good or bad about the American Custom House regulations.
I have noticed this same kind of cautious reticence among all Americans
when the subject of customs comes up. I imagine that the people of
ancient Crete avoided speaking about that god of theirs who ate young
girls, and for the same reason. There is no use running risks, and the
American Custom House officer is a person whom it is not well to offend.
This is the way with all democracies. In Russia and Germany a man has to
be careful in speaking about the Czar or the Kaiser. In republics we
shut our mouths when a minor official is mentioned, unless we are among
tried and trusted friends. I myself dislike respecting any one; but if
respect is exacted of me I should rather yield it to a king with a
proper crown on his head than to an ordinary man done up with brass
buttons. However, Anglo-Saxons on both sides of the Atlantic seem to
like doing obeisance to officials, and their tastes are no affairs of
mine.

Having failed in the steamboat office, I wrote a letter to a high
American official in England—not the Ambassador. I did not like to
trouble him about a sealskin coat. An English official, high, or of
middling station, would have answered me by return of post, because he
is glad of an opportunity of writing a letter. In fact, he likes writing
letters so much that he would have sent me two answers, the first a
brief but courteous acknowledgment of my letter and an assurance that it
was receiving attention; the second an extract from the Act of
Parliament which dealt with my particular problem. The American official
does not like writing letters. No American does. Rather than write a
letter, an American will pursue you, _viva voce_, over hundreds of miles
of telephone wire, or spend an hour of valuable time in having an
interview with you in some more or less inaccessible place. Not even
promotion to a high official position will cause an American to feel
kindly toward a pen. The official to whom I wrote would, I am sure, have
told me all there is to know about the American dislike of sealskin
coats, if he could have got me on a telephone. He could not do that,
because my name is not in the London telephone directory. He would,
although he is a most important person and I am less than the least,
have come to me and talked face to face if he had known where to find
me; but I wrote from a club, and the chances were five to one at least
against his finding me there. There was nothing for it but to write a
letter; but it took him several days to make up his mind to the effort.
His answer, when he did write it, followed me to New York, and the
sealskin coat problem had solved itself then.

I noticed, when in New York, that it takes a posted letter much longer
to get from one street in that city to another quite near at hand than
it does in London for a letter posted in the same way to get from
Denmark Hill to Hampstead. I connect this fact with the dislike of
letter-writing which is prevalent among Americans. But I do not know
which is cause and which is effect. It may be that the American avoids
letters because he knows that they will go to their destination very
slowly. It may be, on the other hand, that the American post-office has
dropped into leisurely ways because it knows that it is seldom used for
business purposes. Love letters it carries, no doubt, for it is
difficult to express tender feelings on a telephone, and impossible to
telegraph them; but love letters are hardly ever urgent. The “Collins”
or “Hospitable Roof” communication must be a letter and must go through
the post, but the writer and the recipient would both be better pleased
if it never arrived at all. Business letters are different things, and I
am sure the American post-office carries comparatively few of them.

I wish that some one with a taste for statistics would make out a table
of the weights of the mail bags carried on Cunard steamers. I am
convinced, and nothing but statistics will make me think differently,
that the westward bound ships carry far more letters than those which
travel eastward. All Englishmen, except for obvious reasons English
journalists, write letters whenever they have a decent excuse. Americans
only write letters when they must. It was, I think, the late Charles
Stewart Parnell who observed that most letters answered themselves if
you leave them alone long enough. This is profoundly true, although
Englishmen do not believe it. I have tried and I know. Americans have
either come across Parnell’s remark or worked out the same truth for
themselves. I applaud their wisdom, but I was once sorry that they
practice this form of economy. If we had got an answer to our letter
before we sailed, we should have left the coat behind us. As it was, we
took the coat with us and carried it about America, giving ourselves
indeed a good deal of trouble and reaping very little in the way of
comfort or credit by having it. When we did get the letter it showed us
that the Americans really do object strongly to these coats and have
made a law against them. If we had known that before starting, we should
have left the coat behind us at any cost to our feelings.

We are not aggressive people, either of us, and we always try to conform
to the customs of the country in which we are, and to respect the
feelings of the inhabitants. We cannot, indeed, afford to do anything
else. Members of powerful, conquering nations go about the world
insisting on having their own way wherever they are. The English, for
instance, have spread the practice of drinking tea in the afternoon all
over Europe. They make it understood that wherever they go afternoon tea
must be obtainable. Other peoples shrug their shoulders and give in. The
Americans have insisted that hotels shall be centrally heated and all
rooms and passages kept up to a very high temperature. No one else wants
this kind of heat, and until the Americans took to traveling in large
numbers we were all content with fireplaces in rooms and chilly
corridors. But the Americans are a great people, and there is hardly a
first-rate hotel left in Europe now which has not got a system of
central heating installed. The French have secured the use of their
language, or a colorable imitation of their language, on all menu cards
and bills of fare. No self-respecting _maître d’hotel_, even if 90% of
his patrons are Americans, English and Germans, would dare to call soup
anything except _potage_ or _consommé_. I think we owe it to the
Russians that ladies can now smoke cigarettes without reproach in all
European restaurants, though they cannot do this yet in America because
very few Russians of the tourist classes go to America. It must be very
gratifying to belong to one of these great nations and to be able to
import a favorite custom or a valued comfort wherever you go. We are
mere Irish. We have never conquered any one ourselves, although we are
rather good at winning other people’s battles for them. We have not
money enough to make it worth anybody’s while to consider our tastes;
nor, indeed, are we sure enough of ourselves to insist on having our own
way. There is always at the backs of our minds the paralyzing thought
that perhaps the other people may be right and we may be wrong. We
submit rather than struggle.

We like, for instance, good tea at breakfast, strong dark brown tea,
which leaves a distinct stain on the inside of the cup out of which we
drink it. Nobody else in the world likes this kind of tea. If we were a
conquering, domineering people, we should go about Europe and America
saying: “This which we drink is tea. Your miserable concoction is slop
or worse.” If we were rich enough and if large numbers of us traveled,
we should establish our kind of tea as an institution. It would be
obtainable everywhere. At first it would be called “_Thé à
l’Irlandaise_” and we should get it by asking for it. Afterwards it
would be “thé” simply, and if a traveler wanted anything else he would
have to ask for that by some special name. But we are not that kind of
people. There are not enough of us, and the few there are have not
sufficient money to make them worth considering. Besides, we are never
self-confident enough to assert that our kind of tea is the true and
superior kind. We are uneasily conscious that it is rude to describe
other people’s favorite beverages as “slop” even when they call ours
“poison.” And there is always the doubt whether we may not be wrong,
after all. Great peoples do not suffer from this doubt. The American is
perfectly certain that houses ought to be centrally heated. To him there
does not seem to be any possibility of arguing about that. He has
discovered a universal truth, and the rest of the world must learn it
from him.

The German is equally sure that fresh air in a railway carriage brings
death to the person who breathes it. He is as certain about that as he
is that water wets him when it is poured over him. There is no room for
discussion. But we Irish are differently constituted. When any one tells
us that our type of tea reduces those who drink it to the condition of
nervous wrecks and ultimately drives them into lunatic asylums, we
wonder whether perhaps he may not be right. It is true that we have
drunk the stuff for years and felt no bad effects; but there is always
“the plaguy hundredth chance” that the bad effects may have been there
all the time without our noticing them, and that, though we seem sane,
we may be jibbering imbeciles. Thus it is that we never have the heart
to make any real struggle for strong tea.

This same infirmity would have prevented our dragging that coat into
America if we had found out in time that sealskin coats strike Americans
as wicked things. To us it seems plain that seals exist mainly for the
purpose of supplying men, and especially women, with skins; just as
fathers have their place among created things in order to supply money
for the use of their children, or steam in order that it may make
engines work. Left to ourselves, we should accept all these as final
truths and live in the light of them. But the moment any one assails
them with a flat contradiction we begin to doubt. The American says that
the seal, at all events the seal that has the luck to live in Hudson
Bay, ought not to be deprived of his skin, and that men and women must
be content with their own skins, supplemented when necessary by the
fleeces of sheep.

The Englishman or the German would stand up to the American.

“I will,” one of them would say, “kill a Hudson Bay seal if I like or
have him killed for me by some one else. I will wear his skin unless you
prevent me by actual force, and I will resist your force as long as I
can.”

We do not adopt that attitude. We cannot, for the spirit of defiance is
not in us. When we were assured, as we were in the end, that the
American really has strong feelings about seals, we began to think that
he might be right.

“America,” so we argued, “is a much larger country than Ireland. It is
much richer. The buildings in its cities are far higher. Who are we that
we should set up our opinions about tea or skins or anything else
against the settled convictions of so great a people?”

Therefore, though we brought our coat into America, we did so in no
spirit of defiance. Once we found out the truth, we concealed the coat
as much as possible, carrying it about folded up so that only the lining
showed. It was hardly ever worn, only twice, I think, the whole time we
were there. The weather, indeed, was as a rule particularly warm for
that season of the year.

Our ship, after a prosperous and pleasant voyage, steamed up the Hudson
River in a blinding downpour of rain which drove steadily across the
decks. Our clothes had been packed up since very early in the morning,
and we declined to get soaked to the skin when there was no chance of
our being able to get dry again for several hours. Therefore, we missed
seeing the Statue of Liberty and the Woolworth Building. We were
cowards, and we suffered for our cowardice by losing what little respect
our American fellow travelers may have had for us. They went out in the
rain to gaze at the Statue of Liberty and the Woolworth Building. We saw
nothing through the cabin windows except an advertisement of Colgate’s
tooth paste. The Woolworth Building we did indeed see later on. The
Statue of Liberty we never saw at all. I could of course write
eloquently about it without having seen it. Many people do things of
this kind, but I desire to be perfectly honest. I leave out the Statue
of Liberty. I am perfectly sure it is there; but beyond that fact I know
nothing whatever about it.

We actually landed, set foot at last on the soil of the new world, a
little before 8 A.M., which is a detestable hour of the day under any
circumstances, and particularly abominable in a downpour of rain. If a
stranger with whom I was very slightly acquainted were to land at that
hour in Dublin, and if it were raining as hard there as it did that
morning in New York—it never does, but it is conceivable that it
might—I should no more think of going to meet him at the quay than I
should think of swimming out a mile or two to wave my hand at his ship
as she passed. A year ago I should have made this confession without the
smallest shame. It would not have occurred to me as possible that I
should make such an expedition. If a very honored guest arrived at a
reasonable hour and at an accessible place—steamboat quays are never
accessible anywhere in the world—if the day were fine and I had nothing
particular to do, I might perhaps go to meet that guest, and I should
expect him to be surprised and gratified. I now confess this with shame,
and I intend to reform my habits. I blush hotly when I think of the
feelings of Americans who come to visit us. They behave very much better
than we do to strangers. There were three people to meet us that morning
when we landed and two others arrived at the quay almost immediately
afterwards. Of the five there was only one whom I had ever seen before,
and him no oftener than twice. Yet they were there to shake our hands in
warm welcome, to help us in every conceivable way, to whisper advice
when advice seemed necessary.

There were also newspaper reporters, interviewers, and we had our first
experience of that business as the Americans do it, in the shed where
our baggage was examined by Custom House officers.

“Don’t,” said one of my friends, “say more than you can help about
religion.”

The warning seemed to me unnecessary. I value my religion, not as much
as I ought to, but highly. Still it is not a subject which I should
voluntarily discuss at eight o’clock in the morning in a shed with rain
splashing on the roof. The very last thing I should dream of offering a
newspaper reporter is a formal proof of any of the articles of the
Apostle’s Creed. Nor would any interviewer whom I ever met care to
listen to a sermon. I was on the point of resenting the advice; but I
reflected in time that it was certainly meant for my good and that the
ways of the American interviewer were strange to me. He might want to
find out whether I could say my catechism. I thanked my friend and
promised to mention religion as little as possible. I confess that the
warning made me nervous.

“What,” I whispered, “are they likely to ask me?”

“Well, what you think of America, for one thing. They always begin with
that.”

I had been told that before I left home. I had even been advised by an
experienced traveler to jot down, during the voyage out, all the things
I thought about America, and have them ready on slips of paper to hand
to the interviewers when I arrived. This plan, I was assured, would save
me trouble and would give the Americans a high opinion of my business
ability. I took the advice. I had quite a number of excellent remarks
about America ready in my pocket when I landed. They were no use to me.
Not one single interviewer asked me that question. Not even the one who
chatted with me in the evening of the day on which I left for home. I do
not know why I was not asked this question. Every other stranger who
goes to America is asked it, or at all events says he is asked it.
Perhaps the Americans have ceased to care what any stranger thinks about
them. Perhaps they were uninterested only in my opinion. I can
understand that.

Nor was I tempted or goaded to talk about religion. The warning which I
got to avoid that subject was wasted. No one seemed to care what I
believed. I do not think I should have startled the very youngest
interviewer if I had confided to him that I believed nothing at all. The
nearest I ever got to religion in an interview was when I was asked what
I thought about Ulster and Home Rule. That I was asked frequently,
almost as frequently as I was asked what I thought of Synge’s “Playboy
of the Western World”; and both these seemed to me just the sort of
questions I ought to be asked, if, indeed, I ought to be asked any
questions at all. I do not, indeed cannot, think about Ulster and Home
Rule. Nobody can. It is one of those things, like the fourth dimension,
which baffle human thought. Just as you hope that you have got it into a
thinkable shape it eludes you and you see it sneering at your
discomfiture from the far side of the last ditch. But it was quite right
and proper to expect that an Irishman, especially an Irishman who came
originally from Belfast, would have something to say about it, some
thought to express which would illuminate the morass of that
controversy. I could not complain about being asked that question. I
ought to have had something to say about Synge’s play, too, but I had
not. I think it is a wonderful play, by far the greatest piece of
dramatic literature that Ireland has produced; but I cannot give any
reasons for the faith that is in me. Therefore, I am afraid I must have
been a most unsatisfactory subject for the interviewers. They cannot
possibly have liked me.

I, on the other hand, liked them very much indeed. I found them
delightful to talk to, and look back on the hours I spent with them as
some of the most interesting of my whole American trip. They all,
without exception, seemed to want to be pleasant. They were the least
conceited set of people I ever came across and generally apologized for
coming to see me. The apologies were entirely unnecessary. Their visits
were favors conferred on me. They were strictly honorable. When, as very
often happened, I said something particularly foolish and became
conscious of the fact, I used to ask the interviewer to whom I had said
it not to put it in print. He always promised to suppress it and he
always kept his promise, though my sillinesses must often have offered
attractive copy. Nor did any interviewer ever misrepresent me, except
when he failed to understand what I said, and that must always have been
more my fault than his. At first I used to be very cautious with
interviewers and made no statements of any kind without hedging. I used
to shy at topics which seemed dangerous, and trot away as quickly as I
could to something which offered opportunity for platitudes. I gradually
came to realize that this caution was unnecessary. I would talk
confidently now to an American interviewer on any subject, even
religion, for I know he would not print anything which I thought likely
to get me into trouble.

I cannot understand how it is that American interviewers have such a bad
reputation on this side of the Atlantic. They are a highly intelligent,
well-educated body of men and women engaged in the particularly
difficult job of trying to get stupid people, like me, or conceited
people to say something interesting. They never made any attempt to pry
into my private affairs. They never asked obviously silly questions. I
have heard of people who resorted to desperate expedients to avoid
interviewers in America. I should as soon think of trying to avoid a
good play or any other agreeable form of entertainment. After all, there
is no entertainment so pleasant as conversation with a clever man or
woman. I have heard of people who were deliberately rude to interviewers
and gloried in their rudeness afterwards. That seems to me just as grave
a breach of manners as to say insolent things to a host or hostess at a
dinner party.

Every now and then an interviewer, using a very slender foundation of
fact, produces something which is brilliantly amusing. There was one,
with whom I never came into personal contact at all, who published a
version of a conversation between Miss Maire O’Neill and me. What we
actually said to each other was dull enough. The interviewer, by the
simple expedient of making us talk after the fashion which “Mr. Dooley”
has made popular, represented us as exceedingly interesting and amusing
people. No one but a fool would resent being flattered after this
fashion.

The one thing which puzzles me about the business is why the public
wants it done. It is pleasant enough for the hero of the occasion, and
it is only affectation to call him a victim. The man who does the work,
the interviewer, is, I suppose, paid. He ought to be paid very highly.
But where does the public come in? It reads the interview—we must, I
think, take it for granted that somebody reads interviews, but it is
very difficult to imagine why. The American public, judging from the
number of interviews published, seems particularly fond of this kind of
reading. Yet, however clever the interviewer, the thing must be dull in
nine cases out of ten.

My first interviewer, my very first, photographed me. I told him that he
was wasting a plate, but he went on and wasted three. Why did he do it?
If I were a very beautiful woman I could understand it, though I think
it would be a mistake to photograph Venus herself on the gangway of a
steamer at eight o’clock in the morning in a downpour of rain. If I had
been a Christian missionary who had been tortured by Chinese, I could
understand it. Tortures might have left surprising marks on my face or
twisted my spine in an interesting way. If I had been an apostle of
physical culture, dressed in a pair of bathing drawers and part of a
tiger skin, the photographing would have been intelligible. But I am
none of these things. What pleasure could the public be expected to find
in the reproduction of a picture of a common place middle-aged man? Yet
the thing was done. I can only suppose that reading interviews and
looking at the attendant photographs has become a habit with the
American public, just as carrying a walking stick has with the English
gentleman. A walking stick is no real use except to a lame man. The
walker does not push himself along with it. He does not, when he sets
out from home, expect to meet any one whom he wants to hit. It cannot be
contended that the stick is ornamental or adds in any way to the beauty
of his appearance. He carries it because he always does carry it and
would feel strange if he did not. The Americans put up with interviews
in their papers for the same sort of reason. After all, no one, least of
all the subject, has any right to complain.

Those were our two first impressions of America, that it was a country
of boundless hospitality and a country pervaded by agreeable newspaper
men. I am told by those who make a study of such things that the first
glance you get at a face tells you something true and reliable about the
man or woman it belongs to, but that you get no further information by
looking at the face day after day for months. When you come to know the
man or woman really well, and have studied his actions and watched his
private life closely for years, you find, if you still recollect what it
was, that your first impression was right. I knew an Englishman once who
lived for ten years in Ireland and was deeply interested in our affairs.
He told me that when he had been a week in the country he understood it,
understood us and all belonging to us thoroughly. At the end of three
months he began to doubt whether he understood us quite as well as he
thought. After five years he was sure he did not understand us at all.
After ten years—he was a persevering man—he began to understand us a
little, and was inclined to think he was getting back to the exact
position he held at the end of the first week. Ten years hence, if he
and I live so long, I intend to ask him again what he thinks about
Ireland. Then, I expect, he will tell me that he is quite convinced that
his earliest impressions were correct. This is my justification for
recording my first impressions of America. I hope to get to know the
country much better as years go on. I shall probably pass through the
stage of laughing at my earliest ideas, but in the end I confidently
expect to get back to my joyous admiration for American hospitality and
my warm affection for American journalists.

Almost immediately—certainly before the end of our second day—we
arrived at the conclusion that New York was a singularly clean city. We
are, both of us, by inclination dwellers in country places. The noise of
great towns worries us. The sense of being closely surrounded by large
numbers of other people annoys us. But we should no doubt get used to
these things if we were forced to dwell long in any city. I am, however,
certain that I should always loathe the dirt of cities. The dirt of the
country, good red mud, or the slime of wet stems of trees, does not
trouble me, even if I am covered with it. I enjoy the dirt of quiet
harbors, fish scales, dabs of tar and rust off old anchor chains. I am
happier when these things are clinging to me than when I am free of
them. I am no fanatical worshipper of cleanliness. I do not rank it, as
the English proverb does, among the minor divinities of the world. But I
do not like, I thoroughly detest, the dirt of cities, that impalpable
grime which settles down visibly on face, hands, collar, cuffs, and
invisibly but sensibly on coats, hats and trousers. New York, of all the
cities I have ever been in, is freest of this grime. You can open your
bedroom window at night in New York, and the pocket handkerchief you
leave on your dressing table will still be white in the morning, fairly
white. You can walk about New York all day and your nose will not be
covered with smuts in the evening. I am told that the cleanness of New
York is partly due to the fact that trains running in and out of the
city are forced by the municipal authorities to use electricity as a
motive power and are forbidden to burn coal till they get into the
country. I am told that only a hard, comparatively smokeless coal may be
burned by any one in the city. If these things are true, then the City
Fathers of New York ought to be held up as a pattern to Town Councillors
and corporations all over the world.

As a matter of fact—such is the injustice of man—the municipal
government of New York is not very greatly admired by the rest of the
world. It is supposed to be singularly corrupt, and my fellow countrymen
are blamed for its corruptness. When an European city feels in a
pharisaical mood it says: “Thank God I am not as other cities are, even
as this New York.” European cities may be morally cleaner. I do not know
whether they are or not. They are certainly physically much dirtier. And
from the point of view of the ordinary citizen physical dirt is more
continuously annoying than the moral kind. If I lived in a community
whose rulers openly sold contracts and offices, I should break out into
a violent rage once a year or so, and swear that I would no longer pay
taxes for the benefit of minor politicians and their henchmen. All the
rest of the year I should be placid enough, for I should forget the
corruption if I escaped the perpetual unpleasantness of dirt, city dirt.
No government, after all, is honest. The most that can be expected from
men placed in authority is that they should not outrage public opinion
by flaunting their dishonesty. But I cannot help feeling that men in
authority, whom after all the rest of us pay, should do their business,
and part of their business is to keep smuts away from our faces. If it
is really true that we Irish govern New York, then men ought to give up
speaking of us as “the dirty Irish.” Dirty! It appears that we are the
only people who have ever kept a city clean. I wish we could do it at
home.

This Irish political corruption in New York is a very interesting thing,
and I tried hard to arrive at some understanding of it. Tammany was
defeated while we were in New York, and Mr. Mitchel became Mayor,
promising a clean, morally clean, administration. He also is of Irish
descent, so that there were countrymen of ours on both sides in the
struggle, and we are, evidently, not all of us lovers of corruption. The
scene in Broadway when the defeat of Tammany was announced surpassed
anything I have ever beheld in the way of a demonstration of popular
rejoicing, except perhaps “Mafeking Night” in London. Huge crowds
paraded the streets. Youths with horns marched in procession making
music like that of Edouard Strauss, but even louder. Hawkers did an
immense trade in small gongs with balls attached to them which made a
noise like cymbals. Grave-looking men wore on their heads huge plumes of
cut, wrinkled paper, like the paper with which some people hide
fireplaces in summer time. Others had notices on their hats which
declared “We told you so,” notices printed beforehand and equally
applicable to a victory of the other side. Sky signs and lights of all
sorts blazed above our heads. Newspaper offices flashed election figures
on screens in front of their windows. Now and then an explosion rose
clear above the din, and we knew that some enterprising photographer was
making a flashlight picture of the scene.

There was no question about the fact that New York was pleased with
itself. The demonstration of popular delight would have followed very
appropriately the capture of a Bastille, some stronghold of an ancient
tyranny which held people down against their will. The supporters of
Tammany Rule were, of course, not in Broadway that night. They may have
been sitting at home behind drawn blinds, meditating on the fickleness
of men, or perhaps on the ingratitude of democracies. Tammany was
corrupt, no doubt, but the water supply of New York is very good, and it
was no easy matter to get water there. Also the city is strikingly
clean. But there was no question about the general disgust with Tammany
rule. No man whom I talked to before or after the election had a good
word to say for the organization. Only, if I were suspected of glorying
in their shame, patriotic Americans used occasionally to remind me of
Marconi scandals at home and the English sale of patents of nobility.
And this was no real defense of Tammany. But I was not glorying, and
Heaven forbid that I should ever hold up European political methods as a
model to any one. All I wanted was to understand. I was eagerly curious
to know how Tammany came to be, whence its power came. It did not
satisfy me to be told that Tammany bribed people and sold offices, and
therefore was powerful. That is like saying that Mohammed spread his
religion by force of arms. I am sure that Tammany did bribe, and I am
sure that Mohammedans did ultimately conquer and put pressure on the
conquered to accept the Koran. But before you can conquer you must have
soldiers, soldiers who believe of their own free will. Before you can
bribe you must have money to bribe with. Before you can sell offices you
must have offices to sell. How did Tammany get itself into the position
of being able to bribe?

I was always asking these questions and always failing to get satisfying
answers to them. In the end, when I had almost given up hope, I did get
a little light of the sort I wanted. It was after dinner one night at a
private house in New York. The ladies had left the room, and there were
five men sitting round the table. Four of them were clever and
distinguished men, and they might have talked very satisfactorily about
things which interested them. But with that thoughtful courtesy which is
one of the charms of American hospitality, they allowed the fifth man,
the stranger in their midst, to guide the conversation. I asked one of
my usual questions about Tammany. For a time I got nothing but the
familiar stories of Tammany corruption given with more than the usual
detail. We had names and dates put to scandalous achievements, and
learned who had been allowed a “rake off” on this or that financial
transaction. I heard about the alliance, under the banner of Tammany,
between the Irish and the Jews. I reflected that other things besides
misfortune makes strange bedfellows. Then came the illumination. One of
the men present leaned back in his chair and laid down his cigar.

“A Tammany ward boss,” he said, “has the confidence of the people in his
ward. If he had not he would not be a ward boss.”

I did not want to interrupt by asking questions, and felt that I could
guess sufficiently nearly the functions and business of a “ward boss” to
do without an explanation.

“He wouldn’t,” said my friend, “win or keep the confidence of the people
unless he deserved it more or less, unless he deserved it a good deal,
unless he really was a friend to the people. He may not be a man of much
ability. He generally isn’t, but he has a good heart.”

This was startling. My preconceived idea of a Tammany boss of any kind
was of a man of considerable ability and a bad heart. I suppose I looked
surprised. The speaker qualified his statement a little.

“A good heart, to start with. Every one in the ward who is in any kind
of difficulty or trouble goes to the boss. Most of them are poor
ignorant people and don’t know how to manage things for themselves.
There’s a sick child who ought to be got into a hospital. The ward boss
sees about it. There’s a boy who ought to be in a situation. The ward
boss gets a situation for him. There’s a man who has been badly treated
by his employer—— Oh! you know the sort of things which turn up.
They’re the same with poor people all the world over.”

I did know, very well. I was also beginning to understand.

“Then I suppose,” I said, “the people vote the way the ward boss tells
them.”

“Naturally.”

Well, yes, naturally. What do political rights and wrongs matter to
them?

“After a while,” my informant went on, “if he manages well, he is let a
little bit into the inner ring. He gets a bit of money dropped to him
here and another bit there. That makes a difference to him. He begins to
do himself pretty well, and he likes it.”

Most men do. These “bits of money,” however they come, bring very
pleasant things with them. That is the same everywhere.

“After a while—I don’t say this is exactly what happens every time, but
it’s something like this. After a while he goes uptown and dines at one
of the swagger restaurants, just to see what it’s like. He is a bit out
of it at first, but he goes again. He sees people there and he picks up
their names. They are people with very impressive names, names he’s been
hearing all his life and associating with millions and automobiles and
diamonds. It gives him rather a pleasant feeling to find himself sitting
at the next table and hearing the voices of these men; seeing the women
with their jewels, and smelling the scent off their clothes. You know
the sort of thing.”

I could guess. I have, in my time, dined at restaurants of the kind,
though not often enough to get to know the looks of their native
millionaires.

“Then some night or other one of these men steps across to our man’s
table and talks to him. He’s as friendly as the devil. He introduces him
to one or two others, and perhaps to some women; but women don’t come
much into business over here. Well, the poor fellow is a little bit
above himself, and no wonder. He’s never been anything before but just a
‘Mick,’ and never expected to be anything else.”

Here I had to interrupt.

“A Mick?” I said.

“An Irishman. That’s what we generally call Irishmen.”

They call us “Pat” on this side of the Atlantic, and I think I prefer
it, but I have no particular quarrel with “Mick.” Both names are
conveniently short.

“There’s nothing more than friendliness at first. Then, perhaps a week
later, there’s something said about a contract or a new loan that is to
be floated. Influence, a word in the right quarter, comes in useful in
these cases. Our man, the man we’re talking of, doesn’t know very
clearly what the talk is about. He doesn’t know that he has any
influence; but it rather pleases him to feel that the other men think he
has. There is a hint dropped about a subscription to the party funds
and—well, that’s how it’s done.”

I grasped at ideas which flitted past me. There always are “party
funds.” Politics cannot go on without them. There always are desirable
things, whether contracts, rakes off, appointments, or—as in our
monarch-ridden states—titles. But I wonder where the blame for the
corruption really lies, the heavy part of the blame. Tammany Mick had a
good heart to start with and he was not a man of much ability.

However, these are only the speculations of an inquisitive man. They do
not matter. New York smashed Tammany last autumn and perhaps will keep
it smashed. But a mere alliance of anti-Tammany forces will not
permanently get the better of a well-constructed machine, nor is
enthusiasm for clean government good in a long-distance race. An
American poet has noted as one of the characteristics of truth that,
though slain, it will rise again, and of error that when vanquished it
dies among its worshippers. In politics it is the machine which
possesses truth’s valuable powers of recuperation, and idealism which
gets counted out after a knockdown blow. It seems as if a machine will
only go under finally in competition with another more efficient
machine, and the new, more efficient machine is just as great a danger
to political morality as the old one was. This is the vicious circle in
which democracies go round and round. Perhaps the truth is that
politics, like art, are non-moral in nature, that politicians have
nothing to do with right or wrong, honesty or dishonesty.

I walked through New York late at night, shortly after I landed, and had
for companions an Englishman who knew the city well and an American. The
roar of the traffic had ceased. The streets were almost deserted. Along
Fifth Avenue a few motors rushed swiftly, bearing belated revelers to
their homes. Save for them, the city was as nearly silent as any city
ever is. We talked. It was the Englishman who spoke first.

“New York and the sound of blasting go together,” he said. “They are
inseparably connected in my mind. New York is built on rock out of
material blasted off rock with dynamite. This fact explains New York. It
is the characteristic thing about New York. No other city owes its
existence in the same way to the force of explosives shattering rock.”

“New York,” said the American, “is one of the soldiers of Attila the
Hun.”

The night was warm. He unbuttoned his overcoat as he spoke and flung it
back from his chest. He squared his shoulders, looked up at the
immensely lofty buildings on each side of us, looked round at the
shadow-patched pavements, fixed his eyes finally on the lamps of a motor
which was racing toward us from a great distance along the endless
avenue. Then he pursued his comparison.

“Attila’s soldier,” he said, “went through some Roman city with his club
over his shoulder. There were round him evidences of old civilizations
which puzzled him. He gazed at the temples, the baths, the theaters with
wondering curiosity; but he was conscious that he could smash everything
and kill every one he saw. He was the barbarian, but he was also the
strong man. New York is like that among the cities of the world.”

I contributed a borrowed comment on America.

“An Irishman once told me,” I said, “that America isn’t a country. It’s
a great space in which there are the makings of a country lying about.
He might have said the same sort of thing about New York. There are the
makings of a city scattered round.”

“Chunks of blasted rock,” said the Englishman.

“The Hun had a lot to learn,” said the American, “but he was the strong
man. He could smash and crush. Nobody else could.”

There is a very interesting story or sketch—I do not know how it ought
to be described—by the late “O. Henry”—which he called “The Voice of
the City.” He imagines that certain American cities speak and each of
them utters its characteristic word. Chicago says, “I will.”
Philadelphia says, “I ought.” New Orleans says, “I used to.” If I had
“O. Henry’s” genius I should try to concentrate into phrases the voices
of the cities I know. I should like to be able to hear distinctly what
they all say about themselves. Belfast, I am convinced, says, “I won’t.”
Dublin occasionally murmurs, “It doesn’t really matter.” So far I seem
to get, but there I am puzzled. I should like to hear what Edinburgh
says, what Paris says, what Rome would say if something waked her out of
her dream. I should be beaten by London, even if I had all his genius,
just as “O. Henry” was beaten by New York. He failed to disentangle the
_motif_ from the clamorous tumult of mighty chorus with which that city
assails the ear. There is a supreme moment which comes in the Waldstein
Sonata. The listener is a-quiver with maddening expectation. He is
wrought upon with sound until he feels that he must tear some soft thing
with his teeth. Then, at the moment when the passion in him becomes
intolerable, the great scrap of melody thunders triumphantly over the
confusion and it is possible to breathe again. This is just what does
not happen in the case of places like London and New York. A Beethoven
yet unborn will catch their melodies for us some day and the sonata of
great cities will be written. Till he comes it is better to leave the
thing alone. Neither blasting nor dynamite is the keyword. Attila’s Hun
with his club fails us, though he helps a little. And there is more, a
great deal more, about New York than the confused massing of materials
on the site of what is to be a temple or a railway station.

When I was in New York they were building a large edifice of some kind
in Broadway, not far from Thirty-fifth Street. I used to see the work in
progress every day, and often stopped to watch the builders for a while.
Whenever I think of New York I shall remember the shrill scream of the
air drill which made holes in the steel girders. The essential thing
about that noise was its suggestion of relentlessness. Perhaps New York
is of all cities the most relentless. The steel suffers and shrieks
through a long chromatic scale of agony. New York drills a hole, pauses
to readjust its terrible force, and then drills again.

That is one aspect of New York. The stranger cannot fail to be conscious
of it. It is brought home to him by the rush of the overhead railway in
Sixth Avenue, by the hurry of the crowds in Broadway, by the grinding
clamor of the subway trains. It is this, no doubt, which has given rise
to the theory that New York is a city of hustle. It seems to me a very
cruel thing to say of any people that they hustle. The word suggests a
disagreeable kind of spurious activity. The hustler is not likely to be
efficient. He makes a fine show of doing things; but he does not,
somehow, get much done. The hustler is like a football player who is in
all parts of the field at different times, sometimes in the forward
line, sometimes among the backs, always breathless, generally very much
in the way, and contributing less than any one else to the winning of
the game for his side. If New York were a city of hustlers, New York
would drill no holes in steel girders.

The fact is that America has, in this matter of hustle, been grossly
slandered in Europe. I am not sure that the Americans, with a curious
perversity, have not slandered themselves, and done as much as any one
to keep the hustle myth alive. The American understands the value of not
hurrying as well as any one in the world. He has, justly, a high opinion
of himself and declines to be a slave to a wretched machine like a
clock. I realized this leisureliness the first time I went into a
restaurant to get something to eat. I could have smoked a cigarette
comfortably between the ordering and the getting of what I ordered. I
could have smoked other cigarettes, calmly, as cigarettes ought to be
smoked, between each course. American men do actually smoke in this way
during meals, and I trace the custom not to an excessive fondness for
tobacco but to the leisurely way in which the business of eating is gone
about. And it is not in restaurants only that this quiet disregard of
time’s abominable habit of going on is evident. The New York business
man gets through his work—it is evident that he does get through
it—without feeling it necessary to give every one the impression that
each half hour of the day is dedicated to a separate affair and that the
entire time-table will be reduced to chaos if a single minute strays out
of its proper compartment into the next.

Perhaps it is because I am Irish that I like this way of doing business.
There is a character in one of the late Canon Sheehan’s novels who says
that there are two things which are plenty in Ireland—water and time.
There are undoubtedly places in the world where water is scarce, the
Sahara desert for instance; but I suspect that time is quite abundant
everywhere though some people affect to believe that it is not. I know
English business men who scowl at you if you venture, having settled the
little affair which brought you to their office, to make a pleasant
remark about the chances of a general election before Christmas. They
pretend that they have not time to talk about General Elections. They do
this, as Bob Sawyer used to have himself summoned from church, in order
to keep up their reputation. They want you to think that they are
overwhelmed with pressing things. I have always suspected that, having
got rid of their visitor, they spend hours reading about General
Elections in the daily papers. The American business man is, apparently,
never too busy to enjoy a chat. He invites you to lunch with him when
you go to his office. He shows you the points of interest in the
neighborhood after luncheon. He discusses the present condition of
Ireland, a subject which demands an immense quantity of time. He settles
the little matter which brought you to his office with three sentences
and a wave of the hand. He does not write you a letter afterwards
beginning: “In confirmation of our conversation to-day I note that you
are prepared to——” It is, I suppose, a man’s temperament which settles
which way of doing business he prefers. It is also very largely a
question of temper. In my normal mood I prefer the American method.
There is a broad humanity about it which appeals to me strongly. But if
I have been annoyed by anything early in the day, broken a bootlace, for
instance, or lost a collar stud, I would rather do business in the
English way. In the one case I like to come in contact with a fellow
man, to feel that he has affections and weaknesses like my own. It is
pleasant to get to know him personally. In the other case, thanks to the
misfortunes of the morning, I am filled with a gloomy hatred of my kind.
I want, until the mood has worn off, to see as little as possible of any
one and to keep inevitable people at arm’s length. It is much easier to
do this when the inevitable people also want to keep me at arm’s length,
and the English business man generally does. The friendliness of the
American business man is a little trying sometimes to any one in a bad
temper. Sometimes, not always. I remember one occasion on which I was
exceptionally cross. I forget what had happened to me in the morning,
but it was worse than breaking a bootlace. It may have had something to
do with telephones, instruments which generally drive me to fury. At all
events, though in a bad temper, I had to go to see a man in his office.
He was a man of extraordinarily friendly spirit, even for an American. I
dreaded my interview, fearing that I might say something actually rude
before it was over. Nothing could have been more soothing than my
reception. This wonderful man cast a single quick glance at me as I
entered his office. He realized my condition and got through with the
wretched necessity which had brought me there with a rapidity and
precision which would have done credit to any Englishman. Then he
ushered me out again without making or giving me time to make a single
remark of a miscellaneous kind. I apologized to him afterwards. He
patted me reassuringly on the shoulder.

“That’s all right,” he said. “I saw the minute you came into the room
that you were a bit rattled.”

That seems to me a splendid example of tact. I do not suggest that all
American business men have this faculty for swift, self-sacrificing
sympathy. It must be rare, even in New York. Does it exist at all in
England? If I called on an English merchant some morning when the spring
was in my blood and I felt that I wanted to leap and spring like a lamb,
would he divine my mood, join hands and dance with me on his hearth rug?
I doubt it. He would not do it even if I were a hundred times more
important than I am. He would not do it if I were chairman of a
fantastically prosperous company. Yet it must have been just as hard for
my American friend to be austere as it would be for an Englishman to be
inanely gay.

I am not a business man myself. I have for many years practiced the art
of getting other people to manage my small affairs for me, so perhaps I
ought not to write about business men. But an author is always on the
horns of a dilemma. He knows he ought not to write about anything that
he does not thoroughly understand. But if he confined himself to those
subjects, he would never write anything at all. Even if he gave himself
some latitude and allowed himself to write about things of which he
knows a little, he would still find himself in a narrow place. His best
hope is that if he writes freely on every subject that comes into his
head he will only be found out by a few people at a time. Sailors will
find him out when he writes about the sea. Insurance agents will laugh
at his ignorance when he writes about premiums; doctors will be
irritated when he sets down what he thinks about measles. But the
sailors will believe that he knows a great deal about insurance and
disease in general; doctors will think him an expert about ships, and so
forth. And there are always far fewer people in any given profession
than there are people out of it. The writer has therefore a good hope
that those who find him out in any point in which he touches will always
be a minority. Minorities do not matter.

It is the consideration of this fact which gives me courage to write
about business men, and more courage now to go on and write about
buildings. I know nothing about architecture, but the people who do are
very few, so that the penalty of being found out will be light.

There does not seem at first glance to be any connection between
business men and architecture. But there is a very real one. There is
also a private connection of thought in my own mind. It was from the
windows of an office, high up in one of the skyscraper buildings, that I
got my first comprehensive view of New York. There is, generally, a
certain sameness about these bird’s-eye views of cities. The bird, and
the man who gets into the position of the bird, sees a number of spires
of churches sticking up into the sky and below them a huddled mass of
roofs. Sometimes tall chimneys assert themselves beside the spires. But
the spires are the dominating things. The chimneys may have every
appearance of arrogance, but one feels that they are upstarts. The
spires hold the place of a recognized aristocracy. The bird, if he were
say an eagle, and had not the sparrow’s intimate knowledge of the life
of the streets, would naturally come to the conclusion that the worship
of God is the most potent factor in the life of the European city. He
would, perhaps, be wrong, but he would have a good case to make for
himself when he was recounting his experiences to the other eagles.

“I have seen,” he would say, “these vast nesting places of men, and the
spires of the churches are far the most important things in them. They
reach up higher than anything else, and there are great numbers of
them.”

But the eagle would not say that about New York. It is not spires, nor
is it factory chimneys which stick up highest there and catch the
attention of a spectator from a height. Office buildings are the
dominant things. Churches are kept in what many people regard as their
proper place. You can see them if you look for them, but they are
subordinate. The same thing is true of another view of New York, that
marvelous spectacle of the city’s profile which you get in the evening
from any of the Hudson River ferry boats. The sky line is jagged and the
silhouettes are not those of cross-crowned domes or spires, but of large
buildings dedicated to commerce.

The philosophic eagle might, reasoning as he did before, leap to the
conclusion that God is of little importance in the city of New York;
that bank books there count for more than Bibles. I am not at all sure
that he would be right. It looks, any one who has seen New York must
admit it, as if the American who coined the phrase, “the almighty
dollar,” had really expressed the faith of his countrymen. But I am
inclined to think that he was led into injustice by a desire to be
epigrammatic. It may be that my experience was singularly fortunate, but
I came to the conclusion that God counts for a good deal in the life of
New York and of America generally. I do not mean that any creed has
obtained for itself national recognition, or that any particular church
has reached a position analogous to that of the English established
church. Religion in America seems to me a confused force, which has not
yet fully found itself; but it is a force. The desire to do justly, to
love mercy, though scarcely perhaps to walk humbly, is present and is
coming to be mightier than the dollar.

Yet it is certainly true that the most striking buildings in New York
are not ecclesiastical, but commercial. This is a defiance of the old
European tradition, a breach even of that feebler tradition which
America took over from Europe before she entered into possession of her
own soul. I am reminded of Attila’s Hun with his contempt for Roman
civilization and his confidence in his own strength.

Business used to look askance at magnificence. It was the pride of the
London merchant that he managed mighty affairs in an unpretentious
counting house. But we are learning from the Americans. Our insurance
companies were the first to start building sumptuous habitations for
themselves. Banks and other corporations are following their example.
Yet even to-day the offices in the city of London are singularly
unimpressive to the eye, and many a house with world-wide influence
scorns to appeal to the passerby with anything more striking than a
“Push” or “Pull” stamped in worn letters on the brass plates of a pair
of swinging doors. It was a great tradition, this total lack of
ostentation where mighty forces were. At first New York too felt the
attraction of it. Wall Street, which is one of the older parts of the
city, is not impressive to look at. The Cotton Exchange is a building of
a very middling kind. Yet I am inclined to think that the instinct for
magnificence displayed by the newer American captains of commerce is
sound. I am not considering the advertisement value of a great building.
It may be worth something in that way, though grubbiness can also be an
effective advertisement. What seems to lie at the back of the display is
the desire of life to express itself in sumptuousness. The Venetians, a
nation of merchants, felt this and built in the spirit of it. After all,
commerce is a very great kind of life. There is energy in it, adventure,
romance. It offers opportunities for struggle, promises victory,
threatens defeat. Is it any wonder that men absorbed in it should feel
the thrill of the “_superbia vitæ_” and build to secure visible
embodiment for the emotion? Men have always tried to build finely for
their governors. Kings’ palaces and parliament houses are impressive
everywhere. This was right when kings and parliaments were important.
Now that the offices of financiers are much more important than the
habitations of law makers, they too are becoming splendid.

It is, I suppose, to be expected that these mighty buildings should have
forms which at first are repellent in their strangeness. We, who were
nursed in an older artistic tradition, have learned to value, perhaps
too highly, restraint and dignity. The outstanding characteristics of
the American skyscraper seem to me to be exuberance. I am reminded of
the wild spirit of one or two European buildings, of the cloisters of
Belem, for instance, though there the sense of exultation expresses
itself in a very different way. But the essential spirit is similar. I
could imagine the builders chanting as they worked: “Behold ye are gods.
Ye are all children of the Highest.” They are gods who have not
experienced the _tedium vitæ_ of Olympian happiness. But New York is not
so drunken with exuberance that it can not build with quiet dignity.
Tiffany’s shop in Fifth Avenue, and, a little lower down, Altman’s great
department store, are buildings on which the eye rests with undisturbed
satisfaction. The men who built these had more in mind than the erection
of houses in which rings or stockings might conveniently be sold. They
felt that commerce in jewelry or clothes was in itself a worthy thing
which might be undertaken in a lofty spirit, and greatly carried on.
There is a feeling of nobility in the proportion of windows and doors,
in the severity of the street fronts. These might be palaces of noblemen
of an ancient lineage. They are—shops. Has America discovered a dignity
in shop-keeping? The station of the Pennsylvania Railway is one of the
glories of New York, and here again New York is certainly right, though
I—it is a purely personal feeling—am infuriated to find the calm
self-restraint of the Greeks associated with anything so blatant as a
railway train. Anywhere else in the world the great hall of the Central
Station would be the nave of a Cathedral. It is impossible not to
feel—even when hurrying for a train—that the porters are really
acolytes masquerading for a moment in honor of some fantastic fool’s
day.

The churches of New York are of subordinate interest. Trinity Church has
a singularly suggestive position, right opposite the end of Wall Street,
God in protest against Mammon. But the building itself might be anywhere
in England. I can fancy it in Nottingham or Bath, and there would be no
need to alter the place of a stone in it. It is a dignified and
beautiful parish church, but it has, as a building, nothing American
about it. It has not, apparently, influenced the spirit of New York
architecture. The people have not found self-expression in it. St.
Patrick’s Cathedral, in Fifth Avenue, is a fine, a very fine example of
modern Gothic. Except the new Graduate College buildings at Princeton,
this cathedral strikes me as the finest example of modern Gothic I have
ever seen. But ought New York to have Gothic buildings? Here, I know, I
come up against the difficult question. There are those who hold that
for certain purposes—for worship and for the dignified ceremonial life
of a university—the Gothic building is the one perfect form which man
has devised. We cannot better it. All we can do is soak ourselves in the
spirit of the men of the great centuries of this style and humbly try to
feel as they felt so that we may build as they. It may be granted that
we shall devise nothing better. I, for one, gladly admit that St.
Patrick’s in New York and the Hall at Princeton are conceived in the old
spirit and are as perfect as any modern work of the kind is, perhaps as
perfect as any modern Gothic work can be. But when all this is said it
remains true that the life of New York is not the life of mediæval
Rouen, of the London which built Westminster or of the Cologne which
paid honor to the Three Kings. Can New York accept as its vision of the
divine the conception, however splendid, of those “dear dead days”?

It may well be that I am all wrong in my feeling about modern Gothic,
that what is wanting in these buildings is not the spirit which was in
the old ones. It may be that, like certain finer kinds of wine, they
require maturing. I can conceive that a church which seems remote now,
almost to the point of frigidity, may not only seem, but actually be,
different two hundred years hence. It is scarcely possible to think that
the prayers of generations have no effect upon the walls of the building
in which they are uttered. There must cling to the place some aroma,
some subtle essence of the reachings after God of generation after
generation. The repentances of broken hearts, the supplications of
sorrowing women, the vows of strong, hopeful souls, the pieties of meek
priests, must be present still among the arches and the dim places above
them. Men consecrate their temples, but it takes them centuries to do
it. Perhaps Westminster would have left me cold if I had walked its
aisles four hundred years ago. This lack of maturity and not, as I
suppose, the fact that they do not come of the spirit of our time, may
be what is the matter with our newer Gothic buildings.

There is one church in New York—there may be others unknown to
me—which gives the impression of having grown out of the life which
dwelt in it, in the same sense in which certain English churches, those
especially of the Sussex country side, have grown rather than been
deliberately and consciously built. This is the unpretentious building
known as “The Little Church Round the Corner.” The affectionate
familiarity of the name suits the place and means more to the discerning
soul than any dedication could mean. The student of architecture would
perhaps reckon this church contemptible, and having seen it once would
bestow no second glance upon it. It is built in no style of recognized
orthodoxy. I do not know its history, but it looks as if bits had been
added on to it time after time by people who knew nothing and cared
nothing for unity of design, but who had in their hearts a genuine love
for the building. It is an expression of life, this little church, but
not, I think, of the life of New York. It is as if someone had made a
little garden and filled it with all kinds of delicate sweet-smelling
flowers in a glade of a mighty forest. Within the garden are the
flowers, tended and well-beloved. Outside and all around are great trees
with gnarled trunks and far-off branches which have fought their own way
in desperate competition to the sunlight. I could, I think, worship very
faithfully in that “Little Church Round the Corner,” but I should have
to shut New York out of my heart every time I passed through the doors
of it. Just so I can find delight in the sweetness of Keble’s “Christian
Year,” but while I do I must forget the sea, and how “at his word the
stormy wind ariseth which lifteth up the waves thereof.” I must cease to
be in love with the perils of adventuring.

There is one church in New York which seems to me to have caught the
spirit of the city, the unfinished cathedral of St. John the Divine. It
gives the worshipper within its walls a strange sense of titanic
strength striving majestically to express itself in stone. I am told
that the building is to be finished in some other way, in accordance
with the rules and orthodoxies of some school of architecture. This may
not be true, but, even if it is, there still remains the hope that
enough has been already done to preserve for the finished work its
character of relentless strength. If its builders are brave enough to go
as they have begun, this cathedral should rank in the eyes of future
generations as one of the great houses of God in the world. St. Mark’s,
with its fantastic spires and gorgeous coloring, expresses all the past
history of Venice and her commerce with the East, all which that strange
republic learnt of the Divine, from the glow of Syrian deserts, where
sun-baked caravans crawled slowly, and from the heavy scents of
Midianitish merchandise in the market places of Damascus. The confused
and misty aisles of Westminster embody in stone a realized conception of
the tumultuous life of London, of its black river weary with the weight
of the untold wealth it bears, of its crowds thronging narrow places, of
its streets where past and present look suspiciously into each other’s
eyes, while things which are to be already push for elbow room. The
Cathedral of St. John the Divine, standing on the very edge of its
steep, broken hill, gives me as no other building does the sense of
strength of the kind of strength which will do rather than endure, which
is unwilling to abide restraint of any kind.

The building is a fit mate for the skyscrapers, can hold its own among
them because its spirit is their spirit, touched with the flame of
inspiration by the torch of the divine. The very absence of unity of
style seems the crowning glory of it. It is Attila’s Hun once more. What
did he care that the spoils in which he decked himself were of various
fashionings? It is the dynamite blasting living rock. It is, as it seems
to me, New York in process of being given in stone an interpretation
which neither words nor music have given her yet. It will be a loss, not
only to New York but to the world, if the builders of the Cathedral of
St. John the Divine allow themselves to be frightened by the spectre of
European artistic tradition. They may tame their church, civilize it,
curl and comb the seven locks of its hair. If they do, the strength will
surely depart from it and it will become a common thing.

Share