Here to return to
I had imagined that the next best thing to seeing England would be to see Scotland; but, as this latter pleasure was denied me, certainly the next best thing was seeing Scotland's greatest son. Carlyle has been so constantly and perhaps justly represented as a stormy and wrathful person, brewing bitter denunciation for America and Americans, that I cannot forbear to mention the sweet and genial mood in which we found him, — a gentle and affectionate grandfather, with his delicious Scotch brogue and rich, melodious talk, overflowing with reminiscences of his earlier life, of Scott and Goethe and Edinburgh, and other men and places he had known. Learning that I was especially interested in birds, he discoursed of the lark and the nightingale and the mavis, framing his remarks about them in some episode of his personal experience, and investing their songs with the double charm of his description and his adventure.
"It is only geese who get plucked there," said my companion after we had left, — a man who had known Carlyle intimately for many years; "silly persons who have no veneration for the great man, and come to convert him or to change his convictions upon subjects to which he has devoted a lifetime of profound thought and meditation. With such persons he has no patience."
Carlyle had just returned from Scotland, where he had spent the summer. The Scotch hills and mountains, he said, had an ancient, mournful look, as if the weight of immeasurable time had settled down upon them. Their look was in Ossian, — his spirit reflected theirs; and as I gazed upon the venerable man before me, and noted his homely and rugged yet profound and melancholy expression, I knew that their look was upon him also, and that a greater than Ossian had been nursed amid those lonely hills. Few men in literature have felt the burden of the world, the weight of the inexorable conscience, as has Carlyle, or drawn such fresh inspiration from that source. However we may differ from him (and almost in self-defense one must differ from a man of such intense and overweening personality), it must yet be admitted that he habitually speaks out of that primitive silence and solitude in which only the heroic soul dwells. Certainly not in contemporary British literature is there another writer whose bowstring has such a twang.
I left London in the early part of November, and turned my face westward, going leisurely through England and Wales, and stringing upon my thread a few of the famous places, as Oxford, Stratford, Warwick, Birmingham, Chester, and taking a last look at the benign land. The weather was fair; I was yoked to no companion, and was apparently the only tourist on that route. The field occupations drew my eye as usual. They were very simple, and consisted mainly of the gathering of root crops. I saw no building of fences, or of houses or barns, and no draining or improving of any kind worth mentioning, these things having all been done long ago. Speaking of barns reminds me that I do not remember to have seen a building of this kind while in England, much less a group or cluster of them as at home; hay and grain being always stacked, and the mildness of the climate rendering a protection of this kind unnecessary for the cattle and sheep. In contrast, America may be called the country of barns and outbuildings: —"Thou lucky Mistress of the tranquil barns,"
as Walt Whitman apostrophizes the Union.
I missed also many familiar features in the autumn fields, — those given to our landscape by Indian corn, for instance, the tent-like stouts, the shucks, the rustling blades, the ripe pumpkins strewing the field; for, notwithstanding England is such a garden, our corn does not flourish there. I saw no buckwheat either, the red stubble and little squat figures of the upright sheaves of which are so noticeable in our farming districts at this season. Neither did I see, any gathering of apples, or orchards from which to gather them. "As sure as there are apples in Herefordshire" seems to be a proverb in England; yet it is very certain that the orchard is not the institution anywhere in Britain that it is in this country, or so prominent a feature in the landscape. The native apples are inferior in size and quality, and are sold by the pound. Pears were more abundant at the fruit stands, and were of superior excellence and very cheap.
I hope it will not be set down to any egotism of mine, but rather to the effect upon an ardent pilgrim of the associations of the place and its renown in literature, that all my experience at Stratford seems worthy of recording, and to be invested with a sort of poetical interest, — even the fact that I walked up from the station with a handsome young countrywoman who had chanced to occupy a seat in the same compartment of the car with me from Warwick, and who, learning the nature of my visit, volunteered to show me the Red Horse Inn, as her course led her that way. We walked mostly in the middle of the street, with our umbrellas hoisted, for it was raining slightly, while a boy whom we found lying in wait for such a chance trudged along in advance of us with my luggage.
At the Red Horse the pilgrim is in no danger of having the charm and the poetical atmosphere with which he has surrounded himself dispelled, but rather enhanced and deepened, especially if he has the luck I had, to find few other guests, and to fall into the hands of one of those simple, strawberry-like English housemaids, who gives him a cozy, snug little parlor all to himself, as was the luck of Irving also; who answers his every summons, and looks into his eyes with the simplicity and directness of a child; who could step from no page but that of Scott or the divine William himself; who puts the "coals" on your grate with her own hands, and, when you ask for a lunch, spreads the cloth on one end of the table while you sit reading or writing at the other, and places before you a whole haunch of delicious cold mutton, with bread and homebrewed ale, and requests you to help yourself; who, when bedtime arrives, lights you up to a clean, sweet chamber, with a high-canopied bed hung with snow-white curtains; who calls you in the morning, and makes ready your breakfast while you sit with your feet on the fender before the blazing grate; and to whom you pay your reckoning on leaving, having escaped entirely all the barrenness and publicity of hotel life, and had all the privacy and quiet of home without any of its cares or interruptions. And this, let me say here, is the great charm of the characteristic English inn; it has a domestic, homelike air. "Taking mine ease at mine inn" has a real significance in England. You can take your ease and more; you can take real solid comfort. In the first place, there is no bar-room, and consequently no loafers or pimps, or fumes of tobacco or whiskey; then there is no landlord or proprietor or hotel clerk to lord it over you. The host, if there is such a person, has a way of keeping himself in the background, or absolutely out of sight, that is entirely admirable. You are monarch of all you survey. You are not made to feel that it is in some one else's house you are staying, and that you must court the master for his favor. It is your house, you are the master, and you have only to enjoy your own.
In the gray, misty afternoon, I walked out over the Avon, like all English streams full to its grassy brim, and its current betrayed only by a floating leaf or feather, and along English fields and roads, and noted the familiar sights and sounds and smells of autumn. The spire of the church where Shakespeare lies buried shot up stately and tall from the banks of the Avon, a little removed from the village; and the church itself, more like a cathedral in size and beauty, was also visible above the trees. Thitherward I soon bent my steps, and while I was lingering among the graves,1 reading the names and dates so many centuries old, and surveying the gray and weather-worn exterior of the church, the slow tolling of the bell announced a funeral. Upon such a stage, and amid such surroundings, with all this past for a background, the shadowy figure of the peerless bard towering over all, the incident of the moment had a strange interest to me, and I looked about for the funeral cortege. Presently a group of three or four figures appeared at the head of the avenue of limes, the foremost of them a woman, bearing an infant's coffin under her arm, wrapped in a white sheet. The clerk and sexton, with their robes on, went out to meet them, and conducted them into the church, where the service proper to such occasions was read, after which the coffin was taken out as it was brought in, and lowered into the grave. It was the smallest funeral I ever saw, and my effort to play the part of a sympathizing public by hovering in the background, I fear, was only an intrusion after all.
Having loitered to my heart's content amid the stillness of the old church, and paced to and fro above the illustrious dead, I set out, with the sun about an hour high, to see the house of Anne Hathaway at Shottery, shunning the highway and following a path that followed hedge-rows, crossed meadows and pastures, skirted turnip-fields and cabbage-patches, to a quaint gathering of low thatched houses, — a little village of farmers and laborers, about a mile from Stratford. At the gate in front of the house a boy was hitching a little gray donkey, almost hidden beneath two immense panniers filled with coarse hay.
"Whose house is this?" inquired I, not being quite able to make out the name.
"Hann' Ataway's 'ouse," said he.
So I took a good look at Anne's house, — a homely, human-looking habitation, with its old oak beams and thatched roof, — but did not go in, as Mrs. Baker, who was eying me from the door, evidently hoped I would, but chose rather to walk past it and up the slight rise of ground beyond, where I paused and looked out over the fields, just lit up by the setting sun. Returning, I stepped into the Shakespeare Tavern, a little, homely wayside place on a street, or more like a path, apart from the main road, and the good dame brought me some "home-brewed," which I drank sitting by a rude table on a rude bench in a small, low room, with a stone floor and an immense chimney. The coals burned cheerily, and the crane and hooks in the fireplace called up visions of my earliest childhood. Apparently the house and the surroundings, and the atmosphere of the place and the ways of the people, were what they were three hundred years ago. It was all sweet and good, and I enjoyed it hugely, and was much refreshed.
Crossing the fields in the gloaming, I came up with some children, each with a tin bucket of milk, threading their way toward Stratford. The little girl, a child ten years old, having a larger bucket than the rest, was obliged to set down her burden every few rods and rest; so I lent her a helping hand. I thought her prattle, in that broad but musical patois, and along these old hedge-rows, the most delicious I ever heard. She said they came to Shottery for milk because it was much better than they got at Stratford. In America they had a cow of their own. Had she lived in America, then? "Oh, yes, four years," and the stream of her talk was fuller at once. But I hardly recognized even the name of my own country in her innocent prattle; it seemed like a land of fable, — all had a remote mythological air, and I pressed my inquiries as if I was hearing of this strange land for the first time. She had an uncle still living in the "States of Hoio," but exactly where her father had lived was not so clear. In the States somewhere, and in "Ogden's Valley." There was a lake there that had salt in it, and not far off was the sea. "In America," she said, and she gave such a sweet and novel twang to her words, "we had a cow of our own, and two horses and a wagon and a dog." "Yes," joined in her little brother, "and nice chickens and a goose." "But," continued the sister, "we owns none o' them here. In America 'most everybody owned their houses, and we could 'a' owned a house if we had stayid."
"What made you leave America?" I inquired.
"'Cause me father wanted to see his friends."
"Did your mother want to come back?"
"No, me mother wanted to stay in America."
"Is food as plenty here, — do you have as much to eat as in the States?"
"Oh, yes, and more. The first year we were in America we could not get enough to eat."
"But you do not get meat very often here, do you?"
"Quite often," — not so confidently.
"Well, sometimes we has pig's liver in the week time, and we allers has meat of a Sunday; we likes meat."
Here we emerged from the fields into the highway, and the happy children went their way and I mine.
In the evening, as I was strolling about the town, a poor, crippled, half-witted fellow came jerking himself across the street after me and offered himself as a guide.
"I'm the Teller what showed Artemus Ward around when he was here. You've heerd on me, I expect? Not? Why, he characterized me in 'Punch,' he did. He asked me if Shakespeare took all the wit out of Stratford? And this is what I said to him: `No, he left some for me.'"
But not wishing to be guided just then, I bought the poor fellow off with a few pence, and kept on my way.
Stratford is a quiet old place, and seems mainly the abode of simple common folk. One sees no marked signs of either poverty or riches. It is situated in a beautiful expanse of rich, rolling farming country, but bears little resemblance to a rural town in America: not a tree, not a spear of grass; the houses packed close together and crowded up on the street, the older ones presenting their gables and showing their structure of oak beams. English oak seems incapable of decay even when exposed to the weather, while indoors it takes three or four centuries to give it its best polish and hue.
I took my last view of Stratford quite early of a bright Sunday morning, when the ground was white with a dense hoar-frost. The great church, as I approached it, loomed up under the sun through a bank of blue mist. The Avon was like glass, with little wraiths of vapor clinging here and there to its surface. Two white swans stood on its banks in front of the church, and, without regarding the mirror that so drew my eye, preened their plumage; while, farther up, a piebald cow reached down for some grass under the brink where the frost had not settled, and a piebald cow in the river reached up for the same morsel. Rooks and crows and jackdaws were noisy in the trees overhead and about the church spire. I stood a long while musing upon the scene.
At the birthplace of the poet, the keeper, an elderly woman, shivered with cold as she showed me about. The primitive, home-made appearance of things, the stone floor much worn and broken, the rude oak beams and doors, the leaden sash with the little window-panes scratched full of names, among others that of Walter Scott, the great chimneys where quite a family could literally sit in the chimney corner, were what I expected to see, and looked very human and good. It is impossible to associate anything but sterling qualities and simple, healthful characters with these early English birthplaces. They are nests built with faithfulness and affection, and through them one seems to get a glimpse of devouter, sturdier times.
From Stratford I went back to Warwick, thence to Birmingham, thence to Shrewsbury, thence to Chester, the old Roman camp, thence to Holyhead, being intent on getting a glimpse of Wales and the Welsh, and maybe taking a tramp up Snowdon or some of his congeners, for my legs literally ached for a mountain climb, a certain set of muscles being so long unused. In the course of my journeyings, I tried each class or compartment of the cars, first, second, and third, and found but little choice. The difference is simply in the upholstering, and, if you are provided with a good shawl or wrap-up, you need not be particular about that. In the first, the floor is carpeted and the seats substantially upholstered, usually in blue woolen cloth; in the second, the seat alone is cushioned; and in the third, you sit on a bare bench. But all classes go by the same train, and often in the same car, or carriage, as they say here. In the first class travel the real and the shoddy nobility and Americans; in the second, commercial and professional men; and in the third, the same, with such of the peasantry and humbler classes as travel by rail. The only annoyance I experienced in the third class arose from the freedom with which the smokers, always largely in the majority, indulged in their favorite pastime. (I perceive there is one advantage in being a smoker: you are never at a loss for something to do, — you can smoke.)
At Chester I stopped overnight, selecting my hotel for its name, the "Green Dragon." It was Sunday night, and the only street scene my rambles afforded was quite a large gathering of persons on a corner, listening, apparently with indifference or curiosity, to an ignorant, hot-headed street preacher. "Now I am going to tell you something you will not like to hear, something that will make you angry. I know it will. It is this: I expect to go to heaven. I am perfectly confident I shall go there. I know you do not like that." But why his hearers should not like that did not appear. For my part, I thought, for the good of all concerned, the sooner he went the better.
In the morning, I mounted the wall in front of the cathedral, and, with a very lively feeling of wonder and astonishment, walked completely around the town on top of it, a distance of about two miles. The wall, being in places as high as the houses, afforded some interesting views into attics, chambers, and back yards. I envied the citizens such a delightful promenade ground, full of variety and interest. Just the right distance, too, for a brisk turn to get up an appetite, or for a leisurely stroll to tone down a dinner; while as a place for chance meetings of happy lovers, or to get away from one's companions if the flame must burn in secret and in silence, it is unsurpassed. I occasionally met or passed other pedestrians, but noticed that it required a brisk pace to lessen the distance between myself and an attractive girlish figure a few hundred feet in advance of me. The railroad cuts across one corner of the town, piercing the walls with two very carefully constructed archways. Indeed, the people are very choice of the wall, and one sees posted notices of the city authorities offering a reward for any one detected in injuring it. It has stood now some seven or eight centuries, and from appearances is good for one or two more. There are several towers on the wall, from one of which some English king, over two hundred years ago, witnessed the defeat of his army on Rowton Moor. But when I was there, though the sun was shining, the atmosphere was so loaded with smoke that I could not catch even a glimpse of the moor where the battle took place. There is a gateway through the wall on each of the four sides, and this slender and beautiful but blackened and worn span, as if to afford a transit from the chamber windows on one side of the street to those of the other, is the first glimpse the traveler gets of the wall. The gates beneath the arches have entirely disappeared. The ancient and carved oak fronts of the buildings on the main street, and the inclosed sidewalk that ran through the second stories of the shops and stores, were not less strange and novel to me. The sidewalk was like a gentle upheaval in its swervings and undulations, or like a walk through the woods, the oaken posts and braces on the outside answering for the trees, and the prospect ahead for the vista.
The ride along the coast of Wales was crowded with novelty and interest, — the sea on one side and the mountains on the other, — the latter bleak and heathery in the foreground, but cloud-capped and snow-white in the distance. The afternoon was dark and lowering, and just before entering Conway we had a very striking view. A turn in the road suddenly brought us to where we looked through a black framework of heathery hills, and beheld Snowdon and his chiefs apparently with the full rigors of winter upon them. It was so satisfying that I lost at once my desire to tramp up them. I barely had time to turn from the mountains to get a view of Conway Castle, one of the largest and most impressive ruins I saw. The train cuts close to the great round tower, and plunges through the wall of gray, shelving stone into the bluff beyond, giving the traveler only time to glance and marvel.
About the only glimpse I got of the Welsh character was on this route. At one of the stations, Abergele I think, a fresh, blooming young woman got into our compartment, occupied by myself and two commercial travelers (bag-men, or, as we say, "drummers"), and, before she could take her seat, was complimented by one of them on her good looks. Feeling in a measure responsible for the honor and good-breeding of the compartment, I could hardly conceal my embarrassment; but the young Abergeless herself did not seem to take it amiss, and when presently the jolly bag-man addressed his conversation to her, replied beseemingly and good-naturedly. As she arose to leave the car at her destination, a few stations beyond, he said "he thought it a pity that such a sweet, pretty girl should leave us so soon," and seizing her hand the audacious rascal actually solicited a kiss. I expected this would be the one drop too much, and that we should have a scene, and began to regard myself in the light of an avenger of an insulted Welsh beauty, when my heroine paused, and I believe actually deliberated whether or not to comply before two spectators! Certain it is that she yielded the highwayman her hand, and, bidding him a gentle good-night in Welsh, smilingly and blushingly left the car. "Ah," said the villain, "these Welsh girls are capital; I know them like a book, and have had many a lark with them."
At Holyhead I got another glimpse of the Welsh. I had booked for Dublin, and having several hours on my hands of a dark, threatening night before the departure of the steamer, I sallied out in the old town tilted up against the side of the hill, in the most adventurous spirit I could summon, threading my way through the dark, deserted streets, pausing for a moment in front of a small house with closed doors and closely, shuttered windows, where I heard suppressed voices, the monotonous scraping of a fiddle, and a lively shuffling of feet, and passing on finally entered, drawn by the musical strains, a quaint old place, where a blind harper, seated in the corner of a rude kind of coffee and sitting room, was playing on a harp. I liked the atmosphere of the place, so primitive and wholesome, and was quite willing to have my attention drawn off from the increasing storm without, and from the bitter cup which I knew the Irish sea was preparing for me. The harper presently struck up a livelier strain, when two Welsh girls, who were chatting before the grate, one of them as dumpy as a bag of meal and the other slender and tall, stepped into the middle of the floor and began to dance to the delicious music, a Welsh mechanic and myself drinking our ale and looking on approvingly. After a while the pleasant, modest-looking bar-maid, whom I had seen behind the beer-levers as I entered, came in, and, after looking on for a moment, was persuaded to lay down her sewing and join in the dance. Then there came in a sandy-haired Welshman, who could speak and understand only his native dialect, and finding his neighbors affiliating with an Englishman, as he supposed, and trying to speak the hateful tongue, proceeded to berate them sharply (for it appears the Welsh are still jealous of the English); but when they explained to him that I was not an Englishman, but an American, and had already twice stood the beer all around (at an outlay of sixpence), he subsided into a sulky silence, and regarded me intently.
About eleven o'clock a policeman paused at the door, and intimated that it was time the house was shut up and the music stopped, and to outward appearances his friendly warning was complied with; but the harp still discoursed in a minor key, and a light tripping and shuffling of responsive feet might occasionally have been heard for an hour later. When I arose to go, it was with a feeling of regret that I could not see more of this simple and social people, with whom I at once felt that "touch of nature" which "makes the whole world kin," and my leave-taking was warm and hearty accordingly.
Through the wind and the darkness I threaded my way to the wharf, and in less than two hours afterward was a most penitent voyager, and fitfully joining in that doleful gastriloquial chorus that so often goes up from the cabins of those Channel steamers.
I hardly know why I went to Ireland, except it was to indulge the few drops of Irish blood in my veins, and maybe also with a view to shorten my sea voyage by a day. I also felt a desire to see one or two literary men there, and in this sense my journey was eminently gratifying; but so far from shortening my voyage by a day, it lengthened it by three days, that being the time it took me to recover from the effects of it; and as to the tie of blood, I think it must nearly all have run out, for I felt but few congenital throbs while in Ireland.
The Englishman at home is a much more lovable animal than the Englishman abroad, but Pat in Ireland is even more of a pig than in this country. Indeed, the squalor and poverty, and cold, skinny wretchedness one sees in Ireland, and (what freezes our sympathies) the groveling, swiny shiftlessness that pervades these hovels, no traveler can be prepared for. It is the bare prose of misery, the unheroic of tragedy. There is not one redeeming or mitigating feature.
Railway traveling in Ireland is not so rapid or so cheap as in England. Neither are the hotels so good or so clean, nor the fields so well kept, nor the look of the country so thrifty and peaceful. The dissatisfaction of the people is in the very air. Ireland looks sour and sad. She looks old, too, as do all those countries beyond seas, — old in a way that the American is a stranger to. It is not the age of nature, the unshaken permanence of the hills through long periods of time, but the weight of human years and human sorrows, as if the earth sympathized with man and took on his attributes and infirmities.
I did not go much about Dublin, and the most characteristic things I saw there were those queer, uncomfortable dog-carts, — a sort of Irish bull on wheels, with the driver on one side balancing the passenger on the other, and the luggage occupying the seat of safety between. It comes the nearest to riding on horseback, and on a side-saddle at that, of any vehicle-traveling I ever did.
I stopped part of a day at Mallow, an old town on the Blackwater, in one of the most fertile agricultural districts of Ireland. The situation is fine, and an American naturally expects to see a charming rural town, planted with trees and filled with clean, comfortable homes; but he finds instead a wretched place, smitten with a plague of filth and mud, and offering but one object upon which the eye can dwell with pleasure, and that is the ruins of an old castle, "Mallow Castle over Blackwater," which dates back to the time of Queen Elizabeth. It stands amid noble trees on the banks of the river, and its walls, some of them thirty or forty feet high, are completely overrun with ivy. The Blackwater, a rapid, amber-colored stream, is spanned at this point by a superb granite bridge.
And I will say here that anything like a rural town in our sense, — a town with trees and grass and large spaces about the houses, gardens, yards, shrubbery, coolness, fragrance, — seems unknown in England or Ireland. The towns and villages are all remnants of feudal times, and seem to have been built with an eye to safety and compactness, or else men were more social, and loved to get closer together, then than now. Perhaps the damp, chilly climate made them draw nearer together. At any rate, the country towns are little cities; or rather it is as if another London had been cut up in little and big pieces and distributed over the land.
In the afternoon, to take the kinks out of my legs, and to quicken, if possible, my circulation a little, which since the passage over the Channel had felt as if it was thick and green, I walked rapidly to the top of the Knockmeledown Mountains, getting a good view of Irish fields and roads and fences as I went up, and a very wide and extensive view of the country after I had reached the summit, and improving the atmosphere of my physical tenement amazingly. These mountains have no trees or bushes or other growth than a harsh prickly heather, about a foot high, which begins exactly at the foot of the mountain. You are walking on smooth, fine meadow land, when you leap a fence and there is the heather. On the highest point of this mountain, and on the highest point of all the mountains around, was a low stone mound, which I was puzzled to know the meaning of. Standing there, the country rolled away beneath me under a cold, gray November sky, and, as was the case with the English landscape, looked singularly desolate, — the desolation of a dearth of human homes, industrial centres, families, workers, and owners of the soil. Few roads, scarce ever a vehicle, no barns, no groups of bright, well-ordered buildings, indeed no farms and neighborhoods and schoolhouses, but a wide spread of rich, highly cultivated country, with here and there, visible to close scrutiny, small gray stone houses with thatched roofs, the abodes of poverty and wretchedness. A recent English writer says the first thing that struck him in American landscape-painting was the absence of man and the domestic animals from the pictures, and the preponderance of rude, wild nature; and his first view of this country seems to have made the same impression. But it is certainly true that the traveler through any of our older States will see ten houses, rural habitations, to one in England or Ireland, though, as a matter of course, nature here looks much less domesticated, and much less expressive of human occupancy and contact. The Old World people have clung to the soil closer and more lovingly than we do. The ground has been more precious. They have had none to waste, and have made the most of every inch of it. Wherever they have touched they have taken root and thriven as best they could. Then the American is more cosmopolitan and less domestic. He is not so local in his feelings and attachments. He does not bestow himself upon the earth or upon his home as his ancestors did. He feathers his nest very little. Why should he? He may migrate tomorrow and build another. He is like the passenger pigeon that lays its eggs and rears its young upon a little platform of bare twigs. Our poverty and nakedness is in this respect, I think, beyond dispute. There is nothing nest-like about our homes, either in their interiors or exteriors. Even wealth and taste and foreign aids rarely attain that cozy, mellowing atmosphere that pervades not only the lowly birthplaces but the halls and manor houses of older lands. And what do our farms represent but so much real estate, so much cash value?
Only where man loves the soil, and nestles to it closely and long, will it take on this beneficent and human look which foreign travelers miss in our landscape; and only where homes are built with fondness and emotion, and in obedience to the social, paternal, and domestic instincts, will they hold the charm and radiate and be warm with the feeling I have described.
And, while I am upon the subject, I will add that European cities differ from ours in this same particular. They have a homelier character, — more the air of dwelling-places, the abodes of men drawn together for other purposes than traffic. People actually live in them, and find life sweet and festal. But what does our greatest city, New York, express besides commerce or politics, or what other reason has it for its existence? This is, of course, in a measure the result of the modern worldly and practical business spirit which more and more animates all nations, and which led Carlyle to say of his own countrymen that they were becoming daily more "flat, stupid, and mammonish." Yet I am persuaded that in our case it is traceable also to the leanness and depletion of our social and convivial instincts, and to the fact that the material cares of life are more serious and engrossing with us than with any other people.
I spent part of a day at Cork, wandering about the town, threading my way through the back streets and alleys, and seeing life reduced to fewer makeshifts than I had ever before dreamed of. I went through, or rather skirted, a kind of secondhand market, where the most sorry and dilapidated articles of clothing and household utensils were offered for sale, and where the cobblers were cobbling up old shoes that would hardly hold together. Then the wretched old women one sees, without any sprinkling of young ones, — youth and age alike bloomless and unlovely.
In a meadow on the hills that encompass the city, I found the American dandelion in bloom, and some large red clover, and started up some skylarks as I might start up the field sparrows in our own uplying fields.
Is the magpie a Celt and a Catholic? I saw not one in England, but plenty of them in France, and again when I reached Ireland.
At Queenstown I awaited the steamer from Liverpool, and about nine o'clock in the morning was delighted to see her long black form moving up the bay. She came to anchor about a mile or two out, and a little tug was in readiness to take us off. A score or more of emigrants, each with a bag and a box, had been waiting all the morning at the wharf. When the time of embarkation arrived, the agent stepped aboard the tug and called out their names one by one, when Bridget and Catherine and Patrick and Michael, and the rest, came aboard, received their tickets, and passed "forward," with a half-frightened, half-bewildered look. But not much emotion was displayed until the boat began to move off, when the tears fell freely, and they continued to fall faster and faster, and the sobs to come thicker and thicker, until, as the faces of friends began to fade on the wharf, both men and women burst out into a loud, unrestrained bawl. This sudden demonstration of grief seemed to frighten the children and smaller fry, who up to this time had been very jovial; but now, suspecting something was wrong, they all broke out in a most pitiful chorus, forming an anti-climax to the wail of their parents that was quite amusing, and that seemed to have its effect upon the "children of a larger growth," for they instantly hushed their lamentations and turned their attention toward the great steamer. There was a rugged but bewildered old granny among them, on her way to join her daughter somewhere in the interior of New York, who seemed to regard me with a kindred eye, and toward whom, I confess, I felt some family affinity. Before we had got halfway to the vessel, the dear old creature missed a sheet from her precious bundle of worldly effects, and very confidentially told me that her suspicions pointed to the stoker, a bristling, sooty "wild Irishman." The stoker resented the insinuation, and I overheard him berating the old lady in Irish so sharply and threateningly (I had no doubt of his guilt) that she was quite frightened, and ready to retract the charge to hush the man up. She seemed to think her troubles had just begun. If they behaved thus to her on the little tug, what would they not do on board the great black steamer itself? So when she got separated from her luggage in getting aboard the vessel, her excitement was great, and I met her following about the man whom she had accused of filching her bed linen, as if he must have the clew to the lost bed itself. Her face brightened when she saw me, and, giving me a terribly hard wink and a most expressive nudge, she said she wished I would keep near her a little. This I did, and soon had the pleasure of leaving her happy and reassured beside her box and bundle.
The passage home, though a rough one, was cheerfully and patiently borne. I found a compound motion, — the motion of a screw steamer, a roll and a plunge — less trying to my head than the simple rocking or pitching of the side-wheeled Scotia. One motion was in a measure a foil to the other. My brain, acted upon by two forces, was compelled to take the hypothenuse, and I think the concussion was considerably diminished thereby. The vessel was forever trembling upon the verge of immense watery chasms that opened now under her port bow, now under her starboard, and that almost made one catch his breath as he looked into them; yet the noble ship had a way of skirting them or striding across them that was quite wonderful. Only five days was, I compelled to "hole up" in my stateroom, hibernating, weathering the final rude shock of the Atlantic. Part of this time I was capable of feeling a languid interest in the oscillations of my coat suspended from a hook in the door. Back and forth, back and forth, all day long, vibrated this black pendulum, at long intervals touching the sides of the room, indicating great lateral or diagonal motion of the ship. The great waves, I observed, go in packs like wolves. Now one would pounce upon her, then another, then another, in quick succession, making the ship strain every nerve to shake them off. Then she would glide along quietly for some minutes, and my coat would register but a few degrees in its imaginary arc, when another band of the careering demons would cross our path and harass us as before. Sometimes they would pound and thump on the sides of the vessel like immense sledge-hammers, beginning away up toward the bows and quickly running down her whole length, jarring, raking, and venting their wrath in a very audible manner; or a wave would rake along the side with a sharp, ringing, metallic sound, like a huge spear-point seeking a vulnerable place; or some hard-backed monster would rise up from the deep and grate and bump the whole length of the keel, forcibly suggesting hidden rocks and consequent wreck and ruin.
Then it seems there is always some biggest wave to be met somewhere on the voyage, — a monster billow that engulfs disabled vessels, and sometimes carries away parts of the rigging of the stanchest. This big wave struck us the third day out about midnight, and nearly threw us all out of our berths, and careened the ship over so far that it seemed to take her last pound of strength to right herself up again. There was a slamming of doors, a rush of crockery, and a screaming of women, heard above the general din and confusion, while the steerage passengers thought their last hour had come. The vessel before us encountered this giant wave during a storm in mid-ocean, and was completely buried beneath it; one of the officers was swept over board, the engines suddenly stopped, and there was a terrible moment during which it seemed uncertain whether the vessel would shake off the sea or go to the bottom.
Besides observing the oscillations of my coat, I had at times a stupid satisfaction in seeing my two new London trunks belabor each other about my stateroom floor. Nearly every day they would break from their fastenings under my berth and start on a wild race for the opposite side of the room. Naturally enough, the little trunk would always get the start of the big one, but the big one followed close, and sometimes caught the little one in a very, uncomfortable manner. Once a knife and fork and a breakfast plate slipped off the sofa and joined in, the race; but, if not distanced, they got sadly the worst of it, especially the plate. But the carpet had the most reason to complain. Two or three turns sufficed to loosen it from the floor, when, shoved to one side, the two trunks took turns in butting it. I used to allow this sport to go on till it grew monotonous, when I would alternately shout and ring until "Robert" appeared and restored order.
The condition of certain picture-frames and vases and other frail articles among my effects, when I reached home, called to mind not very pleasantly this trunken frolic.
It is impossible not to sympathize with the ship in her struggles with the waves. You are lying there wedged into your berth, and she seems indeed a thing of life and conscious power. She is built entirely of iron, is 500 feet long, and, besides other freight, carries 2500 tons of railroad iron, which lies down there flat in her bottom, a dead, indigestible weight, so unlike a cargo in bulk; yet she is a quickened spirit for all that. You feel every wave that strikes her; you feel the sea bearing her down; she has run her nose into one of those huge swells, and a solid blue wall of water tons in weight comes over her bows and floods her forward deck; she braces herself, every rod and rivet and timber seems to lend its support; you almost expect to see the wooden walls of your room grow rigid with muscular contraction; she trembles from stem to stern, she recovers, she breaks the gripe of her antagonist, and, rising up, shakes the sea from her with a kind of gleeful wrath; I hear the torrents of water rush along the lower decks, and, finding a means of escape, pour back into the sea, glad to get away on any terms, and I say, "Noble ship! you are indeed a god!"
I wanted to see a first-class storm at sea, and perhaps ought to be satisfied with the heavy blow or hurricane we had when off Sable Island, but I confess I was not, though, by the lying to of the vessel and the frequent soundings, it was evident there was danger about. A dense fog uprose, which did not drift like a land fog, but was as immovable as iron; it was like a spell, a misty enchantment; and out of this fog came the wind, a steady, booming blast, that smote the ship over on her side and held her there, and howled in the rigging like a chorus of fiends. The waves did not know which way to flee; they were heaped up and then scattered in a twinkling. I thought of the terrible line of one of our poets: —"The spasm of the sky and the shatter of the sea."
The sea looked wrinkled and old and oh, so pitiless! I had stood long before Turner's "Shipwreck" in the National Gallery in London, and this sea recalled his, and I appreciated more than ever the artist's great powers.
These storms, it appears, are rotary in their wild dance and promenade up and down the seas. "Look the wind squarely in the teeth," said an ex-sea-captain among the passengers, "and eight points to the right in the northern hemisphere will be the centre of the storm, and eight points to the left in the southern hemisphere." I remembered that, in Victor Hugo's terrible dynamics, storms revolved in the other direction in the northern hemisphere, or followed the hands of a watch, while south of the equator they no doubt have ways equally original.
Late in the afternoon the storm abated, the fog was suddenly laid, and, looking toward the setting sun, I saw him athwart the wildest, most desolate scene in which it was ever my fortune to behold the face of that god. The sea was terribly agitated, and the endless succession of leaping, frothing waves between me and the glowing west formed a picture I shall not soon forget.
I think the excuse that is often made in behalf of American literature, namely, that our people are too busy with other things yet, and will show the proper aptitude in this field, too, as soon as leisure is afforded, is fully justified by events of daily occurrence. Throw a number of them together without anything else to do, and they at once communicate to each other the itch of authorship. Confine them on board an ocean steamer, and by the third or fourth day a large number of them will break out all over with a sort of literary rash that nothing will assuage but some newspaper or journalistic enterprise which will give the poems and essays and jokes with which they are surcharged a chance to be seen and heard of men. I doubt if the like ever occurs among travelers of any other nationality. Englishmen or Frenchmen or Germans want something more warm and human, if less "refined;" but the average American, when in company, likes nothing so well as an opportunity to show the national trait of "smartness." There is not a bit of danger that we shall ever relapse into barbarism while so much latent literature lies at the bottom of our daily cares and avocations, and is sure to come to the surface the moment the latter are suspended or annulled!
While abreast of New England, and I don't know how many miles at sea, as I turned in my deck promenade, I distinctly scented the land, a subtle, delicious odor of farms and homesteads, warm and human, that floated on the wild sea air, a promise and a token. The broad red line that had been slowly creeping across our chart for so many weary days, indicating the path of the ship, had now completely bridged the chasm, and had got a good purchase down under the southern coast of New England; and according to the reckoning we ought to have made Sandy Hook that night; but though the position of the vessel was no doubt theoretically all right, yet practically she proved to be much farther out at sea, for all that afternoon and night she held steadily on her course, and not till next morning did the coast of Long Island, like a thin, broken cloud just defined on the horizon, come into view. But before many hours we had passed the Hook, and were moving slowly up the bay in the midday splendor of the powerful and dazzling light of the New World sun. And how good things looked to me after even so brief an absence! — the brilliancy, the roominess, the deep transparent blue of the sky, the clear, sharp outlines, the metropolitan splendor of New York, and especially of Broadway; and as I walked up that great thoroughfare, and noted the familiar physiognomy and the native nonchalance and independence, I experienced the delight that only the returned traveler can feel, — the instant preference of one's own country and countrymen over all the rest of the world.