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قراءة كتاب American Sketches

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‏اللغة: English
American Sketches

American Sketches

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دار النشر: Project Gutenberg
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uniformity, both in type and character. And by what traits do we recognise the citizen of New York? Of course there is no question here of the cultivated gentleman, who is familiar in Paris and London, and whose hospitality in his own land is an amiable reproach to our own too frequent thoughtlessness, but of the simpler class which confronts the traveller in street and train, in hotel and restaurant. The railway guard, the waiter, the cab-driver—these are the men upon whose care the comfort of the stranger depends in every land, and whose tact and temper are no bad index of the national character. In New York, then, you are met everywhere by a sort of urbane familiarity. The man who does you a service, for which you pay him, is neither civil nor uncivil. He contrives, in a way which is by no means unpleasant, to put himself on an equality with you. With a mild surprise you find yourself taking for granted what in your own land you would resent bitterly. Not even the curiosity of the nigger, who brushes your coat with a whisk, appears irksome. For the habit of years has enabled white man and black to assume a light and easy manner, which in an Englishman, born and trained to another tradition, would appear impertinence.

And familiarity is not the only trait which separates the plain man of New York from the plain man of London. The New Yorker looks upon the foreigner with the eye of patronage. To his superior intelligence the wandering stranger is a kind of natural, who should not be allowed to roam alone and at large. Before you have been long in the land you find yourself shepherded, and driven with an affability, not unmixed with contempt, into the right path. Again, you do not resent it, and yet are surprised at your own forbearance. A little thought, however, explains the assumed superiority. The citizen of New York has an ingenuous pride and pleasure in his own city and in his own prowess, which nothing can daunt. He is convinced, especially if he has never travelled beyond his own borders, that he engrosses the virtue and intelligence of the world The driver of a motor-car assured me, with a quiet certitude which brooked no contradiction, that England was cut up into sporting estates for the "lords," and that there the working man was doomed to an idle servility. "But," said he, "there is no room for bums here." This absolute disbelief in other countries, combined with a perfect confidence in their own, has persuaded the citizens of New York to look down with a cold and pitiful eye upon those who are so unfortunate as to be born under an effete monarchy. There is no bluster in their attitude, no insistence. The conviction of superiority is far too great for that. They belong to the greatest country upon earth; they alone enjoy the true blessings of freedom; they alone understand the dignity of labour and the spirit of in-dependence; and they have made up their minds kindly but firmly that you shall not forget it.

Thus you carry away from New York a memory of a lively air, gigantic buildings, incessant movement, sporadic elegance, and ingenuous patronage. And when you have separated your impressions, the most vivid and constant impression that remains is of a city where the means of life conquer life itself, whose citizens die hourly of the rage to live.





BOSTON.

America, the country of contrasts, can show none more sudden or striking than that between New York and Boston. In New York progress and convenience reach their zenith. A short journey carries you back into the England of the eighteenth century. The traveller, lately puzzled by overhead railways and awed by the immensity of sky-scrapers, no sooner reaches Boston than he finds himself once more in a familiar environment. The wayward simplicity of the city has little in common with the New World. Its streets are not mere hollow tubes, through which financiers may be hastily precipitated to their quest for gold. They wind and twist like the streets in the country towns of England and France. To the old architects of Boston, indeed, a street was something more than a thoroughfare. The houses which flanked it took their places by whim or hazard, and were not compelled to follow a hard immovable line. And so they possess all the beauty which is born of accident and surprise. You turn a corner, and know not what will confront you; you dive down a side street, and are uncertain into what century you will be thrust. Here is the old wooden house, which recalls the first settlers; there the fair red-brick of a later period. And everywhere is the diversity which comes of growth, and which proves that time is a better contriver of effects than the most skilful architect.

The constant mark of Boston is a demure gaiety. An air of quiet festivity encompasses the streets. The houses are elegant, but sternly ordered. If they belong to the colonial style, they are exquisitely symmetrical. There is no pilaster without its fellow; no window that is not nicely balanced by another of self-same shape and size. The architects, who learned their craft from the designs of Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren, had no ambition to express their own fancy. They were loyally obedient to the tradition of the masters, and the houses which they planned, plain in their neatness, are neither pretentious nor inappropriate. Nowhere in Boston will you find the extravagant ingenuity which makes New York ridiculous; nowhere will you be disturbed by an absurd mimicry of exotic styles; nowhere are you asked to wonder at mountainous blocks of stone. Boston is not a city of giants, but of men who love their comfort, and who, in spite of Puritan ancestry, do not disdain to live in beautiful surroundings. In other words, the millionaire has not laid his iron hand upon New England, and, until he come, Boston may still boast of its elegance.

The pride of Boston is Beacon Street, surely one among the most majestic streets in the world. It recalls Piccadilly and the frontage of the Green Park. Its broad spaces and the shade of its dividing trees are of the natural beauty which time alone can confer, and its houses are worthy its setting. I lunched at the Somerset Club, in a white-panelled room, and it needed clams and soft-shell crabs to convince me that I was in a new land, and not in an English country-house. All was of another time and of a familiar place—the service, the furniture, the aspect. And was it possible to regard our sympathetic hosts as strange in blood or speech?

The Mall, in Beacon Street, if it is the pride, is also the distinguishing mark of Boston. For Boston is a city of parks and trees. The famous Common, as those might remember who believe that America sprang into being in a night, has been sacred for nearly three hundred years. Since 1640 it has been the centre of Boston. It has witnessed the tragedies and comedies of an eventful history. "There," wrote an English traveller as early as 1675, "the gallants walk with their marmalet-madams, as we do in Moorfields."

There malefactors were hanged; there the witches suffered in the time of their persecution; and it is impossible to forget, as you walk its ample spaces, the many old associations which it brings with it from the past.

For it is to the past that Boston belongs. No city is more keenly conscious of its origin. The flood of foreign immigration has not engulfed it. Its memories, like its names, are still of England, New and Old. The spirit of America, eagerly looking forward, cruelly acquisitive, does not seem to fulfil it The sentiment of its beginning has outlasted even the sentiment of a poignant agitation. It resembles an old man thinking of what was, and turning over with careful hand the relics of days gone by. If in one aspect Boston is a centre of commerce and enterprise, in another it is a patient worshipper of tradition, It regards the few old buildings which have survived the shocks of time with a respect which an Englishman can easily understand, but

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