E.V. Lucas

In essentials America is American, but when it comes to inessentials, to trimmings, her dependence on old England was noticeable again and again as I walked about New York. The fashion which, at the moment, the print shops were fostering was for our racing, hunting and coaching coloured prints of a century ago, while in the gallery of the distinguished little Grolier Club I found an exhibition of the work of Randolph Caldecott and Kate Greenaway.

The devout Hindu knows in Benares the height of ecstasy: but, if I am typical, the European experiences there both discomfort and inquietude. Nowhere else in India did I feel so foreign, so alien. To be of cool Christian traditions and an Occidental, an inquisitive sightseer among these fervent pilgrims intent upon their pious duties and rapt in exaltation and unthinking inflexible belief, was in itself disconcerting, almost to the point of shame; while the pilgrims were so remarkably of a different world, a different era, that one felt lost.

My first experience of democracy-in-being followed swiftly upon boarding the steamboat for San Francisco, when "Show this man Number 231" was the American steward's command to a cabin boy. I had no objection to being called a man: far from it; but after years of being called a gentleman it was startling. This happened at Yokohama; and when, in the Customs House at San Francisco, a porter wheeling a truck broke through a queue of us waiting to obtain our quittances, with the careless warning, "Out of the way, fellers!" I knew that here was democracy indeed.

All visitors to New York speak of the exhilaration of its air, and I can but repeat their testimony. After the first few days the idea of going to bed became an absurdity.

Calcutta and Bombay are strangely different - so different that they can only be contrasted. Bombay, first and foremost, has the sea, and I can think of nothing more lovely than the sunsets that one watches from the lawn of the Yacht Club or from the promenade on Warder Road. Calcutta has no sea - nothing but a very difficult tidal river. Calcutta, again, has no Malabar Hill. But then Bombay has no open space to compare with the Maidan; and for all its crowded bazaars it has no street so diversified and interesting as Harrison Road. It has no Chinatown.

It was in San Francisco that I learned - and very quickly - that it is as necessary to visit America in order to know what Americans are like as it is to leave one's own country in order to know more about that. Americans when abroad are less hearty, less revealing. They are either suffering from a constraint or an over-assertiveness; and both moods may be due to not being at home. In neither case are they so natural as at home. I suppose that on soil not our own we all tend to be a little over-anxious to proclaim our nationality, to maintain the distinction.

America is a land of newspapers, and the newspapers are very largely the same. To a certain extent many of them are exactly the same, for the vastness of the country makes it possible to syndicalise various features, so that you find Walt Mason's sagacious and merry and punctual verse, printed to look like prose but never disappointing the ear, in one of the journals that you buy wherever you are, in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Chicago or New York; and Mr. Montagu's topical rhymes in another; and the daily adventures of Mutt and Jeff, who are national heroes, in a third.

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