CHAPTER XIV. NEW YORK.
So much I say, being anxious to scrape off some of that daub of black paint with which I have smeared the face of my New Yorker; but not desiring to scrape it all off. For myself, I do not love to live amid the clink of gold, and never have "a good time," as the Americans say, when the price of shares and percentages come up in conversation. That state of men's minds here which I have endeavored to explain tends, I think, to make New York disagreeable. A stranger there who has no great interest in percentages soon finds himself anxious to escape. By degrees he perceives that he is out of his element, and had better go away. He calls at the bank, and when he shows himself ignorant as to the price at which his sovereigns should be done, he is conscious that he is ridiculous. He is like a man who goes out hunting for the first time at forty years of age. He feels himself to be in the wrong place, and is anxious to get out of it. Such was my experience of New York, at each of the visits that I paid to it.
But yet, I say again, no other American city is so intensely American as New York. It is generally considered that the inhabitants of New England, the Yankees properly so called, have the American characteristics of physiognomy in the fullest degree. The lantern jaws, the thin and lithe body, the dry face on which there has been no tint of the rose since the baby's long-clothes were first abandoned, the harsh, thick hair, the thin lips, the intelligent eyes, the sharp voice with the nasal twang - not altogether harsh, though sharp and nasal - all these traits are supposed to belong especially to the Yankee. Perhaps it was so once, but at present they are, I think, more universally common in New York than in any other part of the States. Go to Wall Street, the front of the Astor House, and the regions about Trinity Church, and you will find them in their fullest perfection.
What circumstances of blood or food, of early habit or subsequent education, have created for the latter-day American his present physiognomy? It is as completely marked, as much his own, as is that of any race under the sun that has bred in and in for centuries. But the American owns a more mixed blood than any other race known. The chief stock is English, which is itself so mixed that no man can trace its ramifications. With this are mingled the bloods of Ireland, Holland, France, Sweden, and Germany. All this has been done within but a few years, so that the American may be said to have no claim to any national type of face. Nevertheless, no man has a type of face so clearly national as the American. He is acknowledged by it all over the continent of Europe, and on his own side of the water is gratified by knowing that he is never mistaken for his English visitor. I think it comes from the hot- air pipes and from dollar worship. In the Jesuit his mode of dealing with things divine has given a peculiar cast of countenance; and why should not the American be similarly moulded by his special aspirations? As to the hot-air pipes, there can, I think, be no doubt that to them is to be charged the murder of all rosy cheeks throughout the States. If the effect was to be noticed simply in the dry faces of the men about Wall Street, I should be very indifferent to the matter. But the young ladies of Fifth Avenue are in the same category. The very pith and marrow of life is baked out of their young bones by the hot-air chambers to which they are accustomed. Hot air is the great destroyer of American beauty.
In saying that there is very little to be seen in New York I have also said that there is no way of seeing that little. My assertion amounts to this; that there are no cabs. To the reading world at large this may not seem to be much, but let the reading world go to New York, and it will find out how much the deficiency means. In London, in Paris, in Florence, in Rome, in the Havana, or at Grand Cairo, the cab-driver or attendant does not merely drive the cab or belabor the donkey, but he is the visitor's easiest and cheapest guide. In London, the Tower, Westminster Abbey, and Madame Tussaud are found by the stranger without difficulty, and almost without a thought, because the cab-driver knows the whereabouts and the way. Space is moreover annihilated, and the huge distances of the English metropolis are brought within the scope of mortal power. But in New York there is no such institution.