CHAPTER XIV. AMERICAN HOTELS.
I find it impossible to resist the subject of inns. As I have gone on with my journey, I have gone on with my book, and have spoken here and there of American hotels as I have encountered them. But in the States the hotels are so large an institution, having so much closer and wider a bearing on social life than they do in any other country, that I feel myself bound to treat them in a separate chapter as a great national arrangement in themselves. They are quite as much thought of in the nation as the legislature, or judicature, or literature of the country; and any falling off in them, or any improvement in the accommodation given, would strike the community as forcibly as any change in the Constitution or alteration in the franchise.
Moreover, I consider myself as qualified to write a chapter on hotels - not only on the hotels of America, but on hotels generally. I have myself been much too frequently a sojourner at hotels. I think I know what a hotel should be, and what it should not be; and am almost inclined to believe, in my pride, that I could myself fill the position of a landlord with some chance of social success, though probably with none of satisfactory pecuniary results.
Of all hotels known to me, I am inclined to think that the Swiss are the best. The things wanted at a hotel are, I fancy, mainly as follows: a clean bed-room, with a good and clean bed, and with it also plenty of water. Good food, well dressed and served at convenient hours, which hours should on occasions be allowed to stretch themselves. Wines that shall be drinkable. Quick attendance. Bills that shall not be absolutely extortionate, smiling faces, and an absence of foul smells. There are many who desire more than this - who expect exquisite cookery, choice wines, subservient domestics, distinguished consideration, and the strictest economy; but they are uneducated travelers, who are going through the apprenticeship of their hotel lives; who may probably never become free of the travelers' guild, or learn to distinguish that which they may fairly hope to attain from that which they can never accomplish.
Taking them as a whole, I think that the Swiss hotels are the best. They are perhaps a little close in the matter of cold water, but even as to this they generally give way to pressure. The pressure, however, must not be violent, but gentle rather, and well continued. Their bed-rooms are excellent. Their cookery is good, and to the outward senses is cleanly. The people are civil. The whole work of the house is carried on upon fixed rules which tend to the comfort of the establishment. They are not cheap, and not always quite honest. But the exorbitance or dishonesty of their charges rarely exceeds a certain reasonable scale, and hardly ever demands the bitter misery of a remonstrance.
The inns of the Tyrol are, I think, the cheapest I have known - affording the traveler what he requires for half the price, or less than half demanded in Switzerland. But the other half is taken out in stench and nastiness. As tourists scatter themselves more profusely, the prices of the Tyrol will no doubt rise. Let us hope that increased prices will bring with them besoms, scrubbing- brushes, and other much-needed articles of cleanliness.
The inns of the north of Italy are very good; and, indeed, the Italian inns throughout, as far as I know them, are much better than the name they bear. The Italians are a civil, kindly people, and do for you, at any rate, the best they can. Perhaps the unwary traveler may be cheated. Ignorant of the language, he may be called on to pay more than the man who speaks it and who can bargain in the Italian fashion as to price. It has often been my lot, I doubt not, to be so cheated; but then I have been cheated with a grace that has been worth all the money. The ordinary prices of Italian inns are by no means high.
I have seldom thoroughly liked the inns of Germany which I have known. They are not clean, and water is very scarce. Smiles, too, are generally wanting, and I have usually fancied myself to be regarded as a piece of goods out of which so much profit was to be made.
The dearest hotels I know are the French - and certainly not the best. In the provinces they are by no means so cleanly as those of Italy. Their wines are generally abominable, and their cookery often disgusting. In Paris grand dinners may no doubt be had, and luxuries of every description - except the luxury of comfort. Cotton-velvet sofas and ormolu clocks stand in the place of convenient furniture; and logs of wood, at a franc a log, fail to impart to you the heat which the freezing cold of a Paris winter demands. They used to make good coffee in Paris, but even that is a thing of the past. I fancy that they import their brandy from England and manufacture their own cigars. French wines you may get good at a Paris hotel; but you would drink them as good and much cheaper if you bought them in London and took them with you.
The worst hotels I know are in the Havana. Of course I do not speak here of chance mountain huts, or small, far-off roadside hostels, in which the traveler may find himself from time to time. All such are to be counted apart, and must be judged on their merits by the circumstances which surround them. But with reference to places of wide resort, nothing can beat the hotels of the Havana in filth, discomfort, habits of abomination, and absence of everything which the traveler desires. All the world does not go to the Havana, and the subject is not therefore one of general interest. But in speaking of hotels at large, so much I find myself bound to say.
In all the countries to which I have alluded the guests of the house are expected to sit down together at one table. Conversation is at any rate possible; and there is the show, if not the reality, of society.