CHAPTER XVI. CONCLUSION.
In one of the earlier chapters of this volume - now some seven or eight chapters past - I brought myself on my travels back to Boston. It was not that my way homeward lay by that route, seeing that my fate required me to sail from New York; but I could not leave the country without revisiting my friends in Massachusetts. I have told how I was there in the sleighing time, and how pleasant were the mingled slush and frost of the snowy winter. In the morning the streets would be hard and crisp and the stranger would surely fall if he were not prepared to walk on glaciers. In the afternoon he would be wading through rivers, and, if properly armed at all points with India-rubber, would enjoy the rivers as he waded. But the air would be always kindly, and the east wind there, if it was east as I was told, had none of that power of dominion which makes us all so submissive to its behests in London. For myself, I do not believe that the real east wind blows elsewhere.
And when the snow went in Boston I went with it. The evening before I left I watched them as they carted away the dirty uncouth blocks which had been broken up with pickaxes in Washington Street, and was melancholy as I reflected that I too should no longer be known in the streets. My weeks in Boston had not been very many, but nevertheless there were haunts there which I knew as though my feet had trodden them for years. There were houses to which I could have gone with my eyes blindfold; doors of which the latches were familiar to my hands; faces which I knew so well that they had ceased to put on for me the fictitious smiles of courtesy. Faces, houses, doors, and haunts, - where are they now? For me they are as though they had never been. They are among the things which one would fain remember as one remembers a dream. Look back on it as a vision and it is all pleasant; but if you realize your vision and believe your dream to be a fact, all your pleasure is obliterated by regret.
I know that I shall never again be at Boston, and that I have said that about the Americans which would make me unwelcome as a guest if I were there. It is in this that my regret consists; for this reason that I would wish to remember so many social hours as though they had been passed in sleep. They who will expect blessings from me, will say among themselves that I have cursed them. As I read the pages which I have written, I feel that words which I intended for blessings when I prepared to utter them have gone nigh to turn themselves into curses.
I have ever admired the United States as a nation. I have loved their liberty, their prowess, their intelligence, and their progress. I have sympathized with a people who themselves have had no sympathy with passive security and inaction. I have felt confidence in them, and have known, as it were, that their industry must enable them to succeed as a people while their freedom would insure to them success as a nation. With these convictions I went among them wishing to write of them good words - words which might be pleasant for them to read, while they might assist perhaps in producing a true impression of them here at home. But among my good words there are so many which are bitter, that I fear I shall have failed in my object as regards them. And it seems to me, as I read once more my own pages, that in saying evil things of my friends I have used language stronger than I intended; whereas I have omitted to express myself with emphasis when I have attempted to say good things. Why need I have told of the mud of Washington, or have exposed the nakedness of Cairo? Why did I speak with such eager enmity of those poor women in the New York cars, who never injured me, now that I think of it? Ladies of New York, as I write this, the words which were written among you are printed and cannot be expunged; but I tender to you my apologies from my home in England. And that Van Wyck Committee - might I not have left those contractors to be dealt with by their own Congress, seeing that that Congress committee was by no means inclined to spare them? I might have kept my pages free from gall, and have sent my sheets to the press unhurt by the conviction that I was hurting those who had dealt kindly by me! But what then? Was any people ever truly served by eulogy; or an honest cause furthered by undue praise?
O my friends with thin skins - and here I protest that a thick skin is a fault not to be forgiven in a man or a nation, whereas a thin skin is in itself a merit, if only the wearer of it will be the master and not the slave of his skin - O my friends with thin skins, ye whom I call my cousins and love as brethren, will ye not forgive me these harsh words that I have spoken? They have been spoken in love - with a true love, a brotherly love, a love that has never been absent from the heart while the brain was coining them. I had my task to do, and I could not take the pleasant and ignore the painful. It may perhaps be that as a friend I had better not have written either good or bad. But no! To say that would indeed be to speak calumny of your country. A man may write of you truly, and yet write that which you would read with pleasure; only that your skins are so thin. The streets of Washington are muddy and her ways are desolate. The nakedness of Cairo is very naked. And those ladies of New York - is it not to be confessed that they are somewhat imperious in their demands? As for the Van Wyck Committee, have I not repeated the tale which you have told yourselves? And is it not well that such tales should be told?
And yet ye will not forgive me; because your skins are thin, and because the praise of others is the breath of your nostrils.