Looking back on it all I realise that America never struck me as a new country, although its inhabitants often seemed to be a new people. The cities are more mature than the citizens. New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington - all have an air of permanence and age. The buildings, even the most fantastic, suggest indigenousness, or at least stability; nor would the presence of more ancient structures increase this effect. To the eye of the ordinary Englishman accustomed to work in what we call the City, in Fleet Street, in the Strand, in Piccadilly, or in Oxford Street, New York would not appear to be a younger place than London, and Boston might easily strike him as older. Nor is London more than a little older, except in spots, such as the Tower and the Temple and the Abbey, and that little Tudor row in Holborn, all separated by vast tracts of modernity. Indeed, I would almost go farther and say that London sets up an illusion of being newer even than New York by reason of its more disturbing street traffic both in the roads and on the footways, and the prevalence of the gaily coloured omnibuses which thunder along so many thoroughfares in notable contrast with the sedate and sober vehicles that serve Fifth Avenue and are hardly seen elsewhere.
Meanwhile an illusion of antiquity is set up by New York's habit of commingling business houses and private residences, which surely belongs to an older order of society. In London we have done away with such a blend. Our nearest approach to Fifth Avenue is, I suppose, Regent Street; but there are no mansions among the shops of Regent Street. Our shops are there and our mansions are elsewhere, far away, in what we call residential quarters - such as Park Lane, Queen's Gate, Mayfair, the Bayswater Road, and Grosvenor Square. To turn out of Fifth Avenue into the quiet streets where people live is to receive a distinct impression of sedateness such as New York is never supposed to convey. One has the same feeling in the other great American cities.
But when it comes to their inhabitants there are to the English eye fewer signs of maturity. I have never been able to get rid of the idea that every one I have met in America, no matter how grave a senior, instead of being really and self-consciously in the thick of life, is only getting ready to begin. Perhaps this is due in part to the pleasure - the excitement almost - which American business men - and all Americans are business men - take in their work. They not merely do it, but they enjoy doing it and they watch themselves doing it. They seem to have a knack of withdrawing aside and observing themselves as from the stalls, not without applause. In other words, they dramatise continually. Now, one does not do this when one is old - it is a childish game - and it is another proof that they are younger than we, who do not enjoy our work, and indeed, most of us, are ashamed of it and want the world to believe that we live like the lilies on private means.
Similarly, many Americans seem, when they talk, to be two persons: one the talker, and the other the listener charmed by the quality of his discourse. There is nothing detrimental in such duplicity. Indeed, I think I have a very real envy of it. But one of the defects of the listening habit is perhaps to make them too rhetorical, too verbose. It is odd that the nation that has given us so much epigrammatic slang and the telegraph and the telephone and the typewriter should have so little of what might be called intellectual short-hand. But so it is. Too many Americans are remorseless when they are making themselves clear.
Yet the passion for printed idiomatic sententiousness and arresting trade-notices is visible all the time. You see it in the newspapers and in the shops. I found a children's millinery shop in New York with this laconic indication of its scope, in permanent letters, on the plate-glass window: "Lids for Kids." A New York undertaker, I am told, has affixed to all his hearses the too legible legend: "You may linger, but I'll get you yet."
When it comes to descriptive new words, coined rapidly to meet occasions, we English are nowhere compared with the Americans. Could there be anything better than the term "Nearbeer" to reveal at a blow the character of a substitute for ale? I take off my hat, too, to "crape-hanger," which leaves "kill-joy" far in the rear. But "optience" for a cinema audience, which sees but does not hear, though ingenious, is less admirable.
Although I found the walls of business offices in New York and elsewhere decorated with pithy counsel to callers, and discouragements to irrelevance, such as "Come to the point but don't camp on it," "To hell with yesterday," and so forth, I am very doubtful if with all these suggestions of practical address and Napoleonic efficiency the American business man is as quick and decisive as ours can be. There is more autobiography talked in American offices than in English; more getting ready to begin.
I have, however, no envy of the American man's inability to loaf and invite his soul, as his great democratic poet was able to do. I think that this unfamiliarity with armchair life is a misfortune. That article of furniture, we must suppose, is for older civilisations, where men have either, after earning the right to recline, taken their ease gracefully, or have inherited their fortune and are partial to idleness. It consorts ill with those who are still either continually and restlessly in pursuit of the dollar or are engaged in the occupation of watching dollars automatically arrive.