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Ch. 2: American Politics

I HAVE been watching machinery in repose after reading about
machinery in action.

An excellent gentleman, who bears a name honored in the magazine,
writes, much as Disraeli orated, of "the sublime instincts of an
ancient people," the certainty with which they can be trusted to
manage their own affairs in their own way, and the speed with
which they are making for all sorts of desirable goals. This he
called a statement or purview of American politics.

I went almost directly afterward to a saloon where gentlemen
interested in ward politics nightly congregate. They were not
pretty persons. Some of them were bloated, and they all swore
cheerfully till the heavy gold watch-chains on their fat stomachs
rose and fell again; but they talked over their liquor as men who
had power and unquestioned access to places of trust and profit.

The magazine writer discussed theories of government; these men
the practice. They had been there. They knew all about it.
They banged their fists on the table and spoke of political
"pulls," the vending of votes, and so forth. Theirs was not the
talk of village babblers reconstructing the affairs of the
nation, but of strong, coarse, lustful men fighting for spoil,
and thoroughly understanding the best methods of reaching it.

I listened long and intently to speech I could not understand--or
but in spots.

It was the speech of business, however. I had sense enough to
know that, and to do my laughing outside the door.

Then I began to understand why my pleasant and well-educated
hosts in San Francisco spoke with a bitter scorn of such duties
of citizenship as voting and taking an interest in the
distribution of offices. Scores of men have told me, without
false pride, that they would as soon concern themselves with the
public affairs of the city or state as rake muck with a
steam-shovel. It may be that their lofty disdain covers
selfishness, but I should be very sorry habitually to meet the
fat gentlemen with shiny top-hats and plump cigars in whose
society I have been spending the evening.

Read about politics as the cultured writer of the magazine
regards 'em, and then, and not till then, pay your respects to
the gentlemen who run the grimy reality.

I'm sick of interviewing night editors who lean their chair
against the wall, and, in response to my demand for the record of
a prominent citizen, answer: "Well, you see, he began by keeping
a saloon," etc. I prefer to believe that my informants are
treating me as in the old sinful days in India I was used to
treat the wandering globe-trotter. They declare that they speak
the truth, and the news of dog politics lately vouchsafed to me
in groggeries inclines me to believe, but I won't. The people
are much too nice to slangander as recklessly as I have been
doing.

Besides, I am hopelessly in love with about eight American
maidens--all perfectly delightful till the next one comes into
the room.

O-Toyo was a darling, but she lacked several things--conversation
for one. You cannot live on giggles. She shall remain unmarried
at Nagasaki, while I roast a battered heart before the shrine of
a big Kentucky blonde, who had for a nurse when she was little a
negro "mammy."

By consequence she has welded on California beauty, Paris
dresses, Eastern culture, Europe trips, and wild Western
originality, the queer, dreamy superstitions of the quarters, and
the result is soul-shattering. And she is but one of many stars.

Item, a maiden who believes in education and possesses it, with a
few hundred thousand dollars to boot and a taste for slumming.

Item, the leader of a sort of informal salon where girls
congregate, read papers, and daringly discuss metaphysical
problems and candy--a sloe-eyed, black-browed, imperious maiden
she.

Item, a very small maiden, absolutely without reverence, who can
in one swift sentence trample upon and leave gasping half a dozen
young men.

Item, a millionairess, burdened with her money, lonely, caustic,
with a tongue keen as a sword, yearning for a sphere, but chained
up to the rock of her vast possessions.

Item, a typewriter maiden earning her own bread in this big city,
because she doesn't think a girl ought to be a burden on her
parents, who quotes Theophile Gautier and moves through the world
manfully, much respected for all her twenty inexperienced
summers.

Item, a woman from cloud-land who has no history in the past or
future, but is discreetly of the present, and strives for the
confidences of male humanity on the grounds of "sympathy"
(methinks this is not altogether a new type).

Item, a girl in a "dive," blessed with a Greek head and eyes,
that seem to speak all that is best and sweetest in the world.
But woe is me! She has no ideas in this world or the next beyond
the consumption of beer (a commission on each bottle), and
protests that she sings the songs allotted to her nightly without
more than the vaguest notion of their meaning.

Sweet and comely are the maidens of Devonshire; delicate and of
gracious seeming those who live in the pleasant places of London;
fascinating for all their demureness the damsels of France,
clinging closely to their mothers, with large eyes wondering at
the wicked world; excellent in her own place and to those who
understand her is the Anglo-Indian "spin" in her second season;
but the girls of America are above and beyond them all. They are
clever, they can talk--yea, it is said that they think.
Certainly they have an appearance of so doing which is
delightfully deceptive.

They are original, and regard you between the brows with
unabashed eyes as a sister might look at her brother. They are
instructed, too, in the folly and vanity of the male mind, for
they have associated with "the boys" from babyhood, and can
discerningly minister to both vices or pleasantly snub the
possessor. They possess, moreover, a life among themselves,
independent of any masculine associations. They have societies
and clubs and unlimited tea-fights where all the guests are
girls. They are self-possessed, without parting with any
tenderness that is their sex-right; they understand; they can
take care of themselves; they are superbly independent. When you
ask them what makes them so charming, they say:--"It is because
we are better educated than your girls, and--and we are more
sensible in regard to men. We have good times all round, but we
aren't taught to regard every man as a possible husband. Nor is
he expected to marry the first girl he calls on regularly."

Yes, they have good times, their freedom is large, and they do
not abuse it. They can go driving with young men and receive
visits from young men to an extent that would make an English
mother wink with horror, and neither driver nor drivee has a
thought beyond the enjoyment of a good time. As certain, also,
of their own poets have said:--

"Man is fire and woman is tow,
And the devil he comes and begins to blow."

In America the tow is soaked in a solution that makes it
fire-proof, in absolute liberty and large knowledge;
consequently, accidents do not exceed the regular percentage
arranged by the devil for each class and climate under the skies.

But the freedom of the young girl has its drawbacks. She is--I
say it with all reluctance--irreverent, from her forty-dollar
bonnet to the buckles in her eighteen-dollar shoes. She talks
flippantly to her parents and men old enough to be her
grandfather. She has a prescriptive right to the society of the
man who arrives. The parents admit it.

This is sometimes embarrassing, especially when you call on a man
and his wife for the sake of information--the one being a
merchant of varied knowledge, the other a woman of the world. In
five minutes your host has vanished. In another five his wife
has followed him, and you are left alone with a very charming
maiden, doubtless, but certainly not the person you came to see.
She chatters, and you grin, but you leave with the very strong
impression of a wasted morning. This has been my experience once
or twice. I have even said as pointedly as I dared to a man:--"I
came to see you."

"You'd better see me in my office, then. The house belongs to my
women folk--to my daughter, that is to say."

He spoke the truth. The American of wealth is owned by his
family. They exploit him for bullion. The women get the
ha'pence, the kicks are all his own. Nothing is too good for an
American's daughter (I speak here of the moneyed classes).

The girls take every gift as a matter of course, and yet they
develop greatly when a catastrophe arrives and the man of many
millions goes up or goes down, and his daughters take to
stenography or typewriting. I have heard many tales of heroism
from the lips of girls who counted the principals among their
friends. The crash came, Mamie, or Hattie, or Sadie, gave up
their maid, their carriages and candy, and with a No. 2 Remington
and a stout heart set about earning their daily bread.

"And did I drop her from the list of my friends? No, sir," said
a scarlet-lipped vision in white lace; "that might happen to us
any day."

It may be this sense of possible disaster in the air that makes
San Francisco society go with so captivating a rush and whirl.
Recklessness is in the air. I can't explain where it comes from,
but there it is. The roaring winds of the Pacific make you drunk
to begin with. The aggressive luxury on all sides helps out the
intoxication, and you spin forever "down the ringing grooves of
change" (there is no small change, by the way, west of the
Rockies) as long as money lasts. They make greatly and they spend
lavishly; not only the rich, but the artisans, who pay nearly
five pounds for a suit of clothes, and for other luxuries in
proportion.

The young men rejoice in the days of their youth. They gamble,
yacht, race, enjoy prize-fights and cock-fights, the one openly,
the other in secret; they establish luxurious clubs; they break
themselves over horse-flesh and other things, and they are
instant in a quarrel. At twenty they are experienced in
business, embark in vast enterprises, take partners as
experienced as themselves, and go to pieces with as much splendor
as their neighbors. Remember that the men who stocked California
in the fifties were physically, and, as far as regards certain
tough virtues, the pick of the earth. The inept and the weakly
died en route, or went under in the days of construction. To
this nucleus were added all the races of the Continent--French,
Italian, German, and, of course, the Jew.

The result you can see in the large-boned, deep-chested,
delicate-handed women, and long, elastic, well-built boys. It
needs no little golden badge swinging from the watch-chain to
mark the native son of the golden West, the country-bred of
California.

Him I love because he is devoid of fear, carries himself like a
man, and has a heart as big as his books. I fancy, too, he knows
how to enjoy the blessings of life that his province so
abundantly bestows upon him. At least, I heard a little rat of a
creature with hock-bottle shoulders explaining that a man from
Chicago could pull the eye-teeth of a Californian in business.

Well, if I lived in fairy-land, where cherries were as big as
plums, plums as big as apples, and strawberries of no account,
where the procession of the fruits of the seasons was like a
pageant in a Drury Lane pantomime and the dry air was wine, I
should let business slide once in a way and kick up my heels with
my fellows. The tale of the resources of California--vegetable
and mineral--is a fairy-tale. You can read it in books. You
would never believe me.

All manner of nourishing food, from sea-fish to beef, may be
bought at the lowest prices, and the people are consequently
well-developed and of a high stomach. They demand ten shillings
for tinkering a jammed lock of a trunk; they receive sixteen
shillings a day for working as carpenters; they spend many
sixpences on very bad cigars, which the poorest of them smoke,
and they go mad over a prize-fight. When they disagree they do
so fatally, with fire-arms in their hands, and on the public
streets. I was just clear of Mission Street when the trouble
began between two gentlemen, one of whom perforated the other.

When a policeman, whose name I do not recollect, "fatally shot Ed
Hearney" for attempting to escape arrest, I was in the next
street. For these things I am thankful. It is enough to travel
with a policeman in a tram-car, and, while he arranges his
coat-tails as he sits down, to catch sight of a loaded revolver.
It is enough to know that fifty per cent of the men in the public
saloons carry pistols about them.

The Chinaman waylays his adversary, and methodically chops him to
pieces with his hatchet. Then the press roars about the brutal
ferocity of the pagan.

The Italian reconstructs his friend with a long knife. The press
complains of the waywardness of the alien.

The Irishman and the native Californian in their hours of
discontent use the revolver, not once, but six times. The press
records the fact, and asks in the next column whether the world
can parallel the progress of San Francisco. The American who
loves his country will tell you that this sort of thing is
confined to the lower classes. Just at present an ex-judge who
was sent to jail by another judge (upon my word I cannot tell
whether these titles mean anything) is breathing red-hot
vengeance against his enemy. The papers have interviewed both
parties, and confidently expect a fatal issue.

Now, let me draw breath and curse the negro waiter, and through
him the negro in service generally. He has been made a citizen
with a vote, consequently both political parties play with him.
But that is neither here nor there. He will commit in one meal
every betise that a senllion fresh from the plow-tail is capable
of, and he will continue to repeat those faults. He is as
complete a heavy-footed, uncomprehending, bungle-fisted fool as
any mem-sahib in the East ever took into her establishment. But
he is according to law a free and independent
citizen--consequently above reproof or criticism. He, and he
alone, in this insane city, will wait at table (the Chinaman
doesn't count).

He is untrained, inept, but he will fill the place and draw the
pay. Now, God and his father's fate made him intellectually
inferior to the Oriental. He insists on pretending that he serves
tables by accident--as a sort of amusement. He wishes you to
understand this little fact. You wish to eat your meals, and, if
possible, to have them properly served. He is a big, black, vain
baby and a man rolled into one.

A colored gentleman who insisted on getting me pie when I wanted
something else, demanded information about India. I gave him
some facts about wages.

"Oh, hell!" said he, cheerfully, "that wouldn't keep me in cigars
for a month."

Then he fawned on me for a ten-cent piece. Later he took it upon
himself to pity the natives of India. "Heathens," he called
them--this woolly one, whose race has been the butt of every
comedy on the native stage since the beginning. And I turned and
saw by the head upon his shoulders that he was a Yoruba man, if
there be any truth in ethnological castes. He did his thinking
in English, but he was a Yoruba negro, and the race type had
remained the same throughout his generations. And the room was
full of other races--some that looked exactly like Gallas (but
the trade was never recruited from that side of Africa), some
duplicates of Cameroon heads, and some Kroomen, if ever Kroomen
wore evening dress.

The American does not consider little matters of descent, though
by this time he ought to know all about "damnable heredity." As
a general rule he keeps himself very far from the negro, and says
things about him that are not pretty. There are six million
negroes, more or less, in the States, and they are increasing.
The American, once having made them citizens, cannot unmake them.
He says, in his newspapers, they ought to be elevated by
education. He is trying this, but it is likely to be a long job,
because black blood is much more adhesive than white, and throws
back with annoying persistence. When the negro gets religion he
returns directly as a hiving bee to the first instincts of his
people. Just now a wave of religion is sweeping over some of the
Southern States.

Up to the present two Messiahs and a Daniel have appeared, and
several human sacrifices have been offered up to these
incarnations. The Daniel managed to get three young men, who he
insisted were Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to walk into a
blast furnace, guaranteeing non-combustion. They did not return.
I have seen nothing of this kind, but I have attended a negro
church. They pray, or are caused to pray by themselves in this
country. The congregation were moved by the spirit to groans and
tears, and one of them danced up the aisle to the mourners'
bench. The motive may have been genuine. The movements of the
shaken body were those of a Zanzibar stick dance, such as you see
at Aden on the coal-boats, and even as I watched the people, the
links that bound them to the white man snapped one by one, and I
saw before me the hubshi (woolly hair) praying to a God he did
not understand. Those neatly dressed folk on the benches, and
the gray-headed elder by the window, were savages, neither more
nor less.

What will the American do with the negro? The South will not
consort with him. In some States miscegenation is a penal
offence. The North is every year less and less in need of his
services.

And he will not disappear. He will continue as a problem. His
friends will urge that he is as good as the white man. His
enemies--well, you can guess what his enemies will do from a
little incident that followed on a recent appointment by the
President. He made a negro an assistant in a post-office
where--think of it!--he had to work at the next desk to a white
girl, the daughter of a colonel, one of the first families of
Georgia's modern chivalry, and all the weary, weary rest of it.
The Southern chivalry howled, and hanged or burned some one in
effigy. Perhaps it was the President, and perhaps it was the
negro--but the principle remains the same. They said it was an
insult. It is not good to be a negro in the land of the free and
the home of the brave.

But this is nothing to do with San Francisco and her merry
maidens, her strong, swaggering men, and her wealth of gold and
pride. They bore me to a banquet in honor of a brave
lieutenant--Carlin, of the "Vandalia"--who stuck by his ship in
the great cyclone at Apia and comported himself as an officer
should. On that occasion--'twas at the Bohemian Club--I heard
oratory with the roundest of o's, and devoured a dinner the
memory of which will descend with me into the hungry grave.

There were about forty speeches delivered, and not one of them
was average or ordinary. It was my first introduction to the
American eagle screaming for all it was worth. The lieutenant's
heroism served as a peg from which the silver-tongued ones turned
themselves loose and kicked.

They ransacked the clouds of sunset, the thunderbolts of heaven,
the deeps of hell, and the splendor of the resurrection for
tropes and metaphors, and hurled the result at the head of the
guest of the evening.

Never since the morning stars sung together for joy, I learned,
had an amazed creation witnessed such superhuman bravery as that
displayed by the American navy in the Samoa cyclone. Till earth
rotted in the phosphorescent star-and-stripe slime of a decayed
universe, that god-like gallantry would not be forgotten. I
grieve that I cannot give the exact words. My attempt at
reproducing their spirit is pale and inadequate. I sat
bewildered on a coruscating Niagara of blatherum-skite. It was
magnificent--it was stupendous--and I was conscious of a wicked
desire to hide my face in a napkin and grin. Then, according to
rule, they produced their dead, and across the snowy tablecloths
dragged the corpse of every man slain in the Civil War, and
hurled defiance at "our natural enemy" (England, so please you),
"with her chain of fortresses across the world." Thereafter they
glorified their nation afresh from the beginning, in case any
detail should have been overlooked, and that made me
uncomfortable for their sakes. How in the world can a white man,
a sahib, of our blood, stand up and plaster praise on his own
country? He can think as highly as he likes, but this
open-mouthed vehemence of adoration struck me almost as
indelicate. My hosts talked for rather more than three hours,
and at the end seemed ready for three hours more.

But when the lieutenant--such a big, brave, gentle giant--rose to
his feet, he delivered what seemed to me as the speech of the
evening. I remember nearly the whole of it, and it ran
something in this way:--"Gentlemen--It's very good of you to
give me this dinner and to tell me all these prettythings, but
what I want you to understand--the fact is, what we want and what
we ought to get at once, is a navy--more ships--lots of 'em--"

Then we howled the top of the roof off, and I for one fell in
love with Carlin on the spot. Wallah! He was a man.

The prince among merchants bid me take no heed to the warlike
sentiments of some of the old generals.

"The sky-rockets are thrown in for effect," quoth he, "and
whenever we get on our hind legs we always express a desire to
chaw up England. It's a sort of family affair."

And, indeed, when you come to think of it, there is no other
country for the American public speaker to trample upon.

France has Germany; we have Russia; for Italy Austria is
provided; and the humblest Pathan possesses an ancestral enemy.

Only America stands out of the racket, and therefore to be in
fashion makes a sand-bag of the mother country, and hangs her
when occasion requires.

"The chain of fortresses" man, a fascinating talker, explained to
me after the affair that he was compelled to blow off steam.
Everybody expected it.

When we had chanted "The Star Spangled Banner" not more than
eight times, we adjourned. America is a very great country, but
it is not yet heaven, with electric lights and plush fittings, as
the speakers professed to believe. My listening mind went back
to the politicians in the saloon, who wasted no time in talking
about freedom, but quietly made arrangements to impose their will
on the citizens.

"The judge is a great man, but give thy presents to the clerk,"
as the proverb saith.

And what more remains to tell? I cannot write connectedly,
because I am in love with all those girls aforesaid, and some
others who do not appear in the invoice. The typewriter is an
institution of which the comic papers make much capital, but she
is vastly convenient. She and a companion rent a room in a
business quarter, and, aided by a typewriting machine, copy MSS.
at the rate of six annas a page. Only a woman can operate a
typewriting machine, because she has served apprenticeship to the
sewing machine. She can earn as much as one hundred dollars a
month, and professes to regard this form of bread-winning as her
natural destiny. But, oh! how she hates it in her heart of
hearts! When I had got over the surprise of doing business with
and trying to give orders to a young woman of coldly, clerkly
aspect intrenched behind gold-rimmed spectacles, I made inquiries
concerning the pleasures of this independence. They liked
it--indeed they did. 'Twas the natural fate of almost all
girls--the recognized custom in America--and I was a barbarian
not to see it in that light.

"Well, and after?" said I. "What happens?"

"We work for our bread."

"And then what do you expect?"

"Then we shall work for our bread."

"Till you die?"

"Ye-es--unless--"

"Unless what? This is your business, you know. A man works
until he dies."

"So shall we"--this without enthusiasm--"I suppose."

Said the partner in the firm, audaciously:--"Sometimes we marry
our employees--at least, that's what the newspapers say."

The hand banged on half a dozen of the keys of the machine at
once. "Yet I don't care. I hate it--I hate it--I hate it--and
you needn't look so!"

The senior partner was regarding the rebel with grave-eyed
reproach.

"I thought you did," said I. "I don't suppose American girls are
much different from English ones in instinct."

"Isn't it Theophile Gautier who says that the only difference
between country and country lie in the slang and the uniform of
the police?"

Now, in the name of all the gods at once, what is one to say to a
young lady (who in England would be a person) who earns her own
bread, and very naturally hates the employ, and slings
out-of-the-way quotations at your head? That one falls in love
with her goes without saying, but that is not enough.

A mission should be established.


Rudyard Kipling

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