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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 27

A Scamper Through America

page 88

A Scamper Through America.

T. S. Hudson, in this book of 289 pages, records daily the incidents and impressions of a voyage over 15,000 miles of sea and land, accomplished in 60 days. He left Liverpool on Good Friday, 1882, and after two months he was back again. Quick, consecutive, and unprecedented travelling. Prefixed to the book is a table of daily contents, of 22 pages. There are several typographical, and some orthographical errors. The work is distributed into 60 divisions, e.g., Day one, &c. At Day ten, Mr Hudson records his impressions of New York. He is sadly annoyed at the American "vexatious operation of protectionist imposts." The street cars, and the crude telegraph poles, and the dingy lamp posts "would have disgraced the smallest English towns." The hotels presented "a mixture of splendour and coarseness." He considers that "the officials and waiters are repulsive, rude," as their "filthy national habit" of smoking. Politeness is not in the Yankee market at any quotation. Courtesy there is none, and the "meals are bolted" down like pigs. At Day eleven we read that "if you are so confiding as to run the risk of theft by putting your shoes outside of your bed-room door to be cleaned, and you should be so fortunate as to get them back again, a charge of ten cents appears in your bill." The charge for carriages is almost prohibitory. "The vestibules of these palatial buildings are crowded by sitting and moving groups of male persons in an everlasting buzz of conversation, or chewing or smoking for ever." The "sallow complexions of the people " and their insane "advertising enterprise" are held up to merited condemnation. The landscapes are "blurred by huge letters painted upon rocks and trees." Boston is characterised as the Edinburgh of America. The scenery on the Hudsoe, after leaving Hudson town, "was quite equal to the Rhine, and in one part almost as grand as the Iron Gate of the Danube." The trams and roadways of Philadelphia were "more rugged and uneven than those of New York, there being holes in the middle of the best streets, and the crossings were very bad." Philadelphia is "the largest city in area " in America, with a million citizens. Brook Street is 23 miles long. But "the other streets are poor, and have all the objectional points of American cities—open drains, filthy and rotten wooden shades over the footpaths, rough telegraph posts, &c."

Fairmount Park is "the largest city park in the world, being 14 miles on both sides of the river Schuylkill, which is crossed by elegant bridges."

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The American railway stations are the veriest hovels. In that land of pseudo-freedom the coloured people are not allowed to worship with the whites in churches and chapels. In "Washington "the lamp-posts which adorn the steps and balconies" of the Capitol "would be put to shame by an ordinary gin-palace lamp; and in front of the building is a dirty pool of water containing a few hungry gold-fish, and surrounded by a rusty iron paling." What could we expect from the capital of Mobocracy? Certainly not Attic taste. The vulgar representatives and senators smoke in their legislative halls. "We heard on every hand regret expressed at the decadence of the House, owing to universal suffrage having placed the seats in the hands of men who pandered to the mob, the result being that the best men kept aloof from politics."

The ascent of the Alleghany Mountains is a matter of some engineering ingenuity. "For 17 miles the train, drawn by two powerful locomotives, pursued its serpentine and upward way, the most of the time on the brink of deep gullies, where, hundreds of feet beneath us, the swollen mountain torrents rushed along their rocky beds, fed every few yards by foaming cascades which dashed under or over our very cars, as we sped along. At the extreme summit of the range, 2,800 feet above the sea, we noticed the waters hesitate which way to flow, and then exhibit a tendency to run in one direction, until very quickly the little rills united into the impetuous stream which formed the upper waters of the Youghiogheny river. Descending by heavy cuttings, embankments, and tunnels, for 20 miles, we reached the end of this mountain section at Grafton."

The Southern Hotel at St. Louis "is not behind any in Europe for any one thing excepting situation; and for grandeur, size, and comfort combined, is not eclipsed in either continent. The Palace at San Francisco beats it for size, and the Windsor at Montreal for luxurious elegance; but the other three monster hotels of the world—the Baldwin at San Francisco, the Palmer House and Grand Pacific at Chicago, do not excel it in any material particular."

Fancy a bridge of 3,000 yards spanning the Missouri river! Advancing Westward Ho, one can see trains of emigrant waggons, drawn by mules—"the straggling succession of bullock-drawn waggons that wended in long trains up the course of the Platte in pre-railroad days, sometimes for miles actually in the shallow water or dry part of the bed of the stream." The town of Cheyenne is 6,041ft high, with a population of 6,000. It has two daily newspapers. "Endless and poor-looking prairies surround it." Coming in sight of the snow-clad Rocky Mountains, "for page 90 30 miles the train climbed up jagged granite rocks, winding in and out of the wooden sheds built to keep the snow off the track." The snow sheds are numerous, and one of them is 28 miles long.

During the afternoon of Day 25, they reached Sherman, 8,242 feet above the sea—"the highest railway station in the world." On the whole route there were 250 stations, traversed in six days and nights from ocean to ocean. But for the long stoppages, the journey could be done in four days. America is greatly over-rated. "Even in the most favoured parts very little greenness ever refreshes the eye." Much of it is a region of desolation—"where the lack of moisture and the prevalence of alkali which covered the face of the earth like dirty snow—debarred the possibility of any vegetation whatever, excepting the pertinacious and useless sage-brush—a poor-looking, scentless shrub not unlike the fragrant plant from which it derives its name."

The western States and territories—parts of California and Texas excepted—"already supported as many people' as could find subsistence." No rivers and no moisture to grow cereals. In Nevada, there is only a rainfall of three inches annually. Utah is in the same parched state. The land is fitted for pasturage only, as in Australia. "The Mormon capital is well laid out There are 260 blocks, each one-eighth of a mile square, sub-divided into eight lots, each containing one and a-half acres. Trees and running water line each street, and almost every lot has an orchard of pear, plum, peach, and apple-trees. The houses are mostly of one storey, with separate entrances where the proprietor has more than one wife. To the north the mountains are close up to the city, while to the south are 100 miles of plains, beyond which rise, clear-cut and grand, the grey range whose peaks are covered with perpetual snow." The Tabernacle is seated for 12,000 persons. Its interior elevation is 60 feet. It has 20 large doors—through which in a minute and a-half it can be emptied. " Polygamy should be stamped out as the plague."

At Wells Station, there are 20 springs—5 or 6 feet in diameter, nearly round, apparently bottomless. "After passing Be-o-wa-we Station, we observe jets and columns of steam rising in a line from a barren hill-side. From this line boiling, muddy, sulphuric water descended, desolating everything in its course, and escaping through the bogs of the plains."

A whole day was spent traversing Humboldt Yalley, through which the Humboldt river flows, until it empties itself into Humboldt Lake. This, and smaller lakes, appear to have no outlets page 91 and yet large rivers flow into them! No underground exitbut the evaporation in summer is equal to 6 inches per day.

The Navada Plains, for hundreds of miles of lava and clay, are, indeed, dreary deserts. " No green thing meets the eye as it roams over thousands of acres covered with dirty white alkali. The sun's rays fall glaringly upon the barren scene; burning and withering and crushing out any attempt of Nature to introduce life."

Day 29—"Having left Reno in the early evening, our train had proceeded along the bank of the Truchee River, and ascending 1,060 in 26 miles, passed out of Nevada into California." After emerging out of a 28 mile snow-shed, "we were tearing along high up on one side of a deep valley. No more snow; but the hills covered with tall pines, and far, far down at the foot of the precipice spread luxuriant verdure. A short stoppage was made at Summit, 7,000 feet above the sea, and 240 miles from San Francisco. We wended round the brow of the mountain where the track is cut in a sharp descent out of the very-front of the precipice. An enchanting occupation it was to gaze perpendicularly down upon the tree-tops and streaks of river below." And now "from the desert of Nevada we descended into the fruitful plains of California"—which is 1,800 long and 200 broad on an average. The Palace Hotel covers three acres. It is seven stories high—the lowest being 27 feet—and the highest 16. "Five elegant elevators, constantly ascending and descending, convey 1,200 guests to and from the rooms."

Chinatown—the Chinese quarter of San Francisco—" is the dirtiest and most densely populated mass of buildings under the sun." Here are 20,000 pagans. Congress has passed an Act " prohibiting further immigration from the Flowery land for ten years."

What a travesty on freedom! But "the American statesman is the slave of the lowest of the population." Such a law is at variance with "the very foundations of universal liberty upon which its constitution is framed." San Francisco is made of wood. Whole blocks can be removed at will by house-removers. The telephone is greatly utilised. The traveller gives us a minute description of the Safe Deposit Block. Its name indicates its use. The tramway system is good. "On California Street there are four lines of rails." In the hilly parts "dummy cars are employed, drawn by an endless rope enclosed in a casing level with the roadway, a slit in which admits a lever worked by the conductor of the dummy, by which the starting and stopping is accomplished with great ease. The motive power is a stationary engine of 500 horse-power."

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The Americans, it is said, evinced "an unmistakeable feeling of satisfaction at the dastardly murders in Phoenix Park, Dublin." The expression of a gentlemanly-looking American to the expressed horror of the writer, on hearing the sad news, was—"Wal, you Britishers have used Ireland tarnation badly." Travelling in California is no child's play—but the drivers are said to be very expert Jehus. Sometimes, they attained a height of 6,300 feet above sea level. Down beneath was the wondrous Yosemite Valley. The Yosemite Fall "takes a vertical leap of 1,500 feet, and then an unbroken fall of 600 feet to the bottom of the chasm. The bed of the valley, through which the river Merced flows, receiving the waters from all the falls, is 4,000 feet above sea level." The Bridal Veil—30 yards across—"drops clean over a ledge 900 feet high. The Virgin's Tears Creek makes a fine fall of 3,300 feet enclosed in a deep recess of the rock. There are six other falls of similar dimensions, and innumerable ribbon falls, whose fantastic motions, as wafted by the wind over the face of the smooth granite, form an interesting feature in a Spring inspection of this enchanting gorge." Sunrise and sunset in California are said to be very good, "the orb of day rising and setting clean against the horison of sea or land, without any traces of haze or cloud." California is a farmer's paradise. "The regularity of the seasons being such that his operations can be carried on with the minimum of uncertainty as to results."

On Day 39, they passed through the Loop Tunnel, where, "to suit the exigencies of the construction of the line, the road is made to describe a circle and go under and over itself." We have a picture presented to us of the orange groves and rose gardens of Los Angeles—The city of the Angels—which lies at the southern base of the Sierra Santa Monica Mountains—" is completely embosomed in foliage; being irrigated from the Los Angeles river by windmills, vineyards, orange and lemon orchards, and lovely gardens and groves meet the eye at every turn, while magnificent plantations stretch away as far as sight can ken." South California excels Greece and Italy in point of climate. "Yuma has 300 cloudless days in a year, Los Angeles 260, New York 120, London 60! "

Tuiscon—the capital of Arizona—is said to be the second oldest town in America.

Day 38 was, also, "through wilderness, the chief production being cacti of every shape and size," there being 150 varieties. The Indians are called by the Yankees vermin, which is ruthlessly killed by the soldiers. Santa Fé is reached in Day 39 — the city of the Holy faith, 700 feet high. At Las Vergas are page 93 hot springs. The Ratan Tunnel, deep in the bowels of the Rocky Mountains, is passed through on Day 40. Next day by a downward grade, they reached the State of Colorado. Then passed into Kansas, "following the flat banks of the Arkansas river, in some places 40 miles wide." Next to Massachussetts it is the most progressive and intellectual State of the Union. McPherson Lakeisrich in wild fowls, grouse, quail, and prairie duck being plentiful. Speaking of the Government of the Union, Hudson says that "there are 55 lawyers amongst the 76 senators, and of the 293 members of Congress, 177 are of the same fraternity! "

Day 42, the train swept through waving cornfields and rich pastures fenced in, as had not been the case previously for thousands of miles. In a few years the city of Kansas has sprung up rapidly, having 60,000 citizens. American liberty is only a name—considering the treatment of the Indians and Chinese. Theories as to equality of races and nations are all very fine; but let our friends practise first and boast afterwards." The writer speaks of the enormous strikes of the Americans! Those Trade Unions threaten to be dangerous, "if free-trade in labour is to be prevented by Acts of Congress." Chicago "is a veritable Phœnix begotten of the ashes. Paving here is on an enormous scale—" huge blocks of stone, 12 x 10 feet and a foot thick, securely set and needing no curbstone. Book-shops, on a great scale, abound in the city. Lake Michigan is 400 miles long and 100 miles wide. It waters the city. The City Hall is the third grandest in America—"the Capitol at Washington and the State House at Albany ranking before it. Thirteen swivel-bridges, revolving on piers in the middle of the river, connect the principal streets, and are opened and closed with great ease and rapidity by hydraulic machinery." The American women are, in a word, blue-stockings, "one could admire, revere, worship; but love them, never."

The influences of Puritanism and Boston are everywhere felt. Except Scotland, "the Sabbath is better observed than in any other country." In April, 1882, " one hundred and eight thousand immigrants from Europe arrived at New York alone! "America has quite enough to do to supply their wants. The Niagara Falls are described in the usual way. Toronto is a well built city of nearly 100,000 citizens. "The lake-side situation of Toronto is effective, and the country around is highly cultivated and picturesque. An utter absence of paving and Macadam causes all the streets to be perfect bogs in wet weather, and all the wooden side-walks, although cleanly and good to walk upon where not worn into holes, are not consistent with the preten- page break sions of the architecture. For 40 miles of the St Lawrence, "we threaded 1,692 islands—that reach of the noble river called the Lake of the Thousand Islands." The art of shooting the rapids, before reaching Montreal, is somewhat perilous. " The Windsor Castle at Montreal is one of the chief glories of Canadians. The city lies in a plain, immediately to the rear of which rises a hill 700 feet high. Along the river for four miles stretch the streets and buildings, reaching inland about two miles." From Mount Royal the panorama is splendid. The numerous islands and rapids of the river and the monster railway bridge nearly two miles long, are visible. "The mountains of St. Clair, Belleisle, and Busheville, rise against the eastern horison, and to the northward is a fertile country melting away to bleak-looking hills in the direction of Labrador. The whole of the ground for many miles, particularly along the banks of the river, is covered with habitations, which, being whitewashed and standing amid plots of well-cultivated land and trees, give an idea of prosperity and happiness that is everwhere evident in Canada. The solid grey limestone presents a display of continuous substantial masonry unequalled on the North American Continent; and fountains and statues are not wanting to testify to the successful efforts of the citizens to maintain the reputation of Montreal as a model city for construction and embellishment. Notre Dame is an old and spacious cathedral, and strange, " the whole space was covered with pews." The Cathedral of St. Peter—after the model of the Roman—"was in course of construction. Its design included five domes and twenty chapels. The Episcopal Cathedral is a unique specimen of English Gothic, and is surmounted by a spire 224 feet in height."

The voyage through the Atlantic Ocean, with 190 icebergs in sight, on Day 55, may have been picturesque, but it was perilous with the temperature as low as 39 degrees Fahrenheit. After leaving the Banks of Newfoundland, the sailing was delightful. As the steamer passed into Lough Foyle at dawn of Day 60, they were delighted with "the ever-vaunted verdancy of the Irish vegetation." Such greenness is not to be seen in American landscapes, "even in the choicest spots of the American Continent." In that respect the British Isles beat America, and New Zealand beats them. They " crossed the Mersey bar within an hour of 60 days from the commencement of our scamper of close upon fifteen thousand miles."

The story of their wanderings by sea and land is well told, and is pregnant with thought, and suggestive of reflections of the great strides of progress and civilisation achieved in 1882. So much for the "Scamper Through America."