June 5th, 1867.
EDITORS ALTA: I have at last, after several months' experience, made up my mind that it is a splendid desert - a domed and steepled solitude, where the stranger is lonely in the midst of a million of his race. A man walks his tedious miles through the same interminable street every day, elbowing his way through a buzzing multitude of men, yet never seeing a familiar face, and never seeing a strange one the second time. He visits a friend once - it is a day's journey - and then stays away from that time forward till that friend cools to a mere acquaintance, and finally to a stranger. So there is little sociability, and, consequently, there is little cordiality. Every man seems to feel that he has got the duties of two lifetimes to accomplish in one, and so he rushes, rushes, rushes, and never has time to be companionable - never has any time at his disposal to fool away on matters which do not involve dollars and duty and business.
All this has a tendency to make the city-bred man impatient of interruption, suspicious of strangers, and fearful of being bored, and his business interfered with. The natural result is, that the striking want of heartiness observable here, some times even among old friends, degenerates into something which is hardly even chilly politeness towards strangers. A large party of Californians were discussing this matter yesterday evening, and one said he didn't believe there was any genuine fellow feeling in the camp. Another said: "Come, now, don't judge with out a full hearing - try all classes; try everybody; go to the Young Men's Christian Association." But the first speaker said: "My son, I have been to the Young Men's Christian Association, and it isn't any use; it was the same old thing - thermometer at 32 degrees, which is the freezing notch, if I understand it. They were polite there, exasperatingly polite, just as they are outside. One of them prayed for the stranger within his gates - meaning me - but it was plain enough that he didn't mean his petition to be taken in earnest. It simply amounted to this, that he didn't know me, but would recommend me to mercy, anyhow, since it was customary, but didn't wish to be misunderstood as taking any personal interest in the matter."
Of course that was rather a strong exaggeration, but I thought it was a pretty fair satire upon the serene indifference of the New Yorker to everybody and everything without the pale of his private and individual circle.
There is something about this ceaseless buzz, and hurry, and bustle, that keeps a stranger in a state of unwholesome excitement all the time, and makes him restless and uneasy, and saps from him all capacity to enjoy anything or take a strong interest in any matter whatever - a something which impels him to try to do everything, and yet permits him to do nothing. He is a boy in a candy-shop - could choose quickly if there were but one kind of candy, but is hopelessly undetermined in the midst of a hundred kinds. A stranger feels unsatisfied, here, a good part of the time. He starts to a library; changes, and moves toward a theatre; changes again and thinks he will visit a friend; goes within a biscuit-toss of a picture-gallery, a billiard-room, a beer cellar and a circus, in succession, and finally drifts home and to bed, without having really done anything or gone anywhere. He don't go anywhere because he can't go everywhere, I suppose. This fidgety, feverish restlessness will drive a man crazy, after a while, or kill him. It kills a good many dozens now - by suicide. I have got to get out of it.
There is one thing very sure - I can't keep my temper in New York. The cars and carriages always come along and get in the way just as I want to cross a street, and if there is any thing that can make a man soar into flights of sublimity in the matter of profanity, it is that. You know that, yourself. However, I must be accurate - I must speak truth, and say there is one thing that is more annoying. That is to go down West Tenth street hunting for the Art building, No. 51. You are tired, and your feet are hot and swollen, and you wouldn't start, only you calculate that it cannot be more than two blocks away, and you almost feel a genuine desire to go and see the picture on exhibition without once changing your mind. Very well. You come to No. 7; and directly you come to 142! You stare a minute, and then step back and start over again - but it isn't any use - when you are least expecting it, comes that unaccountable jump. You cross over, and find Nos. 18, 20, 22, and then perhaps you jump to 376! Your gall begins to rise. You go on. You get on a trail, at last, the figures leading by regular approaches up toward 51 - but when you have walked four blocks they start at 49 and begin to run the other way! You are perspiring and furious by this time, but you keep desperately on, and speculate on new and complicated forms of profanity. And behold, in time the numbers become bewilderingly complicated: on one door i8 a 3 on a little tin scrap, on the next a 17 in gold characters a foot square, on the next a 19, a 5 and a 137, one above the other and in three different styles of figuring! You do not swear any more now, of course, because you can't find any words that are long enough or strong enough to fit the case. You feel degraded and ignominious and subjugated. And there and then you say that you will go away from New York and start over again; and that you will never come back to settle permanently till you have learned to swear with the utmost fluency in seventeen different languages. You become more tranquil, now, because you see your way clearly before you, how that, when you are properly accomplished, you can live in this great city and still be happy; you feel that in that day, when a subject shall defy English, you can try the Arabic, the Hungarian, the Japanese, the Kulu-Kaffir, and when the worst comes to the worst, you can come the Hindostanee on it and conquer. After this, you go tranquilly on for a matter of seventeen blocks and find 51 sandwiched in between Nos. 13 and 32,986. Then you wish you had never been born, to come to a strange land and suffer in this way.
Well, I intended, when I started out, to give my views of the pleasant side of New York, but I perceive that I have wandered into the wrong vein, and 80 I will stop short and give it up until I find myself in a more fortunate humor. I do not think that I could twist myself around now any easier than I could turn myself inside out.
They left out the insanity business in this woman's case and tried her on the plain guilty-or-innocent merits of the charge against her. Of course they brought her in guilty of murder in the first degree and without any recommendation to mercy. After the verdict was rendered, she went out of the Court-room smiling, and seemingly in excellent spirits. The woman is either a fiend or a fool. Her case is utterly incomprehensible. The circumstantial evidence shows that she cut and hacked and stabbed her victim in many places, and bit her on the neck, and then wore out some of the furniture beating her with it. And yet, not the shadow of a motive can they discover that she had for harming her mistress at all! Unless Bridget Durgan goes and spoils everything by confessing, before they hang her, this dark and bloody murder will be the most relishable mystery of the age. It is said, however, that she has intimated that in due time she will confess, not that she did the deed, but that she saw it done, and will furnish to the world all the dread particulars of the assassination. The story would be read here with a ravenous interest. Another woman is to be tried shortly, as her accomplice.
It is said that a sumptuous banquet was given to Gen. Sutter by the gentlemen of the Traveller's Club on the night of May 31st. They must have kept it very quiet. The cards of invitation gave out that the reception would take place on the evening of June 1st, and I went there to report the proceedings, along with a Herald man. But it was a fraud on us newspaper men - there was nothing whatever going on, and so we were just unfeelingly gouged out of a dinner. I think they dated the cards ahead on purpose to impose on us and escape a famine. That may be fair, but we do not so regard it. It might have been excusable but that utterly innocent parties had to suffer for it eventually - because we went and took dinner at a restaurant which had just been opened and had not yet acquired a lucrative run of custom. How ought the Travellers' checks to burn with shame when this fact comes to their ears!
General Sutter is said to be in excellent health and spirits, and has been receiving many and distinguished marks of attention at the hands of the citizens of New York.
THE INDIAN ROW
I wonder if you are in as much distress about the Indians as we are? We talk Maximilian and his possible execution some, but our main dependence for solid conversation is the Indians. The Herald, Tribune, and World attend to the Indians in editorials, and the Times gives three columns of statistics which really show that all the fuss is made up out of very slender material; yet the talk goes on, and the telegrams, and official orders, and the sundry other notes of preparation that fill the air with warnings serve to swell the interest of the thing and constantly augment its importance. An educated and highly-cultivated American lady, who speaks French and Italian, and has travelled in Europe and studied the country so faithfully that she knows it as well as another woman would know her flower-garden, said to me yesterday that she had some very dear friends in San Francisco and other parts of Idaho, and these Indian rumors gave her unspeakable uneasiness; she believed that for seven nights she had hardly slept at all, with imagining the horrors which are liable at any moment to fall upon those friends; and she said she had friends in Santa Fe and Los Angeles, but she did not feel so worried about them because she believed the Indians did not infest the Cariboo country as much as they did the Farrallone Mountains and other localities further West. I tried to comfort her all I could; I told her I honestly believed that her friends in San Francisco and other parts of Idaho were just as safe there as they would be in Jerusalem or any other part of China.
Here she interrupted me, and told me with a well-bred effort to keep her countenance, that Jerusalem was not in China. I apologized, and said it was a slip of the tongue - but what I had meant to express was that her friends would be just as safe in Santa Fe and other parts of Cariboo as they would be in Damascus, or any other locality in France.
And she interrupted me again, and this time she did laugh a little bit, and told me modestly and in a way that could not hurt anybody's feelings, that Damascus was not in France.
I excused my stupidity again, and said that what I was trying to get at was, that her people might be even in the perilous gorges of the Farrallone Mountains and districts further west, and still fare as well as if they were in Hongkong or any other place in Italy.
And then she did not laugh, but looked serious and said, "Are you so preposterously ignorant as all this amounts to, or are you trying to quiz me?" And I said, "Don't you go to Europe any more till you know a little something about your own country." I won.
It is funny, the absurd remarks people make about the Far West, and the wild questions they ask about it when they are discussing the Indian difficulties. It is humiliating to me to consider how high an opinion we have of our importance out there in the Pacific regions, and then to discover how very little some people know about us. A late number of Blackwood spoke of Andrew Jackson as being still alive, and I wondered at it at the time, but I do not wonder at it so much now. Why, I have seen one man who possessed ordinary intelligence, who was under the impression that silver bricks came from the mine just as they were. He could understand that, easily enough, because it looked reasonable - but how the assayer's stamp came there was what worried him! It surprises me to reflect how much I taught that man in the next fifteen minutes, and I did not charge him anything for it.
I meet people occasionally, poor fellows, who wish to inquire after unknown and unheard-of mines in all manner of impossible places, and who bought at round prices a year or two ago, and some how have not heard from their mines or anybody connected with them for many months. They uniformly wound up by asking what they had better do. I always advise them to sell. Now I consider that a deep and a subtle joke, but in their wretched ignorance they never know enough to laugh at it.
I am waiting patiently to hear that they have ordered General Connor out to polish off those Indians, but the news never comes. He has shown that he knows how to fight the kind of Indians that God made, but I suppose the humanitarians want somebody to fight the Indians that J. Fenimore Cooper made.
There is just where the mistake is. The Cooper Indians are dead - died with their creator. The kind that are left are of altogether a different breed, and cannot be successfully fought with poetry, and sentiment, and soft soap, and magnanimity.
GREAT TEMPERANCE PICNIC
The strong effort being made to break down the Excise law has aroused the temperance societies to renewed activity. They hold meetings, they have lectures, print addresses, circulate petitions, project processions - do everything they can, in fact, to keep the interest of temperance devotees from flagging or failing. They feel that their cause and their Excise triumph are in some peril, and appreciate the necessity for union and energy. Their ingenuity culminated a few days ago in a grand picnic, but alas! the picnic culminated in a grand drunk! Some miscreant invaded the camp with whiskey, and many of the crusaders fell. New converts could not resist their old love, and some of the elder knights that did resist courageously were overcome at last. Then there was a fight, and several very Good Templars blacked each other's eyes and flattened each other's noses.
It was very sad. The enemies of temperance were beginning to grow hopeless again, and a few more processions and proclamations would have sent them cowering to their dens, never more to brave the cause of right and virtue, perchance, when these Good Templars forgot themselves and their great work and got drunk! Why is it that Good Templars will always go and get drunk when they have picnics? Why is it? It is such a public occasion that a temperance society cannot get drunk at a picnic without exciting remark. I have uniformly noticed that when temperance societies get drunk at picnics, people speak of it. Why cannot such societies choose their officers with some judgment? Unhappily, it is too often the case that these officers are chosen by partiality, and not by personal merit. The consequence is that the affairs of the organization are conducted in a loose, slipshod way, and every day exposes the inefficiency of the chief officers. What result must inevitably follow this official poverty of judgment? Plainly this, that instead of getting drunk in the privacy of the meeting-room, the society goes off and gets drunk at a vile public picnic. This is all wrong, and has a bad effect. It does more to retard the cause of temperance than can well be estimated. It is because the example it sets is questionable. Organizations of this kind should jealously guard against any conduct, as a society, which can be considered questionable. No temperance society which is well officered and which has the real good of our fellow-men in view, will ever get drunk save in the seclusion of its temperance hall. I speak feelingly upon this subject, because I have seen so much of this thing. I have been a member of three zealous, hard-working, and sincere temperance organizations, whose influence for good, in each case, became permanently impaired through their persisting in getting drunk in public every Saturday night. I warned them repeatedly that this was bad judgment, but they could not comprehend how this could be, and so the result was as I have stated. A little self sacrifice on their part would have saved the cause and saved the societies themselves much adverse criticism. But no, they refused to get drunk in private.
With my experience, I know what is to befall these societies here that are arrayed against the Excise law. The example of that one ill-officered organization will entrap them all into the error that public debauches are proper, and so they will now proceed to ruin their great cause by getting drunk at their picnics instead of in private. I grieve to contemplate this unfortunate state of things, and would willingly do everything to avert the disaster these people are about to bring upon themselves, but now that they have got started I know of no way to do it, and therefore must hope against hope and sadly leave them to their destiny.
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