List Of Contents | Contents of Winter Sunshine, by John Burroughs
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more readily than the purely British.

The traveler feels the past in England as of course he cannot feel it
here; and, along with impressions of the present, one gets the flavor
and influence of earlier, simpler times, which, no doubt, is a potent
charm, and one source of the "rose-color" which some readers have found
in my sketches, as the absence of it is one cause of the raw, acrid,
unlovely character of much that there is in this country. If the
English are the old wine, we are the new. We are not yet thoroughly
leavened as a people, nor have we more than begun to transmute and
humanize our surroundings; and as the digestive and assimilative powers
of the American are clearly less than those of the Englishman, to say
nothing of our harsher, more violent climate, I have no idea that ours
can ever become the mellow land that Britain is.

As for the charge of brutality that is often brought against the
English, and which is so successfully depicted by Dickens and
Thackeray, there is doubtless good ground for it, though I actually saw
very little of it during five weeks' residence in London, and I poked
about into all the dens and comers I could find, and perambulated the
streets at nearly all hours of the night and day. Yet I am persuaded
there is a kind of brutality among the lower orders in England that
does not exist in the same measure in this country,--an ignorant animal
coarseness, an insensibility, which gives rise to wife-beating and
kindred offenses. But the brutality of ignorance and stolidity is not
the worst form of the evil. It is good material to make something
better of. It is an excess and not a perversion. It is not man fallen,
but man undeveloped. Beware, rather, that refined, subsidized
brutality; that thin, depleted, moral consciousness; or that
contemptuous, cankerous, euphemistic brutality, of which, I believe, we
can show vastly more samples than Great Britain. Indeed, I believe, for
the most part, that the brutality of the English people is only the
excess and plethora of that healthful, muscular robustness and
full-bloodedness for which the nation has always been famous, and which
it should prize beyond almost anything else. But for our brutality, our
recklessness of life and property, the brazen ruffianism in our great
cities, the hellish greed and robbery and plunder in high places, I
should have to look a long time to find so plausible an excuse.

[But I notice with pleasure that English travelers are beginning to
find more to admire than to condemn in this country, and that they
accredit us with some virtues they do not find at home in the same
measure. They are charmed with the independence, the self-respect, the
good-nature, and the obliging dispositions shown by the mass of our
people; while American travelers seem to be more and more ready to
acknowledge the charm and the substantial qualities of the mother
country. It is a good omen. One principal source of the pleasure which
each takes in the other is no doubt to be found in the novelty of the
impressions. It is like a change of cookery. The flavor of the dish is
fresh and uncloying to each. The English probably tire of their own
snobbishness and flunkeyism, and we of our own smartness and puppyism.
After the American has got done bragging about his independence, and
his "free and equal" prerogatives, he begins to see how these things
run into impertinence and forwardness; and the Englishman, in visiting
us, escapes from his social bonds and prejudices, to see for a moment
how absurd they all are.]

A London crowd I thought the most normal and unsophisticated I had ever
seen, with the least admixture of rowdyism and ruffianism. No doubt it
is there, but this scum is not upon the surface, as with us. I went
about very freely in the hundred and one places of amusement where the
average working classes assemble, with their wives and daughters and
sweethearts, and smoke villainous cigars and drink ale and stout. There
was to me something notably fresh and canny about them, as if they had
only yesterday ceased to be shepherds and shepherdesses. They certainly
were less developed in certain directions, or shall I say less
depraved, than similar crowds in our great cities. They are easily
pleased, and laugh at the simple and childlike, but there is little
that hints of an impure taste, or of abnormal appetites. I often smiled
at the tameness and simplicity of the amusements, but my sense of
fitness, or proportion, or decency was never once outraged. They always
stop short of a certain point,--the point where wit degenerates into
mockery, and liberty into license: nature is never put to shame, and
will commonly bear much more. Especially to the American sense did
their humorous and comic strokes, their negro-minstrelsy and attempts
at Yankee comedy, seem in a minor key. There was not enough irreverence
and slang and coarse ribaldry, in the whole evening's entertainment, to
have seasoned one line of some of our most popular comic poetry. But
the music, and the gymnastic, acrobatic, and other feats, were of a
very high order. And I will say here that the characteristic flavor of
the humor and fun-making of the average English people, as it impressed
my sense, is what one gets in Sterne,--very human and stomachic, and
entirely free from the contempt and superciliousness of most current
writers. I did not get one whiff of Dickens anywhere. No doubt it is
there in some form or other, but it is not patent, or even appreciable,
to the sense of such an observer as I am.

I was not less pleased by the simple good-will and bonhomie that
pervaded the crowd. There is in all these gatherings an indiscriminate
mingling of the sexes, a mingling without jar or noise or rudeness of
any kind, and marked by a mutual respect on all sides that is novel and
refreshing. Indeed, so uniform is the courtesy, and so human and
considerate the interest, that I was often at a loss to discriminate
the wife or the sister from the mistress or the acquaintance of the
hour, and had many times to check my American curiosity and cold,
criticising stare. For it was curious to see young men and women from
the lowest social strata meet and mingle in a public hall without
lewdness or badinage, but even with gentleness and consideration. The
truth is, however, that the class of women known as victims of the
social evil do not sink within many degrees as low in Europe as they do
in this country, either in their own opinion or in that of the public;
and there can be but little doubt that gatherings of the kind referred
to, if permitted in our great cities, would be tenfold more scandalous
and disgraceful than they are in London or Paris. There is something so
reckless and desperate in the career of man or woman in this country,
when they begin to go down, that the only feeling they too often excite
is one of loathsomeness and disgust. The lowest depth must be reached,
and it is reached quickly. But in London the same characters seem to
keep a sweet side from corruption to the last, and you will see good
manners everywhere.

We boast of our deference to woman, but if the Old World made her a
tool, we are fast making her a toy; and the latter is the more hopeless
condition. But among the better classes in England I am convinced that
woman is regarded more as a sister and an equal than in this country,
and is less subject to insult, and to leering, brutal comment, there
than here. We are her slave or her tyrant; so seldom her brother and
friend. I thought it a significant fact that I found no place of
amusement set apart for the men; where one sex went the other went;
what was sauce for the gander was sauce for the goose; and the spirit
that prevailed was soft and human accordingly. The hotels had no
"ladies' entrance," but all passed in and out the same door, and met
and mingled commonly in the same room, and the place was as much for
one as for the other. It was no more a masculine monopoly than it was a
feminine. Indeed, in the country towns and villages the character of
the inns is unmistakably given by woman; hence the sweet, domestic
atmosphere that pervades and fills them is balm to the spirit. Even the
larger hotels of Liverpool and London have a private, cozy, home
character that is most delightful. On entering them, instead of finding
yourself in a sort of public thoroughfare or political caucus, amid
crowds of men talking and smoking and spitting, with stalls on either
side where cigars and tobacco and books and papers are sold, you
perceive you are in something like a larger hall of a private house,
with perhaps a parlor and coffee-room on one side, and the office, and
smoking-room, and stairway on the other. You may leave your coat and
hat on the rack in the hall, and stand your umbrella there also, with
full assurance that you will find them there when you want them, if it
be the next morning or the next week. Instead of that petty tyrant the
hotel clerk, a young woman sits in the office with her sewing or other
needlework, and quietly receives you. She gives you your number on a
card, rings for a chambermaid to show you to your room, and directs
your luggage to be sent up; and there is something in the look of
things, and the way they are done, that goes to the right spot at once.

At the hotel in London where I stayed, the daughters of the landlord,
three fresh, comely young women, did the duties of the office; and
their presence, so quiet and domestic, gave the prevailing hue and tone
to the whole house. I wonder how long a young woman could preserve her
self-respect and sensibility in such a position in New York or

The English regard us as a wonderfully patient people, and there can be
no doubt that we put up with abuses unknown elsewhere. If we have no
big tyrant, we have ten thousand little ones, who tread upon our toes
at every turn. The tyranny of corporations, and of public servants of
one kind and another, as the ticket-man, the railroad conductor, or
even of the country stage-driver, seem to be features peculiar to
American democracy. In England the traveler is never snubbed, or made
to feel that it is by somebody's sufferance that he is allowed aboard
or to pass on his way.

If you get into an omnibus or a railroad or tramway carriage in London,
you are sure of a seat. Not another person can get aboard after the
seats are all full. Or, if you enter a public hall, you know you will
not be required to stand up unless you pay the standing-up price. There
is everywhere that system, and order, and fair dealing, which all men
love. The science of living has been reduced to a fine point. You pay a
sixpence and get a sixpence worth of whatever you buy. There are all
grades and prices, and the robbery and extortion so current at home
appear to be unknown.

I am not contending for the superiority of everything English, but
would not disguise from myself or my readers the fact of the greater
humanity and consideration that prevail in the mother country. Things
here are yet in the green, but I trust there is no good reason to doubt
that our fruit will mellow and ripen in time like the rest.


In coming over to France, I noticed that the chalk-hills, which were
stopped so abruptly by the sea on the British side of the Channel,
began again on the French side, only they had lost their smooth,
pastoral character, and were more broken and rocky, and that they
continued all the way to Paris, walling in the Seine, and giving the
prevailing tone and hue to the country,--scrape away the green and
brown epidermis of the hills anywhere, and out shines their white
framework,--and that Paris itself was built of stone evidently quarried
from this formation,--a light, cream-colored stone, so soft that
rifle-bullets bury themselves in it nearly their own depth, thus
pitting some of the more exposed fronts during the recent strife in a
very noticeable manner, and which, in building, is put up in the rough,
all the carving, sculpturing, and finishing being done after the blocks
are in position in the wall.

Disregarding the counsel of friends, I braved the Channel at one of its
wider points, taking the vixen by the waist instead of by the neck, and
found her as placid as a lake, as I did also on my return a week later.

It was a bright October morning as we steamed into the little harbor at
Dieppe, and the first scene that met my eye was, I suppose, a
characteristic one,--four or five old men and women towing a vessel
into a dock. They bent beneath the rope that passed from shoulder to
shoulder, and tugged away doggedly at it, the women apparently more
than able to do their part. There is no equalizer of the sexes like
poverty and misery, and then it very often happens that the gray mare
proves the better horse. Throughout the agricultural regions, as we
passed along, the men apparently all wore petticoats; at least, the
petticoats were the most active and prominent in the field occupations.
Then wearers were digging potatoes, pulling beets, following the harrow
(in one instance a thorn-bush drawn by a cow), and stirring the wet,
new-mown grass. I believe the pantaloons were doing the mowing. But I
looked in vain for any Maud Mullers in the meadows, and have concluded
that these can be found only in New England hay-fields! And herein is
one of the first surprises that await one on visiting the Old World
countries,--the absence of graceful, girlish figures, and bright
girlish faces, among the peasantry or rural population. In France I
certainly expected to see female beauty everywhere, but did not get one
gleam all that sunny day till I got to Paris. Is it a plant that
flourishes only in cities on this side of the Atlantic, or do all the
pretty girls, as soon as they are grown, pack their trunks, and leave
for the gay metropolis?

At Dieppe I first saw the wooden shoe, and heard its dry, senseless
clatter upon the pavement. How suggestive of the cramped and inflexible
conditions with which human nature has borne so long in these lands!

A small paved square near the wharf was the scene of an early market,
and afforded my first glimpse of the neatness and good taste that
characterize nearly everything in France. Twenty or thirty peasant
women, coarse and masculine, but very tidy, with their snow-white caps
and short petticoats, and perhaps half as many men, were chattering and
chaffering over little heaps of fresh country produce. The onions and
potatoes and cauliflowers were prettily arranged on the clean pavement,
or on white linen cloths, and the scene was altogether animated and

La belle France is the woman's country clearly, and it seems a mistake
or an anomaly that woman is not at the top and leading in all
departments, compelling the other sex to play second fiddle, as she so
frequently has done for a brief time in isolated cases in the past; not
that the man is effeminate, but that the woman seems so nearly his
match and equal, and so often proves even his superior. In no other
nation, during times of popular excitement and insurrection or

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