Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
The Englishman’s Typical American
By Richard Grant White (1822–1885)
 
[The Fate of Mansfield Humphreys. 1884.]

ERELONG a servant entered, with a card upon a salver, which he presented to our hostess, who, after glancing at it a moment with a puzzled look, said, “To my lord.” On receiving it, his lordship handed it to me, saying, “From your friend. He sent me a letter of introduction from Tooptoe at Oxford; said he couldn’t come just now himself, and asked the favor of introducin’, just for a mornin’ visit, an American gentleman, in whom he felt sure I should be interested. It’s all right, I suppose?” It was simply Humphreys’s card, and a line in pencil, “Introducing the Hon. Washington J. Adams.”
  1
  “I don’t know Mr. Adams,” I said; “but I do know that Mansfield Humphreys would give a card to no one who might not be properly received by the gentleman to whom it was addressed.”  2
  Here Captain Surcingle, whose attention had been arrested, and who had heard my reply, cried out “’Mewican? Have him up, Toppin’em,—have him up! Those fellows are such fun! I always go to see the ’Mewican Cousin. Not faw Dundweawy. Can’t see what they make such a doosid fuss about him faw. Does nothin’ but talk just like ’fellow at the Wag: wegla’ muff. Nevah saw such a boa. But Twenchard’s awful fun; good as goin’ to ’Mewica without the boa of goin’.”  3
  As the Honorable John began his appeal, his lady cousin stepped across the terrace to pluck a rose which peered at us over the stone balustrade, blushing with shame at its beautiful intrusion; and as she swept past him, I partly heard and partly saw her say, in an earnest whisper, “Jack, do be quiet; and don’t be such a goose!”  4
  She had hardly returned with her flower, when the servant who had been sent out reappeared, announcing “Mr. Adams”; and all eyes followed our host, as he stepped forward to receive the unknown guest. As unabashed as a comet crossing the orbit of Jupiter on its way to the sun, the Honorable Washington entered the Priory circle, and advanced to Lord Toppingham. The Earl offered him his hand. He took it, and then he shook it,—shook it well; and to a few of the usual words of welcome he replied, “I’m very glad to see you, my lord; most happy to hev the pleasure of meetin’ your lordship” (looking round) “here in your elegant doughmain and gorjis castle. My friend Mr. Humphreys told me I’d find everything here fuss class; an’ I hev. Your man help down stairs wuz a leetle slow, to be sure; but don’t apologize; difference of institootions, I s’pose. Everything moves a leetle slower here.”  5
  As Lord Toppingham led Mr. Adams to our hostess, eyes of wonder, not unmixed with pleasure, were bent upon him. He was a man of middle size, neither tall nor slender; but he stooped a little from his hips, and his head was slightly thrust forward, with an expression of eagerness, as he slouched along the terrace. His upper lip was shaved; but his sallow face terminated in that adornment known at the West as “chin-whiskers.” His hat, which he kept on, was of felt, with a slightly conical crown. It rested rather on the back than on the top of his head, and from it fell a quantity of longish straight brown hair. His splendid satin scarf was decorated with a large pin, worthy of its position; and the watch-chain that stretched across his waistcoat would have held a yacht to its moorings. His outer garment left the beholder in doubt whether it was an overcoat that he was wearing as a duster, or a duster doing service as an overcoat. Into the pockets of this he thrust his hands deep, and moved them back and forth from time to time, giving the skirts a wing-like action. Having taken Lady Toppingham’s hand, and shaken that too, and assured her of his pleasure in meeting her also, he put his own back into its appropriate pocket, and, gently flapping his wings, repeated, “Yes, ma’am; very happy to hev the pleasure of meetin’ your ladyship. Hope my call ain’t put you out any; but I s’pose you’re used to seein’ a goodle o’ company in the surprise way.”  6
  “I am always pleased to receive any friend of my lord’s or of Dr. Tooptoe’s,” said Lady Toppingham, seating herself upon one of the stone benches of the terrace; and Lord Toppingham turned as if to lead Mr. Adams away. But that gentleman immediately sat himself down by her side, and, crossing his legs, was evidently preparing to make himself agreeable. A slight shade of reserve with which she had taken her seat deepened for a moment, and then instantly gave way to a look of good-natured amusement; and I saw, to my relief, that she appreciated the situation. “You’ve been in our little England before, I suppose, Mr. Adams?”  7
  “No, ma’am, I hevn’t. My plit’cle dooties as a member of the legislater of the Empire State hev pervented. Empire State’s Noo York, ’z I s’pose your ladyship knows. Motto, Ex-celsior, an’ the risin’ sun; out of Longfeller’s poem, you know.”  8
  “I do know Mr. Longfellow’s charming poem. We’re great admirers of Mr. Longfellow in England; indeed, we think him quite an English poet.”  9
  “Wal, ma’am, you’re ’baout right there; ’xcept in callin’ him an English poet. He’s a true Muh’kin; an’ he kin beat Tennyson, an’ all the rest of ’em, at writin’ po’try, any day, let ’em do their level best. Why, he’s written more vollums of poetry—fuss-class poetry, too—than any man that ever lived; more ’n Dr. Holland. Lives in fuss-class style, too, if he is a poet. Shouldn’t wonder if there wa’nt a broker in Wall Street that lives in higher style’n Longfellow.”  10
  At this triumphant utterance Mr. Adams took off his hat, and I feared he was about to wave it; but the movement was only one of momentary relief, perhaps, to his enthusiasm, and he at once restored it to its perilous inclination.  11
  Lord Toppingham now stepped up to create a diversion in favor of his beleaguered wife, and, standing before the pair, asked Mr. Adams if he had been in London while Parliament was sitting.  12
  “Wal, yaas, I wuz,” replied the legislator, keeping his seat and looking up; “’n’ I went to see it; ’n’ to tell the truth ’n’ the hull truth, I wuz dis’pinted. Gladstone’s a smart man, but slow, I shed say, mighty slow; ain’t learned not to craowd himself, nuther; bites off more ’n he kin chaw. ’N’ I didn’t hear no eloquence; nobody didn’t seem to take no intrust into what was goin’ on. You hev got a powerful han’some buildin’ fur the meetin’ of your legislater; but jess you wait ’n’ see the noo Capitol ’t Albany, ’n’ you’ll sing small, I—tell—you. Yes, siree.”  13
  As this conversation went on, some of the other guests had approached, and there was a little group around our hostess and Mr. Adams, who now, to the evident horror of some of them, drew from his pocket a gigantic knife, with a set-spring at the back; indeed, it was a clasp bowie-knife. Opening it with a tremendous click, he strapped it a little on his shoe, and then looked doubtfully at the bench on which he sat. Evidently dissatisfied with the inducement which its stone surface offered, he drew from one of his capacious pockets a piece of pine wood about as thick as a heavy broomstick, and began to cut it in a meditative manner.  14
  “Don’t git much whittlin’ into your effete old monarchies. Even the benches, when they ain’t stun, air oak, that’d turn the edge of any gen’leman’s knife; ’n’ so I carry suthin’ comfortable raound with me.” As he spoke the light shavings curled away from his stick, and rolled upon the terrace floor.  15
  Lady Toppingham was as serene as a harvest moon, and was evidently much amused with her visitor; and the rest looked on with an interest and a satisfaction which were manifest in their countenances.  16
  “Your lordship does suthin’ in this way, I reckon. Guess all you lords air in the lumber line; ’n’ I seen some fuss-class trees inter the vacant lots raound your haouse—castle, I mean. S’pose that’s the reason you don’t improve. Much doin’ in lumber naow?”  17
  “Not much,” said our host, with a pleasant smile. “I’m more inclined to keep my trees than to sell them, at present. But let me make you acquainted with some of my friends. Mr. Grimstone, member for Hilchester Towers.”  18
  “Haow do you do, Mr. Grimstone?” said Adams, rising; and shifting his knife to his left hand, he took the M.P.’s, and shaking it vigorously, said, “Happy to hev the pleasure of meetin’ you, sir. Don’t know you personally, but know you very well by reputtation.”  19
  As our host looked next at me, I managed to convey to him an unspoken request not to be introduced, which he respected; but my friend the captain, stepping forward, was presented, with the added comment that Mr. Adams would find him well up about guns and rifles and fire-arms of all kinds; quite an authority, indeed, upon that subject.  20
  “Dew tell? Why, I’m glad to hev the pleasure of meetin’ you, sir. Look a’ here! I kin show you suthin’ fuss-class in that line,” and putting his hand behind him, underneath his coat, he produced a large pistol, a navy revolver, which he exhibited in a demonstrative way to the captain, saying, “Naow that’s suthin’ satisfactory fur a gen’leman to hev about him; no little pea-shootin’ thing, that you might empty into a man ’thout troublin’ him more ’n so many flea-bites.”  21
  The captain looked at it with interest, while some of the other guests shrank away. After a brief examination, he returned it, saying, “Vewy fine, vewy fine, indeed; and I hear you use ’em at vewy long distances, almost like a wifle.”  22
  “Sartin,” said Mr. Adams. “Look a’ here! See that thar tree yonder?” and pointing to one on the other side of the garden, he threw up his left arm, and took a sight rest on it. Some of the ladies screamed, and the captain and Lord Toppingham both caught his arm, the latter exclaiming, “Beg pahdon, don’t fire, please! Somebody might be passin’ in the park.”  23
  “Wal, jess’s you like, sir. You air to hum, ’n’ I ain’t. But that ’s the diff’kilty ’ith England. Th’r’ ain’t no libbuty here. You’ve allers got to be thinkin’ ’baout somebody else.”  24
  The incident certainly created a little unpleasant excitement; yet after this had subsided, it seemed not to have diminished, but rather to have increased, the satisfaction with which Mr. Adams was regarded. The Professor came up, and said, “Our Amerigan vrent is ferry kint sooch an exhipition of the manners and gustoms of his gountry to gif. Barehaps he vould a var-tance bareform vor the inztrugzion oond blaysure of dthe gompany.”  25
  “No, no, Professor Schlamm,” said Lady Toppingham, smiling, “we won’t put Mr. Adams to the trouble of a war-dance; and we’ve so narrowly escaped one blessure that we may well be willing to forego the other.” As my hostess struck off this little spark, I observed that her French was not that of the school of Stratford atte Bowe, which continues much in vogue in England even among ladies of the prioress’s rank.  26
  Adams caught at the name as an introduction. “Is this,” he said, “the celebrated Professor Schlamm?” and seizing his hand, he shook it well. “Happy to make your acquaintance, sir. Your fame, sir, is widely ex-tended over the civil-ized globe. Hev n’t hed the pleasure of meetin’ you before, sir, but know you very well by reputtation.”  27
  The Professor, who had all the simple vanity of the vainest race in the world, beamed under the influence of this compliment, so that his very spectacles seemed to glow with warmth and light.  28
  “You German gen’l’men air fond of our naytional plant,” said Adams blandly. “Hev a cigar? Won’t you jine me?” and he produced from his pocket two or three temptations.  29
  “Dthanks; poot it might not to dthe laties pe acreeable.”  30
  “No? Wal, then, here goes fur the ginooine article. I’m ’baout tuckered aout fur some.” Saying this he took from his pocket a brown plug, cut off a piece, and having shaped and smoothed a little with his huge knife, he laid it carefully with his fore finger in his cheek. Then, his knife being out, he took the opportunity to clean his nails; and having scraped the edges until our blood curdled, he returned his weapon, after a loud click, to his pocket.  31
  A look of distress had come over the face of our hostess when Mr. Adams produced his plug; and she called a servant, who, after receiving an order from her in a low voice, went out. Mr. Adams’s supplementary toilet being completed, he slouched away towards the balustrade; and after looking a few moments across the garden, he turned about, and, leaning against the stone, he began an expectorative demonstration. After he had made two or three violent and very obtrusive efforts of this kind, which, however, I must confess, did not seem to leave much visible witness before us, the servant returned hastily with a spittoon, the fabric and condition of which showed very plainly that it came from no part of the priory that rejoiced in the presence of Lady Toppingham. This the footman placed before Mr. Adams, within easy range.  32
  “Nev’ mind,” said that gentleman,—“nev’ mind. Sorry you took the trouble, sonny. I don’t set up fur style; don’t travel onto it. I’m puffickly willin’ to sit down along ’th my fren’s, and spit raound sociable. I know I wear a biled shirt ’n’ store clothes,—that’s a fact; but’s a graceful con-ciliation of and deference to public opinion, considerin’ I’m a member of the legislater of the Empire State.”  33
  “Biled?” said Captain Surcingle to me, inquiringly (for we had kept pretty close together). “Mean boiled?”  34
  “Yes.”  35
  “Boil shirts in ’Mewica?”  36
  “Always.”  37
  “Your shirt boiled?”  38
  “N-no; not exactly. I should have said that all our wealthiest and most distinguished citizens, members of the legislature and the like, boil their shirts. I make no such pretensions.”  39
  The captain looked at me doubtfully. But our talk and Mr. Adams’s performances were brought to a close by the announcement of luncheon, and an invitation from our host to the dining-room. This mid-day repast is quite informal; but, comparatively unrestrained as it is by etiquette, rank and precedence are never quite forgotten at it, or on any other occasion, in England; and there being no man of rank present, except our host, and Sir Charles being far down the terrace, talking hunt and horse with another squire, Mr. Grimstone was moving toward Lady Toppingham, with the expectation of entering with her, when Mr. Adams stepped quickly up, and saying, “Wal, I don’t keer ef I dew jine you; ’low me the pleasure, ma’am,” he offered her his arm. She took it, Mr. Grimstone retreated in disorder, and we all went in somewhat irregularly. As we passed through the hall, and approached the dining-room, it occurred to Mr. Adams to remove his hat; and he then looked about, and up and down, in evident search of a peg on which to hang it. A servant stepped forward and held out his hand for it. After a brief hesitation he resigned it, saying, “Ain’t ye goin’ to give me no check for that? Haow do I know I’ll git it agin? Haowever, it’s Lord Toppingham’s haouse, an’ he’s responsible, I guess. That’s good law, ain’t it, your Lordship?”  40
  “Excellent,” said our host, evidently much pleased that Lady Toppingham had taken this opportunity to continue on her way to the dining-room, where we found her with Mr. Grimstone on her right hand, and a vacant seat on her left, between her and her cousin, to which she beckoned me; Mr. Adams, the Professor, and the two authoresses forming a little group near Lord Toppingham.  41
  “I hope,” said the M. P. to me, as we settled ourselves at table, “that you are pleased with your Mr. Washington Adams. I, for one, own that such a characteristic exhibition of genuine American character and manners is, if not exactly agreeable, a very entertaining subject of study.”  42
  The taunt itself was less annoying than its being flung at me across our hostess; but as I could not tell him so without sharing his breach of good manners, I was about to let his remark pass, with a silent bow, when a little look of encouragement in Lady Toppingham’s eyes led me to say, “As to your entertainment, sir, I have no doubt that you might find as good at home without importing your Helots. As to Mr. Adams being my Mr. Washington Adams, he is neither kith nor kin of any of my people, to whom he would be an occasion of as much curious wonder as he is to any person at this table.”  43
  “Oh, that won’t do at all. He is one of your legislators,—the Honorable Washington Adams. You Americans are a very strange people; quite incomprehensible to our poor, simple English understandings.” I did not continue the discussion, which I saw would be as fruitless as, under the circumstances, it was unpleasant, and indeed almost inadmissible, notwithstanding the gracious waiver of my hostess.  44
 
 
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