Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. VIVIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 18351860
The Englishmans Typical American
By Richard Grant White (18221885)
[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 couldnt 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. Its all right, I suppose? It was simply Humphreyss card, and a line in pencil, Introducing the Hon. Washington J. Adams.
Here Captain Surcingle, whose attention had been arrested, and who had heard my reply, cried out Mewican? Have him up, Toppinem,have him up! Those fellows are such fun! I always go to see the Mewican Cousin. Not faw Dundweawy. Cant 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 Twenchards awful fun; good as goin to Mewica without the boa of goin.
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 dont be such a goose!
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, Im 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 Id find everything here fuss class; an I hev. Your man help down stairs wuz a leetle slow, to be sure; but dont apologize; difference of institootions, I spose. Everything moves a leetle slower here.
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 Toppinghams 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, maam; very happy to hev the pleasure of meetin your ladyship. Hope my call aint put you out any; but I spose youre used to seein a goodle o company in the surprise way.
I am always pleased to receive any friend of my lords or of Dr. Tooptoes, 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. Youve been in our little England before, I suppose, Mr. Adams?
No, maam, I hevnt. My plitcle dooties as a member of the legislater of the Empire State hev pervented. Empire States Noo York, z I spose your ladyship knows. Motto, Ex-celsior, an the risin sun; out of Longfellers poem, you know.
Wal, maam, youre baout right there; xcept in callin him an English poet. Hes a true Muhkin; an he kin beat Tennyson, an all the rest of em, at writin potry, any day, let em do their level best. Why, hes written more vollums of poetryfuss-class poetry, toothan any man that ever lived; more n Dr. Holland. Lives in fuss-class style, too, if he is a poet. Shouldnt wonder if there want a broker in Wall Street that lives in higher stylen Longfellow.
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.
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 dispinted. Gladstones a smart man, but slow, I shed say, mighty slow; aint learned not to craowd himself, nuther; bites off more n he kin chaw. N I didnt hear no eloquence; nobody didnt seem to take no intrust into what was goin on. You hev got a powerful hansome buildin fur the meetin of your legislater; but jess you wait n see the noo Capitol t Albany, n youll sing small, Itellyou. Yes, siree.
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.
Dont git much whittlin into your effete old monarchies. Even the benches, when they aint stun, air oak, thatd turn the edge of any genlemans 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.
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 haousecastle, I mean. Spose thats the reason you dont improve. Much doin in lumber naow?
Not much, said our host, with a pleasant smile. Im 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.
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. Dont know you personally, but know you very well by reputtation.
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.
Dew tell? Why, Im 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 thats suthin satisfactory fur a genleman 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.
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.
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, dont fire, please! Somebody might be passin in the park.
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.
No, no, Professor Schlamm, said Lady Toppingham, smiling, we wont put Mr. Adams to the trouble of a war-dance; and weve 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 prioresss rank.
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 nt hed the pleasure of meetin you before, sir, but know you very well by reputtation.
No? Wal, then, here goes fur the ginooine article. Im 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.
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. Adamss 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.
Nev mind, said that gentleman,nev mind. Sorry you took the trouble, sonny. I dont set up fur style; dont travel onto it. Im puffickly willin to sit down along th my frens, and spit raound sociable. I know I wear a biled shirt n store clothes,thats a fact; buts a graceful con-ciliation of and deference to public opinion, considerin Im a member of the legislater of the Empire State.
The captain looked at me doubtfully. But our talk and Mr. Adamss 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 dont keer ef I dew jine you; low me the pleasure, maam, 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, Aint ye goin to give me no check for that? Haow do I know Ill git it agin? Haowever, its Lord Toppinghams haouse, an hes responsible, I guess. Thats good law, aint it, your Lordship?
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.
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.
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 Toppinghams 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.
Oh, that wont 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.