THROUGH CITIES AND PRAIRIE LANDS.*
THIS handsome and carefully-printed volume belongs to a class of literature which is rapidly becoming a nuisance. Hardly anything succeeds like a bright but light description of foreign countries, a book of travel in any country—the further afield the better—which yet is free from " dry " geographical detail. If it is full of places, it inttrests all who care to know them ; and if of manners, it attracts people who will not, or cannot, read novels, and yet are craving for books which are not tire- some, and awaken human interest. Miss Bird's Japan is the best recent example of the kind, but there has been a whole crop of such books, and scarcely one of them has been altogether a failure. Either the author has described something new, or he has observed from a new point of view, or he has possessed some unusual and pleasant charm of style. There is no objection to beaten tracks, or old subjects, or dull subjects, the only requisites for success being a light touch, some insight, and a power of reproducing on paper accurate observation. The work seems wonderfully easy, so easy, that every one who can write and who travels makes the essay, wherever chance may have directed the journey, and publishes his or her letters • Through Cities and Prairie Lands. By Lady Darius Hardy. London Chapman and Hall.
or journal, till the libraries are deluged with books quite in- offensive, but for the most part not worth the paper they are printed on. This is one of them. Lady Duffus Hardy has written, we believe, some fair novels ; she can tell a story very well, and when not intent on a rather forced and stilted kind of "reflection," she writes good English ; but she has none of the qualifications of a traveller. She does not know what is new and what is old, or understand in the least what the public desire to know. She did the regular American tour, Canada, New York, Philadelphia, the Prairies, Salt Lake City, California, but she observed scarcely anything which has not been observed a hundred times before. Her information is almost all of the guide-book kind, she makes no effort to show the distinctive features of different races clearly to the reader, and she evidently thinks that this kind of thing helps to make the differences between countries patent :—
" Much has been said, much has been written on the subject of Canada; we have learned its geographical position, the length and breadth of its lakes and rivers, the extent of its vast forest lands, the height of its mountains, Stc., but the figures dazzle the mind, and bring no realisation of the fact. Nothing less than a personal visit will enable us to comprehend the wonders of this luxuriant land, which is surrounded and encompassed with its own loveliness. The primeval forest still holds its own in the vast solitudes, sacred as yet from the increasing encroachments of man, its immense inland seas, and fruitful rivers winding through scenery the most picturesque, the most sublime; to say nothing of its vast unexplored lands and mineral resources, and the wide tracts of rich uncultivated country, watered by springs and rivulets which have been flowing in their living liquid beauty since the days of Paradise. We bear sad tales of poverty and misery in the old land, of scanty crops, wasted labour, and ruined farmers, who, after all, are only tenants on the land they live on; the small farmer who labours there, on another man's land, may here become a land-owner. There is no room for great farming operations or agricultural enterprise in the limited cultivated land of the old country, every rood of which is occupied ; there is no room for new- comers—the great tide of human life, which is rising every hour, must roll on towards the great cities, and perhaps starve there, for each city is filled with its own people, who work at their different trades, and in their turn overflow into the country, drifting, Heaven knows where. There is small chance of rural folks gaining their bread in the old land. Here in the New World there are not thou- sands, but millions of acres of rich, fertile soil waiting for the magic pick and the ploughshare to turn it to a veritable 'Tom Tidler's Ground ;' only scatter the seed on its broad, fair breast, and it will pulsate with a new life and swell the seeds with its own fullness till they burst and blossom into a wealth of golden grain, and the hand of the sower gathereth a rich harvest.'" There has not been a book upon Canada, hardly a newspaper article, for the last thirty years, in which the single idea of that long paragraph—viz., that England is crowded, and that Canada is not—has not been repeated, till the world is sick. 'The reader wants to shout, as the converted Indian does to his preacher, " Connu, con,nu !" and asks wearily for something which will bring the Dominion home to him as a place, and not as a bit of geography. There is more effective description in Messrs. Besant and Rice's epithet for Canada, " clear sky land," than in volumes such as the page we have quoted. Here is another passage, about the Canadian Indians :— " A posse of Indian squaws and bucks' stood leaning along the wharf, watching us with expressionless eyes and immovable stolidity of countenance. They might have been statues of bronze, for any signs they gave of life. If the playful earthquake had paid a sudden visit to the shore and swallowed us up, I doubt if they would have moved a finger or quivered an eyelid. They all wore ragged red shawls or striped blankets wrapped round them, their dark faces and black beady eyes looming out from a mass of thick, unkempt hair. This was the first time the untamed savage on his native soil had crossed our path, and I must say they were the most revolting speci- mens of the human race. It is simply impossible to regard them as 4 men and brothers,' and the more we study the nature, character, and capabilities of these people, the more firmly we are convinced of that fact. Civilisation, with its humanising principles, may struggle with the difficulties, but it will never overcome the inborn blindness of the savage race. They have not the power to comprehend our codes, nor to feel as we feel."
There is some mind in the suggestion that the Indian is cruel to himself as well as to all others, or, in other words, that he lacks perception of his own cruelty, but the rest is a mere statement of an opinion contradicted by the whole history of Canada, the only place where the white man and the Indian have managed to live side by side without oppression on the one hand, or cruelty on the other. Lady Duffns Hardy visited Ottawa ; but what we learn about a place which Englishmen do not realise, is that the Parliament buildings are Italian Gothic and very beautiful, that "it has numerous fine churches, and its town- hall, post-office, and all the municipal buildings are substanti- ally and massively built in an attractive and fanciful style of architecture," that the rest of the city is unfinished, and that the whole "looks like a timber-yard, and smells of sawdust." That last is a good realistic touch, worth all the rest of the description, but it is the only one. What is the use of telling us about New York, that the "every-man-as-good-as-his- neighbours feeling is sometimes unpleasantly obtruded on your notice, especially when you embark on a shopping expedition," that Central Park is a triumph of engineering skill, that there are rushing and haste in Wall Street, and that " Society is more exclusive than in the old country P" or of Chicago that,—
" Chicago is indeed a great city, full of energy and enterprise. Signs of its hidden strength and powers of progress greet us every- where ; but at present, it appears to be wholly devoted to money- making. Art, science (except such science as serves its purpose), and literature are in a languishing state. But it is young yet. Per- haps when it is fully developed, and grown strong in muscle, and bone, and brain, the soul may be born to glorify the common-place, and stir the latent genius of this city into life and beauty."
We have gone patiently through the volume, and have found literally nothing beyond the oldest statements, set off with the tritest of reflections, and some four or five pages of real interest. Two of these contain a striking description of Monterey, the old Spanish port of California, and the two following stories of San Francisco, which we willingly allow to be effective. We do not know that we ever saw the singular, and as it were domina- ting, kindness of Americans displayed in so striking a way before :—
" Things happen here that we cannot conceive happening in any other city in the world. Walking through the streets one day, we met a strange figure carrying a parti-coloured umbrella—red, white, and blue. He was a gray-haired, elderly man, dressed in a faded military uniform, with tarnished epaulets, and a scarlet feather in his cap. He may be seen wandering through the streets of the city in all weathers. He has been so wandering for the last twenty years or more. He labours under the delusion that he is Emperor of all the Americas.' The people humour him, and allow him to in- dulge in that delusion. He issues proclamations, which are printed in the newspapers, and posted at street-corners. Sometimes, being in want of twenty dollars, he levies a tax upon his loyal subjects.' Some wealthy citizen answers the demand at once; he is never denied. He dines where he pleases, free ; patronises such places of entertainment as he chooses, free ; rides on the cars or on the trams, free ; indeed, he has the freedom of the city in the truest sense of the word. On inquiry we learn the reason of this general indulgence. He was a mason and a forty-niner, they say ; and was ruined by the great fire, when his wits were shaken, and this royal delusion roes on the wreck of his reason, and the kindly people, in the spirit of true camaraderie, will never let the old man want. Here is an anecdote characteristic of San Francisco kindliness, being the history in brief of Bummer and Lazarus (the names being descriptive of the habits of one dog, and the appearance of the other, on his first entrance into public life). 'Bummer' was a big dog, a vagabond much beloved of the town, who could not be coaxed into civilised ways. He dis- dained to live in a house, or to serve one master. He was a kind of canine tramp, who lived by his wits. Like the Emperor, he, too, en- joyed the hospitality of the city. Lazarus was a little, mangy cur, thin, sickly, and half-starved. One day, some other dogs attacked poor, miserable little Lazarus. Bummer, perhaps moved by kindred feelings—the assailants being household property, and Lazarus a tramp like himself—plunged into the fray to the rescue of Lazarus. From that day the two wanderers were a canine Damon and Pythias. They became well known in the city. Lazarus looked starved and sickly no longer. Bummer introduced him to his own chosen haunts. They went together to such restaurants as they chose to honour, and dined gratis. Messrs. Bummer and Lazarus were always welcome, and never sent hungry away. It was observed that the big dog always gave his small companion a full share of the delicacies of the season. When an Act was passed commanding all dogs in the city of San Francisco to be muzzled, a clause was made exempting Bummer and Lazarus.' However, their time came. Bummer died one day ; Lazarus was found dead by his side on the next. In old resident of the city, who knew the dogs well and had fed them many a time, told me this story. They are stuffed now, and have their place among the many mementoes of old day s' —old in the space of thirty years."
There is no city in Europe which would not tire of that old gentleman in a week if he asked for money, or one which would would have recognised as a city the claims of " Bummer " and "Lazarus." A regiment might have exempted them from the general proscription, but not a city. For the sake of those stories, we forgive the author the weariness she has inflicted on us, and only hope that when she travels again she will either choose less frequented ground, or abstain from reflections so very frequently honoured with the approval of the public.