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TAHITI TO SAN FRANCISCO—EASTER-DAY IN CALIFORNIA—A NEW CITY—RECLAIMED LAND—WILD LUPINES—SEA-OTTERS—THE LONE MOUNTAIN—PROGRESSIVE FUNERALS.
On Board the Paloma, off California,
Easter-Eve, April 20, 1878.
Dear Brother Wanderer,—I must write you a few lines ere setting foot for the first time in the great New World, that I may despatch them as soon as we touch land, and start them off in search of you. I suppose if I address to London—the great centre—they will be forwarded to you somewhere within a year, whether your erratic flight has landed you in Kamschatka or Patagonia, Spitzbergen or Tasmania.
As for me, I am strangely behindhand in the matter of news, as it is nine months since a letter has reached me, with the exception of a few inter-insular notes from French officials and Tahitian chiefesses—kind, good friends, who have made the last half-year wonderfully pleasant to me.
But from kinsfolk and home, not one message could have reached me, and a few chance sentences in stray newspapers have been the only echoes that have floated to me across the great waters. For of course all my letters were sent to Fiji, which, as you know, has been our home for the last two years. (I left it in the beginning of September, tempted by an invitation to make a very delightful cruise in a French man-of-war, which has resulted in my remaining for several months in beautiful Tahiti.)
Of course the last letters that reached me ere I left Fiji were rather antiquated, bearing date June 4, 1877; and all of more recent date have gone on accumulating in Fiji, till, finding I could not return there direct, I requested that they should be sent to await me at Honolulu, which port I hoped to have reached ere now in one of the sailing vessels which are occasionally despatched from Tahiti to fetch cattle from the Sandwich Isles.
However, after long waiting, I found that the chances of getting a ship were so uncertain, that the shortest way in the end would be to take a passage all the way to San Francisco in this little brigantine of 230 tons, and thence return to Honolulu by one of the Great Pacific mail-steamers.
As your wanderings have not yet led you to the Pacific (and I know that you, like myself, only learn your geography by actually going over the ground), I may as well mention that the distance from Tahiti to Honolulu is about two thousand miles, and from Tahiti to San Francisco is actually about four thousand miles, measured as the crow flies. But what with untoward winds and unlooked-for currents, our flight has rather resembled that of the great brown “gonies” that bear us company, and we have contrived on this voyage to make fully six thousand miles, and have taken six weeks to do it, and that, without touching land.
The gonies would delight you. What may be their scientific name I cannot say for certain, though I am told that they are young albatross, who, like the “ugly duckling,” do not develop their snowy plumage the first year. We see a few of these grand birds, with the wild, fearless eyes, and there is no mistaking them; but the gonies are our never-failing companions. They are large birds of a greyish-brown colour, with long, narrow wings, black-tipped. I am sure some of them must measure six feet across. They wheel around us, and sweep to and fro with an easy, graceful flight, which is beautiful to behold, and fills me with envy. Oh, had I the wings of a gonie! Sometimes a tempting fish-shoal attracts them, and they drop far behind us. A few moments later they are miles ahead; so, apparently without the slightest exertion, they float to and fro at their own wild will, and travel ten times faster than the swiftest steamer.
Though the voyage has been so unexpectedly prolonged, I cannot say that I have found it unpleasant; quite the contrary, it has been like a summer yachting cruise.
The Paloma1 is a beautiful little ship, carrying a crowd of whitest sails; she is exquisitely clean, her ship’s company consist of singularly quiet, gentle Swedes, Germans, and Rarotongans. Our cabins are very comfortable; my only fellow-passengers are most friendly and agreeable. We carry a cargo of 270,000 oranges, gathered green in the orange-groves of Tahiti, but which have ripened during this long voyage, and we have done our best to diminish their number.
[1The Dove (Spanish).]
We have had lovely weather, though too often becalmed for days together, or else drifting aimlessly with the currents, or just kept moving by the faintest, softest breeze, which has generally carried us in the wrong direction. I never more fully realised the weariness of the “wandering fields of barren foam.”
We have proved the truth of the old adage, that after a storm comes a calm, for just before we sailed from Tahiti, a terrific hurricane had swept over the isles lying to the north, in the “Dangerous Archipelago.” Many land birds came on board when we were fully three hundred miles from the Paumotus. The captain says they are kinds which he has never seen on any previous voyage, so he believes they had been blown away from home by the hurricane. He thinks the whole atmosphere is out of order, as, according to all experience, we have been entitled to a south-east trade-wind all the time, whereas, for days and days together, every breath of air was from north-east, driving us far out of our course.
The moonlight nights have been perfect, clear as day. Occasionally we have had heavy showers, which we hailed with delight, as affording us a chance of a fresh-water bath. For though the good Rarotongans daily rig up a bathing-tent on deck, where we may splash to our heart’s content in great tubs of salt water, we often think regretfully of the lovely limpid streams of Tahiti, and long for soft fresh water. So whenever a welcome shower begins, we don our Tahitian sacques (long flowing dressing-gowns), and bless the heaven-sent shower-bath.
Now we are drawing very near our journey’s end, and I confess I do hope I may have a few days on terra firma ere starting on the long return voyage to Hawaii. We have been looking forward to spending Easter-day ashore, but now there appears very small chance of our doing so.
Since the Easter morning when we sailed from Marseilles, I have never been within hail of our own Church for any one festival. The following Easter was spent in the wilds of Fiji, and this day last year I was among the Maoris of the volcanic region in New Zealand. As to Christmas, the first was spent with a wild tribe of Fijians who had only just given up cannibalism; on the next, we were transhipping from a little steamer to a big one, en route to New Zealand; and last Christmas-day found me in one of the loveliest of Tahitian valleys. So you see that a real ecclesiastical Easter would have special attractions. Nevertheless we have almost given up hope of reaching land so soon, as the wind has failed us again.
San Francisco, Easter Monday.
I had written so far when a fresh breeze sprang up, and we literally flew the last hundred and fifty miles, entering the Golden Gates at 2 a.m. It was clear moonlight, so I was able to reconnoitre, and took in my first impressions of America, in a series of lighthouses, which mark various points in the magnificent harbour, in which there is said to be room for all the navies of Europe. Finally, we anchored just before the cold grey dawn crept up, with a chilling shiver (oh how different from the balmy tropical mornings in which I have revelled for so long!).
There was nothing golden in our first glimpses of California. We indulged in a jorum of excellent hot gin-toddy, to correct the bitter, damp cold; and soon after sunrise we watched a number of huge steamers, densely crowded with excursionists, start from the different wharfs, to make the most of the Easter holiday.
Then we made our little preparations for landing. A sleepy, shivering Custom-house officer had come on board near the harbour-mouth; but as it was Sunday, none of our baggage could pass the Customs. We were each, however, allowed to take a small bag, supposed to be sufficient for one night. Apparently every one is expected to bear his own burden in this free and independent land, but the friendly Swedish mate insisted on carrying the ladies’ bags to the hotel where we secured rooms.
By this time the Easter chimes were pealing from a multitude of church bells, and the streets were thronged with masses of human beings. The grey chill morning was succeeded by a day of brilliant sunlight, and among the crowds of church-goers were many in apparel positively gorgeous. London streets would wonder to find themselves swept by such magnificent satins and velvets, or to see such diamonds glittering in the light of the sun. It struck me painfully to notice the great proportion of women who would evidently have been attractive but for the free use of white and rouge: you might fancy that “this glorious climate of California” could dispense with such polluting adjuncts, but these ladies evidently think otherwise. And yet how they would despise their brown sisters or brothers who on a gala-day “assist nature” by a touch of vermilion or a few streaks of blue!
My travelling companion being a rigid Roman Catholic, led the way to St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, where the bishop was celebrating High Mass. It is a plain building, but made beautiful by its Easter decorations and the profusion of exquisite flowers. Thousands of roses and lilies made the air fragrant, and were doubly welcome to eyes weary of the broad restless ocean.
It seemed to me somewhat a strange coincidence that, having received my last ecclesiastical impressions of the Old World at the Roman Catholic Church of Saint Roch, in Paris, on Good Friday 1875, I should next hear the grand Easter Anthem in a Roman Catholic cathedral on this my first morning in the New World. The singing was most lovely, but the crowd was so dense that there was not a chance of a seat; so, leaving my friend to her devotions, I went to Grace Church—an Episcopal Church which she had pointed out to me a little farther.
This was likewise densely crowded, but a very civil stranger gave me his seat, for which I was grateful, the walk uphill from the wharf having proved fatiguing. Here also the decorations are most elaborate. Besides the great cross above the altar (made entirely of rare hothouse flowers), there hangs suspended from the great chancel arch an immense cross of pure white Calla lilies (Arum) in a circle of evergreens, beneath which, in very large evergreen letters, each hanging separate, is the angel’s Easter greeting—“He is Risen.” The effect of this device, so mysteriously floating in mid-air, is very striking.
In every corner of the church flowers have been showered with the same lavish hand—the font, lectern, pulpit, organ, walls, but especially in the chancel, where the choicest flowers are reserved for the altar-vases and the altar-rails, which are altogether hidden by the wealth of exquisite roses. To some sensitive persons I can imagine that their perfume might have been overpowering, but to me it seemed like a breath from heaven.
It was pleasant, too, in this “far country,” to hear the old familiar liturgy, like a voice from over the wide waters, bringing with it a flood of home memories and associations. Moreover, it was quite unexpected, as during the last two years I have been thrown in company with so many different regiments of the great Christian army, that I suppose I had assumed that this Californian church would prove one more variety. Certainly I had not realised that America has preserved the old Book of Common Prayer almost intact, with only a few minor changes, every one of which seems to have been dictated by good common-sense—as, for instance, after the Commandments, where we so abruptly introduce the prayer for the Queen, the American priest adds, “Hear also what our Lord Jesus Christ saith,” and sums up the Old Law by pronouncing the New Commandment, in the words of St Matthew, xxii. 37-40. He then offers the closing prayer from the Confirmation Service, that we may be kept in the ways of God’s law and the works of His commandments.
All vain repetitions are avoided. Either the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene may be said both morning and evening, but never both during one service. The frequent reiteration of the Lord’s Prayer is avoided. In the Canticles, such portions as seem inapplicable to ourselves (such as the last half of the Venite) are omitted, and verses of praise from the Psalms are substituted. The Magnificat is replaced by the 92d Psalm; the Nunc Dimittis by the 103d, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.” Some advantageous verbal alterations occur—as in the Litany, “In all time of our wealth” is rendered “all time of our prosperity.”
The principal variations from the English Prayer-Book occur in the order of the Service for the Holy Communion, which is almost identical with the old office of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and as such, familiar to my ears. In short, all was as a dream of home, with the exception of the strange and unnatural sound of hearing for the first time the name of the President of the United States substituted for that of “Victoria our Queen,” and the use of the term “Christian rulers” in lieu of “kings.”
The singing is admirable, but not congregational. It is left to a carefully trained (and, I am told, highly paid) choir of men and women. Surpliced choirs are apparently not in favour here, from an impression that they tend toward dreaded ritualism.
In the course of the day I looked into various other churches, each vying with the other in the beauty of its Easter decorations. One had the entire reredos, as it were, inlaid with lilies of the valley on a groundwork of maiden-hair fern; above the altar was a beautiful cross of white camellias and tuberoses, and the chancel-rails, lectern, and pulpit are dressed with lovely leaves of Calla lilies, while the most exquisite white exotics adorn the font. Wreaths and emblems, crosses and crowns, of white camellias or white pinks, with here and there a point of rich colour in some grand cluster of glorious red roses, delight the eye wherever it turns.
This morning the newspapers devote several pages to descriptions of the principal features of each church in the city. It reduces the poetry of the thing to somewhat of a prosaic detail, to find an exact record of how many thousands of each flower were used in the decoration of each church, and what favourite “stars” sang in each choir. I learn that in Grace Church four thousand white Calla lilies form one item. Yet they did not seem more numerous there than in many other churches; so the inference is, that we have reached a floral paradise, strikingly in contrast with my recent experience of the general scarcity of flowers in the South Sea Isles.
You would have thought that this was indeed the case could you have seen this city yesterday evening. In California the evening of Easter-day is the children’s flower festival, and every church in San Francisco devotes its evening service to the little ones. I found my way back to Grace Church, and have rarely witnessed a prettier spectacle. There must have been many hundred children, of all ranks and ages, down to the tiniest toddles of the infant school. All were prettily dressed, and they marched in procession, carrying silken banners, and singing carols. All carried flowers, either in pretty baskets, or great bouquets, or arranged in some device. Many had collected small offerings of money for different charitable objects, and each, in turn presented its gift to be laid on the altar, which soon was literally buried beneath the flowers heaped upon it, which were afterwards distributed to the hospitals and to all the sick poor throughout the great city, that they might whisper the Easter message to many a lonely sufferer. The service consisted chiefly of carol-singing by the little ones and their teachers, and it was altogether very bright and happy.
I do not know how all this strikes you. To me, I must confess, it was a great surprise. I had imagined this city of St Francis to be most unsaintly—or, not to mince words, I supposed it was still the rowdy city where, but a few years ago, such wild scenes of misrule were the common events of daily life. And now my first impressions are of thronged churches, hymns of praise, and flower festivals! After the evening service I walked back to the hotel alone, passing through several dimly lighted streets. All seemed quiet and peaceful. Multitudes of young girls and their teachers must have gone by lonely and devious paths on their homeward way. But no shadow of dread seemed to suggest itself to any parents. And yet, when I returned to the hotel, I heard gentlemen discussing the state of the town, and declaring that it was unsafe to go out after dark without a revolver. Evidently the subject admits of varied colouring.
I am told that the “dangerous class” here are a race of young rowdies, known here as “hoodlums,” a recognised class of roughs, male and female, whose misdeeds are a constant source of annoyance to the citizens, who nevertheless seem powerless to suppress the mischief. I suppose that the police are numerically too weak (they only number about four hundred); and of course this great city yields a very large body of ill-conditioned “hobbledehoys,” who form a raw material ready to develop into full-blown criminals.
There are a large number of well-known gangs of these young ne’er-do-weels, composed of lads and lassies of the very roughest type, who are always on the prowl, looking out what mischief they can do. Many of them carry knives and revolvers, and glory in a chance of using them, not only on belated wanderers, but occasionally on quiet shopkeepers whose goods they covet, or publicans whose beer and spirits they object to pay for. But the poor, inoffensive, diligent Chinamen are the objects of especial hatred to these cowardly rascals, who never miss a chance of molesting them; and, of course, no policeman ever happens to be near when one of the gangs sets upon some solitary workman, and beat and kick him within an inch of his life.
What a strange world this is for unexpected meetings! Two years ago a Sussex friend sent me a letter of introduction to the representative of a large banking firm in this city. Yesterday morning, finding that three weeks would elapse ere a steamer sailed for Honolulu, I questioned whether there was any use in delivering so stale a letter. Counsels of wisdom said “Yes,” so the letter was sent out, and half an hour later the writer himself stood beside me! I then learnt, what I had never before realised, that he is himself the head of the firm, and had just chanced to run out from England on some matter of business, so his own letter was handed to him.
Never was the face of a friend more welcome. Having recently parted with some of my kindred, he was able to give me good news of them, and soon afterwards he returned with Mr Booker, H.B.M. Consul, who had tidings of my friends in Fiji. Both these gentlemen say, that if I had carefully selected my time for visiting California, I could not have chosen better, for that this is the very best season. An unusually wet winter is just over, and has left the country exquisitely green, and carpeted with wild flowers. Every stream is full, and all waterfalls are in glory. They say that if only the snows on the Sierra Nevada are sufficiently melted to allow of travelling, I ought on no account to miss seeing the Yō-semitÚ Valley, and that I could easily go there and back, before the steamer sails. So they have promised to make all inquiries, and to look out for a suitable escort for this expedition.
Meanwhile, this morning, Mr Harrison took me for a long and most interesting drive to all the principal points in this gigantic baby city. Strange, indeed, it is to hear of the marvellous changes that have occurred here within the last thirty years, all within his own memory.
Prior to 1849, San Francisco was merely one of twenty small stations of the old Spanish Mission; and the only antiquity to be seen in the city—the Westminster Abbey which knits the present century with the past—is the old mission church of the patron saint, St Francis of Assisi, a very plain building of adobe— i.e., sun-dried bricks. In its graveyards are buried wanderers from many lands, but the churchyard, like the church, looks melancholy and decayed. It bears date 1776, and was the first church of the little Spanish colony of priests, who came here to teach the Indians, and were the only white men on this coast prior to the discovery of gold.
They themselves knew of the existence of gold, but they discouraged all search for it, knowing well the evil that must result to their Indian converts whenever that mad excitement, consequent on a gold-rush, should flood California with all the wild spirits of the earth. And rightly these good fathers judged.
Till 1849 they were able to guard their fold. Then came the gold-fever; and in a few months ships of all nations entered the Golden Gates, bringing thousands and tens of thousands to retrieve broken fortunes, or seek new ones, in this Land of Promise. On the desert sandhills, where hitherto only a few wandering Indians had built their bark huts, there were now scattered tents, standing singly or in groups. Soon disorderly little settlements of shabby shanties were run up, which gradually enlarged till they covered all the available land.
The history of those early years was a chronicle of anarchy. Life in the city was one of reckless dissipation—a natural reaction from the hardest phases of privation and toil endured in search of gold. Society was turned upside down. Men well born and well bred were thankful to turn their hand to every conceivable work which would bring in the means of life. I heard of one English gentleman who, finding himself robbed of everything except his rifle, made his way to the mining districts, and made a very fair living by shooting bears, whose flesh the hungry miners gladly bought at a dollar per pound. As a good bear weighs six or seven hundred pounds, the hunter soon realised a “genteel competency” as a “flesher.”
At first the miner’s work was confined to what is called “placer” mining—that is, surface digging,—and washing for gold in beds of streams. Then came the more systematic business of quartz-crushing; and by 1858 three hundred mills, with strong machinery, were hard at work. By that time the gold-fever, having reached its height, began to subside; and multitudes, weary of certain toil for such uncertain profits, turned their minds to other industries. By 1861, not more than fifty mills still continued at work.
By degrees the rowdies, who had given the settlement at San Francisco such a bad name, vanished before the presence of Vigilance Committees and Lynch law. Those who escaped summary justice took the hint from a word of warning, and the majority went farther inland.
Now, in the place where those log and shingle huts then lay scattered, stands a vast city of 300,000 inhabitants. It covers a space of forty-two square miles, and has many really splendid streets, and a large number of immense hotels like great palaces (most luxurious in every respect save that of cosiness—a point which strikes one, because so many families have no other home).
One of the principal buildings is the great Mint of the United States, said to be the most perfect institution of its kind in the whole world. It is open to all comers every forenoon, and citizens and strangers are alike at liberty to inspect the manufacture of Californian gold into coins equivalent to English sovereigns, but so much purer, that ours will only pass here at a discount.
There are theatres and an opera-house; a great city hall; splendid public libraries, free to all citizens above fifteen years of age; equally free are the excellent Government schools. Besides these, every denomination has its special schools, churches, and chapels. There are the Roman Catholic and Episcopal cathedrals, Jewish synagogues and Chinese temples, gorgeous Turkish baths, numerous admirable markets scattered through the city. In its busy working districts there are foundries and machine shops, smithy-works, lumber-merchants’ yards, artificial stone works, patent marble works, potteries, woollen factories—in short, every industry you can conceive.
And yet all the older inhabitants recollect when the site of this great city was only a tract of most desolate sandhills, and when ships were lying at anchor above the sands which now actually serve as foundation for one of the finest streets—one, moreover, at some distance from the sea, which has gradually been driven back, as men, determined to retain advantageous shipping positions, built their houses on piles, filled up the space beneath them, and so reclaimed acre after acre from the harbour. The present sea-wall which guards this stolen ground is built up from a depth of about thirty feet below low-water mark. There are not wanting prophets of evil to foretell days of possible disaster, when some tidal wave or volcanic distrubance shall arise and restore to Ocean the land thus wrested from it.
We drove to a high point, whence we could look down on the city as on a map. The spot where we stood was once a quite lake, and my companion told me how his happiest hours were spent snipe-shooting on its shores. Now it is one of the great reservoirs for the city.
There are, however, other reservoirs in the Coast Range Mountains, so that the supply is equal to the great demand—which is enormously increased by the multitude of gardens and beautifully kept lawns, each requiring constant irrigation throughout the summer. I am told that the water-rates are tremendous, and have to be paid monthly in advance. Many families are said to spend far more on water than on bread; but they account it money well invested, as it has transformed these sand-mountains into a region of most luxuriant gardens. Moreover, it is the safeguard against fire, which must be an ever-present danger in a town of which wood forms so large a part.
It certainly is strange to see a vast city with such splendid streets and such princely homes, large mansions and pleasant Elizabethan villas—all apparently of beautiful white stone—and then learn that it is all wooden, and that the stone-like appearance is produced by a sprinkling of fine sand over whitish paint. This is not because there is any lack of stone for building purposes, but because the occasional slight earthquake shocks are a continual reminder that some day a great upheaval may come and swallow up—or at least severly shake—the huge young city.
There are boiling springs at no great distance from here, which forcibly suggest a connecting-link with the great volcanoes which lie to the north, and forbid too absolute security. But even in respect to moderate earthquakes, wooden houses are found to suffer less than stone buildings, and are therefore preferred.
Recently, however, some of the great firms, who dread fire more than earthquakes, have built their business houses of real stone. The first to set this example was Wells, Fargo, & Co.’s Express (who undertake to convey everything for everybody, to and from every corner of the known world). But so expensive was labour in San Francisco, that this first stone house was imported bodily from China, where each block was cut and fitted ready for its place!
As a precaution against earthquakes, many of the principal buildings—hotels, warehouses, and shops—have an inner skeleton made of strong bands of wrought-iron, fastened together by immense iron bolts. Over this frame-work is built an outer casing of brick or stone, supposed to be fire-proof.
It is said that in building the Palace Hotel three thousand tons of iron were used in preparing the bands for the skeleton, besides the enormous amount required for the great iron columns which support the vast building. Of these there are upwards of sixty round the central quadrangle alone; and above this rise seven storeys, tier above tier, each with a similar number of columns. Of the amount of iron-work in other parts of the building, I can form no notion; but as the building covers about three acres, you can imagine it is considerable.
There is also a fire-proof iron staircase, cased in solid brick and stone, extending to the very summit of the hotel, and with iron doors opening on to each floor, so as to ensure a retreat in case of need. I can only say, “Heaven help all who have to trust to it!”
Of course there are all manner of other staircases, besides the five “elevators” which are ceaselessly ascending and descending to convey all the inhabitants of the 750 suites of rooms (1000 bedrooms) to their several apartments. These are graduated on a varying scale of luxury—“an apartment” generally including, at least, bedroom, bathroom, and sitting-room; and as every one of the 750 lodgers would feel aggrieved were he not provided with a bay-window, this and all the other great hotels are closely studded with these from top to bottom, presenting a very curious appearance externally.
Partly as a precaution against fire, the majority of dwelling-houses are built apart, each with a pleasant bit of shrubbery, so that you drive for miles through long avenues of fine detached houses, rather suggestive of the neighbourhood of a country town than of a huge busy city.
Of course in a town of which so large a portion is built of wood, the utmost importance attaches to the perfecting of every detail of fire-extinguishing organisation. The ever-present danger is sufficiently proven by the fact that no less than ninety-five insurance companies have found it worth their while to establish agencies in this city.
These companies are obliged by the State to support a fire-brigade of their own, to supplement the work of the city fire-brigade. It is called the Underwriters’ Fire Patrol; and so perfect is the organisation of these corps, that they literally move by electricity, and at any hour of day or night they are warranted to start a fully equipped fire-engine within ten seconds of the time when the electric alarm sounds.
In a large proportion of the citizens’ houses there are electric signals, by which the first outbreak of fire can instantly communicated to the centre of the district, whence the alarm is immediately transmitted to every fire-station—the same electric current being employed to set in motion a series of most ingenious mechanical contrivances, which awaken both officers and men, light the gas, open the doors, and adjust the harness.
At every station the engines, which are worked by steam, are always ready—fires kindled, water boiling—and the splendid horses stand ready harnessed in their stalls, the weight of the collar being supported by a rope attached to the ceiling. The electric stroke which sounds the alarm works a mechanism which drops the collars, detaches the halters, and brings down a stroke of a light whip—a signal which causes each well-trained horse instantly to spring to his appointed place to right or left of the pole. An instantaneous movement simultaneously attaches the pole-chains to the collar, fastens the reins, and slips in the bit, while the other portions of the harness are similarly fastened to the engine.
While this is going on down-stairs, the beds in the dormitory overhead are jerked up, so as to turn out the sleepers, who are literally thrown into their fire-dress, with boots attached. Up flashes the gas, and the doors are thrown open—all by the same electric current. Straight stairs lead from the dormitories to the engine-room, but even to rush down these would lose a second, so slides are fixed parallel with each, and down these the firemen glide, with a velocity which emulates that of the greased lightning which was so often commended to our attention in our younger days, when our seniors despatched us on troublesome errands.
In some of the great public buildings, such as the huge Palace Hotel, there are self-acting electric fire-alarms, which, without any human agency, call the attention of the central office to any unusual heat in any part of the house—so that a fire breaking out in a store-room or cupboard, actually gives notice of its own existence. Not content, however, with these electric warnings, the great hotels have watchmen always on patrol, whose duty it is to inspect every corner of the premises every half-hour, day and night.
The water-supply is also well attended to. For instance, the Palace Hotel has a huge reservoir beneath the central court, and seven great tanks on the roof. The former contains 630,000 gallons, the latter 130,000 gallons, and all are supplied by four artesian wells, capable of supplying 28,000 gallons per hour. This water-supply is carried to every corner of the huge building by means of about fifty upright four-inch pipes of wrought-iron, reaching from the basement to the roof. They are fed by three steam fire-pumps, and in their turn supply an endless extent of fire-hose.
So there certainly is no lack of precaution regarding this terrible source of danger; and as every district of the town, and indeed a vast number of private houses, are in telegraphic communication with the fire department, it is evident that little time need be lost. Indeed, what with telegraphs and telephones, the whole city is like one great room—distances are annihilated. The sky is veiled by a perfect network of wires connecting private dwellings with business offices. A lady has just shown me, on the wall beside her, a small instrument like a clock, the face of which is divided into sections, having reference to fire, hackney-carriage, private carriage, message-boys, &c. &c.; so that, by turning the magic needle to the point required, she can, without leaving her room, summon a carriage, an errand-boy, a fire-engine, or any other trifle she may require. She tells me that this is quite a common luxury. Surely the genii of the Arabian Nights have cast their mantle on California, and Aladdin’s lantern is the common property of all her fortunate daughters!
Leaving the city, we drove some miles to see the great Golden Gate Park, which is to be the Hyde Park of San Francisco, and is already “the Drive” and “Rotten Row” for all fashionables. It is still so new that its beauty is chiefly a thing of the future; but already it is a triumph of art and industry over an ungenial nature. Only six years ago it was a waste of desert sand, like those rolling sandhills which extend on every side of it.
It was determined to reclaim about a thousand acres of these desolate dunes, so a large tract was enclosed and thickly planted with the hardy perennial lupine, which is indigenous to California, and, flourishing on this thirsty soil, grows to the size of a large bush. When it has once taken a firm hold of the sand, it subdues it effectually, and creates a soil on which, with the aid of abundant irrigation, turf will grow. Tens of thousands of trees have been planted, and are growing at an almost incredible rate; while the turf has been so diligently cared for, that already the wilderness is transformed into a rolling expanse of smoothest undulating lawn, brilliant with flower-beds. The ground is admirably laid out, and promises to become a thing of ever-increasing beauty.
To me, the chief fascination lay in the pioneer lupines, which, of their own sweet will, are striving to carry on the work of reclamation, and have overspread thousands of acres of the arid shifting sands. I had never dreamt of such wealth of flowers. Hitherto my ideas of lupines have been derived from the little packets which, as children, we sowed so carefully in our gardens, embedding them in chopped gorse as a protection against slugs and other foes. But here, for miles we drove through lupine scrub, each bush bearing thousands of spikes—orange, pale yellow, blue, white, lilac, or pink. Besides these shrub lupines, all the other sorts common in English gardens grow abundantly—the large succulent blue lupine, the smaller lemon-colour variety, and all the dwarfs of every hue.
Here, then, was a glimpse of California’s lavish way of doing things. Elsewhere we drove among green pasture-hills, variegated by broad patches of the most intense orange. Here was Californian gold indeed, glowing in the bright sunlight. I was puzzled by this new freak of vegetation, and marvelled what flowers had been so abundantly showered all over the green hills. It was too deep in colour for the familiar buttercups, though these abound; so at last I had to satisfy my curiosity by a nearer inspection, and recognised that these sheets of yellow gold are all produced by the eschscholtzia, which is here known as Californian poppy. Here and there a patch of deep blue larkspur, or the scarlet “painted brush,” varied the colouring of this beautiful wild garden.
The object of our drive was to reach the cliffs over-looking the Golden Gates, which as yet I had only seen in the moonlight as we sailed through them into the Bay of San Francisco. The title is highly metaphorical, as the headlands which from the portals of the bay are in no sense golden, or even beautiful like all the cliffs round the harbour. They are of a dull-red colour, crowned with slopes of greenest grass. But as a sea view, the prospect was magnificent. The Pacific, untrue to its name, was all foam-flecked by angry waves, and huge green billows rolled in with deafening roar, and dashed in white spray against the gates.
But the fascination of the scene lay in the foreground. where herds of sea-lions1 are for ever disporting themselves on the rocks, totally regardless of the human presence on the cliffs above, although a comfortable hotel has there been built, with a broad verandah from which all lovers of strange wild creatures can watch these to their hearts’ content. They are the pets of the State, happily protected by law, and no Goth dares to fire a gun in their demesne—the penalty for even firing a gun near them being a sum equal to £30, while £100 is the penalty for killing one. So in fearless security these creatures, generally so shy, remain in peaceful possession of their ancestral rocks, within an hour’s drive of the great city.
The number of the herd is variously estimated at from 100 to 300. I do not myself see how any one can pretend to count animals which are for ever gliding in and out of the water, and are, moreover, so much alike. They are like a crowd of black, slimy leeches, as they climb, wriggling, out of the green sea or the white surf, with fish in mouth, and lie basking on the rocks to enjoy their prey. The hot sun soon dries them, and then they appear to be greyish-brown. How they do bellow and roar, and turn their sleepy heads, and gape at one another, showing formidable white teeth! Sometimes they all yelp simultaneously, like a pack of fox-hounds. Then some old grandfather begins to roar, waking the echoes with his deep base.
Some have strongly marked individuality, and are easily recognised; so of course these have received characteristic names. One patriarch, before whose presence all the others slink away meekly, is known as Ben Butler. He is a huge sleek fellow, fatter than any fat sow, and is supposed to weigh about 2000 lb.! Ian Campbell says they are like great mastiffs with paralysed hind-quarters. They certainly are very like gigantic leeches—so soft, and glossy, and black! Sometimes they have furious fights. They open their great mouths, and go at one another, biting viciously, and barking. At last one is beaten, and sinks down into the waves to hide his diminished head, while the victor draws himself up the steep jagged black rock by means of his long front flippers, and having reached the highest point he can attain, he there lies basking in the sun in perfect repose. The frivolous young seals gambol and snort, and carry on great games, while their mothers sleep peacefully, with their snouts pointing heavenward, and their heads pillowed on their own natural bolsters of fat.
Sometimes a grave old grannie curls herself up, that she may the better scratch her head with her hind-flipper—a ludicrous position, as you will know, if you have ever observed a cow scratching her nose with her hind-leg! Besides these sea-lions, the rocks are haunted by various wild sea-birds; grey pelicans and black cormorants sit solemnly perched on the crags, while white sea-gulls circle around with shrill piercing cries, which blend with the roaring of the seals and the beating of the surf on the rocks.
This was a scene after my own heart; and as seen with the aid of my dear old opera-glasses (inseparable companions of all my wanderings), I could discern every movement and expression of each individual in the herd (though I cannot pretend to have observed the external ears which distinguish these from other seals). Surely such a spectacle, seen from such comfortable surroundings, must be unique. I happened, on returning here, to express my delight with the scene, and some smart town-bred San Franciscan ladies looked at me with pitying wonder. They were in the constant habit of driving to the Cliff House, but not for love of the sea-lions!
There is another group of rocks, about thirty miles from here, which is also tenanted by these creatures. These are the Far-allones—precipitous masses of white granite. We sailed very near them the night we came in, and could discern a multitude of dark creatures moving on the white rocks, which gleamed so coldly in the moonlight. Their name is legion. Happily they have such poor fur as to possess no commercial value; hence their impunity. The gulls, which are there in myriads, are less fortunate. Their eggs command a ready sale in the market, and countless thousands are annually carried to San Francisco, and there consumed. The advent of the egg-collectors is gladly hailed by the lonely watchers in the Far-allone lighthouse, to whom the presence of other human beings must be a rare interest.
On our homeward way, we came by the Lone Mountain Cemetery—the great burial-ground for the city. It takes its name from a lonely sandhill within the Roman Catholic Cemetery. A great cross crowns the hill—a solemn symbol, visible from afar. Now, this region is all peopled with the quiet dead, and a multitude of graves occupy the hilly ground overlooking the harbour. It is a fresh, breezy spot, fragrant with the choicest garden flowers, which loving hands have planted round their dead, and which flourish and spread in rank luxuriance; roses, jessamine, and honeysuckle festooning the monuments and railings, while fuchsias, geraniums, pinks, lilies, and violets run riot in their rich profusion.
This graceful consecration of flowers extends even to the names given to the winding paths; and Acacia Avenue, Lily Path, or Rose Walk are the inviting titles which distinguish different portions of God’s acre. It is a pleasant resting-place, marked by no grim formality, rather suggesting a quiet shrubbery, with graves grouped here and there in grassy glades, overshadowed by fine old ilex or “live oaks,” as they are here called. The eucalyptus, cypress, mimosa, and other trees and shrubs, have taken kindly to these once barren sandhills, and now form shady groves and rich clumps, and will, in a very few years, become stately and beautiful trees; while some palms and cactus give almost a suggestion of the tropics. So the last home of the sleepers is an embodied idyl; flowers and sunlight, and quiet green hills overlooking the great calm haven, fading away in a hazy mist which veils the distant hills. I think, however, that the poetry of death receives a rude shock from the very artificial treatment of the dead. I am told that here the pure white shroud is well-nigh a thing of the past, and that the frivolities of dress are never more carefully considered than in the solemn presence of Azrael.
There is more to be said in favour of the term “casket” to describe a beautified coffin. It reminds me of a certain family mausoleum in Scotland, whose owner always spoke of it as “his jewel-case.” He had therein enshrined four wives!
Progressive America objects to our old-fashioned lugubrious coffins, which are now very generally discarded in favour of highly ornamental “caskets,” in which the suggestive form of a coffin is ignored. An oblong box of uniform width is made of the most costly woods—satin-wood or polished oak—with silver mountings. It is lined with silk or satin, and the head of the sleeper is laid on a satin pillow.
The lid is partly glazed, that all friends may be privileged to take a long last look at the dead—a doubtful boon when so cruel a tyrant as Change rules the hour; but his work is stayed for a little season by various artificial means.
These Šsthetic coffins apparently rank as things of beauty, pleasant to look upon, to judge from the following account of a Chicago Industrial and Fine Art Exhibition:—
“A brilliant spectacle was presented, as the gleam of electric lamps was shed over gay costumes and richly furnished stalls; among which latter, not the least showy was that of an enterprising undertaker, prepared to gratify the most sumptuous taste in the matter of coffins. Looking at this display of ‘caskets,’ as they were euphemistically styled, in polished marbles and other ornamental materials, it was not surprising to hear that a common practice in the States is to send the dead to their long homes decked out in fine raiment of fashionable cut, and with moustaches waxed, and nosegays in their button-holes.”
Apparently the coffin department holds its place in all exhibitions of art and industry, for a gentleman returning from the Philadelphia Exhibition told me that he had overheard two ladies discussing the exhibits, and they agreed that the Funeral Department was quite the most interesting. Said the first, “Oh, that lovely casket of delicate blue velvet lined with pale-rose satin, so beautifully quilted!” “Well,” said the other, “for my part, I preferred the black velvet with crimson velvet lining. You know crimson is so becoming to a corpse!”
While England is discussing how she can most simply dispose of her dead, and the “Economic Funeral Company” advertises its claims to the gratitude of the multitude of mourners whose grief is only embittered by the pressure of expensive ceremonial,—the undertakers of America are thriving, and vying one with another in every extravagance which can be encouraged by their sad profession.
They have a monthly magazine of their own, called ‘The Casket,’ which has already been running for several years, and is illustrated with portraits of the leading undertakers—“The Monarchs of the Road,” as they call themselves. This periodical is the advertising medium of all the great funeral establishments, and of the inventors of various methods of embalming. Drugs for this purpose are advertised, for the use of families which incline to domestic experiments, and full directions for use are given, and for all the ghastly processes of thus manipulating the loved remains.
With a happy consciousness that few relations would care to usurp these “professional” functions, the great establishments advertise their readiness, at any moment of day or night, to send out a competent staff to take charge of all details. All that is required is a hint as to the “style” preferred, and the special method by which the body is to be prepared. The director-general and his assistants will take good care that all is done in first-rate “style.”
The Antiseptic Embalming Fluid is highly recommended. “It preserves the body without destroying the identity of the features; it removes discolorations, restores the skin to its natural colour, prevents the formation of gases, and acts as a preservative in all kinds of weather without the use of ice.
By a more revolting process, minutely detailed, the body, after being plunged into a bath of salts of alumina, is filled with a liquid, described as “The Egyptian Embalmer—a never-failing preservative.”
As a matter of course, ‘The Casket’ revels in descriptions of elaborate funerals, giving details as minute as the records of fashion in a Court Journal. All the splendours of costly material are enlarged upon, and estimates of the sums which have been expended—which in some cases have been made to mount up to 10,000 dollars (£2000)!
But it is not only this journal of death which luxuriates in such details. Here is an extract from a New York paper on the last toilet of a lady:—
“Miss R., the deceased, was laid out in white rep silk, elegantly trimmed with white satin and very fine point-lace. The skirt was draped with smilax and lilies of the valley. The casket was made to order by the Stein Manufacturing Co. of Rochester, in their celebrated Princess style. It was covered with the most delicate shade of blue silk velvet, with corners and mouldings tufted with white satin. The inside was trimmed with white satin, and with very heavy sewing-silk and bullion fringe. The handles were long bars covered with sewing-silk. The casket opened at full length, the inside of the lid being tufted with white satin. Miss R. looked very natural, more as if asleep than dead. There was a splendid display of flowers, sent as tokens of sympathy from her many friends. All the stands containing the flowers were covered with white, giving a general appearance of purity.”
Nor is such care for personal appearance bestowed only on the young and beautiful. Grave citizens, whose influence on their fellows has been due to far different qualities, are now consigned to the hands of “artists,” who relieve the ghastly pallor of death by a judicious application of rouge, and the dead man, in full evening dress, with costly studs on snowy shirt front, white gloves, and a necktie that Beau Brummel might have envied, lies in state to receive the last ceremonial visit of all his friends and acquaintance.
In further illustration of a subject which to English ears sounds so painfully artificial, I think the following passage from ‘The San Francisco Sunday Times’ is sufficiently curious to be worth preserving:—
“‘Funerals are very troublesome affairs,’ said the head of a leading undertaking establishment to a ‘New York Mercury’ reporter who accosted him on the subject, ‘for the reason that the mourners are never on hand, and you are kept always an hour behind time. The only time we have things as we wish, is when we are notified to come and take charge of the remains. Then we have all to say, and can proceed with our work without delay.’
“‘How do you prepare remains generally?’
“‘We first find when the body is to be buried, then place it on ice and secure the order for the coffin or casket; then on the morning or afternoon previous to the funeral, we go to the house and place the body in the casket, after first nicely dressing it, and combing the hair, and making all as favourable to the eye as possible.’
“‘Suppose the person had died a violent death, or in some way the features became repulsive to the eye, what would you do?’
“‘In that case we would resort to the art, or I might say the secrets, of our profession. For instance, if the mouth could not be closed, we would sew the lips together, on the inside, or else secure them to the teeth with thread. I can tell you of any number of curious cases I have had. Only a few weeks ago, the sister of a well-known lady who had died a maiden, came to me and said, “I have come myself to give you the order for my sister’s funeral, because there are some arrangements to be carried through, which she requested me to have strictly followed. I want you to engage an artist to come to the house. She died from the effects of consumption, and is very pale. Her face must be made to look as natural as possible. Her lips are blue: I want them made red. Her suit to wear in the casket is now being finished by the dressmaker, and your female attendant must be careful about putting on the dress, because it is made to fit her as if she was in full life.”
“‘Well, I went to the house on Fifth Avenue the next day: my artist began his work, and when he was through, my woman attendant carefully dressed and laid out the body in the casket. When the artist and myself entered the parlour and looked at the remains, it was wonderful! The dress of the woman was fit to be worn by a princess as a bridal suit. She was adorned with jewellery, and upon her head rested a wreath of lilies, while her hands were encased in white kid gloves. Her age was forty-three years; she then looked eighteen. Her outfit was composed of fine corded white silk, trimmed with Valenciennes lace, and looped up at the sides.’”
After revealing various other family secrets, the reporter gives some ghastly details of embalming as occasionally practised in the States. He then goes on to quote some remarks of another well-known undertaker:—
“‘I handle corpses of every kind, from those of wealthy gentlemen to those taken from the Morgue and saved from pauper’s graves. I don’t do much embalming, but I have the most curious orders for furnishing some funerals. Only a few days ago I received an order to furnish a shroud of pure white satin, scolloped about the bottom, and with silk rosettes up the centre to the neck-front, which was to be turned back so that the breast could be seen uncovered nearly to the waist. This was for a young woman about eighteen years of age, who died after a short illness. She had not fallen away much, and still preserved unmistakable signs of having been a beautiful-looking girl while in life. Her husband, an old Southerner, stood near her casket, and I saw him touch her face with his handkerchief. When I approached the remains I at once noticed that her eyelashes and eyebrows had been pencilled, and her cheeks and lips painted. The poor old fellow was wild at losing his young bride. I thought at first she was his daughter, but at the hotel I was soon informed that she was his second wife.’
“‘How do you find the business now in comparison with that of former years?’
“‘People are not so lavish about flowers, but a great deal of “style” is wanted about the corpse. Some few years back a body was seldom robed in anything but a shroud; to-day shrouds are hardly used except by Catholics and Hebrews. Gentlemen, as a rule, are laid out in a full suit of black cloth, a white shirt, and black necktie, the hair and moustache or whiskers being arranged to suit. I have known of instances where a dentist has been ordered to place a set of false teeth with a $20 gold plate in the mouth of a dead woman to save her looks.’
“‘Is the parting scene as affecting as formerly?’
“‘No, that has changed for the better. People are becoming toned down. Old-time screeching and crying is dying out.’”
This is indeed the unpoetical side of the picture, as seen from a professional point of view.
Extremes in all fashion generally lead to a reaction, and it would appear that funerals are no exception to this rule, for I am told that the leaders of society in New York now affect extreme simplicity, and have declared in favour of pure white shrouds and ordinary coffins.
Moreover, to so great an excess had the custom of sending flowers to the house of the dead been carried, that the announcement of a death is now frequently accompanied by a request that friends will send no flowers. The multitude of these ceremonial offerings had become embarrassing, and extra carriages were required to convey them to the grave. Thus the funeral car of Mr Stewart, the famous millionaire, was followed by six carriages filled with floral offerings. (A few days later, the poor corpse thus honoured was stolen from its grave, and has never been recovered.)
The customs which here regulate prolonged periods of mourning, would be considered sorely lugubrious in Britain. For parents, three years of the deepest dule is requisite before any shade of lighter mourning can be sanctioned, and for brothers and sisters nearly as long a period; and any wish to join in the simplest social pleasures is deemed lamentably frivolous.
Perhaps the long mourning may be better tolerated in America, inasmuch as families are, as a rule, so much smaller than those in the mother-country. But relations by marriage are soon disposed of, and mourning for a father or mother-in-law is a short matter. But occasionally American free strength of mind triumphs, and, shaking off these conventional trammels, contrives to dispense with all the trappings of woe with a velocity very startling to more rigid neighbours.
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