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Granite Crags (1884) by Constance Gordon-Cumming



August 13th.

I have spent a most interesting afternoon with Mr Bosqui, who owns large chromo-lithographic works here. He is at present reproducing a very beautiful series of studies of all the Californian grapes, painted by Miss Millard. I had no idea that the grape family was so numerous, or that it could be made to yield so much artistic variety. But what with every shade of purple, and red, and so-called white, and delicate bloom, and tinted leaves—and berries round or oblong, and bunches straggling or compact—the great Clan Grape musters strong and beautiful.

The amount of labour involved in reproducing such a series as this is certainly startling to the uninitiated. I suppose you know that each tint has to be laid on separately, and that if there are only two or three touches of one colour, they equally involve an extra stone, with the general picture outlined, and these coloured spots alone marked. Some of these pictures require thirty-six separate stone blocks. So to produce three dozen coloured plates, perhaps a thousand stones have to be used! The ground-floor of a chromo-lithographer’s establishment suggests the idea of a mason’s yard full of paving-blocks.

I was particularly glad to have this chance of seeing all the Californian grapes, as the fruit itself will not be ripe for another month. Then, you can buy a large basketful for a shilling. Even now there are delicious grapes in the market, but I think they are forced.

I cannot say that the vineyards I have seen hitherto have at all answered to any poetical idea which the word may convey. Stiffly trained on low trellis, and smothered in dust, the vines hereabouts are singularly unattractive, and appear as though they must die of drought. Certainly they do not seem capable of producing luscious fruit in extraordinary abundance. Yet such is the case. From Sacramento in the north, to the extreme south of California, the vine flourishes, growing freely among the foot-hills, where the finest grapes are produced on land so poor, that by nature it would scarcely pasture goats.

For example, the great vineyards of Napa and Sonoma valley, a little to the north of San Francisco, are on arid, gravelly soil, barely a foot deep, with hard rocky subsoil. Yet these once barren hills are among the finest wine-growing districts of California.

For three years the settler must work in hope, clearing away brush, preparing the soil, and planting his vines, at the rate of a thousand to the acre. In the third year he gets a small return; in the fourth year his vines should yield 1000 lb. to the acre; in the fifth year 6000; in the sixth year 8000 lb., which thenceforth is accounted a good average crop, though some vineyards yield a far higher proportion—the vines sometimes attaining a luxuriance which sounds almost incredible. I am told of one in Santa Barbara which yields an annual average of about four ton of grapes!

As an instance of what a vine may grow to in this glorious climate of California, they tell me of the Montecito vine in Santa Barbara. At three feet from the ground it measured forty-two inches in circumference. Its boughs overshadowed 10,000 square feet of ground. Its annual crop frequently amounted to considerably above 7000 clusters, equal to 12,000 lb. weight of grapes. Having attained a good old age of nearly sixty years, it was pronounced to have seen its best days; so it was resolved to cut it down, divide it into sections, and send it to the Philadelphia Exhibition as an example of Californian produce. It seemed sad to sacrifice so generous a friend for the instruction of unbelievers; but its owner consoled himself with the fact that his vine had left a daughter sixteen years old, an offshoot worthy of its parent, which already yielded an annual weight of 10,000 lb. of grapes!

Some vines, again, are noted for the gigantic size of individual bunches, and we heard of one bunch weighing 50 lb., which had been exhibited for some time at one of the fruit-shops here, proving this to have been the true land of Eshcol!

Every known vine seems to take equally kindly to this soil, and flourishes to perfection.

A great variety of light wines are made which, though not yet considered fully up to the mark, are nevertheless largely consumed. Certainly there can be no reason why they should be in any way inferior to those of Europe.

There are various sparkling wines, both dry and sweet. One greatly in favour is a sweet, sparkling white Muscatel, made from the white muscat grape. Another very popular sweet wine is Angelica. Also a white wine made from German Riesling, and various wines from the Black Malvoisia, Black Pineau, Berger, Chasselas, &c., &c. There are dry Champagne, Clarets, Hock, Burgundy, Port and Sherry—all of which are literally fruity, as they retain a distinct flavour of the original grape. Claret is made chiefly from the Zinfandel grape, but fresh varieties are being planted every year.

The farmers supply this pure grape-juice to the great wine-houses of San Francisco, by whom vast quantities of light wines are exported to the Eastern States.

The majority of the grape-growers are, however, also wine-makers, and have their own wine-press in the vineyard, where the whole process of wine-making may be seen by whoever cares to do so. There is no adulteration here—only the pure juice of grapes, which, in this varying climate, always ripen perfectly. There are no bad seasons here—every year is alike good. The great aim of the wine-maker is to produce light wines, pure and cheap, and free from spirits.

Some of the most successful wine-growers have their vineyards in the immediate neighbourhood of the garden-city of Los Angeles. I am told of a Colonel Wilson whose vineyards cover 250 acres, and his wine-press turns out 1000 gallons of wine to the acre.

By comparison, those of Don Matteo Keller seem small; yet he owns 140 acres, on which he grows upwards of 200 varieties of grapes. Every day during the grape season his wine-press produces 10,000 gallons of wine, while in his cellars 200,000 gallons are stored for ripening.

Only think of the amazing profusion of delicious grapes of every sort which this implies! One statistic of Colonel Wilson’s grape-harvest is a trifling item of two and a half million pounds of grapes hung up by their stalks, to keep them fresh for the market. I confess I should like to be turned loose to graze in those delicious pastures!

The white Malaga grape is the best for making raisins, its thick skin and small seeds being in its favour. It requires rich soil, and yields 10,000 lb. of grapes to the acre. As four pounds of grapes go to one of raisins, the profit is considerable; but gathering and drying the bunches requires much care and patience.1

[1Since the above was written, vine-culture has enormously increased in California, and in the summer of 1882 it was calculated that 100,000 acres of vines had been planted, all of which are expected to be in full bearing in A.D. 1886, and should yield the annual return of 40,000,000 gallons of wine. This, however, by no means represents the vine area of the future, as every year new vineyards are being planted. A multitude of small home vineyards of small home vineyards of from ten to thirty acres have been taken up in pleasant sheltered valleys, by men of small means, who look rather to making a home than a great fortune.
But large capitalists are now taking up vine-culture on a more remunerative scale, and many vineyards of 600 acres have recently been established. One of 1500 acres has been started near Los Angeles by a company, and Mr Leland Stamford has already planted 1000 acres in Butte County, and is said to purpose annually enlarging his borders till he has 10,000 acres of vines!
The crops of 1882 suffered considerably from the unwonted frosts of the spring. Grapes generally flower in the first half of April, and various precautions are adopted to protect the tender blossoms from the chance of frost. By the beginning of May all danger is supposed to be past. This year, however, there was frost on May 12th, 14th, and 15th; and as no precautions had been considered necessary, the damage done was serious.
The worst danger lies in warm sunshine after a frosty night, and this is neutralised by burning piles of brushwood, the smoke of which clouds the sunshine.]

Oakland, August 15th.

Every day I find it more difficult to realise that only twenty-five years ago San Francisco was a desolate heap of sand-hills, varied with swamp. And now there is not only a huge populous city, but all round the vast harbour, and in every direction, there have sprung up large towns, with multitudes of pretty villas, all embowered in flowers.

This city of Oakland is but one of many of these flourishing daughters of the San Franciscan Mother Superior, from which she is separated by about seven miles of sea. It has a population of upwards of 50,000 persons, of whom, on an average, 10,000 daily cross the harbour by the splendid half-hourly ferry steamboats. Oakland possesses twenty churches, several banks, and a fine court-house. But its especial pride centres in its great Public Schools, and its State University, which is open to students of both sexes, to the number of 200, who receive a first-class education gratuitously. A special law forbids the sale of any intoxicating liquor within two miles of the university. Certainly it must be allowed that, what with free libraries and free schools, the Granite State takes good care of its children.

In the way of trade, Oakland has its own iron and brass foundries, potteries, patent marble works, tanneries, and various other large mercantile establishments. But its chief characteristic is the multitude of pleasant homes and pretty semi-tropical gardens, with a wealth of blossoms and most beautifully kept soft green lawns.

If people could be content to know only their near neighbours, Oakland and its suburbs might provide a very agreeable society. But when the visiting-list includes friends on the other side of San Francisco, then the long distances, and crossing the harbour, make society really hard labour. Even lunching out is a considerable exertion, involving innumerable changes and waste of half the day; and as to dining on the other shores, I only wonder how any one can undertake it. For once in a way it is interesting, and I greatly enjoyed an expedition to lunch with another of my pleasant Yō-semité companions, though doing so involved no less than twelve changes (six going and six returning), and involved five hours of travel, besides one of waiting for the train.

First, we drove from here to the street along which runs the city railway,—a most remarkable institution, inasmuch as it is free to all men, without any manner of payment, and all the people going on their daily errands get in and out just as they please, “without money and without price,” anywhere within the city limits, which include five miles of railway. The trains stop at eight stations to pick up passengers; but their pace being somewhat leisurely, these occasionally swing themselves on, or jump off, wherever they choose. Trains, with the usual wide-funnelled engines, specially constructed for burning wood, and about fifteen steam-cars, each carrying about fifty passengers, run each way every half-hour—passing along the open street with no further precaution than perpetually ringing a bell, which tolls like a summons to church. One marvels how all the children escape destruction; but their birthright of wideawake sharpness seems a perfect safeguard.

The trains run to meet the huge ferry steamboats, which carry us across the harbour in about half an hour. On landing in San Francisco we find an array of street-cars which are large tram-omnibuses, warranted to carry us in any direction. We selected one which conveyed us right across the city to the railway station, whence the steam-cars are warranted to take us wheresoever we please.

On this particular occasion they took us to Millbrae Station, where our friend’s carriage awaited us—making the sixth item in our list of conveyances!

This was my first glimpse of a really wealthy Californian home, and I confess to having been amazed at its beauty. Like most houses here, it is built entirely of wood, for fear of earthquakes; but it would require a very close inspection to be sure that it was not a fine English country-house, stone built. The interior is admirable, every detail being in excellent taste, very rich, but all in subdued colours. Real Persian embroideries, and silk hangings that look oriental—Turkish and Persian carpets. Every ceiling painted in intricate frescoes of richly blended colours, and other decorations all perfectly harmonious, the work of Italian artists from New York.

The furniture of every room is en suite. In one which particularly attracted me, all the woodwork—bed, cabinets, mantelpiece, &c.—is of polished ebony, exquisitely inlaid with white wood, delicate trails of hundreds of small passion-flowers, with dainty butterflies, all in their true colours. The draperies of this room are old Persian embroideries, on a buff ground, relieved with maroon velvet.

Every bedroom has its large bath-room, with every conceivable refinement, such as elaborate school of art towels, &c.

In every room there are tastefully arranged flowers, well-chosen books, fine china, good bronzes. In the picture-gallery, which is lighted from above, there are art-treasures of England, France, and America—valuable paintings, and all manner of beautifully illustrated art-books. It is a picture-gallery arranged for family enjoyment, with most luxurious arm-chairs and sofas, and everything conducive to comfort, and is evidently the favourite sitting-room.

In short, it is an interior where unbounded wealth and good taste have worked hand in hand.

Equally delightful are the surroundings. Every villa here has a pretty, little, brilliant garden, full of flowers all the year round, and with a vividly green lawn, so kept by the constant playing of movable fountains, called sprinklers. Any bit of ground between the houses not so watered is simply dried-up dust, like the country generally.

Well, Millbrae has fifteen acres of this exquisite lawn, with garden-beds laid out in ribbon-borders and other patterns of colour. Fine hothouses, for palm, ferns, and other tropical vegetation, and beautiful shrubbery, with a small lake devoted to water-fowl and water-lilies. After luncheon, we drove all about San Matteo, which is another town of villas, each like a cosy English vicarage, with exquisitely kept garden.

This pleasant glimpse of one Californian home made me the more regret not having seen another, at which a magnificent ball was given two days ago by one of the San Franciscan millionaires. There were 2000 persons present; and though naturally somewhat “mixed,” the display of dress and of diamonds was something amazing. One lady, of very recent creation, wore black velvet, with point-lace valued at £10,000. It was full moon, and a lovely summer night, but the beautiful grounds were lighted by hundreds of Chinese lanterns, and every detail that wealth could suggest was carried out to perfection.

The guests went down by special trains, and included all my friends of H.M.S. Shah, which had just happened to come into port, on her return from Vancouver (you remember our festivities in Tahiti, on her northward voyage?1 They came to see me here, and the Admiral took me back to a pleasant dinner on board. Then she sailed again for Valparaiso.

[1‘A Lady’s Cruise in a French Man-of-War,’—C. F. Gordon Cumming.]

Returning from Millbrae to San Francisco, we dined at a restaurant, where the bill of fare offered us good things innumerable, including oysters, sturgeon, and salmon, gumbo-soup, clam-chowder, terrapin-stew, squash-pie, fried mush, green-corn, wild-fowl of various sorts, mallard, canvas-back, teal and quail, antelope and elk venison, &c., &c., &c.

Afterwards a Chinese gentleman escorted us to the Chinese theatre, where he had kindly secured for us a very good box. We were unfortunate in the piece selected, which was singularly unpleasant; and the glare of lights, and torturing noise of discordant instruments, made us wish ourselves safely outside. It certainly was a very curious scene, but by no means an attractive entertainment.

A very large section of the city is occupied by Chinamen—for the Celestials muster strong in San Francisco; in fact they number about 30,000, and about 70,000 more are hard at work in all parts of California. Their special quarter in this city is known as Chinatown. It is built on hilly ground, and its long steep streets are intersected by narrow alleys and wretched courtyards, where an incredible number of human beings are huddled together in the smallest possible compass. The houses are as crowded and as hopelessly dirty as in many parts of the old town of Edinburgh and other British cities, where the very poor congregate. All sanitary precautions being utterly ignored, the district is foul beyond description.

But the miracle is to see what really well-washed, neatly dressed, smiling and shining men come forth from their filthy and miserable homes, to do faithful and honest work at fair wages—not necessarily lower wages than those demanded by white men, but in return for which, work is, as a general rule, more conscientiously done.

The cruel and unreasonable howl against Chinese immigration is raised by jealous men who would fain keep a monopoly of all work, and do it on their own terms and in their own fashion—earning enough in a day to keep them idle for a week. They cannot forgive the frugal, patient, hard-working Celestial, who is content to work cheerfully from dawn till midnight, for wages equal to three shillings a-day (some can earn six shillings a-day), and contrive to save a considerable sum in the course of a few years. The low Irish and the dreadful San Franciscan hoodlums (young roughs) have no sympathy with the self-denial of men who willingly live on rice and vegetables, that they may save up such a sum as will enable them to return to their own homes, there to invest their little capital, first providing for their parents.

The constant cry against the Chinamen is, that they earn money in America, and take it all out of the country—even importing from China their clothes, their rice, and their opium—and so in no way benefit trade. Their detractors do not take into account the good sterling work by which the country is enriched, both at the time, and in some cases permanently. For Chinese labour has been largely employed in all departments of State work—in railway and road making, and wherever else steady and hard and conscientious work is required. Many masters of large factories bear witness to the satisfactory nature of the work done for them by Chinese hands, in contrast with the manner in which it is scamped by white men, when they are tempted to yield to the general howl, and employ only white labour.

As domestic servants, they stand unequalled. My hostess tells me that hers are the comfort of her life. She finds them faithful, industrious, clean—and reliable; and that, after going through all manner of misery at the hands of dirty Irish housemaids and cooks, she has found domestic peace and comfort since the day her excellent Chinamen were established as cook and boy. I believe that most householders agree in this verdict, and find that their tame Chinaman is a tower of strength, that he can do marketing far better and cheaper than they could do it themselves, and that he is altogether a valuable acquisition.

So, however little John Chinaman may be appreciated as the representative of the coming race, his departure from California would be bewailed by many, as a serious loss to the Granite State.

Concluding Note.

The month of May 1881 was marked by the most extraordinary anomaly which could possibly have arisen, among a people whose national existence is based on the Declaration of Independence, and the assumption of liberty and equality of all men, without distinction of race or colour.

This extraordinary event was nothing less than that the American Legislature should have yielded to the clamours of the low Irish in California, and to their ceaseless anti-Chinese howl, to the extent of actually passing a law prohibiting all Chinese immigration for the next ten years, beginning from ninety days after the passing of the Act, heavy penalties being inflicted on any shipmaster who shall land any Chinaman of the labouring class at any port in the Land of Freedom. An exception is made in favour of merchants, diplomatists, travellers, and students, provided they are duly provided with passports!

A law has also been passed to prevent any Chinaman from becoming an American citizen—the fear being that so many might wish to avail themselves of that privilege, that the whole white population of the Pacific coast would ultimately find itself a small minority, and that the Chinese “Six Companies” (mysterious but mighty potentates, who rule all the affairs of their countrymen in California) would actually rule in the Legislature of the State.

That enactments so utterly un-American could have been suffered to pass, appears so extraordinary, that it has been generally assumed to have been brought forward by the Republican party, solely as a means of making political capital by securing the Democratic vote. If such was indeed the secret spring of action, it is so far satisfactory to know that it failed in securing its object, the Democrats having frustrated that move by voting in favour of the bill. Public opinion appears to have been about equally divided on the question, the Eastern States taking part with the Chinamen, the Western States clamouring for his exclusion.

The clamour, however, has carried the day, and for the next ten years no Chinese workman may enter the Golden Gates of the American Paradise.

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