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Arrival (from Letters From America)
by [?]

However sedulously he may have avoided a preparatory reading of those ‘impressions’ of America which our hurried and observant Great continually record for the instruction of both nations, the pilgrim who is crossing the Atlantic for the first time cannot approach Sandy Hook Bar with so completely blank a mind as he would wish. So, at least, I found. It is not so much that the recent American invasion of London music-halls has bitten into one’s brain a very definite taste of a jerking, vital, bizarre‘rag-time’ civilisation. But the various and vivid comments of friends to whom the news of a traveller’s departure is broken excite and predispose the imagination. That so many people who have been there should have such different and decided opinions about it! It must be at least remarkable. I felt the thrill of an explorer before I started. “A country without conversation,” said a philosopher. “The big land has a big heart,” wrote a kindly scholar; and, by the same post, from another critic, “that land of crushing hospitality!” “It’s Hell, but it’s fine,” an artist told me. “El Cuspidorado,” remarked an Oxford man, brilliantly. But one wiser than all the rest wrote: “Think gently of the Americans. They are so very young; and so very anxious to appear grown-up; and so very lovable.” This was more generous than the unvarying comment of ordinary English friends when they heard of my purpose, “My God!” And it was more precise than those nineteen several Americans, to each of whom I said, “I am going to visit America,” and each of whom replied, after long reflection, “Wal! it’s a great country!”

Travelling by the ordinary routes, you meet the American people a week before you meet America. And my excitement to discover what, precisely, this nation was at, was inflamed rather than damped by the attitude of a charming American youth who crossed by the same boat. That simplicity that is not far down in any American was very beautifully on the delightful surface with him. The second day out he sidled shyly up to me. “Of what nationality are you?” he asked. His face showed bewilderment when he heard. “I thought all Englishmen had moustaches,” he said. I told him of the infinite variety, within the homogeneity, of our race. He did not listen, but settled down near me with the eager kindliness of a child. “You know,” he said, “you’ll never understand America. No, Sir. No Englishman can understand America. I’ve been in London. In your Houses of Parliament there is one door for peers to go in at, and one for ordinary people. Did I laugh some when I saw that? You bet your, America’s not like that. In America one man’s just as good as another. You’ll never understand America.” I was all humility. His theme and his friendliness fired him. He rose with a splendour which, I had to confess to myself, England could never have given to him. “Would you like to hear me re-cite to you the Declaration of Independence?” he asked. And he did.

So it was with a fairly blank mind, and yet a hope of understanding, or at least of seeing, something very remarkably fresh, that I woke to hear we were in harbour, and tumbled out on deck at six of a fine summer morning to view a new world. New York Harbour is loveliest at night perhaps. On the Staten Island ferry boat you slip out from the darkness right under the immense sky-scrapers. As they recede they form into a mass together, heaping up one behind another, fire-lined and majestic, sentinel over the black, gold-streaked waters. Their cliff-like boldness is the greater, because to either side sweep in the East River and the Hudson River, leaving this piled promontory between. To the right hangs the great stretch of the Brooklyn Suspension Bridge, its slight curve very purely outlined with light; over it luminous trams, like shuttles of fire, are thrown across and across, continually weaving the stuff of human existence. From further off all these lights dwindle to a radiant semicircle that gazes out over the expanse with a quiet, mysterious expectancy. Far away seaward you may see the low golden glare of Coney Island.