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- Round the World - 2/46 -


At the station we begin to meet a mixture of Chinese and Indians--Shoshones, Piutes, and Winnemuccas. The Chinamen are at work on the line, and appear to be very expert. At Ogden we get some honey grapes--the sweetest I ever tasted. It is midnight before we are out of the desert.

We are up early to see the Sierras. My first glimpse was of a ravine resembling very much the Alleghany Gap below Bennington--going to bed in a desert and awaking to such a view was a delightful surprise indeed. We are now running down the western slope two hundred and twenty-five miles from San Francisco, with mines on both sides, and numerous flumes which tell of busy times. Halloa! what's this? Dutch Flat. Shades of Bret Harte, true child of genius, what a pity you ever forsook these scenes to dwindle in the foreign air of the Atlantic coast! A whispering pine of the Sierras transplanted to Fifth Avenue! How could it grow? Although it shows some faint signs of life, how sickly are the leaves! As for fruit, there is none. America had in Bret Harte its most distinctively national poet. His reputation in Europe proved his originality. The fact is, American poets have been only English "with a difference." Tennyson might have written the "Psalm of Life," Browning "Thanatopsis," but who could have written "Her Letter," or "Flynn of Virginia," or "Jim," or "Chiquita"? An American, flesh and bone, and none other. If the East would only discard him, as Edinburgh society did his greater prototype, he might be forced to return to his "native heath" in poverty, and rise again as the first truly American poet. But poets, and indeed great artists as a class, seem to yield their best only under pressure. The grape must be crushed if we would have wine. Give a poet "society" at his feet and he sings no more, or sings as Tennyson has been singing of late years--fit strains to prepare us for the disgrace he has brought upon the poet's calling. Poor, weak, silly old man! Forgive him, however, for what he has done when truly the poet. He was noble then and didn't know it; now he is a sham noble and _knows_ it. Punishment enough that he stands no more upon the mountain heights o'ertopping the petty ambitions of English life,

"With his garlands And his singing robes about him."

His poet's robes, alas! are gone. Room, now, for the masquerader disguised as a British peer! Place, next the last great vulgar brewer or unprincipled political trimmer in that motley assembly, the House of Lords!

The weather is superb, the sky cloudless; the train stops to allow us to see the celebrated Cape Horn; the railroad skirts the edge of the mountain, and we stand upon a precipice two thousand feet high, smaller mountains enclosing the plain below, and the American River running at our feet. It is very fine, indeed, but the grandeur between Pack Saddle and San Francisco, with the exception of the entrance to Weber Caņon and a few miles in the vicinity, is all here; as a whole, the scenery on the Pacific Railroad is disappointing to one familiar with the Alleghanies.

At Colfax, two hundred miles from San Francisco, we stop for breakfast and have our first experience of fresh California grapes and salmon; the former black Hamburgs not to be excelled by the best hot-house grapes of England; and what a bagful for a quarter! We tried the native white wine at dinner, and found it a fair Sauterne. With such grapes and climate, it must surely be only a question of a few years before the true American wine makes its appearance, and then what shall we have to import? Silks and woollens are going, watches and jewelry have already gone, and in this connection I think I may venture to say good-bye to foreign iron and steel; cotton goods went long ago. Now if wines, and especially champagne--that creature of fashion--should go, what shall we have to tax? What if America, which has given to mankind so many political lessons, should be destined to show a government living up to the very highest dictate of political economy, viz., supported by direct taxation! No, there remain our home products, whiskey and tobacco; let us be satisfied to do the next best thing and make these pay the entire cost of government. The day is not far distant when out of these two so-called luxuries we shall collect all our taxes; and those virtuous citizens who use neither shall escape scot-free. Although these sentences were written years ago, now since we approach the threshold of fulfilment I am not sure that upon the whole the total abolition of the internal revenue system is not preferable. We should thus dispense with four thousand officials. In government, the fewer the better.

No greater contrast can be imagined than that from the barren desert to the fertile plains below; oleanders and geraniums greet us with their welcome smiles; grapes, pears, peaches, all in profusion; we are indeed in the Italy of America at last, and Sacramento is reached by half-past ten. Since the great flood which almost ruined it some years ago, extensive dykes have been built, walling in the city, which so far have proved a sufficient barrier against the rapid swellings of the American River, that pours down its torrents from the mountains; but if Sacramento be now secure against flood, it is certainly vulnerable to the attacks of the not less terrible demon of fire. Such a mass of combustible material piled together and called a city I never saw before: it is a tinder-box, and we are to hear of its destruction some day. Prepare for an extra: "Great fire in Sacramento; the city in ashes;" but then, don't let us call it accidental.

What a valley we rush through for the hundred miles which separate Sacramento from San Francisco! It is about sixty miles wide, and as level as a billiard-table. Here are the famous wheat fields: as far as the eye can reach on either side we see nothing but the golden straw standing, minus the heads of wheat which have been cut off, the straw being left to be burned down as a fertilizer. Fancy a Western prairie, substitute golden grain for corn, and you have before you the California harvest; for four hundred miles this valley extends, and it is wheat from one end to the other--nothing but wheat. Granted sufficient rain in the rainy season--that is, from November till February--and the husbandman seeks nothing more; Nature does all the rest, and a bountiful harvest is a certainty. In some years there is a scarcity of rain, but to provide against even this sole remaining contingency the rivers have but to be properly used for irrigation; with this done, the wheat crop of the Pacific coast will outstrip in value, year after year, all the gold and silver that can be mined. Douglas Jerrold's famous saying applies to no other land so well as to this, for it indeed needs only "to be tickled with a hoe to smile with a harvest."

We reached Oakland, the Jersey City of San Francisco, on time to the minute; the ferry-boat starts, and there lies before us the New York of the Pacific: but instead of the bright sparkling city we had pictured, sinking to rest with its tall spires suffused by the glories of the setting sun, imagine our surprise when not even our own smoky Pittsburgh could boast a denser canopy of smoke. A friend who had kindly met us upon arrival at Oakland tried to explain that this was not all smoke; it was mostly fog, and a peculiar wind which sometimes had this effect; but we could scarcely be mistaken upon that point. No, no, Mr. O'B., you may know all about "Frisco," the Chinese, the mines, and the Yosemite, but do allow me to know something about smoke. We reached our hotel, from the seven days' trip, and, after a bath and a good dinner with agreeable company, were shown as much of the city as it was possible to see before the "wee short hour ayont the twal'."

* * * * *

PALACE HOTEL, SAN FRANCISCO, Wednesday Evening, October 23.

A palace truly! Where shall we find its equal? Windsor Hotel, good-bye! you must yield the palm to your great Western rival, as far as structure goes, though in all other respects you may keep the foremost place. There is no other hotel building in the world equal to this. The court of the Grand at Paris is poor compared to that of the Palace. Its general effect at night, when brilliantly lighted, is superb; its furniture, rooms and appointments are all fine, but then it tells you all over it was built to "whip all creation," and the millions of its lucky owner enabled him to triumph. It is as much in place in San Francisco as the Taj would be in Sligo; but then your California operator, when he has made a "pile," goes in for a hotel, just as in New York one takes to a marble palace or a grand railway depot, or in Cincinnati to a music hall, or in Pittsburgh to building a church or another rolling mill. Every community has its social idiosyncrasies, but it struck us as rather an amusing coincidence that while we had recently greeted no less a man than Potter Palmer, Esq., behind the counter in Chicago as "mine host of the Garter," we should so soon have found ourselves in the keeping of Senator Sharon, lessee of the Palace. These hotels do not impress one as being quite suitable monuments for one who naturally considers his labors about over when he builds, as they are apt apparently to prove rather lively for comfort to the owners, and we have decided when our building time comes that it shall not be in the hotel line. We got to bed at last, but who could sleep after such a day--after such a week! The ceaseless motion, with the click, click, click of the wheels--our sweet lullaby apparently this had become--was wanting; and then the telegrams from home, which bade us Godspeed, the warm, balmy air of Italy, when we had left winter behind--all this drove sleep away; and when drowsiness came, what apparitions of Japanese, Chinese, Indians, elephants, camels, josses! passed through our brain in endless procession. We were at the Golden Gate; we had just reached the edge of the Pacific Ocean, and before us lay

... "the wealth of Ormus and of Ind, Or where the gorgeous East, with richest hand, Showers on her kings barbaric pearl and gold.

To every blink the livelong night there came this refrain, which seemed to close each scene of Oriental magnificence that haunted the imagination:

"And our gude ship sails ye morn, And our gude ship sails ye morn."

Do what I would, the words of the old Scotch ballad would not down. Sleep! who could sleep in such an hour? Dead must be the man whose pulse beats not quicker, and whose enthusiasm is not enkindled when for the first time he is privileged to whisper to himself, The East! the East!

"And our gude ship sails ye morn."

* * * * *

HARBOR OF SAN FRANCISCO, Thursday, October 24.

At last! noon, 24th, and there she lies--the Belgic at her dock! What a crowd! but not of us; eight hundred Chinamen are to return to the Flowery Land. One looks like another; but how quiet they


Round the World - 2/46

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