BLTC Press Titles


available for Kindle at Amazon.com


Shakti and Shakta

John Woodroffe


The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

A. Conan Doyle


The Revolt of the Netherlands

Friedrich Schiller


Vanity Fair

William Thackery


Outre-mer

by Paul Bourget

Excerpt:

I wish I might put down here the journal of this week; not that I overestimate the importance and interest of these quite superficial hotel and street experiences. They warrant no general conclusion, and yet they have their value. It is, so to speak, a rushing sense of the foreign, which a longer sojourn will tone down, will do away with, to make room for a more quiet, perhaps more exact, observation. These almost instinctive perceptions of the difference of atmosphere between the country we are in and that from which we come, no longer deceive us when they have once been interpreted. I already foresee that certain very general theories are Hearing the limit of their existence. It is probable that these hypotheses are very inadequate, and that I shall change them more than once before leaving this continent. Let me at least fix the surprises of these first hours before they are quite effaced — if it were only by way of memorandum.

Saturday. — Henry J. said to me when we parted in London, "I am looking forward to your impression of the wooden docks of New York. You will want to return by the next steamer, as C did."

The latter is a young Frenchman of rare mental superiority, who like myself determined to visit the New World for a course of treatment of activity and democracy. He landed upon a wooden wharf, as I did, found his way to some hotel, as I have done, presented his letters of introduction, as I shall present mine. Five days later he boarded a vessel about to sail for Europe. "I could not endure the blow," was his only reply to the surprise of his relatives.

In truth, the blow of the landing is severe, at least to a Frenchman accustomed to that administrative order whose delays he curses when he is subjected to them, whose conveniences he sighs for in this crush of the Anglo-Saxon crowd, where the struggle for life has its humble and vexatious symbol in the struggle for baggage.

No sooner is the steamer docked than you find yourself in an immense shed crowded with people who come and go, jostling and being jostled. Gigantic policemen, rotund under their tight girdles, stand firm in the sea of people, like column's against which they must break. Custom-house officers in uniforms unbuttoned because of the heat, their cheeks distended with tobacco, deface with long jets of brown saliva the place destined for the trunks; and the trunks are no sooner brought up from the hold and set down there, than around them swarm expressmen offering checks, and carpenters armed with hammer and chisel to open and nail down the boxes. Custom-house officers plunge their arms into the open trunks, turning and overturning linen and dresses with all the rough heedlessness of men in a hurry. The trunks at last closed and checked are seized by porters, and sent spinning down to a lower story by a long wooden incline, at the risk of crushing them, while a pungent, sickening odor of perspiring flesh mingles with the confused din. Such is the entrance to the great American city — as swift and brutal as a round in the ring. All the time there are sharp-eyed little men running about in the chaos of people and trunks. They are reporters on the lookout for an interview. I see the ship's dentist struggling with one of them, who is asking him about the cholera in Italy. The dilapidated hack in which I finally seat myself seems like a wheeled Paradise, as it bears me away from the tumultuous crowd, though it is jolting over a wretched wooden pavement, and the quarter that lies between the wharf and Fifth Avenue, where my hotel is to be found, is abominably ugly. Rows of red houses stretch out before me to an indefinite extent, all precisely alike, with sash windows and no blinds. Other houses appear hideous with signs, their ground floors occupied either with liquor saloons or with stalls set out with miserable wares, cheap fruits, and withered vegetables. The foul pavement is covered with a sticky mud, compounded of rubbish rather than of earth. Not a tree before these houses, not a grass plot; but rails laid along the streets for tramways, poles for telegraph wires, and presently what seems to be a long double tunnel supported by iron pillars. It is the aerial railway, the "elevated " as they say. There are four of them which stretch the whole length of the city, and carry two hundred million passengers every year. During the short time that our way follows this tunnel I count the trains that pass overhead, three going down town and three up. The strong framework which supports them trembles under their weight and the fleetness of their passage. What can be the life of those inhabitants of this city whose windows open upon this incessant mad flight of locomotives and cars?

The hack passes through two quieter streets and reaches an avenue, where a succession of cable cars rushes by in the same mad haste. An endless chain runs underground, carrying along the heavy cars upon rails, over which our carriage jolts. Their automatic movement would terrify you like a nightmare but for the man standing in the front. His clenched fingers work the handles of the lever that by turn grips and releases the chain, which moves invisible below the long fissure that lies like a third rail between the other two. There are so many of 'these cable cars, they go so fast, they so compactly block the avenue, that vehicles drawn by horses hardly find room to pass along. The latter are, therefore, becoming so rare that the aspect of the streets is not like any part of any European city.

* There are no fiacres such as are the gayety of Parisian streets, no hansoms such as make the animation of those of London, none of the bolte which roll through Rome to the nimble trot


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