By Horse-Car To Boston


At a former period the writer of this had the fortune to serve his country in an Italian city whose great claim upon the world's sentimental interest is the fact that--

"The sea is in her broad, her narrow streets
Ebbing and flowing,"

and that she has no ways whatever for hoofs or wheels. In his quality of United States official, he was naturally called upon for information concerning the estates of Italians believed to have emigrated early in the century to Buenos Ayres, and was commissioned to learn why certain persons in Mexico and Brazil, and the parts of Peru, had not, if they were still living, written home to their friends. On the other hand, he was intrusted with business nearly as pertinent and hopeful by some of his own countrymen, and it was not quite with surprise that he one day received a neatly lithographed circular with his name and address written in it, signed by a famous projector of such enterprises, asking him to cooperate for the introduction of horse-railroads in Venice. The obstacles to the scheme were of such a nature that it seemed hardly worth while even to reply to the circular; but the proposal was one of those bold flights of imagination which forever lift objects out of vulgar association. It has cast an enduring, poetic charm even about the horse-car in my mind, and I naturally look for many unprosaic aspects of humanity there. I have an acquaintance who insists that it is the place above all others suited to see life in every striking phase. He pretends to have witnessed there the reunion of friends who had not met in many years, the embrace, figurative of course, of long lost brothers, the reconciliation of lovers; I do not know but also some scenes of love-making, and acceptance or rejection. But my friend is an imaginative man, and may make himself romances. I myself profess to have beheld for the most part only mysteries; and I think it not the least of these that, riding on the same cars day after day, one finds so many strange faces with so little variety. Whether or not that dull, jarring motion shakes inward and settles about the centres of mental life the sprightliness that should inform the visage, I do not know; but it is certain that the emptiness of the average passenger's countenance is something wonderful, considered with reference to Nature's abhorrence of a vacuum, and the intellectual repute which Boston enjoys among envious New- Yorkers. It is seldom that a journey out of our cold metropolis is enlivened by a mystery so positive in character as the young lady in black, who alighted at a most ordinary little street in Old Charlesbridge, and heightened her effect by going into a French-roof house there that had no more right than a dry goods box to receive a mystery. She was tall, and her lovely arms showed through the black gauze of her dress with an exquisite roundness and _morbidezza_. Upon her beautiful wrists she had heavy bracelets of dead gold, fashioned after some Etruscan device; and from her dainty ears hung great hoops of the same metal and design, which had the singular privilege of touching, now and then, her white columnar neck. A massive chain or necklace, also Etruscan, and also gold, rose and fell at her throat, and on one little ungloved hand glittered a multitude of rings. This hand was very expressive, and took a principal part in the talk which the lady held with her companion, and was as alert and quick as if trained in the gesticulation of Southern or Latin life somewhere. Her features, on the contrary, were rather insipid, being too small and fine; but they were redeemed by the liquid splendor of her beautiful eyes, and the mortal pallor of her complexion. She was altogether so startling an apparition, that all of us jaded, commonplace spectres turned and fastened our weary, lack-lustre eyes upon her looks, with an utter inability to remove them. There was one fat, unctuous person seated opposite, to whom his interest was a torture, for he would have gone to sleep except for her remarkable presence: as it was, his heavy eyelids fell half-way shut, and drooped there at an agonizing angle, while his eyes remained immovably fixed upon that strange, death-white face. How it could have come of that colorlessness,--whether through long sickness or long residence in a tropical climate,--was a question that perplexed another of the passengers, who would have expected to hear the lady speak any language in the world rather than English; and to whom her companion or attendant was hardly less than herself a mystery,--being a dragon-like, elderish female, clearly a Yankee by birth, but apparently of many years' absence from home. The propriety of extracting these people from the horse-cars and transferring them bodily to the first chapter of a romance was a thing about which there could be no manner of doubt, and nothing prevented the abduction but the unexpected voluntary exit of the pale lady. As she passed out everybody else awoke as from a dream, or as if freed from a potent fascination. It is part of the mystery that this lady should never have reappeared in that theatre of life, the horse-car; but I cannot regret having never seen her more; she was so inestimably precious to wonder that it would have been a kind of loss to learn anything about her.

[Illustration: "The young lady in black, who alighted at a most ordinary little street."]

On the other hand, I should be glad if two young men who once presented themselves as mysteries upon the same stage could be so distinctly and sharply identified that all mankind should recognize them at the day of judgment. They were not so remarkable in the nature as in the degree of their offense; for the mystery that any man should keep his seat in a horse-car and let a woman stand is but too sadly common. They say that this, public unkindness to the sex has come about through the ingratitude of women, who have failed to return thanks for places offered them, and that it is a just and noble revenge we take upon them. There might be something advanced in favor of the idea that we law-making men, who do not oblige the companies to provide seats for every one, deserve no thanks from voteless, helpless women when we offer them places; nay, that we ought to be glad if they do not reproach us for making that a personal favor which ought to be a common right. I would prefer, on the whole, to believe that this selfishness is not a concerted act on our part, but a flower of advanced civilization; it is a ripe fruit in European countries, and it is more noticeable in Boston than anywhere else in America. It is, in fact, one of the points of our high polish which people from the interior say first strikes them on coming among us; for they declare--no doubt too modestly--that in their Boeotian wilds our Athenian habit is almost unknown. Yet it would not be fair to credit our whole population with it. I have seen a laborer or artisan rise from his place, and offer it to a lady, while a dozen well-dressed men kept theirs; and I know several conservative young gentlemen, who are still so old-fashioned as always to respect the weakness and weariness of women. One of them, I hear, has settled it in his own mind that if the family cook appears in a car where he is seated, he must rise and give her his place. This, perhaps, is a trifle idealistic; but it is magnificent, it is princely. From his difficult height, we decline--through ranks that sacrifice themselves for women with bundles or children in arms, for old ladies, or for very young and pretty ones--to the men who give no odds to the most helpless creature alive. These are the men who do not act upon the promptings of human nature like the laborer, and who do not refine upon their duty like my young gentlemen, and make it their privilege to befriend the idea of womanhood; they are men who have paid for their seats and are going to keep them. They have been at work, very probably, all day, and no doubt they are tired; they look so, and try hard not to look ashamed of publicly considering themselves before a sex which is born tired, and from which our climate and customs have drained so much health that society sometimes seems little better than a hospital for invalid woman, where every courtesy is likely to be a mercy done to a sufferer. Yet the two young men of whom I began to speak were not apparently of this class, and let us hope they were foreigners,--say Englishmen, since we hate Englishmen the most. They were the only men seated, in a car full of people; and when four or five ladies came in and occupied the aisle before them, they might have been puzzled which to offer their places to, if one of the ladies had not plainly been infirm. They settled the question--if there was any in their minds--by remaining seated, while the lady in front of them swung uneasily to and fro with the car, and appeared ready to sink at their feet. In another moment she had actually done so; and, too weary to rise, she continued to crouch upon the floor of the car for the course of a mile, the young men resolutely keeping their places, and not rising till they were ready to leave the car. It was a horrible scene, and incredible,--that well-dressed woman sitting on the floor, and those two well-dressed men keeping their places; it was as much out of keeping with our smug respectabilities as a hanging, and was a spectacle so paralyzing that public opinion took no action concerning it. A shabby person, standing upon the platform outside, swore about it, between expectorations: even the conductor's heart was touched; and he said he had seen a good many hard things aboard horse-cars, but that was a little the hardest; he had never expected to come to that. These were simple people enough, and could not interest me a great deal, but I should have liked to have a glimpse of the complex minds of those young men, and I should still like to know something of the previous life that could have made their behavior possible to them. They ought to make public the philosophic methods by which they reached that pass of unshamable selfishness. The information would be useful to a race which knows the sweetness of self- indulgence, and would fain know the art of so drugging or besotting the sensibilities that it shall no feel disgraced by any sort of meanness. They might really have much to say for themselves; as, that the lady, being conscious she could no longer keep her feet, had no right to crouch at theirs, and put them to so severe a test; or that, having suffered her to sink there, they fell no further in the ignorant public opinion by suffering her to continue there.

But I doubt if that other young man could say anything for himself, who, when a pale, trembling woman was about to drop into the vacant place at his side, stretched his arm across it with, "This seat's engaged," till a robust young fellow, his friend, appeared, and took it and kept it all the way out from Boston. The commission of such a tragical wrong, involving a violation of common usage as well as the infliction of a positive cruelty, would embitter the life of an ordinary man, if any ordinary man were capable of it; but let us trust that nature has provided fortitude of every kind for the offender, and that he is not wrung by keener remorse than most would feel for a petty larceny. I dare say he would be eager at the first opportunity to rebuke the ingratitude of women who do not thank their benefactors for giving them seats. It seems a little odd, by the way, and perhaps it is through the peculiar blessing of Providence, that, since men have determined by a savage egotism to teach the offending sex manners, their own comfort should be in the infliction of the penalty, and that it should be as much a pleasure as a duty to keep one's place.

Perhaps when the ladies come to vote, they will abate, with other nuisances, the whole business of overloaded public conveyances. In the mean time the kindness of women to each other is a notable feature of all horse-car journeys. It is touching to see the smiling eagerness with which the poor things gather close their volumed skirts and make room for a weary sister, the tender looks of compassion which they bend upon the sufferers obliged to stand, the sweetness with which they rise, if they are young and strong, to offer their place to any infirm or heavily burdened person of their sex.

But a journey to Boston is not entirely an experience of bitterness. On the contrary, there are many things besides the mutual amiability of these beautiful martyrs which relieve its tedium and horrors. A whole car-full of people, brought into the closest contact with one another, yet in the absence of introductions never exchanging a word, each being so sufficient to himself as to need no social stimulus whatever, is certainly an impressive and stately spectacle. It is a beautiful day, say; but far be it from me to intimate as much to my neighbor, who plainly would rather die than thus commit himself with me, and who, in fact, would well-nigh strike me speechless with surprise if he did so. If there is any necessity for communication, as with the conductor, we essay first to express ourselves by gesture, and then utter our desires with a certain hollow and remote effect, which is not otherwise to be described. I have sometimes tried to speak above my breath, when, being about to leave the car, I have made a virtue of offering my place to the prettiest young woman standing, but I have found it impossible; the _genius loci_, whatever it was, suppressed me, and I have gasped out my sham politeness as in a courteous nightmare. The silencing influence is quite successfully resisted by none but the tipsy people who occasionally ride out with us, and call up a smile, sad as a gleam of winter sunshine, to our faces by their artless prattle. I remember one eventful afternoon that we were all but moved to laughter by the gayeties of such a one, who, even after he had ceased to talk, continued to amuse us by falling asleep, and reposing himself against the shoulder of the lady next him. Perhaps it is in acknowledgment of the agreeable variety they contribute to horse-car life, that the conductor treats his inebriate passengers with such unfailing tenderness and forbearance. I have never seen them molested, though I have noticed them in the indulgence of many eccentricities, and happened once even to see one of them sit down in a lady's lap. But that was on the night of Saint Patrick's day. Generally all avoidable indecorums are rare in the horse-cars, though during the late forenoon and early afternoon, in the period of lighter travel, I have found curious figures there:--among others, two old women, in the old-clothes business, one of whom was dressed, not very fortunately, in a gown with short sleeves, and inferentially a low neck; a mender of umbrellas, with many unwholesome whity-brown wrecks of umbrellas about him; a peddler of soap, who offered cakes of it to his fellow-passengers at a discount, apparently for friendship's sake; and a certain gentleman with a pock-marked face, and a beard dyed an unscrupulous purple, who sang himself a hymn all the way to Boston, and who gave me no sufficient reason for thinking him a sea- captain. Not far from the end of the Long Bridge, there is apt to be a number of colored ladies waiting to get into the car, or to get out of it,--usually one solemn mother in Ethiopia, and two or three mirthful daughters, who find it hard to suppress a sense of adventure, and to keep in the laughter that struggles out through their glittering teeth and eyes, and who place each other at a disadvantage by divers accidental and intentional bumps and blows. If they are to get out, the old lady is not certain of the place where, and, after making the car stop, and parleying with the conductor, returns to her seat, and is mutely held up to public scorn by one taciturn wink of the conductor's eye.

Among horse-car types, I am almost ashamed to note one so common and observable as that middle-aged lady who gets aboard and will not see the one vacant seat left, but stands tottering at the door, blind and deaf to all the modest beckonings and benevolent gasps of her fellow-passengers. An air as of better days clings about her; she seems a person who has known sickness and sorrow; but so far from pitying her, you view her with inexpressible rancor, for it is plain that she ought to sit down, and that she will not. But for a point of honor the conductor would show her the vacant place; this forbidding, however, how can he? There she stands and sniffs drearily when you glance at her, as you must from time to time, and no wild turkey caught in a trap was ever more incapable of looking down than this middle-aged (shall I say also unmarried?) lady.

Of course every one knows the ladies and gentlemen who sit cater- cornered, and who will not move up; and equally familiar is that large and ponderous person, who, feigning to sit down beside you, practically sits down upon you, and is not incommoded by having your knee under him. He implies by this brutal conduct that you are taking up more space than belongs to you, and that you are justly made an example of.

I had the pleasure one day to meet on the horse-car an advocate of one of the great reforms of the day. He held a green bag upon his knees, and without any notice passed from a question of crops to a discussion of suffrage for the negro, and so to womanhood suffrage. "Let the women vote," said he,--"let 'em vote if they want to. _I_ don't care. Fact is, I should like to see 'em do it the first time. They're excitable, you know; they're excitable;" and he enforced his analysis of female character by thrusting his elbow sharply into my side. "Now, there's my wife; I'd like to see her vote. Be fun, I tell you. And the girls,--Lord, the girls! Circus wouldn't be anywhere." Enchanted with the picture which he appeared to have conjured up for himself, he laughed with the utmost relish, and then patting the green bag in his lap, which plainly contained a violin, "You see," he went on, "I go out playing for dancing-parties. Work all day at my trade,--I'm a carpenter,--and play in the evening. Take my little old ten dollars a night. And _I_ notice the women a good deal; and _I_ tell you they're _all_ excitable, and _I sh'd_ like to see 'em vote. Vote right and vote often,--that's the ticket, eh?" This friend of womanhood suffrage--whose attitude of curiosity and expectation seemed to me representative of that of a great many thinkers on the subject--no doubt was otherwise a reformer, and held that the coming man would not drink wine--if he could find whiskey. At least I should have said so, guessing from the odors he breathed along with his liberal sentiments.

Something of the character of a college-town is observable nearly always in the presence of the students, who confound certain traditional ideas of students by their quietude of costume and manner, and whom Padua or Heidelberg would hardly know, but who nevertheless betray that they are banded to--

"Scorn delights and live laborious days,"

by a uniformity in the cut of their trousers, or a clannishness of cane or scarf, or a talk of boats and base-ball held among themselves. One cannot see them without pleasure and kindness; and it is no wonder that their young-lady acquaintances brighten so to recognize them on the horse-cars. There is much good fortune in the world, but none better than being an undergraduate twenty years old, hale, handsome, fashionably dressed, with the whole promise of life before: it's a state of things to disarm even envy. With so much youth forever in her heart, it must be hard for our Charlesbridge to grow old: the generations arise and pass away but in her veins is still this tide of warm blood, century in and century out, so much the same from one age to another that it would be hardy to say it was not still one youthfulness. There is a print of the village as it was a cycle since, showing the oldest of the college buildings and upon the street in front a scholar in his scholar's-cap and gown, giving his arm to a very stylish girl of that period, who is dressed wonderfully like the girl of ours, so that but for the student's antique formality of costume, one might believe that he was handing her out to take the horse-car. There is no horse-car in the picture,--that is the only real difference between then and now in our Charlesbridge, perennially young and gay. Have there not ever been here the same grand ambitions, the same high hopes,--and is not the unbroken succession of youth in these?

As for other life on the horse-car, it shows to little or no effect, as I have said. You can, of course, detect certain classes; as, in the morning the business-men going in, to their counters or their desks, and in the afternoon the shoppers coming out, laden with paper parcels. But I think no one can truly claim to know the regular from the occasional passengers by any greater cheerfulness in the faces of the latter. The horse-car will suffer no such inequality as this, but reduces us all to the same level of melancholy. It would be but a very unworthy kind of art which should seek to describe people by such merely external traits as a habit of carrying baskets or large travelling-bags in the car; and the present muse scorns it, but is not above speaking of the frequent presence of those lovely young girls in which Boston and the suburban towns abound, and who, whether they appear with rolls of music in their hands, or books from the circulating-libraries, or pretty parcels or hand-bags, would brighten even the horse-car if fresh young looks and gay and brilliant costumes could do so much. But they only add perplexity to the anomaly, which was already sufficiently trying with its contrasts of splendor and shabbiness, and such intimate association of velvets and patches as you see in the churches of Catholic countries, but nowhere else in the world except in our "coaches of the sovereign people."

In winter, the journey to or from Boston cannot appear otherwise than very dreary to the fondest imagination. Coming out, nothing can look more arctic and forlorn than the river, double-shrouded in ice and snow, or sadder than the contrast offered to the same prospect in summer. Then all is laughing, and it is a joy in every nerve to ride out over the Long Bridge at high tide, and, looking southward, to see the wide crinkle and glitter of that beautiful expanse of water, which laps on one hand the granite quays of the city, and on the other washes among the reeds and wild grasses of the salt-meadows. A ship coming slowly up the channel, or a dingy tug violently darting athwart it, gives an additional pleasure to the eye, and adds something dreamy or vivid to the beauty of the scene. It is hard to say at what hour of the summer's-day the prospect is loveliest; and I am certainly not going to speak of the sunset as the least of its delights. When this exquisite spectacle is presented, the horse-car passenger, happy to cling with one foot to the rear platform-steps, looks out over the shoulder next him into fairy-land. Crimson and purple the bay stretches westward till its waves darken into the grassy levels, where, here and there, a hay-rick shows perfectly black against the light. Afar off, southeastward and westward, the uplands wear a tinge of tenderest blue; and in the nearer distance, on the low shores of the river, hover the white plumes of arriving and departing trains. The windows of the stately houses that overlook the water take the sunset from it evanescently, and begin to chill and darken before the crimson burns out of the sky. The windows are, in fact, best after nightfall, when they are brilliantly lighted from within; and when, if it is a dark, warm night, and the briny fragrance comes up strong from the falling tide, the lights reflected far down in the still water, bring a dream, as I have heard travelled Bostonians say, of Venice and her magical effects in the same kind. But for me the beauty of the scene needs the help of no such association; I am content with it for what it is. I enjoy also the hints of spring which one gets in riding over the Long Bridge at low tide in the first open days. Then there is not only a vernal beating of carpets on the piers of the drawbridge, but the piles and walls left bare by the receding water show green patches of sea-weeds and mosses, and flatter the willing eye with a dim hint of summer. This reeking and saturated herbage--which always seems to me, in contrast with dry land growths, what the water- logged life of seafaring folk is to that which we happier men lead on shore,--taking so kindly the deceitful warmth and brightness of the sun, has then a charm which it loses when summer really comes; nor does one, later, have so keen an interest in the men wading about in the shallows below the bridge, who, as in the distance they stoop over to gather whatever shell-fish they seek, make a very fair show of being some ungainlier sort of storks, and are as near as we can hope to come to the spring-prophesying storks of song and story. A sentiment of the drowsiness that goes before the awakening of the year, and is so different from the drowsiness that precedes the great autumnal slumber, is in the air, but is gone when we leave the river behind, and strike into the straggling village beyond.

I maintain that Boston, as one approaches it and passingly takes in the line of Bunker Hill Monument, soaring preeminent among the emulous foundry-chimneys of the sister city, is fine enough to need no comparison with other fine sights. Thanks to the mansard curves and dormer-windows of the newer houses, there is a singularly picturesque variety among the roofs that stretch along the bay, and rise one above another on the city's three hills, grouping themselves about the State House, and surmounted by its India-rubber dome. But, after all, does human weakness crave some legendary charm, some grace of uncertain antiquity, in the picturesqueness it sees? I own that the future, to which we are often referred for the "stuff that dreams are made of," is more difficult for the fancy than the past, that the airy amplitude of its possibilities is somewhat chilly, and that we naturally long for the snug quarters of old, made warm by many generations of life. Besides, Europe spoils us ingenuous Americans, and flatters our sentimentality into ruinous extravagances. Looking at her many-storied former times, we forget our own past, neat, compact, and convenient for the poorest memory to dwell in. Yet an American not infected with the discontent of travel could hardly approach this superb city without feeling something of the coveted pleasure in her, without a reverie of her Puritan and Revolutionary times, and the great names and deeds of her heroic annals. I think, however, we were well to be rid of this yearning for a native American antiquity; for in its indulgence one cannot but regard himself and his contemporaries as cumberers of the ground, delaying the consummation of that hoary past which will be so fascinating to a semi-Chinese posterity, and will be, ages hence, the inspiration of Pigeon-English poetry and romance. Let us make much of our two hundred and fifty years, and cherish the present as our golden age. We healthy-minded people in the horse-cars are loath to lose a moment of it, and are aggrieved that the draw of the bridge should be up, naturally looking on what is constantly liable to happen as an especial malice of the fates. All the drivers of the vehicles that clog the draw on either side have a like sense of personal injury; and apparently it would go hard with the captain of that leisurely vessel below if he were delivered into our hands. But this impatience and anger are entirely illusive.

We are really the most patient people in the world, especially as regards any incorporated, non-political oppressions. A lively Gaul, who travelled among us some thirty years ago, found that, in the absence of political control, we gratified the human instinct of obedience by submitting to small tyrannies unknown abroad, and were subject to the steamboat-captain, the hotel-clerk, the stage-driver, and the waiter, who all bullied us fearlessly; but though some vestiges of this bondage remain, it is probably passing away. The abusive Frenchman's assertion would not at least hold good concerning the horse-car conductors, who, in spite of a lingering preference for touching or punching passengers for their fare instead of asking for it, are commonly mild-mannered and good-tempered, and disposed to molest us as little as possible. I have even received from one of them a mark of such kindly familiarity as the offer of a check which he held between his lips, and thrust out his face to give me, both his hands being otherwise occupied; and their lives are in nowise such luxurious careers as we should expect in public despots. The oppression of the horse-car passenger is not from them, and the passenger himself is finally to blame for it. When the draw closes at last, and we rumble forward into the city street, a certain stir of expectation is felt among us. The long and eventful journey is nearly ended, and now we who are to get out of the cars can philosophically amuse ourselves with the passions and sufferings of those who are to return in our places. You must choose the time between five and six o'clock in the afternoon, if you would make this grand study of the national character in its perfection. Then the spectacle offered in any arriving horse-car will serve your purpose. At nearly every corner of the street up which it climbs stands an experienced suburban, who darts out upon the car, and seizes a vacant place in it. Presently all the places are taken, and before we reach Temple Street, where helpless groups of women are gathered to avail themselves of the first seats vacated, an alert citizen is stationed before each passenger who is to retire at the summons, "Please pass out forrad." When this is heard in Bowdoin Square, we rise and push forward, knuckling one another's backs in our eagerness, and perhaps glancing behind us at the tumult within. Not only are all our places occupied, but the aisle is left full of passengers precariously supporting themselves by the straps in the roof. The rear platform is stormed and carried by a party with bundles; the driver is instantly surrounded by another detachment; and as the car moves away from the office, the platform steps are filled.

"Is it possible," I asked myself, when I had written as far as this in the present noble history, "that I am not exaggerating? It can't be that this and the other enormities I have been describing are of daily occurrence in Boston. Let me go verify, at least, my picture of the evening horse-car." So I take my way to Bowdoin Square, and in the conscientious spirit of modern inquiry, I get aboard the first car that comes up. Like every other car, it is meant to seat twenty passengers. It does this, and besides it carries in the aisle and on the platform forty passengers standing. The air is what you may imagine, if you know that not only is the place so indecently crowded, but that in the centre of the car are two adopted citizens, far gone in drink, who have the aspect and the smell of having passed the day in an ash-heap. These citizens being quite helpless themselves, are supported by the public, and repose in singular comfort upon all the passengers near them; I, myself, contribute an aching back to the common charity, and a genteelly dressed young lady takes one of them from time to time on her knee. But they are comparatively an ornament to society till the conductor objects to the amount they offer him for fare; for after that they wish to fight him during the journey, and invite him at short intervals to step out and be shown what manner of men they are. The conductor passes it off for a joke, and so it is, and a very good one.

In that unhappy mass it would be an audacious spirit who should say of any particular arm or leg, "It is mine," and all the breath is in common. Nothing, it would seem, could add to our misery; but we discover our error when the conductor squeezes a tortuous path through us, and collects the money for our transportation. I never can tell, during the performance of this feat, whether he or the passengers are more to be pitied.

The people who are thus indecorously huddled and jammed together, without regard to age or sex, otherwise lead lives of at least comfort, and a good half of them cherish themselves in every physical way with unparalleled zeal. They are handsomely clothed; they are delicately neat in linen; they eat well, or, if not well, as well as their cooks will let them, and at all events expensively; they house in dwellings appointed in a manner undreamt of elsewhere in the world,--dwellings wherein furnaces make a summer-heat, where fountains of hot and cold water flow at a touch, where light is created or quenched by the turning of a key, where all is luxurious upholstery, and magical ministry to real or fancied needs. They carry the same tastes with them to their places of business; and when they "attend divine service," it is with the understanding that God is to receive them in a richly carpeted house, deliciously warmed and perfectly ventilated, where they may adore Him at their ease upon cushioned seats,-- secured seats. Yet these spoiled children of comfort, when they ride to or from business or church, fail to assert rights that the benighted Cockney, who never heard of our plumbing and registers, or even the oppressed Parisian, who is believed not to change his linen from one revolution to another, having paid for, enjoys. When they enter the "full" horse-car, they find themselves in a place inexorable as the grave to their greenbacks, where not only is their adventitious consequence stripped from them, but the courtesies of life are impossible, the inherent dignity of the person is denied, and they are reduced below the level of the most uncomfortable nations of the Old World. The philosopher accustomed to draw consolation from the sufferings of his richer fellow-men, and to infer an overruling Providence from their disgraces, might well bless Heaven for the spectacle of such degradation, if his thanksgiving were not prevented by his knowledge that this is quite voluntary. And now consider that on every car leaving the city at this time the scene is much the same; reflect that the horror is enacting, not only in Boston, but in New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, St. Louis, Chicago, Cincinnati,--wherever the horse-car, that tinkles well-nigh round the Continent, is known; remember that the same victims are thus daily sacrificed, without an effort to right themselves: and then you will begin to realize--dimly and imperfectly, of course--the unfathomable meekness of the American character. The "full" horse-car is a prodigy whose likeness is absolutely unknown elsewhere, since the Neapolitan gig went out; and I suppose it will be incredible to the future in our own country. When I see such a horse-car as I have sketched move away from its station, I feel that it is something not only emblematic and interpretative, but monumental; and I know that when art becomes truly national, the overloaded horse-car will be celebrated in painting and sculpture. And in after ages, when the oblique-eyed, swarthy American of that time, pausing before some commemorative bronze or historical picture of our epoch, contemplates this stupendous spectacle of human endurance, I hope he will be able to philosophize more satisfactorily than we can now, concerning the mystery of our strength as a nation and our weakness as a public.


facebook share button twitter share button google plus share button tumblr share button reddit share button email share button share on pinterest pinterest

Create a library and add your favorite stories. Get started by clicking the "Add" button.
Add By Horse-Car To Boston to your own personal library.

Return to the William Dean Howells Home Page, or . . . Read the next short story; Christmas Every Day

Anton Chekhov
Nathaniel Hawthorne
Susan Glaspell
Mark Twain
Edgar Allan Poe
Mary E. Wilkins Freeman
Herman Melville
Stephen Leacock
Kate Chopin
Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson