Florence Barclay's account of her Chautauqua tour|
Rudyard Kipling account of Chautauqua
Chautauqua was an adult education movement in the United States, highly popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Maud Ballington Booth toured on the Chautauqua circuit, moving audiences with her vivid account of life in prisons and calls for reform. Florence Barclay visited America in 1909, and joined her sister Maud on one of these tours. This is described in Florence's biography, written by one of her daughters (available here online).
It was in 1909 that my mother first visited the United States. Her younger sister, to whom she was deeply attached, had married Mr. Ballington Booth, the son of the great "General" Booth, and after some years of active work with the Salvation Army, both in England and in America, had severed her connection with that movement and founded the Volunteers of America, later on developing with enormous success her great work among the prisons. It was in order to accompany her sister on a Chautauqua tour that my mother crossed the Atlantic.
"The Rosary" had not yet been published; it was not as a writer, therefore, that America welcomed my mother on this occasion but as a public speaker. She had accepted an engagement as a lecturer and was to accompany her sister on a tour, addressing the vast Chautauqua gatherings - an institution peculiar to America.
Mrs. Booth was to lecture on her prison work, and my mother undertook to speak on "Palestine and the Bible."
It was, I suppose, a unique experience for an English woman - this tremendous journey through twelve States, a distance of 7000 miles in three weeks, with audiences of anything from 2000 to 5000 (and one occasion, 8000) keen-minded Americans to be kept interested for an hour and a half at each place!
It may be asked, What is a "Chautauqua"? The name is really that of a town in New York State where the gatherings originated. The idea is this. Near the principal (or most central town) of a State is erected an enormous tent, or a wooden building, seated to hold anything from 2000 to 5000 people. During eight or ten days in the summer an intellectual programme is arranged, chiefly literary, but also including music, dramatic impersonations, and like attractions; well-known American writers, actors, speakers, and musicians being secured at large fees. People come in from many miles round, and camp in tents near the great centre, attending the lectures and entertainments every afternoon and evening. I have before me the elaborate eight-page illustrated programme of the Fifth Annual Assembly of the Coshocton Chautauqua. It is written in the enterprising Yank style, opening with the statement, "This year we have the strongest program ever presented here. Our talent alone this year costs us $1655.00."; and ending with the business-like bit of advice, "The grove will be filled with tents, this year, and all your friends will be there. Bring your tent or rent one and join the tenters, for they are the people who get the most for their money." But I feel that by quoting the pages on my mother and her sister I can best give an idea of the kind of expectations they had to live up to.
Beneath my aunt's photograph is the following: "Maud Ballington Booth will appear this year for the first time in Coshocton. We have followed the scriptural rule and kept the best of the feast to the last. We have planned to make our last day the best." [The previous description of various poets, orators, and musicians had been superlatively glowing, so this was high praise!] "Just think of it! Mrs. Booth in the afternoon; Mrs. Barclay in the evening; and The Chicago Glee Club at both entertainments. As the boys say, 'That's going some.'
"Mrs. Booth hardly needs an introduction to an American audience as she is known and loved far and wide as 'the little mother of the prisons.' She is delightfully quiet and undemonstrative on the platform. One could hardly be restless who simply watched, even without understanding a word. Her face, her manner, her sentiments are all the inspiration of earnestness, but there is no surfeit, for pathos and humour, comedy and tragedy, drift absolutely side by side from the same silver stream. You laugh with tears in your eyes. Her message is one worth hearing, and one you will never forget, for with beautiful words, in telling touches, she paints a picture in a paragraph that preaches a sermon and tells a tale that fastens itself indelibly. Her voice is such that every word can be heard in any part of the auditorium without effort on the part of the hearer.
"Mrs. Barclay is the sister of Mrs. Ballington Booth. All who have heard her realise that she is a very remarkable speaker. From her earliest girlhood she has been gifted in this manner.
"Her travels are of great interest, and the way in which she tells the story and delivers the deeper message that it is to teach, can but leave a lasting impression. Both Mrs. Barclay and Mrs. Ballington Booth come of a family of writers. She was introduced to the American reading public by a striking little book entitled 'The Wheels of Time.' A work of greater importance which bids fair to make a sensation is to be published this year, entitled 'The Rosary.' [A brief biographical outline follows.]
The places and dates of the Chautauqua gatherings for this tour were as follows:
|Storm Lake, Iowa, July 23;|
Hiawatha, July 25;
Leavenworth, Kansas, 26th;
New Albany, Indiana, 30th;
Cawker City, Kans., August 1;
Hastings, Nebraska, 6th;
Iowa City, 7th;
Coshocton, Ohio, 8th;
Chautauqua, New York, 10th.
The following is the story of this remarkable trip in my mother's own words (written to her Leyton Bible Reading Class in England):
"Blue Point, Long Island, U.S.A., July 19, 1909"
"To-day we start for the far West, leaving New York this evening for Chicago, en route to Storm Lake, Iowa - our first Chautauqua centre. We speak there on Friday, the 23rd, but are planning to arrive on Thursday, so as to see something of the place and people before our own turn comes. We spend twenty-four hours in Chicago. It gives one some idea of this country to realise that we must travel nearly 2000 miles to reach our first gathering; and, in one case, 2000 miles from one centre to another."
"I know a good deal more about Chautauqua gatherings than I did when I left England. I shall not be sorry when I am safely through my first! Our success depends entirely - and literally - upon whether we can hold our audience. In England if an audience is bored it looks at its watch. A Chautauqua audience gets up and walks out! The English method is discouraging to a speaker, but the Chautauqua plan would be altogether collapsing."
My mother herself witnessed an unfortunate speaker treated thus at one centre. Literally the whole vast audience filed out, leaving a mere handful in the first few rows to listen, while he struggled to finish out his time!
"On the other hand, if we do succeed in gaining their interest and attention, Chautauqua audiences are most appreciative and enthusiastic. Many will have driven, ridden, or motored forty miles in order to be present. Some of the centres are at little 'one-horse towns,' as they call them here, of only eight or nine hundred inhabitants - and yet, on the Chautauqua grounds, four thousand people will await us. They pour in from all the country round. Many bring tents and make a large camp for the whole session. Others drive in each day from outlying villages, isolated farms, or distant homesteads. To many of them in the Western States it is the one intellectual treat of the year. It will have to furnish topics for fireside conversation during long, dull winter evenings. In one place, where the attenders were largely farmers and their families, the Chautauqua dates had to be fixed to suit 'the huckleberry crops, and the moon.'"
"We have just received the programme from Hiawatha, and it fills me with glad and earnest expectation; for we are to be there on the last day, and mine is the closing address of the whole Chautauqua. It is Sunday, the 25th. My sister speaks in the afternoon. Then there is a sacred orchestral concert, early in the evening; my address follows, and immediately after it on the programme comes 'Benediction.' That Sunday evening seems to me to hold such possibilities of working out the subject very fully on really spiritual lines, in such a way that true 'benediction' may follow. Ah, if that great throng could disperse carrying the Holy Land in their hearts. For is not the Holy Land the land where Christ dwelt, and through which His blessed footsteps moved; and has He not said of consecrated hearts: 'I will dwell in them, and walk in them'? We may all have our Jerusalem of worship, our Tabor of transfiguration, our Bethany of communion, and our Galilee of calm in that temple of the inner being, where His promised Presence doth abide."
"Storm Lake, Iowa, July 23rd."
"Our first Chautauqua is over, and all is well."
"I wish you could all have heard Mrs. Ballington Booth's magnificent lecture in the afternoon, entitled 'Lights and Shadows of Prison Life.' She held that great audience, without the smallest strain or effort, for over an hour and a half; often moving them to tears by the pathos of the tales she had to tell."
"In the evening, as we walked from our rooms to the Chautauqua grounds, the lake gleamed golden in the setting sun. The sky was clearest blue, flecked with white fleecy clouds. A soft breeze blew across the lake. It was a perfect evening."
"My lecture was on from eight o'clock to half-past nine. (You see, they expect full measure in America.)
"When preliminaries were over and I found myself at last standing forward alone in the centre of the high stage, with a row of footlights just in front; and, beyond, tiers upon tiers of seats, raised one above the other, and sloping upwards right to the back of that vast auditorium, I should have been glad to have had a good supply of the dear, expectant, encouraging faces of my Leyton friends packed into the middle of that big crowd! . . . Well, I think I ought to tell you that - even without this reinforcement of L.B.R. members - I found a very kindly, attentive and appreciative audience."" I did not give quite the whole of my lecture, but I do not expect to do that at any one place. I have it arranged in sections, so as to be able to decide in a moment which to omit and what to put in. Thus I have sufficient material to be able to lecture twice in the same centre, in case I should have to fill my sister's place; and she, of course, could fill mine many times over, with her wonderful prison stories.
"In a future letter I must describe to you more fully the very remarkable Chautauqua scenes and surroundings; the hundreds of tents on the great camping ground, beautifully fitted up, many of them accommodating parties of six or eight; the constant stream of motor cars at lecture hours, racing in from all the country round, followed by all kinds of queer vehicles on wheels - surries, buggies, sulkies, runabouts, buckboards, and others the names of which I have never heard. No hats are worn; and most of the women look very fresh and charming, dressed entirely in white. There is a large proportion of men in the audiences, and a good many children; also a few dogs - the latter very well behaved!"
My mother's next letter described her lecture at Hiawatha - satisfactory, to her, because of its more spiritual tone. The audience was a most responsive one, "readily laughing, applauding or hushing to silence." At the conclusion "there commenced for us a strenuous fifteen minutes of handshaking; for when a Westerner 'starts in' to shake your hand, he keeps on at it, and he fairly shakes you, not merely your hand! There were fine old farmers there, wealthy yet simple-hearted, owning thousands of acres of pasture land, and fields of beautiful tasselled corn (maize); but keen to keep in touch with things intellectual in all moments they could spare from their labour on the soil. There were others who pressed forward eagerly, saying, with a catch in the voice: 'I am from the old country. 1 have an old father and mother over there, now.' - 'I am from Wales: have you been there?' - 'Oh, do shake hands with me! What it is to hear an English voice speak English! There's a little village over there- it's forty years since I saw it; but - it's my home.' Ah, England, England! A little island and far away! but always the Mother Country; and always holding the hearts of her children.
"And all these introductions and hand-shakings were an unmixed joy; because all minds seemed lifted above personalities. The remarks were all of blessing received; of new lights given; or illumination of long-loved Bible passages. Even should every other Chautauqua prove disappointing, I should feel this gathering at Hiawatha fully worth the long journey."
My mother's next letter was dated "Top of Pike's Peak, Colorado, August 4th." It was characteristic of her to have begun her letter there for the pleasure of writing to her friends at the height of 14,147 feet above sea-level (10,557 feet higher than Snowdon, as she explained). The extraordinary view delighted her, for Pike's Peak rises sheer up from the prairie. She was alone on this expedition.
At the end of this letter, dated from Colorado Springs, my mother gives some idea of their strenuous travelling." . . . The connections are terrible work sometimes. The other day the train in which we were to have left Cawker was wrecked, just before reaching the depot. We waited five hours, and finally left on a cattle train, and made our connection on the Rock Island Flyer, by two minutes! And on our way to Cawker our engine broke down; and we had to do thirty miles across country in an automobile, to get there at all. ... At Kansas City, at 9 o'clock at night, with a journey before us as far as from London to Aberdeen, and our connection missed, I heard Mrs. Booth planning to rush seventy miles on a 'wild cat engine,' and catch up with our train at a junction, turning to say to me reassuringly, 'We should be quite comfortable sitting on our suit-cases'! However, the railway officials, when they grasped the situation, found another way. Notwithstanding all those vicissitudes, we have not yet had to fail an audience. Somehow or other we always get there."
"On the Rock Island Railway to Iowa, August 6th.
"I am having such a wonderful journey across the prairie. We passed over it by night before. Now it is a radiant afternoon. The sun is inclining to the west. Hundreds and hundreds of miles of golden prairie stretch away on every side as far as the eye can see. It seems so incongruous to be crossing it in a Pullman car. One ought to be mounted on a prairie pony, and galloping into the sunset!
". . . I must not close this letter without giving you some Chautauqua news. We had a very good time at New Albany. The tent seated 5000 people. Mrs. Booth rose to the occasion! Her lecture was magnificent.
"At Cawker City our day was Sunday. The tent there seated 3000. It was quite the most beautiful camping ground we have yet visited, amid fine trees and well watered by streams. A thousand people were camped there. My lecture was from 8.30 to 10 p.m. I shall never forget the scene. The platform brilliantly lighted by electric lights; the great tent crammed with people. Outside - moonlight, oak trees, countless tiny tents hung with lanterns, groups of men and boys lying around on the grass hoping to hear something without coming under the canvas. It was a very still night; during my lecture the only disturbing sound was made by the locusts in the surrounding trees, rubbing their wing-cases together. A huge cockchafer, attracted by the footlights, whirled in from the side, made a dash at my head, struck the Medici collar of my gown with a thud, and plunged down the back of my neck, kicking wildly. I fished him up, flung him away with a sweep of the arm, which to the audience appeared to be merely an oratorical gesture, and concluded my sentence!"
My mother's next letter was dated from Niagara.
"I am sitting so close to the great Horseshoe Fall," she wrote, "that the spray damps my paper as I write. The thunder of the mass of falling water makes grand music all around me, and glancing up I notice a rainbow spanning the Fall with its broad ribbon of gold, purple and crimson."
In this letter she tells of the great gathering at Chautauqua itself, where she spoke to an audience of 8000 people. She ends her letter with a description of the gathering at Coshocton, the last Chautauqua of the trip.
"Of all the Chautauquas this was - for me - the best," she writes. "The auditorium held 3200 people, and we had it crammed, both afternoon and evening. My time was the evening: I experienced such happy liberty in speaking, and the people were so responsive. It is difficult for me to describe it to you, but I can only say: If all the travelling had been for that one meeting alone, it would have been worth it."
"The heat was intense. The whole audience fanned with large palm-leaf fans all the time. At first it is rather bewildering, but one soon becomes used to it. The men all use fans also; and it is a delicate attention when the man works his fan in such a way that the lady sitting next him shares his breeze! The ceaseless, rhythmic movement of thousands of palm-leaf fans is a curious sight. And I must tell jrou one thing which is apt to happen; and any public speaker or preacher who reads these lines will appreciate its effect upon the mind of the lecturer. If you tell an arresting story, or use a thrilling illustration, all the fans suddenly poise motionless. But, when the climax is reached and you proceed to point the moral, the fans move on again. It is quite unintentional, an unconscious outward demonstration of the mental condition of the audience; but it takes a good deal of nerve not to curtail that application. I am inclined to think the fan custom may be largely responsible for the perpetual introduction of anecdote, the catch-phrases, and the clap-trap style which we find so prevalent in popular American oratory. One might easily be tempted to aim at the arresting of the fans!"
In 1889, Kipling went to Chautauqua with Professor Hill. This story appeared in the "Pioneer Mail," Vol. XVII, No. 14, April 2, 1890, and subsequently in "Abaft the Funnel", a collection of short stories. I don't think that Kipling approves of Chautauqua!
Tells how the Professor and I found the Precious Rediculouses and how they Chautauquaed at us. Puts into print some sentiments better left unrecorded, and proves that a neglected theory will blossom in congenial soil. Contains fragments of three lectures and a confession.
But these, in spite of careful dirt, |
Are neither green nor sappy;
Half conscious of the garden squirt,
The Spendlings look unhappy."
OUT of the silence under the apple-trees the Professor spake. One leg thrust from the hammock netting kicked lazily at the blue. There was the crisp crunch of teeth in an apple core.
"Get out of this," said the Professor lazily. As it was on the banks of the Hughli, so on the green borders of the Musquash and the Ohio - eternal unrest, and the insensate desire to go ahead. I was lapped in a very trance of peace. Even the apples brought no indigestion.
"Permanent Nuisance, what is the matter now?" I grunted.
"G'long out of this and go to Niagara," said the Professor in jerks. "Spread the ink of description through the waters of the Horseshoe falls - buy a papoose from the tame wild Indian who lives at the Clifton House - take a fifty-cent ride on the Maid of the Mist - go over the falls in a tub."
"Seriously, is it worth the trouble? Everybody who has ever been within fifty miles of the falls has written his or her impressions. Everybody who has never seen the falls knows all about them, and - besides, I want some more apples. They're good in this place, ye big fat man," I quoted.
The Professor retired into his hammock for a while. Then he reappeared flushed with a new thought. "If you want to see something quite new let's go to Chautauqua."
"Well, it's a sort of institution. It's an educational idea, and it lives on the borders of a lake in New York State. I think you'll find it interesting; and I know it will show you a new side of American life."
In blank ignorance I consented. Everybody is anxious that I should see as many sides of American life as possible. Here in the East they demand of me what I thought of their West. I dare not answer that it is as far from their notions and motives as Hindustan from Hoboken - that the West, to this poor thinking, is an America which has no kinship with its neighbour. Therefore I congratulated them hypocritically upon "their West," and from their lips learn that there is yet another America, that of the South - alien and distinct. Into the third country, alas! I shall not have time to penetrate. The newspapers and the oratory of the day will tell you that all feeling between the North and South is extinct. None the less the Northerner, outside his newspapers and public men, has a healthy contempt for the Southerner which the latter repays by what seems very like a deep-rooted aversion to the Northerner. I have learned now what the sentiments of the great American nation mean. The North speaks in the name of the country; the West is busy developing its own resources, and the Southerner skulks in his tents. His opinions do not count; but his girls are very beautiful.
So the Professor and I took a tmin and went to look at the educational idea. From sleepy, quiet little Musquash we rattled through the coal and iron districts of Pennsylvania, her coke ovens flaring into the night and her clamorous foundries waking the silence of the woods in which they lay. Twenty years hence woods and cornfields will be gone, and from Pittsburg to Shenango all will be smoky black as Bradford and Beverly: for each factory is drawing to itself a small town, and year by year the demand for rails increases. The Professor held forth on the labour question, his remarks being prompted by the sight of a train-load of Italians and Hungarians going home from mending a bridge.
"You recollect the Burmese," said he. "The American is like the Burman in one way. He won't do heavy manual labour. He knows too much. Consequently he imports the alien to be his hands - just as the Burman gets hold of the Madrassi. If he shuts down all labour immigration he will have to fill up his own dams, cut his cuttings and pile his own embankments. The American citizen won't like that. He is racially unfit to be a labourer in muttee. He can invent, buy, sell and design, but he cannot waste his time on earth-works. Iswaste this great people will resume contract labour immigration the minute they find the aliens in their midst are not sufficient for the jobs in hand. If the alien gives them trouble they will shoot him."
"Yes, they will shoot him," I said, remembering how only two days before some Hungarians employed on a line near Musquash had seen fit to strike and to roll down rocks on labourers hired to take their places, an amusement which caused the sheriflf to open fire with a revolver and wound or kill (it really does not much matter which) two or three of them. Only a man who earns ten pence a day in sunny Italy knows how to howl for as many shillings in America.
The composition of the crowd in the cars began to attract my attention. There were very many women and a few clergymen. Where you shall find these two together, there also shall be a fad, a hobby, a theory, or a mission.
"These people are going to Chautauqua," said the Professor. "It's a sort of open-air college - they call it - but you'll understand things better when you arrive." A grim twinkle in the back of his eye awakened all my fears.
"Can you get anything to drink there?"
"Are you allowed to smoke?"
"Ye-es, in certain places."
"Are we staying there over Sunday?"
"No!" This very emphatically.
Feminine shrieks of welcome: "There's Sadie!" "Why, Maimie, is that yeou?" "Alf's in the smoker. Did you bring the baby?" and a profligate expenditure of kisses between bonnet and bonnet told me we had struck a gathering place of the clans. It was midnight. They swept us, this horde of clamouring women, into a Black Maria omnibus and a sumptuous hotel close to the borders of a lake - Lake Chautauqua. Morning showed as pleasant a place of summer pleasuring as ever I wish to see. Smooth-cut lawns of velvet grass, studded with tennis-courts, surrounded the hotel and ran down to the blue waters, which were dotted with rowboats. Young men in wonderful blazers, and maidens in more wonderful tennis costumes; women attired with all the extravagance of unthinking Chicago or the grace of Washington (which is Simla) filled the grounds, and the neat French nurses and exquisitely dressed little children ran about together. There was pickerel-fishing for such as enjoyed it; a bowling-alley, unlimited bathing and a toboggan, besides many other amusements, all winding up with a dance or a concert at night. Women dominated the sham mediaeval hotel, rampaged about the passages, flirted in the corridors and chased unruly children off the tennis-courts. This place was called Lakewood. It is a pleasant place for the unregenerate.
We go up the lake in a steamer to Chautauqua," said the Professor.
"But I want to stay here. This is what I understand and like."
"No, you don't. You must come along and be educated."
All the shores of the lake, which is eighteen miles long, are dotted with Summer hotels, camps, boat-houses and pleasant places of rest. You go there with all your family to fish and to flirt. There is no special beauty in the landscape of tame cultivated hills and decorous, woolly trees, but good taste and wealth have taken the place in hand, trimmed its borders and made it altogether delightful.
The institution of Chautauqua is the largest village on the lake. I can't hope to give you an idea of it, but try to imagine the Charlesville at Mussoorie magnified ten times and set down in the midst of hundreds of tiny little hill houses, each different from its neighbour, brightly painted and constructed of wood. Add something of the peace of dull Dalhousie, flavour with a tincture of missions and the old Polytechnic, Cassell's Self Educator and a Monday pop, and spread the result out flat on the shores of Naini Tal Lake, which you will please transport to the Dun. But that does not half describe the idea. We watched it through a wicket gate, where we were furnished with a red ticket, price forty cents, and five dollars if you lost it. I naturally lost mine on the spot and was fined accordingly.
Once inside the grounds on the paths that serpentined round the myriad cottages I was lost in admiration of scores of pretty girls, most of them with little books under their arms, and a pretty air of seriousness on their faces. Then I stumbled upon an elaborately arranged mass of artificial hillocks surrounding a mud puddle and a wormy streak of slime connecting it with another mud puddle. Little boulders topped with square pieces of putty were strewn over the hillocks - evidently with intention. When I hit my foot against one such boulder painted "Jericho" I demanded information in aggrieved tones.
"Hsh!" said the Professor. "It's a model of Palestine - the Holy Land - done to scale and all that, you know."
Two young people were flirting on the top of the highest mountain overlooking Jerusalem; the mud puddles were meant for the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee, and the twisting gutter was the Jordan. A small boy sat on the city "Safed" and cast his line into Chautauqua Lake. On the whole it did not impress me. The hotel was filled with women, and a large blackboard in the main hall set forth the exercises for the day. It seemed that Chautauqua was a sort of educational syndicate, cum hotel, cum (very mild) Rosherville. There were annually classes of young women and young men who studied in the little cottages for two or three months in the year and went away to self-educate themselves. There were other classes who learned things by correspondence, and yet other classes made up the teachers. All these delights I had missed, but had arrived just in time for a sort of debauch of lectures which concluded the three months' education. The syndicate in control had hired various lecturers whose names would draw audiences, and these men were lecturing about the labour problem, the servant-girl question, the artistic and political aspect of Greek life, the Pope in the Middle Ages and similar subjects, in all of which young women do naturally take deep delight. Professor Mahaffy (what the devil was he doing in that gallery?) was the Greek art side man, and a Dr. Gunsaulus handled the Pope. The latter I loved forthwith. He had been to some gathering on much the same lines as the Chautauqua one, and had there been detected, in the open day-light, smoking a cigar. One whole lighted cigar. Then his congregation or his class, or the mothers of both of them, wished to know whether this was the sort of conduct for a man professing temperance. I have not heard Dr. Gunsaulus lecture, but he must be a good man. Professor Mahaffy was enjoying himself. I sat close to him at tiffin and heard him arguing with an American professor as to the merits of the American Constitution. Both men spoke that the table might get the benefit of their wisdom, whence I argued that even eminent professors are eminently human.
"Now, for goodness' sake, behave yourself," said the Professor. "You are not to ask the whereabouts of a bar. You are not to laugh at anything you see, and you are not to go away and deride this Institution."
Remember that advice. But I was virtuous throughout, and my virtue brought its own reward. The pariour of the hotel was full of committees of women; some of them were Methodist Episcopalians, some were Congregationalists, and some were United Presbyterians; and some were faith healers and Christian Scientists, and all trotted about with note-books in their hands and the expression of Atlas on their faces. They were connected with missions to the heathen, and so forth, and their deliberations appeared to be controlled by a male missionary. The Professor introduced me to one of them as their friend from India.
"Indeed" said she; "and of what denomination are you?"
"I - I live in India," I murmured.
"You are a missionary, then?"
I had obeyed the Professor's orders all too well. "I am not a missionary," I said, with, I trust, a decent amount of regret in my tones. She dropped me and I went to find the Professor, who had cowardly deserted me, and I think was laughing on the balcony. It is very hard to persuade a denominational American that a man from India is not a missionary. The home-returned preachers very naturally convey the impression that India is inhabited solely by missionaries.
I heard some of them talking and saw how, all unconsciously, they were hinting the thing which was not. But prejudice governs me against my will. When a woman looks you in the face and pities you for having to associate with "heathen" and "idolaters" - Sikh Sirdar of the north, if you please, Mahommedan gentlemen and the simple-minded Jat of the Punjab - what can you do?
The Professor took me out to see the sights, and lest I should be further treated as a denominational missionary I wrapped myself in tobacco smoke. This ensures respectful treatment at Chautauqua. An amphitheatre capable of seating five thousand people is the centre-point of the show. Here the lecturers lecture and the concerts are held, and from here the avenues start. Each cottage is decorated according to the taste of the owner, and is full of girls. The verandahs are alive with them; they fill the sinuous walks; they hurry from lecture to lecture, hatless, and three under one sunshade; they retail little confidences walking arm-in-arm; they giggle for all the world like uneducated maidens, and they walk about and row on the lake with their very young men. The lectures are arranged to suit all tastes. I got hold of one called "The Eschatology of Our Saviour." It set itself to prove the length, breadth and temperature of Hell from information garnered from the New Testament. I read it in the sunshine under the trees, with these hundreds of pretty maidens pretending to be busy all round; and it did not seem to match the landscape. Then I studied the faces of the crowd. One-quarter were old and worn; the balance were young, innocent, charming and frivolous. I wondered how much they really knew or cared for the art side of Greek life, or the Pope in the Middle Ages; and how much for the young men who walked with them. Also what their ideas of Hell might be. We entered a place called a museum (all the shows here are of an improving tendency), which had evidently been brought together by feminine hands, so jumbled were the exhibits. There was a facsimile of the Rosetta stone, with some printed popular information; an Egyptian camel saddle, miscellaneous truck from the Holy Land, another model of the same, photographs of Rome, badly-blotched drawings of volcanic phenomena, the head of the pike that John Brown took to Harper's Ferry that time his soul went marching on, casts of doubtful value, and views of Chautauqua, all bundled together without the faintest attempt at arrangement, and all very badly labelled.
It was the apotheosis of Popular Information. I told the Professor so, and he said I was an ass, which didn't affect the statement in the least. I have seen museums like Chautauqua before, and well I know what they mean. If you do not understand, read the first part of Aurora Leigh. Lectures on the Chautauqua stamp I have heard before. People don't get educated that way. They must dig for it, and cry for it, and sit up o' nights for it; and when they have got it they must call it by another name or their struggle is of no avail. You can get a degree from this Lawn Tennis Tabernacle of all the arts and sciences at Chautauqua. Mercifully the students are womenfolk, and if they marry the degree is forgotten, and if they become school-teachers they can only instruct young America in the art of mispronouncing his own language. And yet so great is the perversity of the American girl that she can, scorning tennis and the allurements of boating, work herself nearly to death over the skittles of archaeology and foreign tongues, to the sorrow of all her friends.Late that evening the contemptuous courtesy of the hotel allotted me a room in a cottage of quarter-inch planking, destitute of the most essential articles of toilette furniture. Ten shillings a day was the price of this shelter, for Chautauqua is a paying institution. I heard the Professor next door banging about like a big jack-rabbit in a very small packing-case. Presently he entered, holding between disgusted finger and thumb the butt end of a candle, his only light, and this in a house that would bum quicker than cardboard if once lighted.
"Isn't it shameful? Isn't it atrocious? A dak bungalow khansamah wouldn't dare to give me a raw candle to go to bed by. I say, when you describe this hole rend them to pieces. A candle stump! Give it 'em hot."
You will remember the Professor's advice to me not long ago. " 'Fessor,' said I loftily (my own room was a windowless dog-kennel), "this is unseemly. We are now in the most civilised country on earth, enjoying the advantages of an Institootion which is the flower of the civilisation of the nineteenth centiuy; and yet you kick up a fuss over being obliged to go to bed by the stump of a candle! Think of the Pope in the Middle Ages. Reflect on the art side of Greek life. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy, and get out of this. You're filling two-thirds of my room."
* * * * * *
Apropos of Sabbath, I have come across some lovely reading which it grieves me that I have not preserved. Chautauqua, you must know, shuts down on Sundays. With awful severity an eminent clergyman has been writing to the papers about the beauties of the system. The stalls that dispense terrible drinks of Moxie, typhoidal milk-shakes and sulphuric-acid-on-lime-bred soda-water are stopped; boating is forbidden; no steamer calls at the jetty, and the nearest railway station is three miles off, and you can't hire a conveyance; the barbers must not shave you, and no milkman or butcher goes his rounds. The reverend gentleman enjoys this (he must wear a beard). I forget his exact words, but they run: "And thus, thank God, no one can supply himself on the Lord's day with the luxuries or conveniences that he has neglected to procure on Saturday. Of course, if you happen to linger inside the wicket gate - verily Chautauqua is a close preserve - over Sunday, you must bow gracefully to the rules of the place. But what are you to do with this frame of mind? The owner of it would send missions to convert the "heathen," or would convert you at ten minutes' notice; and yet if you called him a heathen and an idolater he would probably be very much offended.
Oh, my friends, I have been to one source of the river of missionary enterprise, and the waters thereof are bitter - bitter as hate, narrow as the grave! Not now do I wonder that the missionary in the East is at times, to our thinking, a little intolerant towards beliefs he cannot understand and people he does not appreciate. Rather it is a mystery to me that these delegates of an imperious ecclesiasticism have not a hundred times ere this provoked murder and fire among our wards. If they were true to the iron teachings of Centreville or Petumna or Chunkhaven, when they came they would have done so. For Centreville or Smithson or Squeehawken teach the only true creeds in all the world, and to err from their tenets, as laid down by the bishops and the elders, is damnation. How it may be in England at the centres of supply I cannot tell, but shall presently learn. Here in America I am afraid of these grim men of the denominations, who know so intimately the will of the Lord and enforce it to the uttermost. Left to themselves they would prayerfully, in all good faith and sincerity, slide gradually, ere a hundred years, from the mental inquisitions which they now work with some success to an institootion - be sure it would be an "institootion" with a journal of its own - not far different from what the Torquemada ruled aforetime. Does this seem extravagant? I have watched the expression on the men's faces when they told me that they would rather see their son or daughter dead at their feet than doing such and such things - trampling on the grass on a Sunday, or something equally heinous - and I was grateful that the law of men stood between me and their interpretation of the law of God. They would assuredly slay the body for the soul's sake and account it righteousness. And this would befall not in the next generation, perhaps, but in the next, for the very look I saw in a Eusufzai's face at Peshawar when he turned and spat in my tracks I have seen this day at Chautauqua in the face of a preacher. The will was there, but not the power.
The Professor went up the lake on a visit, taking my ticket of admission with him, and I found a child, aged seven, fishing with a worm and pin, and spent the rest of the afternoon in his company. He was a delightful young citizen, full of information and apparently ignorant of denominations. We caught sunfish and catfish and pickerel together.
The trouble began when I attempted to escape through the wicket on the jetty and let the creeds fight it out among themselves. Without that ticket I could not go, unless I paid five dollars. That was the rule to prevent people cheating.
"You see," quoth a man in charge, "you've no idea of the meanness of these people. Why, there was a lady this season - a prominent member of the Baptist connection - we know, but we can't prove it, that she had two of her hired girls in a cellar when the grounds were being canvassed for the annual poll-tax of five dollars a head. So she saved ten dollars. We can't be too careful with this crowd. You've got to produce that ticket as a proof that you haven't been living in the grounds for weeks and weeks."
"For weeks and weeks!" The blue went out of the sky as he said it. "But I wouldn't stay here for one week if I could help it," I answered.
"No more would I," he said earnestly.
Returned the Professor in a steamer, and him I basely left to make explanations about that ticket, while I returned to Lakewood - the nice hotel without any regulations. I feared that I should be kept in those terrible grounds for the rest of my life.
And it turned out an hour later that the same fear lay upon the Professor also. He arrived heated but exultant, having baffled the combined forces of all the denominations and recovered the five-dollar deposit. "I wouldn't go inside those gates for anything," he said. "I waited on the jetty. What do you think of it all?"
"It has shown me a new side of American life," I responded. "I never want to see it again - and I'm awfully sorry for the girls who take it seriously. I suppose the bulk of them don't. They just have a good time. But it would be better"
"If they all got married instead of pumping up interest in a bric-a-brac museum and advertised lectures, and having their names in the papers. One never gets to believe in the proper destiny of woman until one sees a thousand of 'em doing something different. I don't like Chautauqua. There's something wrong with it, and I haven't time to find out where. But it is wrong."
© Jo Edkins 2015 - Return to Beddome index