« ZurückWeiter »
From Regent Street to Broadway.
BY HENRY SEDLEY,
Editor of "The New York Round Table."
TRAVELLERS on our Western waters who have observed the confluence of two great streams, have sometimes seen and described a strange and beautiful sight. Owing to diversities of soil, which, made up of deposits from forests, mountains, and marshes they have visited and absorbed in their devious careers, the colour of the two streams is often in vivid contrast. Thus one may be, and often is, a deep, pellucid green; the other an opaque, brownish red. It might be supposed that, on rushing together, these hues would mingle like those of wine and soda water poured into the same glass; but such is not the fact. Chiefly from their velocity, but partly, perhaps, from the cohesive ingredients held in solution, and partly from the submerged bar which is continually precipitated between them, to be as constantly washed away, the great masses of water keep jealously asunder, and often plunge on for miles, divided by a sharp opposing line, their colours on either side as definite and homogeneous as before the first contact. The junction of the two streams makes a single greater one, but each retains one of its own proper banks, and, as if scorning to lose its individuality, dashes forward in pristine green or red, until its obstinacy is at last overcome, and the rivers are one, in composite hue as well as in name. It is a singular and attractive spectacle, and suggests, aptly enough, the analogy exhibited by the swelling populations of the country itself-different races from different climes thrown abruptly together in a common channel, struggling as long as possibleto retain national characteristics, but yielding at last to irresistible pressure, and helping to form the new and complex race which is called the American.
Now, could we bring together the two famous thoroughfares of Regent Street and Broadway, which may naturally be accepted as types of the two great Anglo-Saxon nationalities, it might plausibly be supposed that the picturesque phenomenon just described would be happily illustrated. We should look to see the distinctive features of each, for some time at least, religiously preserved. We should expect to find the American characteristics and the English ones so marked and opposite as to require an assimilating process of some duration to obliterate their variety and blend the mass into a uniform colour. But
this expectation, if the judgment of an observer may be depended upon, would be disappointed, and for the simple reason that there would be few, if any, positive contrasts to begin with. The truth is, that during the past few years, striking as may still be the difference between the two countries and peoples elsewhere, their chief represen tative cities, or, more exactly, the representative streets of those cities, have grown to be so much alike as to leave scarcely any points of divergence to fasten upon. Steamships, telegraphs, a common literature, and, above all, the flood of travel so steadily ebbing and flowing between the countries, have done so much to induce resemblance at the centres of arrival and departure, that London has become so far Americanised, and New York so far Anglicised, that the salient angles of comparison are almost worn away, and, always excepting the yet noticeable distinctions of accent, parts of either city, like the palace of Aladdin, might be transported to the other without attracting any special attention. Bits of Broadway could be set, without alteration or incongruity, into Regent Street, Oxford Street, or the Strand; shops, signs, salesmen, frippery, customers, pavements, and all, remaining just as they are. Slices of Fifth Avenue and its rectilinear intersections could be sprinkled anywhere from Park Lane to Belgravia; upholstery, carriages, footmen, and the rest, would equally pass muster. Or, converse operations could be performed with similar results; casual observers would never detect the difference any more than they would the transposition of equivalent parts in duplicate puzzles.
Let me hasten to anticipate the objections of impatient patriots on both sides by acknowledging and describing certain minutie of variance; I shall then, perhaps, be able to show that even in these details a constant process of modification is tending to perfect the parallel; and that, whereas the distinctions were palpable enough a short time back, they are daily becoming less and less so. For example, among the first objections to verisimilitude, there will be three particular ones -ladies' dress, cabs, and omnibuses. The first, in New York, are more French than in London; the cabs are less numerous, and the omnibuses are lighter and cleaner. Yet in each of these respects New York is rapidly adopting the ways of her elder sister. It seems but yesterday that the dress of our fashionable women was an unmitigated copy of Parisian models; to-day, from beginning with boots and hats, English fashions have advanced from the extremities, and coats, shawls, skirts, the whole attire, indeed, has become Anglicised. The cabs, again, have truly had a long fight of it, for the owners of
hackney coaches are strong and belligerent, but victory seems to be gained at last, and not only cabs proper but, mirabile dictu! Hansoms themselves are established in the streets of New York. As for the dirtiness of omnibuses, I can assure our English friends that we are approaching a cosmopolitan standard very fast, and that we bid fair speedily to equal in dinginess and uncleanliness the choicest specimens that can be found in East London, or that traverse Tottenham Court Road. When it is remembered that New York stands on an island surrounded by tide-water, and that her citizens do not use bituminous coals, it appears rather surprising that she should be so richly endowed with filth. We, however, have to do at present only with Broadway, which is generally, not always, satisfactorily clean.
People walk, Twenty years
But, admitting certain qualified dissimilarities, the resemblances between Regent Street and Broadway are still sufficiently striking and numerous. Jewellers, tailors, booksellers, photographers, mercers, and pastry cooks display and sell very much the same wares. drive, lounge, and dress in very much the same way. ago you could scarcely see in Broadway a single servant in livery; now you can hardly see one out of it. Crests and coats of arms, which formerly would have excited a mob, are now seen, strangely enough, in every direction on carriages and harnesses. Promenaders no longer stroll about in "black suits" of a morning, looking, to an English eye, like so many waiters or undertakers; men wear the same materials that are worn in London, cut in much the same fashion. They no longer-in the upper parts of the town, at all events-tear through the streets as if to answer the dinner bell or to catch a train. They no longer "loaf" about in swallow-tail coats and short trousers, waiting to button-hole and interrogate strangers, as in the halcyon days of Jefferson Brick and Colonel Diver. Even the look of preternatural newness which once struck Mr. Dickens and a thousand others, is wearing off somewhat with time. The huge hotels that were once distinctive objects in the scene, have ceased to be so with the erection of such London piles as those called the Langham, the Charing Cross, and the Grosvenor. The regiments of militia, with their crashing bands, are no longer singular to English eyes, accustomed to troops of volunteers. Even the polling places on election days will soon cease to be remarkable, since it seems that the mother country has come to the reluctant determination to concede what will require much the same system!
This co-incident gravitation towards the customs, dress, and equi
page of the kindred nation is not precisely reciprocal, because more things English are copied in New York than things American in London. The aggregated effect, however, is the same, in being that of producing a vraisemblance which is always becoming more indisputable. Pass up Broadway to the Central Park, and you will find that it is not in Paris alone that the appointments of crack English stables are sedulously imitated, and that elsewhere out of England than in the Champs Elysées or the Bois de Boulogne are tandems and tigers and four-in-hands to be found in creditable perfection. Pass on still further to the famous race-course of Jerome Park, and you will find English grooms in charge of English horses, and English jockeys to ride them. A few years back American race-tracks were devoted to trotting alone; but this innovation has come upon us like so many others, and is but another straw that shows the steadfast direction of the current. Another feature is worth attention as illustrating this curious interchange of usages, this free trade in manners and customs. While London is busy in opening hotels on the American plan, New York is equally active in opening hotels on the English plan. No one thought, I believe, ten years ago, of dining at a table d'hôte in London, and certainly, except in private houses, no one thought at that time of dining otherwise in New York. In this social characteristic, too, has a considerable change been effected. Many Americans now utterly refuse to eat at a public table; I think at least as many Englishmen have reconciled themselves to it. How far acquaintance with the advantages of either system has been brought about by travel, and so gained in an obligatory manner, we can only guess; it is reasonable to assume that to this the change is mainly to be attributed. I have often been amused to find Americans, who had passed some time in England, insist thereafter, on returning home, upon dining in private; and, less frequently, to find Englishmen long in America give preference to the table d'hôte. Such Americans are often taken for Englishmen in Regent Street, and such Englishmen as readily pass for Americans in Broadway, which helps to swell the evidence on behalf of the analogy I have sought to establish.
That analogy is, however, sustained by other than merely superficial evidence. It is not solely in clothes, shops, vehicles, and liveries that the more conspicuous parts of New York are becoming like those of London, and vice versa. I know not how far Americans of the more intelligent classes have been actuated by the profuse, and not always good-natured, criticism bestowed upon them by their foreign censors,