Abbildungen der Seite
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors][merged small]

THERE are no kindlier or more hospitable people in the whole world than the Americans; only the modes they adopt, and the days they select for showing such kindness, and dispensing such hospitality, differ from ours. To state thus much is not, I suppose, to fly in the face of the Declaration of Independence, or to speak disparagingly of Republican Institutions.

I don't think they are quite so much given as we are to gormandizing or forfeit-playing on Christmas-day. Their great feasting time is Thanksgiving-day. My first American Christmas I spent, not in the States, but at Montreal, in Canada, where I revelled in the traditional abundance of beef, turkey, and plum-pudding, so dear to the British mind. I was given to understand, however, that although churches might be hung with evergreens, and Christ-. mas carols sung, the festivities on the Twenty-fifth of December in New York were very demure and sober, as compared with those which take place on New Year's-day. So I took good care to be back in Manhattan by the Thirtieth; and having by this time a pretty numerous list of acquaintances, "laid myself out" in right earnestalthough not without some inward misgivings as to how my constitution would stand it—for the ceremonies of January First. I remember that in coming from Rouse's Point to New York I had left my hat in a railway car, and alighted at the Brevoort House with no better headgear than a sealskin cap. Now, it is clear that you cannot pay visits in polite society in a scalskin cap. The obvious remedy for such a deficiency in my apparel was to buy a new hat; but to do this on the First Day of the New Year in New York is simply an impossibility. The shutters of every shop in Broadway are hermetically sealed, and I had not quite sufficient impudence to go down to the world-renowned hat store under the St. Nicholas, and ring up the urbane Mr. Genin. I think my perplexity was brought to a close by an American friend "loaning" me a hat. You know the effect produced on the human economy by wearing somebody else's hat. It never fits you, and you feel as though you had somebody else's head on your shoulders.

Moral, always have two hats; but I never possessed such superfluous wealth in my life. I am always very careful when I purchase a new sombrero to desire Mr. Christie's shopman to "do up" the old one, and send it home, but I always forget to tell him where I live. There is a remedy for this, too, in buying your hats upon credit; your hatter must know where you live then; but "tick" for a hat I never could get.

I think I lived au cinquième at the Brevoort, and that I commenced. my visit-paying campaign at about eleven A.M.; but from as early as nine in the morning my attic storey was invaded by successive groups of gentlemen dressed in their Sunday best, who, coming, some singly, some in pairs, some in threes, grasped my hand, said it was a fine day, but rather cold, smiled amicably, grasped my hand again, and hurried downstairs, probably to repeat the same ceremony with any friends they might happen to possess on the fourth, third, second, or first floors. As I was on somewhat a familiar footing with the last batch of smiling hand-graspers, I went down with them, and prepared myself for the labours of the day by partaking, at the bar of the Brevoort, of some warm stimulant, in the composition of which, so far as my recollection serves me, there entered nutmeg, sugar, eggs, milk, and a liquor they call rum. The hour was young; but there was a "cold snap" about, and I had a hard time before me.

As my visiting-list included some very aristocratic families-as aristocracy is understood under a Republican Dispensation-I had taken care to array myself in full evening costume, patent-leather boots and lemon kid gloves. If, in thus sacrificing to the Graces I erred against American etiquette, I humbly beg pardon of the shades of General Jackson, John C. Calhoun, Rufus Choate, and other Fathers of their Country. Under the circumstances I felt as though I was going out to a funeral at which there was to be a champagne luncha kind of genteel wake, in fact. Then ensconced in the corner of a hackney-coach, and wrapped up in a fur cloak (for the cold was intense, and my ears would have been truly grateful for the discarded sealskin cap), I proceeded to pay my visits.

I think my first call was in Washington Square-not many yards from the Brevoort; and from my coach windows I could see that the side walks were crowded by gentlemen, beneath whose greatcoats peeped symptoms of evening dress-at the which I felt reassured. I observed that while in the street these gentlemen preserved a solemn

and almost rueful mien as though bent on some awfully momentous mission; but as they emerged from houses where they had made a call, it was with a placid and joyous expression of countenance, and that they chuckled as they walked, until they recollected that they were near another door at which a call was due, and so began to look solemn again.

[graphic][merged small]

I ran over the gamut of polite conversation ere I pulled at the first bell. I was never a morning-caller; and before the candles are lighted am generally nervous in the society of ladies. What would be the best thing to say ? I asked myself. Should I observe that this was a great any reference country, or that my name was Norval? Should I make to the manner in which the ancient Romans were accustomed to keep the first day of the New Year? Should I merely ejaculate, "Hail Columbia," or say something neat and appropriate about the Star Spangled Banner? On reflection, I determined to confine myself to innocent remarks about the weather, and subsequently to get out of the scrape as best I could.

I found, on experience, that I had much exaggerated the difficulties before me. Beyond the utterance of a few incoherent compliments— usually ending with, "I'm sure"-I was required to say nothing at all;

and I discovered that the less I said the better pleased the ladies seemed to be. I found, however, that the best way to get on was to grin amazingly, and, having served a long apprenticeship to the horsecollar, I grinned accordingly. Grinning, in fact, on an American New Year's-day is contagious. The tonsor who "barbed " me in the morning grinned like a Cheshire cat; the Irish waiter who brought me my breakfast grinned like the late Mr. Grimaldi; the ordinarily saturnine driver of the hackney-coach grinned like a comic mask as I entered his vehicle; and the darkey-splendidly got up in a striped jacket, a white neckcloth with a bow as big as a boomerang, and Berlin gloves-who admitted me to No. Washington Square, grinned-as only a nigger can grin.

[ocr errors]
[graphic][merged small]

Ab uno disce omnes. One call was very much like another. I was ushered into one gilt and splendid parlour after another, there to find a charming group of ladies in full dress and blazing with jewellery. I made my best bows, grinned my best grins, and was then asked if I would take some refreshment. I was nothing loath. I think that I began to refresh myself about noon, and that conviviality continued until half-past five P.M., when, as you may imagine, I had no very great appetite for the seven o'clock dinner to which I was bidden at Dei

monico's. But as I subsequently attended a "stag party "-an entertainment attended only by gentlemen-where a conjuror performed some astounding feats of hankey-pankey, and finished the evening with a carpet-dance in West Fourteenth Street, I don't think I took any very great harm by indulgence in the "refreshments" of New Year's-day. They were on the most gorgeous scale, and never failed to comprise oysters. It is said that when the late amiable Earl of Carlisle was in the States, his attention was one evening attracted to an inscription on the door-jambs of an underground saloon in Broadway, "Oysters in every style." The Earl-then Lord Morpethentered the shelly cavern, "Give me oysters in every style," he said to the attendant servitor; and the night was well nigh spent ere the British nobleman was "through" with the successive relays brought him of oysters stewed and oysters fried, of oysters roasted and oysters. steamed, of oysters pickled and oysters scolloped. We had "oysters in every style" on New Year's-day, and, in addition pâtés de foie gras, turtle, venison, canvas-back duck, terrapin, chicken salad, "despatch" and "bashawed" lobster, jambon en surprise, and other good things too numerous to mention. When to these you add "topaz sherry, and Madeira of the "Smoked," and "Sunnyside," and "Governor Fish" varieties, with perhaps an occasional "smile " of very curious old Bourbon whiskey, you may imagine that lunching out on New Year's-day in New York is an enjoyment not unfraught with peril to the dyspeptic.

[ocr errors]

Such are my personal experiences of a Transatlantic First of January. The custom of paying visits on New Year's-day is universal throughout the States, but is more, I take it, of Dutch or German than of English origin. Indeed, when, two years later, I passed a Christmas in Holland, I could not be reminded by what I saw at the Hague and at Amsterdam of the cheerful and kindly convivialities of New York. There is another New Year's observance too, in New York, which has too clearly been imported from the land of the dykes and dams. I allude to the practice of filling the shoes and stockings of little children on New Year's-eve with pretty toys, and gift-books, and sweetmeats, which the youngsters are told, on New Year's morning, have been dropped down the chimney by "Santa Claus," the patron saint of Manhattan. Now, Santa Claus is the Dutch "Sint Nikolaas "-St. Nicholas, in fact-and precisely the same system of "tipping" the little children prevails among the Mynheers. There is one addition to the custom, however, in Holland, in the fact that in the shoes of

« ZurückWeiter »