My first visit to the United States of America—a short one—was paid in 1888. The observations on which this book is mainly based were, however, made in 1890-93, when I spent nearly three years in the country, engaged in the preparation of “Baedeker’s Handbook to the United States.” My work led me into almost every State and Territory in the Union, and brought me into direct contact with representatives of practically every class. The book was almost wholly written in what leisure I could find for it in 1895 and 1896. The foot-notes, added on my third visit to the country (1898), while I was seeing the chapters through the press, have at least this significance, that they show how rapidly things change in the Land of Contrasts.
No part of the book has been previously published, except some ten pages or so, which appeared in the Arena for July, 1892. Most of the matter in this article has been incorporated in Chapter II. of the present volume.
So far as the book has any general intention, my aim has been, while not ignoring the defects of American civilisation, to dwell rather on those features in which, as it seems to me, John Bull may learn from Brother Jonathan. I certainly have not had so much trouble in finding these features as seems to have been the case with many other British critics of America. My sojourn in the United States has been full of benefit and stimulus to myself; and I should like to believe that my American readers will see that this book is substantially a tribute of admiration and gratitude.
It is not everyone’s business, nor would it be everyone’s pleasure, to visit the United States of America. More, perhaps, than in any other country that I know of will what the traveller finds there depend on what he brings with him. Preconception will easily fatten into a perfect mammoth of realisation; but the open mind will add immeasurably to its garner of interests and experiences. It may be “but a colourless crowd of barren life to the dilettante—a poisonous field of clover to the cynic” (Martin Morris); but he to whom man is more than art will easily find his account in a visit to the American Republic. The man whose bent of mind is distinctly conservative, to whom innovation always suggests a presumption of deterioration, will probably be much more irritated than interested by a peregrination of the Union. The Englishman who is wedded to his own ideas, and whose conception of comfort and pleasure is bounded by the way they do things at home, may be goaded almost to madness by the gnat-stings of American readjustments—and all the more because he cannot adopt the explanation that they are the natural outcome of an alien blood and a foreign tongue. If he expects the same servility from his “inferiors” that he has been accustomed to at home, his relations with them will be a series of electric shocks; nay, his very expectation of it will exasperate the American and make him show his very worst side. The stately English dame must let her amusement outweigh her resentment if she is addressed as “grandma” by some genial railway conductor of the West; she may feel assured that no impertinence is intended.