The Land of Contrasts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 289 pages of information about The Land of Contrasts.
at subscription balls of a very respectable character is that many of the matrons wear their bonnets throughout the evening.  But this, perhaps, is not stranger than the fact that ladies wear hats in the theatre, while the men who accompany them are in evening dress—­a curious habit which to the uninitiated observer would suggest that the nymphs belonged to a less fashionable stratum than their attendant swains.  A parallel instance is that of afternoon receptions, where the hostess and her myrmidons appear in ball costume, while the visitors are naturally in the toilette of the street.  The contrast thus evolved of low necks and heavy furs is often very comical.  The British convention by which the hostess always dresses as plainly as possible so as to avoid the chance of eclipsing any of her guests, and so chooses to briller par sa simplicite, is in other cases also more honoured in the breach than in the observance in America.

A very characteristic little piece of the social democracy of America is seen at its best in Chicago, though not unknown in other large cities.  On the evening of a hot summer day cushions and rugs are spread on the front steps of the houses, and the occupants take possession of these, the men to enjoy their after-dinner cigars, the women to talk and scan the passers-by.  The general effect is very genial and picturesque, and decidedly suggestive of democratic sociability.  The same American indifference to the exaggerated British love of privacy which leads John Bull to enclose his fifty-foot-square garden by a ten-foot wall is shown in the way in which the gardens of city houses are left unfenced.  Nothing can be more attractive in its way than such a street as Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, where the pretty villas stand in unenclosed gardens, and the verdant lawns melt imperceptibly into each other without advertisement of where one leaves off and the other begins, while the fronts towards the street are equally exposed.  The general effect is that of a large and beautiful park dotted with houses.  The American is essentially gregarious in his instinct, and the possession of a vast feudal domain, with a high wall round it, can never make up to him for the excitement of near neighbours.  It may seriously be doubted whether the American millionaire who buys a lordly demesne in England is not doing violence to his natural and national tastes every day that he inhabits it.


[6] Mrs. Burton Harrison reports that a young New York matron said to her, “Really, now that society in New York is getting so large, one must draw the line somewhere; after this I shall visit and invite only those who have more than five millions.”

[7] I have seen a brakeman on a passenger train wear overshoes on a showery day, though his duties hardly ever compelled him to leave the covered cars.


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The Land of Contrasts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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