A sitting hen on her nest is calm, but hopeful; she has faith that her eggs are not china. These people appear to be sitting on china eggs. Perfect culture has refined all blood, warmth, flavor, out of them. We admire them without envy. They are too beautiful in their manners to be either prigs or snobs. They are at once our models and our despair. They are properly careful of themselves as models, for they know that if they should break, society would become a scene of mere animal confusion.
Mandeville. I think that the best-bred people in the world are the English.
The young lady. You mean at home.
Mandeville. That’s where I saw them. There is no nonsense about a cultivated English man or woman. They express themselves sturdily and naturally, and with no subservience to the opinions of others. There’s a sort of hearty sincerity about them that I like. Ages of culture on the island have gone deeper than the surface, and they have simpler and more natural manners than we. There is something good in the full, round tones of their voices.
Herbert. Did you ever get into a diligence with a growling English-man who had n’t secured the place he wanted?
[Mandeville once spent a week in London, riding about on the tops of omnibuses.]
The mistress. Did you ever see an English exquisite at the San Carlo, and hear him cry “Bwavo”?
Mandeville. At any rate, he acted out his nature, and was n’t afraid to.
The fire-tender. I think Mandeville is right, for once. The men of the best culture in England, in the middle and higher social classes, are what you would call good fellows,—easy and simple in manner, enthusiastic on occasion, and decidedly not cultivated into the smooth calmness of indifference which some Americans seem to regard as the sine qua non of good breeding. Their position is so assured that they do not need that lacquer of calmness of which we were speaking.
The young lady. Which is different from the manner acquired by those who live a great deal in American hotels?
The mistress. Or the Washington manner?
Herbert. The last two are the same.
The fire-tender. Not exactly. You think you can always tell if a man has learned his society carriage of a dancing-master. Well, you cannot always tell by a person’s manner whether he is a habitui of hotels or of Washington. But these are distinct from the perfect polish and politeness of indifferentism.
Daylight disenchants. It draws one from the fireside, and dissipates the idle illusions of conversation, except under certain conditions. Let us say that the conditions are: a house in the country, with some forest trees near, and a few evergreens, which are Christmas-trees all winter long, fringed with snow, glistening with ice-pendants, cheerful by day and grotesque by night; a snow-storm beginning out of a dark sky, falling in a soft profusion that fills all the air, its dazzling whiteness making a light near at hand, which is quite lost in the distant darkling spaces.