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Impressions of America

2006-09-08 08:28

    Oscar Wilde was one of the most renowned British writers of the 19th century. He was the author of a number of essay fictions including The Little Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose, and The Selfish Giant.

    San Francisco is a really beautiful city. China Town, peopled by Chinese labourers, is the most artistic town I have ever come across. The people —— strange, melancholy Orientals, whom many people would call common, and they are certainly very poor — have determined that they will have nothing about them that is not beautiful. In the Chinese restaurant, where these navvies (劳工) meet to have supper in the evening, I found them drinking tea out of china cups as delicate as the petals of a rose-leaf, whereas at the gaudy(俗丽的) hotels I was supplied with a delf cup an inch and a half thick. When the Chinese bill was presented it was made out on rice paper, the account being done in Indian ink as fantastically as if an artist had been etching little birds on a fan.

    Salt Lake City contains only two buildings of note, the chief being the Tabernacle, which is in the shape of a soup-kettle. It is decorated by the only native artist, and he has treated religious subjects in the naive spirit of the early Florentine painters, representing people of our own day in the dress of the period side by side with people of Biblical history who are clothed in some romantic costume.

    The building next in importance is called the Amelia Palace, in honour of one of Brigham Young‘s wives. When he died the present president of the Mormons stood up in the Tabernacle and said that it had been revealed to him that he was to have the Amelia Palace, and that on this subject there were to be no more revelations of any kind.

    From Salt Lake City one travels over the great plains of Colorado and up the Rocky Mountains, on the top of which is Leadville, the richest city in the world. It had also got the reputation of being the roughest, and every man carries a revolver. I was told that if I went there they would be sure to shoot me or my traveling manager. I wrote and told them that nothing that they could do to my traveling manager would intimidate me. They are miners — men working in metals, so I lectured to them on the Ethics of Art. I read them passages from the autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini and they seemed much delighted. I was reproved by my hearers for not having brought him with me. I explained that he had been dead for some little time which elicited the enquiry “Who shot him”? They afterwards took me to a dancing saloon where I saw the only rational method of art criticism I have ever come across. Over the piano was printed a notice:

    PLEASE DO NOT SHOOT THE PIANIST.

    HE IS DOING HIS BEST.

    The mortality among pianists in that place is marvelous. Then they asked me to supper, and having accepted, I had to descend a mine in a rickety bucket in which it was impossible to be graceful. Having got into the heart of the mountain I had supper, the first course being whisky, the second whisky and the third whisky.

    I went to the Theatre to lecture and I was informed that just before I went there two men had been seized for committing a murder, and in that theatre they had been brought on to the stage at eight o'clock in the evening, and then and there tried and executed before a crowded audience. But I found these miners very charming and not at all rough.

    Among the more elderly inhabitants of the South I found a melancholy tendency to date every event of importance by the late war. “How beautiful the moon is tonight,” I once remarked to a gentleman who was standing next to me. “Yes,” was his reply, “but you should have seen it before the war.”

    So infinitesimal did I find the knowledge of Art, west of the Rocky Mountains, that an art patron(赞助人)— one who in his day had been a miner — actually sued the railroad company for damages because the plaster cast of Venus of Milo, which he had imported from Paris, had been delivered minus the arms. And, what is more surprising still, he gained his case and the damages.

    Pennsylvania, with its rocky gorges and woodland scenery, reminded me of Switzerland. The prairie reminded me of a piece of blotting-paper.

    The Spanish and French have left behind them memorials in the beauty of their names. All the cities that have beautiful names derive them from the Spanish or the French. The English people give intensely ugly names to places. One place has such an ugly name that I refused to lecture there. It was called Grigsville. Supposing I had founded a school of Art there — fancy “Early Grigsville”。 Imagine a School of Art teaching “Grigsville Renaissance(文艺复兴)。”

    As for slang I did not hear much of it, though a young lady who had changed her clothes after an afternoon dance did say that “after the heel kick she shifted her day goods”。

    American youths are pale and precocious(早熟), or sallow and supercilious, but American girls are pretty and charming — little oases of pretty unreasonableness in a vast desert of practical common-sense.

    Every American girl is entitled to have twelve young men devoted to her. They remain her slaves and she rules them with charming nonchalance (无动于衷)。

    The men are entirely given to business; they have, as they say, their brains in front of their heads. They are also exceedingly receptive of new ideas. Their education is practical. We base the education of children entirely on books, but we much give a child a mind before we can instruct the mind. Children have a natural antipathy to books — handicraft should be the basis of education. Boys and girls should be taught to use their hands to make something, and they would be less apt to destroy and be mischievous.

    In going to America one learns that poverty is not a necessary accompaniment of civilization. There at any rate is a country that had no trappings, no pageants and no gorgeous ceremonies. I saw only two processions — one was the Fire Brigade preceded by the Police, the other was the Police preceded by the Fire Brigade.

    Every man when he gets to the age of twenty-one is allowed a vote, and thereby immediately acquires his political education. The Americans are the best politically educated people in the world. It is well worth one‘s while to go to a country which can teach us the beauty of the word FREEDOM and the value of the thing LIBERTY.

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