ye not!

while the tune is different, and a change con Street gentleman said, people of the did appear latterly in the Greek way of best society might always be found. looking at natural phenomena; the Thackeray, it is needless to say, was a tendency grew to associate them with mild-mannered man, not fond of a human rather than with divine affairs. struggle to free himself from his enterThe heavenly bodies, for instance, in- tainer's clutches. He saw that it was stead of compelling thoughts of god- impossible for him to get on Sunday to head, became the hands of a clock which Music Hall. But during the week he bid man go about his daily tasks, as in heard that Parker was to deliver a disthis very modern passage from the course at the funeral of a rich and pub"Rhesus” of Euripides:

lic-spirited merchant. Thackeray went

alone to the funeral, and was greatly inWhose watch is it? Who is it takes my terested and thrilled by the address. place?

He also saw many people who looked as The earliest signs are setting, the seven

if they were more interesting than any Pleiades

he had seen at the Beacon Street dinner Show in the sky. The eagle through mid

parties. He went home that afternoon heaven Flees. Why delay ? Rise from your beds

to dinner, and found that his host had

invited to meet him several gentlemen to watch! Awake! The moon's bright splendor see

of the best society, most of whom were

bores. Thackeray could not help telling The dawning, yea, the dawning close ap- about Parker and the funeral, and conproaches,

fessing how much he had been imAnd this is one of the forerunning stars. pressed by the preacher and the people.


host was visibly impressed, and presently managed to whisper in his ear, “I beg of you, Mr. Thackeray, to remember that Mr. Parker does not belong to our best society!" This was

more than the Englishman could stand, From The Nineteenth century. and he replied, loud enough to be heard THE GROWTH OF CASTE IN THE

by at least one at the table: “Upon my UNITED STATES.

word, I begin to wish I hadn't got into I remember hearing in Boston, from good society when I came to Boston!” one who was alive at the time, a queer The story is amusing, perhaps, and story of Mr. Thackeray's visit to that expresses the general impression that town. Mr. Thackeray brought from “high society” is not always the comEngland a letter of introduction to an pany of the most intellectual and enterimportant gentleman of Beacon Street. taining members of the community. By him he was most hospitably enter. But supposing the story to be true, as tained, and passed from dinner party to undoubtedly it is not, might not the dinner party. But Thackeray's interest choice circle in which Mr. Thackeray in the capital of New England did not found himself so terribly bored have end with Beacon Street dinner parties. been after all the highest society of He had heard something of the eminent Boston in the opinion of the people of men of the town, and at that moment the town and the country about, and a happened to be particularly interested most desirable circle to get into, in Theodore Parker. He wished very whether it was stupid or not? We in much to hear this celebrated Unitarian America have all heard of the long and preacher. He mentioned this desire to terrible struggle, which was quite in his host. The Beacon Street gentleman vain, of Margaret Fuller, Countess was much surprised, but, without abat d'Ossoli (before she was Countess ing any of his outward courtesy, and d'Ossoli), to get into this same circle; making some valid excuse, took him to and she was by all accounts a most culKing's Chapel on Sunday morning in- tivated, intellectual and entertaining stead of to Music Hall, where Parker person, as well as a proper one. She preached. At King's Chapel, the Bea- was subject to social influences and



motives which foreigner was free to recognize the public distinction which from; and the force which impelled so is always coming to new people. gifted a woman as she was to work for In the United States there is nothing years to obtain entrance to a social set national about the upper grade of sowhich, with all her effort, she could not ciety. The official society of Washingget into, must be, if it continues to ani- ton is a thing quite apart from the “Somate many people, a force well worth ciety" of New York or Boston, and has study.

merely accidental relations with it. I also remember a certain significant American “Society” consists of a numremark of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, ber of local circles, each controlled by who did not belong to the “best society" any force above below it, whose any more than Theodore Parker did, but members may be said to nominate their who knew the circle better, perhaps. own successors. Public distinction esDr. Holmes said (in 1886) that class dis- tablishes no claim for even momentary tinctions are more sharply drawn in the admission to it. The separate circles United States than they are in England, may be as close corporations as their though they are also harder to define. members wish, drawing their lines as The remark seems paradoxical; but the sharply as they will. Once firmly contradiction is only in its terms: it is founded, a social set so utterly uncontrue enough in fact. The line is sharply trolled may be as exclusive and selfdrawn to exclude people; it leaves defi- perpetuating as the College of Cardinals. nitely enough one man on one side of it But any group of people may set up a and another on the other. But the qual- social circle of their own; hundreds of ification of the man who is within may such groups do set up their own circles. be very vague indeed; it may require an Why has any one group been able to expert to tell why he is in and the other arrogate to itself the name of Society ? is out. It is actually true that the man In itself this is an interesting question; who is left outside may have better and the broader one, which should conblood as well as more wealth than the cern itself with the actual division of man within, and those within will not the population into all its social castes, for a moment think of questioning his whether high or low, in a republic where claim to a more illustrious descent. He all members of society in the large sense may be the Governor of the State, are supposed to be equal in privilege, is Federal senator, even President; but the still more worthy of the attention of bar of this little circle will be resolutely the student of sociology. The general kept up against him and his family. It struggle to get into a superior set may is a question of interest to seek the rea- be a laughable thing, but it is also son for such a distinction.

something more. Let us see how large American social classes or castes are a thing it may signify in a republic mainly in a state of formation, but the where rank and title are not officially grade which is commonly recognized as recognized, and in which democracy is the highest social set is probably nearer supposed to be triumphant. to a state of crystallization than any Through their government, the Ameriother. It has long possessed certain can people have set up certain political aids toward the establishment of a arrangements, relying on these to effect peculiarly exclusive and self renewing certain objects essentially social in their circle which are really not possessed by character. Having done this, and prothe fashionable society of a country like claimed their purpose with great emEngland, which is at once aristocratic, phasis and undoubted earnestness, they national and distinguished. The British then go on to create, by a perfectly aristocracy is often reinforced by gov- voluntary process of social gravitation ernment appointment; the personal working quite outside of government, a arrangements of English high society social arrangement which neutralizes, are in a sense overseen and in certain so far as each citizen's ease, peace of particulars sometimes upset by in- mind, and daily endeavor and "pursuit fluence and authority above and beyond of happiness” are concerned, their politit; and it is compelled, at least in a way, ical system. It seems to me idle to assume that this social arrangement is of that as mayor he should receive the no consequence compared with political head of the State, his surroundings equality. Most men's daily toil and grew in his own eyes altogether too worry (not alone in the United States, mean for such a presence. So he called I may remark, but in European coun- the masons and carpenters; he replaced tries as well, though this inquiry is con- his wooden staircase with one of cerned with the United States) are spent marble, and pulled down the partitions in doing things which have reference, of his rooms, converting three muchin a way direct or indirect, to what is needed domestic apartments into one called the social position and appear- grand salon, which he furnished pretenance of themselves or their families. tiously. Then, with his family, he withThe majority of people, including drew into one small room, to live in a women in the count, are, save in some wretched huddle. Having emptied his exceptional moment of war or great purse and destroyed his comfort, he public excitement, thinking much more waited for his imperial guest. Alas! about some fact, accessory, or appear the fall of the Empire came, but never ance connected with their own or their the emperor. children's social position than they are If we had been able to enter into this about anything connected with govern- rural functionary's heart, and learn ment or politics. It comes to this, that there what motive it was that led him men risk their lives to secure free polit- to make a fool of himself, we should ical institutions, or possibly to avoid probably have learned that it was not the payment of threepence a pound on himself, nor his blushing honors of an tea, to the imposition of which they hour, that he was thinking of, but his have not consented, and then tie them family. The little touch into which he selves hand and foot in a long bondage expected to come with the head of the to a social or family. ambition quite out State would have greatly distinguished of harmony with their political preten- his family for a long time among his sions. It is a common estimate, and I neighbors, and, judging by the ordinary think a fair one, that two-thirds of the standard of opinion, would have ren. toil of the head of a family at the pres- dered his grand salon a profitable inent day goes to the obtaining of super- vestment. fluities, practically all of which are con- The motive of American social strugnected with social appearance. We all gle is practically the same. The credit live more or less slavishly and unhap- and advancement of the family is not pily for the sake of working our way only the spring of our action—it is the along in a social movement toward an foundation of the circle which is the apex represented by a circle which we apex of the American social pyramid. often affect to despise, and sometimes How

fashionable society really do despise. Is the motive behind formed? Clearly, it was supplied with all this merely our own universal weak- a nucleus by a tradition that certain ness and vanity, or something else? families of more or less inherited wealth

Our situation is very cleverly repre- had always occupied a superior posisented by the French rural mayor whose tion in the community; to this nucleus story is told by M. C. Wagner in his have been added from time to time ceradmirable book, "La Vie Simple.” This tain other families who for a sufficient worthy man was the principal func- period, by no means determinable, have tionary of a village which was close by been habitually associated with the ina watering-place sometimes visited by dubitably "old" ones in their social the Emperor Napoleon the Third. He pleasures and solemnities, and who are had gone on for many years living con- rich enough to give the entertainments tentedly in a good house such as the in which the members of the little set people of his village ordinarily in- are gathered and, in a way, numbered. habited; but when he became possessed If from time to time the ranks of this of the notion that some day the em- society are recruited, the recruiting is peror would come to visit the place, and done, I believe, so far as people living




[ocr errors]

in the same town are concerned, by the The members of society are not the only admission of some family of wealth persons who appear at its entertainwhich has undergone a sort of proba- ments. Those who belong to the set are tion satisfactory to those who are not content with seeing merely the already members of the circle. Bach- members of their own and one another's elors are found in the circle, of course,

families on all occasions. Certain reand are admitted to it, but there must ceptions of some of them are quite "mishave been a satisfactory family behind cellaneous.” But invariable invitations them somewhere; they scarcely come

ticket the member of the set; and cerinto permanent membership as indi- tain social ceremonies in the course of vidual

recruits. In Boston, at a year quite rigidly shut out all resident least, people who are definitely outside persons who do not belong to "Society," the circle can hardly hope to get into it performing thus a function analogous. in their own persons; but they often to that of the round-up on the Western cherish a hope of getting their children plains, at which all cattle which are into it. There the key of fashionable found not to bear the brand of a certain society has been, it is said, found in the establishment are summarily excluded. admission of children to a certain danc- This sifting process, together with the ing-class; so that women have been jealousy of new-comers, keeps each known to spend the energy of years, local circle down to a small number. with an almost incredible amount of One of the members of fashionable socareful cultivation of appearances and ciety in New York, who was sometimes diplomatic improvement of acquaint- quoted as an authority on matters conances, to obtain admission for their chil- nected with its usages and its enroldren to a class which met at a certain ment, said a few years ago that society ball at five o'clock, rather than to one

in New York did not consist of more which met at the same hall, with the than one hundred, and fifty families. same master, at four o'clock. The vic- Probably no local set of the exclusive tory of this admission won at last, the sort is larger than this, although the size children might some time, if all subse- of the town has extremely little to do quent endeavor went well, and espe- with the size of the circle. I am credcially if each one were married to a ibly told that in Chicago, society does. person who had reached at least the not in strictness include more than forty same round in the ladder of social as families, and that these families are cent, hope to be enrolled in the list of poor, as compared with thousands of the most select circle. Very likely even commercial people outside the circle. then the parents would but hang on the li the teeming and shifting life of a remotest verge of society, appearing at new and great city like Chicago, where certain “functions,” but being excluded society of any sort had no existence as completely as ever from the more or until late in the present century, and less official lists that occasionally come where enormous fortunes have been before the public. But the position at- continually making, should not only retained for the children would be definite peat but accentuate the exclusive condienough, and with difficulty forfeited, so tions found in the old cities of the East, long as the new family retained its with many millionaire families below wealth.

striving to get into the select upper Some considerable degree of wealth, circle, the case would be peculiarly inor at least of access to ready money, is structive as to the tendency of social essential to more than latent member- hankerings to neutralize democratic ship in the circle, for, though it is far conditions in politics and democratic from being a company of the million influences in commerce and daily aires of the United States-many more

affairs. millionaires being found outside it than But to establish completely the signifiwithin it-some wealth is necessary, as cance of this state of things anywhere, I have said, for the entertainments it would first be necessary to ascertain which are to a considerable extent the whether it were true that the majority constitution of this grade of society. of people outside this supposed socially highest circle were engaged, either pur- for themselves or their families—if they posely or not, in an attempt to work maintain themselves fairly by their own themselves along through the social or inherited resources—are apparently grades which have their apex in such a on an equal footing socially as well as circle. This can be ascertained only by politically; if they require the help of means of such observation as individ- the community in the material struggle uals who have chosen to study such of life they sink beneath contempt. I social phenomena may give the subject. say they are apparently on an equality; It is hardly a question that can be an- certainly there is no formal outward swered by statistics, since social ambi- deference of a sort that instantly imtion, though a tremendous force in life, plies the inferiority of one person to is outside the field of the census enu- another. I remember that, a good many merator. Observers are likely to be in years ago, when I had returned to the terested and partial, and as yet authori. neighborhood to which I have referred ties on the subject scarcely have any after a considerable absence, I was inexistence. And yet, so far as America vited to attend a "sugar party”-a is concerned, any candid person who vernal festivity, in this case given by has lived an active life, social in the the wife of a farmer on a hill farm, at broad sense, who has not been content which the guests were to take part in to spend his existence in the community the enjoyment of spreading the hot wax in which he was born, and who in va- of maple syrup on snow smoothly rious places had been studious of social packed in pans, and partaking of this phenomena, may contribute data which delicacy. Among the guests was the will help to answer the question. governor of the state, who happened to

In a broad way, the question is, Do be a resident of the neighboring village. people care rather more for the chance The governor drove to the farmhouse of getting on in the world in the re- in his own "buggy,” which was of the spects of appearance and social estima- same one-horse, four-wheeled and covtion, and for helping their families to a ered type as the conveyances driven by position of increasing consequence or most of the farmers; two or three of the distinction in the community, than they farmers, I noticed with no little pride in care for the doctrine of the freedom and

my kinsmen of the hills, had better bugequal right of all persons? A question gies than the governor. The man who which goes with this-perhaps it is was entitled by our usages to be adreally the primary one, and the other dressed as His Excellency, but who certhe dependent one-is the one whether tainly was not so addressed by any of the family spirit does not necessarily these people, himself took his horse out neutralizė democratic institutions of the vehicle, though he was assisted wherever it prevails.

by one or two of the farmers in unfastIf any American observer of the sort ening the traces and unbuckling straps, I have just spoken of goes back over his as they had assisted one another. own social experience—and I repeat With his own hands the governor tied that the science of this subject has not his horse under a shed and blanketed progressed beyond the point where it is the animal; then he went into the house greatly in need of personal evidence-it with two or three of the farmers and must resolve itself into significant inci- went directly to the kitchen-sink to dents and illustrative occurrences. wash his hands at the tap. He and the For instance, I derive my own earliest farmers took their turns at this. To me recollections in this field from what is the spectacle of such democratic simprobably still the most democratic so- plicity was inspiring; but presently my ciety, in the respects of its political ar- notions were to receive a distinct shock. rangements and the customs of personal The governor had engaged me in conintercourse, in the United States-a versation, and together we had gone rural community in Vermont, where no into the parlor, where half-a-dozen or poor foreign or rich native element has

more persons were already sitting and yet obtained a foothold. In this com- talking. Presently an inquiry for me in munity all persons who have "support” 'the next room came to my ears through

« ElőzőTovább »