We should be careful to get out of an experience only the wisdom that is in it—and stop there; lest we be like the cat that sits down on a hot stove-lid. She will never sit down on a hot stove-lid again—and that is well; but also she will never sit down on a cold one any more.
—Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar.
All English-speaking colonies are made up of lavishly hospitable people, and New South Wales and its capital are like the rest in this. The English-speaking colony of the United States of America is always called lavishly hospitable by the English traveler. As to the other English-speaking colonies throughout the world from Canada all around, I know by experience that the description fits them. I will not go more particularly into this matter, for I find that when writers try to distribute their gratitude here and there and yonder by detail they run across difficulties and do some ungraceful stumbling.
Mr. Gape ("New South Wales and Victoria in 1885 "), tried to distribute his gratitude, and was not lucky:
"The inhabitants of Sydney are renowned for their hospitality. The treatment which we experienced at the hands of this generous-hearted people will help more than anything else to make us recollect with pleasure our stay amongst them. In the character of hosts and hostesses they excel. The 'new chum' needs only the acquaintanceship of one of their number, and he becomes at once the happy recipient of numerous complimentary invitations and thoughtful kindnesses. Of the towns it has been our good fortune to visit, none have portrayed home so faithfully as Sydney."
Nobody could say it finer than that. If he had put in his cork then, and
stayed away from Dubbo——but no; heedless man, he pulled it
again. Pulled it when he was away along in his book, and his memory of
what he had said about Sydney had grown dim:
"We cannot quit the promising town of Dubbo without testifying, in warm praise, to the kind-hearted and hospitable usages of its inhabitants. Sydney, though well deserving the character it bears of its kindly treatment of strangers, possesses a little formality and reserve. In Dubbo, on the contrary, though the same congenial manners prevail, there is a pleasing degree of respectful familiarity which gives the town a homely comfort not often met with elsewhere. In laying on one side our pen we feel contented in having been able, though so late in this work, to bestow a panegyric, however unpretentious, on a town which, though possessing no picturesque natural surroundings, nor interesting architectural productions, has yet a body of citizens whose hearts cannot but obtain for their town a reputation for benevolence and kind-heartedness."
I wonder what soured him on Sydney. It seems strange that a pleasing degree of three or four fingers of respectful familiarity should fill a man up and give him the panegyrics so bad. For he has them, the worst way—any one can see that. A man who is perfectly at himself does not throw cold detraction at people's architectural productions and picturesque surroundings, and let on that what he prefers is a Dubbonese dust-storm and a pleasing degree of respectful familiarity. No, these are old, old symptoms; and when they appear we know that the man has got the panegyrics.
Sydney has a population of 400,000. When a stranger from America steps
ashore there, the first thing that strikes him is that the place is eight
or nine times as large as he was expecting it to be; and the next thing
that strikes him is that it is an English city with American trimmings.
Later on, in Melbourne, he will find the American trimmings still more in
evidence; there, even the architecture will often suggest America; a
photograph of its stateliest business street might be passed upon him for
a picture of the finest street in a large American city. I was told that
the most of the fine residences were the city residences of squatters. The
name seemed out of focus somehow. When the explanation came, it offered a
new instance of the curious changes which words, as well as animals,
undergo through change of habitat and climate. With us, when you speak of
a squatter you are always supposed to be speaking of a poor man, but in
Australia when you speak of a squatter you are supposed to be speaking of
a millionaire; in America the word indicates the possessor of a few acres
and a doubtful title, in Australia it indicates a man whose landfront is
as long as a railroad, and whose title has been perfected in one way or
another; in America the word indicates a man who owns a dozen head of live
stock, in Australia a man who owns anywhere from fifty thousand up to half
a million head; in America the word indicates a man who is obscure and not
important, in Australia a man who is prominent and of the first
importance; in America you take off your hat to no squatter, in Australia
you do; in America if your uncle is a squatter you keep it dark, in
Australia you advertise it; in America if your friend is a squatter
nothing comes of it, but with a squatter for your friend in Australia you
may sup with kings if there are any around.
In Australia it takes about two acres and a half of pastureland (some people say twice as many), to support a sheep; and when the squatter has half a million sheep his private domain is about as large as Rhode Island, to speak in general terms. His annual wool crop may be worth a quarter or a half million dollars.
He will live in a palace in Melbourne or Sydney or some other of the large cities, and make occasional trips to his sheep-kingdom several hundred miles away in the great plains to look after his battalions of riders and shepherds and other hands. He has a commodious dwelling out there, and if he approve of you he will invite you to spend a week in it, and will make you at home and comfortable, and let you see the great industry in all its details, and feed you and slake you and smoke you with the best that money can buy.
On at least one of these vast estates there is a considerable town, with all the various businesses and occupations that go to make an important town; and the town and the land it stands upon are the property of the squatters. I have seen that town, and it is not unlikely that there are other squatter-owned towns in Australia.
Australia supplies the world not only with fine wool, but with mutton also. The modern invention of cold storage and its application in ships has created this great trade. In Sydney I visited a huge establishment where they kill and clean and solidly freeze a thousand sheep a day, for shipment to England.
The Australians did not seem to me to differ noticeably from Americans, either in dress, carriage, ways, pronunciation, inflections, or general appearance. There were fleeting and subtle suggestions of their English origin, but these were not pronounced enough, as a rule, to catch one's attention. The people have easy and cordial manners from the beginning—from the moment that the introduction is completed. This is American. To put it in another way, it is English friendliness with the English shyness and self-consciousness left out.
Now and then—but this is rare—one hears such words as piper for paper, lydy for lady, and tyble for table fall from lips whence one would not expect such pronunciations to come. There is a superstition prevalent in Sydney that this pronunciation is an Australianism, but people who have been "home"—as the native reverently and lovingly calls England—know better. It is "costermonger." All over Australasia this pronunciation is nearly as common among servants as it is in London among the uneducated and the partially educated of all sorts and conditions of people. That mislaid 'y' is rather striking when a person gets enough of it into a short sentence to enable it to show up. In the hotel in Sydney the chambermaid said, one morning:
"The tyble is set, and here is the piper; and if the lydy is ready I'll tell the wyter to bring up the breakfast."
I have made passing mention, a moment ago, of the native Australasian's custom of speaking of England as "home." It was always pretty to hear it, and often it was said in an unconsciously caressing way that made it touching; in a way which transmuted a sentiment into an embodiment, and made one seem to see Australasia as a young girl stroking mother England's old gray head.
In the Australasian home the table-talk is vivacious and unembarrassed; it is without stiffness or restraint. This does not remind one of England so much as it does of America. But Australasia is strictly democratic, and reserves and restraints are things that are bred by differences of rank.
English and colonial audiences are phenomenally alert and responsive. Where masses of people are gathered together in England, caste is submerged, and with it the English reserve; equality exists for the moment, and every individual is free; so free from any consciousness of fetters, indeed, that the Englishman's habit of watching himself and guarding himself against any injudicious exposure of his feelings is forgotten, and falls into abeyance—and to such a degree indeed, that he will bravely applaud all by himself if he wants to—an exhibition of daring which is unusual elsewhere in the world.
But it is hard to move a new English acquaintance when he is by himself, or when the company present is small and new to him. He is on his guard then, and his natural reserve is to the fore. This has given him the false reputation of being without humor and without the appreciation of humor.
Americans are not Englishmen, and American humor is not English humor; but
both the American and his humor had their origin in England, and have
merely undergone changes brought about by changed conditions and a new
environment. About the best humorous speeches I have yet heard were a
couple that were made in Australia at club suppers—one of them by an
Englishman, the other by an Australian.