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CHAPTER IV The American Woman
The abounding gentleman from Idaho, or Cincinnati, or Nahant, will tell you that the American woman is a dream of beauty and goodness. If I am to credit the American he would not take eighty thousand dollars for her—no, sir! At least, he doesn’t calculate that he would. The American woman, sir, is a peach. The American man believes in her down to the soles of his store boots, and has been educated to regard her as a being of angelic antecedents and destiny. Far be it from a simple scribbler to pluck from her, unless it were by way of a memento, one single angel feather. But at time and time I have seen a considerable deal of her, and I shall venture to put her down here as she seems to me, who am no judge and do not matter anyway.

In the first place I shall assert, though it were at the risk of my life, that the American woman is not always beautiful, and that even the beautiful American woman is not always beautiful. I shall go further and say that for one beautiful woman per thousand head of the population in America we can produce[38] at least three in England and four or five in Ireland. Furthermore, the English or the Irish beauty will last you three times as long as the American variety, and in point of fact it seldom really wanes, whereas, in America, feminine beauty nearly always passes, and passes quickly.

It should be clearly understood—and I say it with my hand on my heart—that this is not the fault of the American woman, with whom I have no quarrel, and upon whom I desire to pass no aspersion. The vulgar commentators on the American woman’s physical blemishes and shortcomings have assured us that they are the direct result of her diet, which is said to consist of pea-nuts, griddle cakes, oysters, pie, turkey, stewed terrapin, tinned mushrooms, fat ham, cheese, chocolates, and ice cream. As is usually the case, however, the vulgar commentators are entirely wrong. The real enemy of the American woman’s beauty is the American climate. In the process of time it is climate that makes and mars everything. It is climate that has made the African black and the European white. It is climate that is rapidly transforming the American man into a sort of ignoble red man or Kickapoo Indian, and it is climate that may eventually make the American[39] woman resemble a squaw. The American climate produced the American Indian. The American climate is modifying the physique of the American man and marring and obliterating the great and undeniable beauty of the American woman.

Most male Americans that one meets nowadays have a curiously Indianised cast of figure and countenance. Their blood as we know is hybrid blood, but somehow you never find an American that looks like an Italian or a Spaniard or an Englishman. Always and inevitably there is that about him which reminds you of the Indian. Climate is stronger than blood, or at any rate, the American climate has proved stronger so far. Roughly speaking, it may be said to induce in the human male black straight hair, horse features, a swarthy complexion, inclining to a coppery redness, a thick neck, large hands and flat feet. Its effects upon women I shall refrain from rehearsing, but you will not fail to discern them if you look carefully at the next American woman you happen to come across, that is if she happens to be anything other than one of those splendid and alluring peaches for the production of which in such charming numbers all men should be eternally grateful.

[40]

I have further to reflect that the American woman’s beauty and charm are, as a rule, very seriously discounted by the circumstance that she talks through her nose, with that atrocious intonation that is commonly called the American accent. I should defy Venus herself to impress with her beauty anybody above the quality of a dollar hunter or a pork-packer if she could be imagined to speak in the average American way.

Coming now to the question of goodness, which is a delicate question, it seems to me more than probable that the American woman is just as good, and no better, than the rest of womankind. She has been accused of all sorts of frightfulness—mainly on account of her unfortunate accent and her free and easy methods of talk. It is certain that she is capable of the higher forms of devotion and self-sacrifice, even if her views on divorce are entirely airy and liberal.

But I do not believe that her heart is wicked, and as women go in the virtue way, she is unsurpassed. In some other respects I must confess she is to be forgiven, although she is, so far as mind, disposition, and outlook are concerned, a great deal too much like her half-civilised Poppa, and affects a great[41] deal too much of the cheap smartness and abounding audacity that are the stock-in-trade of her still less civilised brother.

If you talk with an American girl for any length of time you will discover that among other defects she is troubled with what one may term a statistical, or, perhaps, more correctly, an arithmetical mind. Her male folk talk dollars and put everything into the terms of dollars. She, cute little bon-bon head, talks figures. She is as full of dates as a Scotchman, and as full of heights, depths, widths, dimensions, aggregations, and general computations as a guide-book. She will pour into your willing ear particulars as to the population of the city in which she was “raised,” and the next city to that, and the next. She is sure to tell you that she came over on such and such a liner, that they had exactly one thousand three hundred and forty-nine persons aboard, including three hundred officers and crew, two hundred and seventeen saloon passengers, and a precise number of second class and steerage people. “That ship has got eight thousand electric lights, five hundred portholes, eight thousand seven hundred and twenty-five tons of coal in her bunkers, when she leaves port; her stores include four thousand knives,[42] forks, and spoons, and ten thousand bottles of old rye whiskey; she is an American boat, and there are twenty performers in the band, and her captain has made the return trip two hundred and seventy-three times,” and so on, until you begin to feel as if you had fallen into a ready reckoner, and to wonder whether in some occult way the young lady receives a commission from the steamship company. Like every other American man, woman or child, Mark Twain included, she is plagued also with the “pass-a-given-point” mania. The Americans are literally eaten up with processions, and the glory of every one of them is determined by the circumstance that it took so many minutes to pass a given point. Of the latest records in this connection, the American girl is sure to prattle to you with amazing zest. In brief, her mind, besides containing much that is really valuable and certainly interesting, is a storehouse of unimportant and altogether gratuitous and unnecessary facts. Summed up, she is pert, provoking, chock full of information, moderately pretty, a good deal of a bore, and—an obvious peach.

Then there is the American married woman, who may or who may not have been married in several different places.[43] If you meet this lady casually in London or on the Continent, it will take you quite a week to discover which of the numerous men by whom she is always squired, happens to be her husband.

Of course, the Americans consider their women the pink of propriety. “The ladies of this State, sir,—and I am proud to say of every other State in the union—are h—l upon propriety!” I do not doubt it, and I should not say so if I did. The American woman has her good points and her good qualities, otherwise American man, dazzler as he is, could not be so idiotically contented with her, or, as he himself phrases it, “sot on her.” At the same time she has, on the average, omelettes soufflées for brains and tenderloin steaks for hearts—and in spite of her charming curves she exhibits defects of mind, emotions, person, and breeding alike which, in my opinion, condemn her to obscure, or exalt her to take the highest, rank in the table of civilised feminine precedence according to the way you look at her. Always excepting, of course, the obvious peaches.


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