The Critic in the Occident

by david on 31 October 2014

Cover of "Critic in the Occident"

Cover of “Critic in the Occident”

What you bring away with you from a tour of Europe depends largely upon your reading. If through great writers you know intimately the history, art and architecture of a country, you will find that your travels serve mainly to stamp indelibly upon the memory many of the impressions formed from the books you have read. … Americans are too apt to neglect this reading, which forms a vital part of the education of the European. … Hence they lose that perfect blending of romance and reality, as one does who listens to a great opera of which he knows neither the words nor the story.

In 1912, San Francisco Chronicle sent critic George Hamlin Fitch on a seven-month trip around the world, from which he cabled daily dispatches for publication in the newspaper. After his return, Fitch distilled his stories into two books: The Critic in the Orient (featured last time), and today’s spotlight, The Critic in the Occident. The books were published by Paul Elder in September 1913.

Title page and frontispiece of "Critic in the Occident"

Title page and frontispiece of “Critic in the Occident”

Fitch’s itinerary in the West was:

  • Greece, The Fountainhead of all Art and Letters
  • Italy, Home of Art and Monuments
  • France, Land of Romance, Thrift and Artistic Life
  • London, Seat of the Founders of World-wide Empire
  • New York City, The Skyscraping Marvel of the New World
Special boxed edition of "The Critic Travels"

Special boxed edition of “The Critic Travels”

Fitch devotes a chapter to the ruins of Pompeii, which had been discovered in 1599 and later rediscovered in 1748. The well-read Fitch was clearly not a prude, but is not very fond of the overtly erotic nature of many of the murals and mosaics, which he blames on the inferior nature of the Roman’s pagan faith:

The Roman phallic worship tinctures all the art in Pompeii and brutalizes it. It is shown in the stone phallus, built into the walls of many buildings, to keep off evil spirits. … From these remains the conclusion is inevitable that the ancient roman was not immoral but unmoral. Christianity introduced a new code of morals in which purity of thought was one of the leading features. Beside it the Pagan religions are unspeakably gross and vile. It was not strange that the Egyptian worship of Isis found many followers in Pompeii and that the initiation of novices degenerated into the most fantastic orgies.

Page 26 of "Critic in the Occident"

Page 26 of “Critic in the Occident”

Fitch is far more impressed with Venice: “The charm of Venice lies in its unlikeness to any other place. You may have read of its canals and its lagoons, its palaces and its prisons, its gondolas that glide mysteriously through dark stretches of glassy water, but the reality comes upon you with unexpected force.”

Paris “is a city of surprises and disappointments. As a place of magnificent vistas it surpasses one’s conceptions, but its buildings and its statuary disappoint the tourist fresh from Italy. Its shops, which were once the wonder of Europe, are now easily surpassed in artistic quality by the shops of second-rate cities like Rome and Naples. Its gayety and brightness it has not lost, nor it fondness for the outdoor life of the cafes and boulevards and great public parks.”

Page 70 of "Critic in the Occident". Today, David no longer wears a fig leaf.

Page 70 of “Critic in the Occident”. Today, David no longer wears a fig leaf.

London: “The first impression that London makes is one of immensity. To the sensitive tourist it seems impossible in a short visit to see anything of this huge city, with its miles of streets and its thousands of famous buildings. This impression is heightened by the gloom due to a cloudy sky and a pall of soft coal smoke.”

New York: “The first sight of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor and of the ships flying the Stars and Stripes looks very good to the man who has scarcely seen an American flag since he left home seven months before. Then comes that awe-inspiring skyline of New York, which is changed by every new skyscraper–a spectacle more impressive than anything that can be seen in Europe.”

Page 165 of "Critic in the Occident": Tips for the Tourist

Page 165 of “Critic in the Occident”: Tips for the Tourist

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The Critic in the Orient

by david on 24 October 2014

Cover of "Critic in the Orient"

Cover of “Critic in the Orient”

This book of impressions of the Far East is called The Critic in the Orient, because the writer for over thirty years has been a professional critic of new books–one trained to get at the best in all literary works and reveal it to the reader. This critical work would have been deadly, save for a love of books so deep and enduring that it has turned drudgery into pastime and an enthusiasm for discovering good things in every new book which no amount of literary trash was ever able to smother.

In 1912, San Francisco Chronicle sent critic George Hamlin Fitch on a seven-month trip around the world, from which he cabled daily dispatches for publication in the newspaper. After his return, Fitch distilled his stories into a two-book set; the present volume and The Critic in the Occident (which will be featured next time). The books were published by Paul Elder in September 1913.

Title page of "Critic in the Orient"

Title page and frontispiece of “Critic in the Orient”

Fitch’s itinerary in the East was:

  • Japan, The Picture Country of the Orient
  • Manila, Transformed by the Americans
  • Hong Kong, Canton, Singapore and Rangoon
  • India, The Land of Temples, Palaces and Monuments
  • Egypt, The Home of Hieroglyphs, Tombs and Mummies
Page 10 of "Critic in the Orient"

Page 10 of “Critic in the Orient”

One of the pitfalls of vintage travel literature is encountering language that we would now call patronizing or even bigoted. I am not qualified to write a comprehensive sociological criticism of Fitch’s work, but I see more to praise than to condemn. Most painful to modern ears is his use of “race” when today we would use “nationality,” and noting that India is “the seat of the Aryan civilization and that, though the Hindoo is as dark as many of the American negroes, he is of Aryan stock like ourselves.”

On the other hand, to his credit Fitch admits his preconceptions about Japan were wrong, and devotes the opening 48 pages to that country.

One of the best results of foreign travel is that it makes on revise his estimate of alien races. When I started out it was with a strong prejudice against the Japanese, probably due to my observation of some rather unlovely specimens whom I had encountered in San Francisco. A short stay in Japan served to give me a new point of view of both the people and the country of the Mikado.

Page 14 of "Critic in the Orient"

Page 14 of “Critic in the Orient”

Fitch ends with a couple valuable reference sections: “Hints for Travelers,” and, in keeping with Fitch’s belief that the literate traveler is a happy traveler, a bibliography. In the Hints section, Fitch starts by recommending which agency to use to go on your own world tour:

For a round-the-world trip the best plan is to buy a Cook’s ticket for six hundred and thirty-nine dollars and ten cents. This provides transportation from any place in the United States around the world to the starting point. The advantage of a Cook’s ticket is that this firm has the best organized force, with large offices in the big cities and with banks as agencies in hundreds of places where you may cash its money orders. This is a great convenience as it saves the risk of carrying considerable sums of money in lands where thievery is a fine art.

Of course, $639 was a huge sum in 1913, when the average worker’s annual salary was about half that. Then there was the matter of taking seven months off work, plus the expenses along the way. Extended world travel, then as now, was mostly a rich man’s pastime.

Page 146 of "Critic in the Orient"

Page 146 of “Critic in the Orient”

 

Plates LVIII and LIX in "Critic in the Orient"

Plates LVIII and LIX in “Critic in the Orient”

 

Hints to the Traveler in "Critic in the Orient"

Hints for Travelers in “Critic in the Orient”

 

 

 

 

 

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Slumber Sea Chanteys

26 September 2014

Slumber Sea Chanteys (1910) was the only sheet music Paul Elder ever published (there are a few pages of music in Knight of the Burning Pestle). It is a selection of children’s lullabies on nautical themes. It is also the first Paul Elder I ever bought, though I only realized it five years later when […]

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The True Historie of the Knyght of the Burning Pestle

8 September 2014

In March 1903, the English Club of Stanford University performed a production of “The Knight of the Burning Pestle,” an early 17th-century pastiche play by the English poet and dramatist Francis Beaumont. The English Club performed the work at both Stanford and UC Berkeley, and went so far as to write a short book about it. That […]

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The Auto Guest Book

1 September 2014

On an inventive twist from a guest book designed for the guest bedroom, here is a guest book designed for one’s automobile. The Auto Guest Book was published in 1906 on the heels of the success of the early Cynic’s Calendars, with the illustrations and aphorisms by the team of Ethel Grant (1876?-1940) and Richard Glaenzer (1876-1937). In […]

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San Francisco — As It Was, As It Is, And How To See It

27 August 2014

After Paul Elder opened his bookshop in 1898, it is perhaps surprising that he waited fourteen years to publish a book about San Francisco. Maybe it just took him that long to find the right author. Helen Throop Purdy’s comprehensive guide to the City, San Francisco — As It Was, As It Is, And How To See […]

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Robert Harlan (1929-2014)

24 August 2014

Today I pause to remember Robert Harlan, professor emeritus at the UC Berkeley School of Information and the Bancroft Library. He died on April 8th at the age of 84. He was an expert on the 19th-century San Francisco printing industry and the Bay Area fine-printing movement of the mid-20th century. He published several books, including a long […]

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Love

4 April 2014

Love (1905) was the last of the Mosaic Essays series compiled by Paul Elder. The first booklet in the series, Friendship, was published in 1902 and sold very well. In 1903, Elder followed with Happiness, Nature and Success in 1903. In 1906 he reissued the five booklets in a single volume called Mosaic Essays. As with the other four titles […]

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Success

30 March 2014

Success is a booklet of quotations in the Mosaic Essays series, compiled by Paul Elder. It was published in 1903 along with Happiness and Nature in response to the high sales of 1902′s Friendship. In 1905, Elder published the last booklet in the series, Love. In 1906 he issued the five booklets in a single volume called Mosaic Essays. As with the other booklets […]

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Nature

23 March 2014

Nature is a booklet of quotations in the Mosaic Essays series, compiled by Paul Elder. It was published in 1903 along with Happiness and Success in response to the success of 1902′s Friendship. In 1905, Elder published the last booklet in the series, Love. In 1906 he issued the five booklets in a single volume called Mosaic Essays. […]

Read the full article →