The Critic in the Occident

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 (1852-1925) 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

The Critic in the Orient

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 (1852-1925) 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”

 

 

 

 

 

New Footprints in Old Places

One of the most satisfying things about writing these weekly spotlights is discovering unusual books that are worth reading. Ruth Gordon, who wrote her 1977 Ph.D. thesis on Paul Elder, entitled one chapter “Books Beautiful, Literature Mediocre.” Indeed, many of Elder’s publications are forgotten for good reason. As a group, however, I find Elder’s travel books well worth a look.

Pauline Stiles’s New Footprints in Old Places (1917) chronicles her nine-month holiday in Italy. Nine months! How many of us have the wherewithal to take a nine-month vacation? Stiles was clearly from a well-to-do family. She and her two female companions left New York on 4 October 1913 and arrived in Naples on Friday the 17th. [The Naples-New York steamer route was heavily traveled by Italian immigrants. My grandparents came to America on the Naples steamer in 1910 and 1911. —ed.]

Stiles and her friends spent the next six months based in Rome, with excursions to Florence, Assisi, Pompeii, Capri, and most of the other sites that had become well-established tourist destinations. They left Rome on May 1st on a leisurely journey north, arriving in Paris on June 6th where they stayed for three weeks. Then two weeks in Belgium, spending their last night in Bruges on July 17th:

Bruges is like an old, old etching, with the same dim lights and shadows, and the same uneven lines. It is an enchanting medieval town that has let the years slip over it without ever growing modern. It seems asleep, the houses, the towers, the bridges, the canals flowing by flowering walls, and even the swans that drift upon the water.

The next day they arrived in London, which had been stirred like a hive of bees. On June 28th, Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip had assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria in Sarajevo. On July 28, Austria-Hungary would declare war on Serbia, and the first hostilities of World War I quickly followed. On Sunday 2 August, Stiles writes:

We can talk and think of nothing but war. The whirlwind has swept on at incredible speed. Germany has broken the neutrality of Belgium, and France has gone to the aid of her ally, Russia. Everyone wonders what England, as the third of the Entente, will do.

Meanwhile the city is absolutely stunned. Great crowds swarm the streets, buying the latest extras. The air is rasped with the cries of the hawkers, and is electric with excitement.

Towards evening we rode down to Charing Cross. All the French in London were going home to join the army. The men were marching to the trains, waving good-bye to their women; eyes were dry but lips were trembling. A band was playing the Marseillaise. Every hurdy-gurdy in the city is grinding out that stirring tune.

Determined not to change her travel plans, Stiles journeys to Stratford-on-Avon:

The country is swarming with troops. Many horses in all the towns have been taken, and in Warwick every house is filled with soldiers, waiting their orders. Our landlady, Mrs London, entertained us with all the news as she served us opur meals of boiled beef, boiled potatoes, boiled beans, boiled everything in her stuffy little parlor. The men are “Reservists” and “Territorials”; she has to take some in and “board and bed them for two shillings per head.” No one knows were the troops are bound for. I wonder if you realize how horrible this war is going to be.

In Liverpool on 26 August 1914, Stiles and her companions board a steamer for New York. Eleven hundred people are crowded onto a ship designed to hold nine hundred. “The ship is packed from top to hold; every place in the steerage taken, and conditions are ghastly down there.” Stiles, however, has the best stateroom on the ship. “Farewell, Old World,” she closes. “I have seen you in all your proud prosperity, at the summit of your civilization. You will never be the same again.”

New Footprints in Old Places was published in August 1917, with the Great War still raging. Many of the Flanders fields that Stiles visited on her way to London had been obliterated. Armistice would not be until 11 November 1918, still over a year in the future.

New Footprints cover
Cover of "New Footprints in Old Places," with artwork by Rudolph F. Schaeffer
New Footprints title
Title page of "New Footprints in Old Places"
New Footprints p134
"New Footprints in Old Places," page 134-5

Wayfarers in Italy

Cover of “Wayfarers in Italy”

Katharine Hooker’s Wayfarers in Italy is perhaps the finest book issued by Elder & Shepard during their five-year collaboration (1898-1903). It was privately printed in 1901 at the Stanley-Taylor Company on hand-made Ruisdael paper in two different limited editions of 100 and 300 copies. The title page decorations and illuminated chapter headings were almost certainly designed by Morgan Shepard, and the book contains many photographs taken by Katharine’s daughter Marian. In 1902, Scribners bought the book; their edition of Wayfarers went through four printings by 1905.

Hooker, born Katharine Mussey Putnam (1849-1935) was very well connected in turn-of-the-century California. She had an active, athletic youth, and both climbed Half Dome and hiked the Grand Canyon. She learned French and German as a teenager, and had a lifelong interest in books.

Title page from “Wayfarers in Italy”

Katherine’s husband John Daggett Hooker became wealthy in the ironworks industry, allowing her to take an extended trip to Europe in 1896 with her daughter Marian and Samuel Marshall Ilsley (author of By the Western Sea, Elder & Shepard’s first publication). She and Marian returned to Italy in 1899 (by which time Katherine had also become fluent in Italian), and it was this trip that became the basis for Wayfarers. The commission came to Elder & Shepard through Katharine’s sister Mary Putnam, who was married to Morgan Shepard. Katharine also wrote two other travel books about Italy, Byways in Southern Tuscany (1918) and Through the Heel of Italy (1927).

Italy in 1901. The boundaries of several regions have changed since then, and the national border does not yet encompass South Tryol or Trieste, areas that were annexed to Italy after World War I.

Hooker’s prose is enjoyable, and if she uses the passive voice a bit too often, I forgive her. She is adept at painting a gauzy, romantic picture of warm Italian summer afternoons, while also recounting amusing and interesting conversations with the locals. In Milan’s Museo Poldi-Pezzoli, Hooker and her daughter fail to find a certain Madonna and Child listed in their catalog; they quiz the custodian without success, but later he escorts them into a private room to show them the painting. In Ancona, she delightfully describes a heaping plate of light, fluffy fritto misto. In Venice, they strike up a friendship with their gondolier, Giovanni, who teaches them about the hardships and politics of his profession. Hooker’s visit to Siena can be dated to August 1899 because she witnessed the Palio on August 16th, where the contrada of Lupa was victorious. And if you are an experienced visitor to modern Italy, you will shake your head on almost every page as you think about how much has changed in the last 110 years.

Marian Osgood Hooker (1875-1968) also had a notable life. She became a physician and published numerous medical and scientific books, in addition to being a prominent amateur photographer. In 1903, Marian became the first woman to climb Mt. Whitney (the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 states), in a party that included family friend and famed naturalist John Muir.

Page 3 of “Wayfarers in Italy”

Elder & Shepard’s edition of Wayfarers in Italy is rare because so few were printed, but the Scribner edition is easier to find. Here is one vintage book you will enjoy reading.

Pages 88-9 of “Wayfarers in Italy”
Pages 242-3 of “Wayfarers in Italy”
Pages 244-5 of “Wayfarers in Italy,” with one of Marian Hooker’s photographs
Page 279 of “Wayfarers in Italy”
Colophon of the edition of 100 copies. The “E” was written by Paul Elder, the “S” by Morgan Shepard.
Colophon of the edition of 300 copies