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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter IX. Seaside on the Pacific

OUR first view of the Pacific was at the watering-place of Santa Monica, a few miles north-west of Los Angeles. It was, as usual, a charming day, and the deep blue of the ocean, stretching so far in every direction, was superb. That was the first sensation. When the eye and the mind had sufficiently drunk in the broad expanse of azure, the next feature to claim attention was the surf beating against the shore; and that, it seems, is a constant feature. The sea is never perfectly smooth at the edge. The Pacific does not deal in extremes; it is neither frightfully wild nor absolutely calm. Its genius is different from that of the Atlantic. The Atlantic can rave like a maniac or be as still as a sleeping babe. In the Pacific you have always the swell and surf to restrain undue familiarity: and bathers know this well, and have to accommodate themselves to it. And what they do is hardly worthy of a valiant people. Bathing consists mainly in playing with the surf, and there are few swimmers, as far as I saw, bold enough to get beyond it and enjoy themselves in the smooth, deep water. Perhaps this may be due to the practice of bathing in a sort of full dress, which admits of the ladies and gentlemen being together, and makes it hard for the gentlemen to break away to where few ladies could follow them.

Santa Monica is very prettily laid out, and is one of the places that have made wonderful progress in a few years. A Scotch gentleman told me that a few years ago he had been offered a piece of landed property for twenty-five thousand dollars. It did not suit him to become the purchaser, and a year or two ago it was sold for four hundred thousand. Among those who have lately come to settle at Santa Monica is a colony of ostriches. Not that they have come of their own free will; but an ostrich farm, that used to have its establishment at Los Angeles, is now removed to Santa Monica. The proprietor is an English gentleman, a member of a titled and ancient family. The time was when the farm was open to visitors on Sundays as well as other days; but a change came over the proprietor when Mr. Moody was at Los Angeles, and now it is shut on Sundays. To a man struggling for a living this is no ordinary piece of self-denial, and it contrasts strongly with the conduct of the aeronaut already referred to, who makes Sunday at Santa Monica his harvest-day. Whether the rearing of ostriches can be made profitable is a question yet to be decided. The spot selected affords a natural protection from the sea-breeze, and the ostriches will not have to complain of want of attention. Yet every one deems it an odd experiment, and I do not think that the public entertain very sanguine expectations of its success.

Our stay at Santa Monica was but for a few hours; but to Long Beach, another seaside place farther south, we paid a visit of ten days. Long Beach is a very recent place, begun four years before our visit. For two years it advanced splendidly, but since the bursting of the “boom” it has been much quieter; and last year it had a great calamity. Its hotel, a fine, large building, built on the bluff that runs along the seaside, took fire, and was utterly destroyed. No attempt had been made to restore it; and having been the one hotel of the place, it is greatly missed. But there are numerous boarding-houses for the accommodation of the public. One of our party being rather feeble, my son brought his horses and buggy, that we might drive about. It may show the free-and-easy treatment to which horses are accustomed in California, that though there was a stable attached to the boarding-house, he thought it better to tie the horses to posts outside and lay down their hay beside them. Hay there is not like hay here; it is wheat cut green and allowed to dry, and seems to serve the purpose of hay and oats combined. There was a beautiful drive on the beach, eight miles long, with a surface as smooth as a table, and firm enough to bear the wheels without sinking. The fresh sea-breeze was always delightful and exhilarating; it was hardly possible for invalids to breathe it without becoming stronger.

The whole of Long Beach is on the property of one gentleman who owns an immense tract in the neighbourhood. Many years ago two brothers purchased two great Mexican ranches of many thousand acres, for which the price was only seventy-five cents an acre. I have no doubt that in the neighbourhood of Long Beach the land would now fetch hundreds of dollars per acre. The owners of these ranches, which still bear the Spanish names of Alamitos and Seritos, were kind enough to invite us to see their places. We went with the more pleasure that they were good specimens of the old Mexican ranch, and that the old adobe houses were still standing. The houses are more quaint than comfortable. The walls are of immense thickness, and the rooms of considerable size; but the Mexicans seem to have had peculiar ideas on the subject of windows. In their time the windows seem to have been mere holes near the top of the wall; these had to be lengthened towards the ground by the present owners. One of the ranches has a famous dairy, with a prodigious stock of cheese; and, oddly enough, the men in charge of it are Italians. The other is celebrated for its sheep. In “Ramona” there is a graphic description of what the sheep-shearing used to be in the old Mexican times, and of the marvellous expedition with which some of the Indians could perform the operation. They told me that the sheep-shearing was carried on in much the same manner still. I was reminded of what a beloved son, now no more, who had been at Buenos Ayres for health, used to tell us of the incredible celerity with which oxen were killed, flayed, and otherwise disposed of by the natives in the Liebig yards of that city. Nothing astonishes you more than to see great flocks of sheep grazing in apparent content on plains where all vegetation seems as much dried up as if it had been baked in an oven. But the sheep discover a little berry like a burr, the fruit of a very abundant plant, on which they can not only live, but thrive and fatten.

At Seritos there is a fine garden—at least, it used to be fine—and I could hardly forgive the proprietor for suffering it to fall into decay. The house, however, was old, and he wished to rear a better one in a different situation. In a country which has no real antiquities, these old ranch houses and gardens are the only places that go back beyond the existing generation. I should have thought the proprietors, who have profited so greatly by the rise of prices, would have been eager to keep them up precisely as they were in the olden time, with their spacious verandas, their vine-covered arcades and trellises, their magnificent trees, and all else that told of the earlier history. But antiquarianism does not pay.

While we were at Long Beach, the “Alliance Assembly” was holding its annual gathering there. The meetings last in all about a month. The prototype of this congress is the famous Chatauqua Assembly in the state of New York. The idea is to utilize the holiday season, in accordance with American habits, for promoting the spiritual, intellectual, and social welfare and enjoyment of the people gathered at the seaside. The Long Beach Alliance Assembly is under the auspices of the Methodist Episcopal Church; but a catholic character is sought to be imparted to it by the invitation of ministers and members of other Churches to take part in it. There is a large tabernacle for the meetings; they begin at eight in the morning, and they go on till about ten at night. It may seem to our sober Scottish view rather a strange thing to combine prayer-meetings and class-meetings and revival-meetings with lectures on popular or scientific subjects, and with concerts, where Jubilee Singers do not exclude even their comic songs. Yet in the Life of the late Dr. Begg it will be seen that he highly approved of Saturday evening concerts, and we know that he was not the man to think badly of the play of humour. The idea is that man has a complex nature, and that if you honestly try to exercise and develop every part of it, even if you do so simultaneously, the effect is good. And my judgment is, that for people in holiday humour, sauntering by the seaside in the usual somewhat careless spirit of holiday-makers, the social effect is good; but that not much, if anything, is done for the positive advancement of religion. At the request of the superintendent, I gave my lecture one evening on the Life of Livingstone; and one forenoon I conducted a service for young men and women, speaking to them of the character of Christ. It is remarkable how large and steady the various attendances were. There was a meeting for children every morning at nine o’clock in the Presbyterian church, and the little building was always full. The Methodists always strive to kindle emotion, and herein are a great contrast to us. Methodist religion is pre-eminently a religion of feeling, with very little of doctrinal teaching. And I noticed—what pains one so often in America—a want of reverence. I heard painful instances at the Assembly of the evil habit of using Scripture language to point a jest.

One of the funny features of the gathering was the “camping out.” You see a space allotted for “camping,” and you find all manner of people dwelling happily in tents, with their horse and buggy at hand, the horse “hitched” to a tree, and never dreaming of the luxury of a stable. And then when it suits them the friends can have a nice drive along the beach, or wherever else they choose. If you like, we shall make a call at that tent in the corner, where an excellent Methodist minister, a friend of ours, resides. The minister’s wife receives us, and conducts us over her “house.” The floor is covered with a carpet, brought from the manse. In one corner is a sofa; that is the drawing room. In another, a cooking-stove; that is the kitchen, in another, a table; that is the dining-room. In another, a shake-down; that is the bedroom. But the ground is so dry, and the air so fresh, and the warmth so genial, that it is nice and pleasant. The cooking-stove is seldom needed; and the fuel being wood, the fire is easily kindled and easily extinguished, without turning the tent into an oven.

And I must add this about Long Beach, that no liquor is sold in it. By appointment of its promoters, it is a teetotal town. I need not say that it is the most tranquil and orderly place you can conceive. Even with all the excursionists that the trains bring to it, such a thing as drunkenness is unknown. I never saw a policeman in it, nor found a police-office. People smile when you ask if there be such. What use would there be for them?

At Long Beach I was presented by an accomplished lady with a copy of a book which every one was reading—“Looking Backward.” It was in its 130th thousand. A book with a very absurd plot, and, I am afraid I must add, an absurd drift. Its author is an able gentleman of Boston, a socialist; and its purpose is to picture a state of society in which which socialism has triumphed, and is difussing unnumbered blessings on every side. I read the book because I am very desirous to obtain light from any quarter on social problems, but I must add with great disappointment.

The plot turns on a supposed case of mesmeric sleep, passed through by a young gentleman of Boston, who fell asleep in 1887 and awoke all right in 2000! He looks round him on his native city, and finds it entirely transformed. An entirely new state of society has come to pass. There are no rich and poor, no drones that toil not neither do they spin, no private property, no grinding competition in business, no strikes or lock-outs, no greed, no selfishness, no money!

Everything is the property of the State, and all labour, all business, all everything is managed by the State. And every one is easy, contented, blessed. Labour ends at the age of forty-five; after that you simply enjoy yourself. In place of money, you get a ticket which enables you to get all you want at the public stores, the store-keeper making a punch-mark in your ticket for what you get. And society has not reached this condition by a violent revolution; it has just peaceably slid into it, in accordance with the policy which is every day absorbing private and smaller enterprises and converting them into a few great concerns. It is almost incredible that a man in his senses should imagine that some of the strongest impulses of human nature would be quietly annihilated before a pleasing picture; that men would all of a sudden cease to struggle every one for himself, and devote himself heart and soul to the public good. Environments will do much, but will they ever eradicate the greed, the selfishness, the ambition of our nature? I grant that in “Looking Backward” there is much true benevolence and a fine sympathy with the children of labour; and the author does not plead for confiscation, nor write as one who would resort to violence. But the marvel is, to fancy that without violence this age of gold will come of itself! to ignore the great problem of human corruption, and take no account of the only means ever devised for solving that!

“To think—I have a pattern on my nail,
And I will carve the world new after it,
And solve so these hard social questions—nay,
Impossible social questions, since, their roots
Strike deep in Evil's own existence here,
Which God permits.”—Aurora Leigh.

As to socialism, I do not think many Americans proper have much tendency towards it; it is the foreigners that uphold it. And I agree with those who think that for a hundred years there will not be much serious trouble with socialism in the country, because there are so many outlets for the growing population. But when America is as densely peopled as Europe, with many more overcrowded cities and complaining, half-starved citizens, then will come the tug-of-war.

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