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Summer Suns in the Far West
Chapter X. San Francisco

HAVING completed our visit to the family of our son, we next proceeded by sea to San Francisco. We did not fancy the Mojave desert again, especially as on the 1st August it would be much warmer than we found it on the 31st May, when it was quite warm enough. We embarked on board the Santa Rosa steamer at San Pedro, the port of Los Angeles. The steamer was most comfortable, but not the ocean. In the evening we stopped for a few hours at Santa Barbara, a delightful and thriving seaside town, and had a most pleasant little visit at the house of Mr. Alexander, whom we had known in former days at Toronto. Feeble health had brought him to the Pacific coast, and he was both benefited and charmed by Santa Barbara. We embarking at night, our next stoppage, on the following day, was at Port Harford, the seaport for San Luis Obispo, about a dozen miles inland. Here, too, we had friends, to whom also we paid a pleasant visit. San Luis is a thriving city, in the midst of a fine agricultural district. When we got back into the wide Pacific, we got far from a pacific reception. A nasty side swell was perpetually hitting our vessel and causing a most disagreeable motion. It gave us a miserable night, although we had no sickness; and we were in no ordinary degree relieved and gladdened when getting up in the morning we found ourselves entering the Golden Gate, and in a little set foot on terra Firma on the wharf at San Francisco.

We drove to the Palace Hotel. It is one of the phenomena of San Francisco, and a comfortable house. It is one of the hotels where you may pay for your bedroom only, and take your meals at a restaurant connected with it, or wherever else you may please. The higher you go the cheaper your bedroom; and as you are always carried up in the elevator, height is a matter of little consequence. No doubt there is one article in high rooms which startles you a little—a coil of thick rope close to the window, to give you the chance of escape if the house should take fire! It is a gruesome thing to look at. I was assured, however, that the risk of fire was infinitesimally small, as the hotel is watched by night, and fire could not break out without being discovered in a very brief time.

A word on American elevators. The elevator is one of the characteristic features of American civilization. It is said that there are quite different types of elevator, as of character, in New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. It is in the newest cities that the elevator prevails most, because all the hotels, banks, warehouses, and other buildings using it were erected after the elevator had come into general use. Chicago is said to have the fastest, its elevators running usually at the rate of four hundred feet a minute, and the quickest at five hundred! This is too fast even for some Americans themselves. In New York the number of elevators amounts to three thousand five hundred, in Chicago to four thousand. The highest of all elevators is that of the Washington Monument (which is five hundred feet high); but it goes very slowly, at the sober rate of one hundred feet a minute. In private houses the elevator is becoming common. It is not only an American article, as being used chiefly in that country, but the contriving and improving of all its parts and methods of work have been almost exclusively the work of Americans. The department of the patent office in Washington devoted to it is said to be quite a study. As a comparatively new city, San Francisco is great in elevators, and in many a big building the stair might almost be dispensed with.

The common sights of San Francisco have been so often described that I do not intend to repeat the operation. The bay is very fine; the Golden Gate a stately entrance; the rock covered with seals basking in the sun a rare curiosity; the public park a wonderful transformation of what a few years ago were sandy hills. Oakland, too, across the ferry, is an interesting place, an offshoot from San Francisco, but it seems to have hardly interfered with the rapidity of its growth. The city is conspicuous for its commercial architecture, many warehouses and hotels being themselves a study; otherwise its edifices are not very striking. San Francisco must always be interesting to us as the first great American city on the Pacific coast, the first great settlement of the Anglo-Saxon race in what is virtually a new country— Western America; the first spot, in what is destined to be a great empire, where the virtues and the vices of our civilization began to spread abroad.

We had the pleasure to make the acquaintance of Dr. Mackenzie, minister of the First Presbyterian Church, an active and most estimable pastor, enjoying the esteem of the whole community; and no one could have done more to make our stay agreeable and profitable. During our four days’ stay in San Francisco, I preached in his church, and in that of Dr. Cornelius, formerly of Pasadena; I delivered a lecture on the Pan-Presbyterian Alliance in Calvary Church, and also in the church of my friend, Rev. Dr. Horton of Oakland; I addressed a ladies’ missionary meeting; and I performed the ceremony of marriage, the bride being an old servant of our own, and the bridegroom an excellent specimen of a Scotsman. But at the same time I contrived to see a good deal.

We naturally felt a great interest in the Chinese in San Francisco. The Chinese have already contrived to dispossess the barbarians. Just as the woody particles of a tree are supplanted by the stony material which fossilizes it, so the first town of San Francisco has been gradually transformed, and is now fully occupied by the Chinese. Ten blocks, forming the first San Francisco, where stood the first counting-houses, the first banks, the first town house, the first churches, have been transformed into Chinatown; they are occupied by some say forty thousand, others thirty thousand Chinese; no one else will dwell in them, and if the Chinese should finally be expelled, they would have to be rebuilt before any other race would settle in them. The Chinese question is one of the American difficulties. At first they were welcomed to America as much as any other foreign people; but the case is very different now. I remember some years ago hearing Dr. Tahnage preach on the Chinese question in his Brooklyn tabernacle. He was indignant at the feeling that was getting up against them, and ridiculed the change that had come over the American people from the time when they invited them so cordially to come and help them to settle the west- “You dear Chinee, do come over and see us, and bring your work with you. We shall be so delighted to have you with us!” But now the Californian Government has passed a law forbidding them to come into their state, and the Supreme Court of the United States has declared the law competent. What is urged in favour of this course is that the Chinese will not amalgamate with the American nation as all other foreigners have done, and notably the Japanese. They come over without their wives, not to settle but to make money; they go back as soon as they have made their pile; they wear their own dress, even the pigtail, live and eat in their own fashion, speak their own tongue, worship their own idols, import all they use, food and dress, from China, and take no interest whatever in anything American. I think there is much force in all this; although it is true that had they been treated at first with more kindness and consideration, the case might have been different now.

Dr. Mackenzie kindly took me to see Chinatown. Accompanied by a guide, about eleven o’clock at night we visited some of the haunts of the Chinese: sauntered through characteristic streets, had a cup of tea (served with an egg) in a restaurant, peeped into some of their opium-smoking dens, saw them worshipping in their joss-house, and ended by a visit to their theatre. Late though the hour was, everything was in full play. The Chinese constitution seems to require little sleep; hence their ability for extraordinarily long hours of labour,—they are said to be able to work eleven days in the week. Chinatown, on the whole, is a miserable place, for the Chinese in America will spend hardly a cent they can help. They are a remarkably hardy, industrious, and sober people, and make excellent servants, both in the house and in the field. But the absence of married women and of family life makes Chinatown very squalid and repulsive. What women there are are mostly slave-girls, owned by wretches who turn them to the vilest purposes, inhabiting certain alleys which at night are openly given over to vice. There is a good deal of mission work done among the Chinese, and with a fair amount of success; and the missionaries, male and female, speak of the Chinese as an interesting people. Those of them who are Christian are hated by their brethren, and are allowed as little intercourse as possible with them. We visited a Chinese school, but not a large one, and had specimens of their proficiency both in English and Chinese. The recent law, if it be strictly enforced, will soon reduce and finally extinguish the Chinese element; but it is probable that it will not be rigidly enforced, because no other labourers will be found to do the work of the Chinese. The wages of servants, as we have said before, all over California are very high; families that in our country would have two or three servants are compelled to content themselves with but one, and that one very often a Chinaman.

It is interesting to observe, in a new community, the provision for the interests of the higher education. In America universities originate in three ways—from Churches, from the State, and from wealthy individuals. A new university has just been projected by a wealthy Californian, likely, for extent of resources, to eclipse everything of the kind, not only in America, but throughout the world. The Honourable Leland Stanford, Governor and Senator for California, who through mines and railways has accumulated vast wealth, had an only son of the same name, who died lately at the age of eighteen or nineteen. “The Leland Stanford, Junior, University” is to be the monument of his parents to this youth. For its endowment lands have been set apart valued at fifteen million dollars. In addition, Mr. Stanford is now erecting buildings at Palo Alta, thirty miles from San Francisco, which are to cover sixty acres. I visited the place in company with Dr. Mackenzie, a friend of Governor Stanford, who himself usually resides at Washington. On the grounds of his country house, and in sight of the university to be, is a costly mausoleum, lined inwardly with Italian marble, the outer walls of the finest Maine granite, the resting-place of the ashes of the youth whose death occasioned the undertaking. Mr. Stanford’s idea is to found an institution which will begin with a kindergarten, and end with the most advanced instruction that human teachers can supply. From first to last, the instruction is to be absolutely free. Boarding-houses will be erected for all the students, male and female, and a room will be given to each at the cost of a trifling sum to the caretaker. Board, too, will be supplied at prime cost. From careful inquiries made at one of the most fashionable hotels of New York, Mr. Stanford learned that the prime cost of the provisions there supplied was only two dollars and thirty cents per week for each guest; and it is expected that at the university the price of board will not exceed two dollars a week. Houses for the professors, library, laboratories, and every other appliance needed for the efficiency of a university will be most liberally supplied. The style of the university buildings is Moorish. Already several class-rooms have been built, one story in height; and it is expected that in about a year sufficient progress will have been made for beginning the work of teaching.

Mr. Stanford has not lost sight of the religious question in his undertaking. He does not believe in a system of education that overlooks the highest aspects and objects of life. He provides that in all its operations the university is to recognize two great principles of theism—that there is a God, and a future life. All that falls short of this must remain outside the Stanford University. I fear such a creed is too colourless to be of much avail. It is an odd thing to recognize God without recognizing his chief revelation of himself, and to bring in the life to come and shut out Him by whom life and immortality have been brought clearly to light.

Mr. Stanford is taking an active interest in all the details of his institution, and will leave no stone unturned to make it a success. His path is not free from difficulties, and no doubt he is finding that the question of the renowned Mr. Baird, “Will siller dae it?” has sometimes to be answered in the negative. It is said that he has great difficulty in finding a president.

The site is a very choice one—elevated, spacious, airy, with a sufficient amount of grown timber to take off the look of bareness that used to strike an Edinburgh eye in Donaldson's Hospital or Fettes College. A railway station will make the communication easy with San Francisco and other parts; and though no ground will be permanently alienated, facilities will be given for building dwelling-houses to accommodate parents or friends of the pupils. It is not easy to say what will be the result of this undertaking; probably some of us may think that the plan of combining every stage of education in the same institution, and confining young persons to the same spot from first to last, is somewhat artificial and of doubtful expediency.

While I was in California, and especially in San Francisco, I found considerable excitement prevailing in connection with excursion trips that had been organized to Alaska, the latest territory that has been acquired by the United States, purchased by them about twenty years ago from the Russian Government at a cost of seven million dollars. Every one who had gone this trip was enthusiastic over it, and whenever a stranger like myself fell into their hands, the most urgent representations were made that, at all cost, it should be undertaken. Alaska is the north-west corner of North America, and lies to the north-west of our Canadian dominions. It was acquired by the United States on the advice of Mr. W. H. Seward. Mr. Seward was ridiculed for his action in regard to what was said to be a mere collection of glaciers and icebergs; but its mines, its seals, its fishings, and its furs have already made it a most valuable acquisition. One is almost provoked at its passing into American hands. It ought beyond doubt to have belonged to Canada. Many a representation, I have been told, was made to this effect to our Government by our friends in British Columbia, who knew the value of Alaska, but in vain. The Government had no fancy for icebergs and glaciers. But now Alaska, apart from its strategic value, is becoming a centre of an important traffic; and as a most picturesque and interesting country is becoming to tourists in America much as Norway is to tourists in Europe.

One thing that I was told about Alaska I found hard to believe. I thought an experiment was being tried upon my credulity when I was assured that the territory of the United States extended farther west from San Francisco than the distance between it and New York on the east. But when I examined the map, and observed the longitude of the most westerly of a long string of islands included in Alaska, I found that what had been told me was literally true. After some hesitation, I decided, on considerations of time, not to go to Alaska. But I have heard much about it. At Long Beach, I met with a Presbyterian minister who had been for ten years a missionary to the natives—a race supposed to be of Japanese origin. The superstitions of the natives were very gross and very cruel, especially in connection with their belief in witches. But in that respect there is a manifest improvement. The United States Government neglected the place utterly for some years after acquiring it, and have only recently begun to attend to it. Its great attraction to tourists, besides the beauty of its shores and islands, is its glaciers and icebergs. The late Principal Forbes of St. Andrews would have enjoyed a rare treat had he known of them and seen them, for they seem to throw no little additional light on the formation and history of glaciers. The trip to and fro is usually performed in about three weeks. Steam-boats go on purpose, and the tourist is carried without trouble from place to place; but no doubt some would like more freedom. Visitors to the Pacific coast would do well to include this excursion in their plans. A more direct starting-point than San Francisco is Victoria, in British Columbia, and this is easily reached by the Canadian Pacific Railway.

I do not think I can bid farewell to San Francisco without saying a word about its cable-cars. For the most part, in other cities cable-cars have been limited to short and easy distances; but now in San Francisco they take the longest and the wildest flights. Yet, a prior one would have said that San Francisco, with its steep and far-extended hills, was utterly unsuited for that form of movement. In the city itself another view has prevailed. The streets are now all alive with them, some running in one direction and some in another, often following each other at intervals of a minute or two minutes, and seldom more than five. Usually two cars are joined together, one open and the other closed—the open one like an Irish car, with low seats running lengthways, making it remarkably easy to get off or on. Till one gets used to the sight, it is like magic to see them bowling along in meek silence, with no visible motive force, this way and that way, backwards and forwards, stopping at the beck of any passenger, white, black, or yellow, and performing every motion with the ease and regularity of the solar system. The marvel is how one rope can stretch so far; how it can turn abrupt corners, climb high hills, scud along crowded streets—all apparently without hitch or accident. Yet so it is. And the result is going to be a great extension of San Francisco in the direction of its high hills. The enterprise of these Californians is a contrast to the slow caution of our people at home; as is also the emotion with which we have to witness the struggles of panting horses to the nonchalance and sense of ease that dominate the cable-car system.

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