IT is curious to stand on the deck of a crowded steamer, as she is passing through the "Golden Gate" and entering the noble harbor of San Francisco. There are a few returning Californians, who are pointing out every object of interest with which they were formerly familiar; but the majority of the passengers are gazing with earnestness on the untried scene which is to them but the land of promise. Most of them have come as adventurers to that new home, and the result is yet to show whether any of their expectations are ever to be realized. Some are coming to retrieve broken fortunes, and, instead of reaping the golden harvest, how many will find a grave in the already crowded cemetery of San Francisco--dying, "strangers in a strange land"--or else be glad, in. a few months, to take passage home in some returning steamer! Many are ladies and children, whose husbands and fathers, having succeeded in business, have now sent for their families to join them. We belonged to none of these classes; yet none, probably, looked out with more interest on their future home than we did, when on that beautiful Sunday morning, just as the sun was rising over the distant mountains, we found ourselves entering the harbor.
The first thing which strikes the stranger with surprise, on passing through the streets of San Francisco, is the excellence of the buildings in this city which is little more than five years old. In Montgomery Street, there are massive edifices of granite and brick which would not look out of place in the thoroughfares of our old cities at the East. The first generation of houses was, of course, of the frailest kind--the mere temporary expedient of settlers, and but one remove from the tents in which they had been living. The great fires which desolated the city swept these away--for they burned like tinder--but cleared the ground for more substantial dwellings. Houses were imported from abroad in large numbers. One, of white granite, seventy feet front and three stories high, was prepared in China, the stone all cut and ready to put up. The first company of Chinamen who came out were imported with it, to erect the building. There is a large wooden house, the second story of which projects ten feet over the first, which to one who has been on the Rhine, suggests at once reminiscences of the "Fatherland." It was brought out by some Germans. There is one from Belgium. That large, chateau-looking building, on the hill, just back of the city, came from Prance; it is now occupied as the French Consulate. Every little while you meet with a house half composed of minute panes of glass, which unmistakably show its Chinese origin. Walk through Mission Street, and on each side of the way are neat and pretty cottages--there must be a dozen in all--exactly alike, which were sent out from Boston.
Every month witnesses a striking change in the outward appearance of the city--a change so great that a six months' absence seems to have prepared a new city for one who is returning to it. The high hills are levelled and thrown into the valleys--grading is going on in all directions--finer buildings erecting--and, on every side, the night scarcely brings pause to the busy march of improvement. There is, too, a degree of elegance visible in the manner of life, which would surprise those at the East who look upon California as the outpost of civilization. The day, indeed, is not far distant, when San Francisco will be one of the most luxurious cities in the world. It has, in fact, the greatest natural advantages. Even now the fruits of the tropics and of the temperate zones are united in its markets in a way never seen in any other land.
The whole tone of society is rapidly altering, and one who forms his estimate from the accounts of four years ago, must be widely mistaken. Then the city was composed, almost entirely, of men. There were no accommodations for ladies, and the gentler sex would have been sadly out of place among the hardships which marked those days. Then, we are told, a lady in the street was an object of wonderment, and all stopped and turned round to look at her. The great disproportion between the sexes still continues, though it is rapidly decreasing. At the last census, two years ago, there were about thirty thousand males and five thousand females--a curious and probably unprecedented anomaly. In the usual proportion, there were men enough in San Francisco for a city of one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. The population is now estimated at about fifty thousand. Every steamer brings out ladies and families, domestic ties are forming or renewing, here as elsewhere the softening and refining influence of female society is felt, and San Francisco is rapidly settling down to be like every other civilized city.
There is something about San Francisco which, strange as it may seem, constantly reminds me of Paris. There is a freedom from the stiffness and conventionalities of Eastern cities, and a liveliness not seen there. The splendid cafes and restaurants on every street are always open and filled with company. Families occupy apartments in the foreign style. The population has come together from every civilized nation on the earth, and from some which can scarcely claim that character. Every state in our country is represented, and every nation in Europe. There are thousands of Chinese who occupy streets entirely appropriated to them, and as you see them at their various employments, you could imagine yourself in Canton. Now and then, you see the Asiatic look of the Malays and Hindoos. The islands of the Southern Sea have contributed their proportion. It is curious how near you seem to be to divers odd places which before you have only read about. Placards are up, giving notice of the sailing of ships for Australia and New Zealand. Last week a steamer was advertised to go on a pleasure excursion to the Sandwich Islands, to be absent but thirty days; and this morning, in the post-office, I was quite startled by hearing one of the porters call out,--"Which is the Sandwich Islands mail?"
What most astonishes a new-comer is the scale of prices. When I reached San Francisco, it was at its height. Luxuries commanded a prohibitory price. Apples, for instance, I have often seen at five dollars apiece. Rents were startling. Near my lodgings (in Stockton Street) was a two-story brick house, of about thirty feet frontage, occupied as a boarding-house, which rented for five hundred dollars a month (everything here is by the month).
There were many wooden cottages in the city. At the East they would cost about fifteen hundred dollars each. They were without plaster, linen being stretched across the partitions and then papered. They looked very well, but were highly inflammable. It was owing to the character of these buildings that the city was so often entirely desolated by fires. I never dared to hire one, because I was afraid to trust in it my books and papers.
Another disadvantage was, that you could hear noises from one end of the house to the other. If a child cried in the southeast corner, you heard it in the northwest with as much distinctness as if in the same apartment. And yet, these cottages rented, on an average, for one hundred and twenty-five dollars a month. As it was, I took apartments in a brick building,* erected in the style of the continent of Europe, in suites of apartments with a restaurant attached. Here, I felt tolerably secure from fire, which was quite a consideration, as I was so often absent from town. For a parlor and two bedrooms (unfurnished), I paid one hundred dollars a month. Beside this, of course, meals had to be provided, and a servant to take charge of the rooms.
In a few months I was able to procure a house which had just been erected. It was of timber plastered over in the cheap-eat style, two stories without a garret, twenty-two feet front by thirty feet deep. For this I paid, for the first year, one hundred and seventy-fire dollars a month--more in a year than the whole place would have cost at the East.
The ordinary price for meals is one dollar. In the fashionable restaurants of San Francisco, it is, of course, much more for a dinner, but one dollar is the ordinary price in the smallest country towns throughout the State. Gentlemen are in the habit of hiring rooms in one place and taking their meals at another. The ordinary price for good board in this way, (board alone,) is sixteen dollars a week.
Servants' wages were,--cooks', from seventy to one hundred dollars a month, chambermaids', from forty to seventy dollars, and nurses', five dollars a day. Common laborers were paid three dollars a day, and mechanics much more. A doctor's fee was ordinarily about eight dollars a visit.
Life was not less strange to us in its social aspects, and I can best convey my impressions by following closely the very words of my journal, from which this chapter has been taken. It must, therefore, be understood as written in 1854, soon after my arrival.
"People live by fortnights in California." Such is the remark we heard a short time after we arrived, and every fortnight we spend impresses it upon us. At these intervals of time the steamers arrive and depart, and thus twice a month all the old associations with the East are revived and memories of "home," (as they all call it,) are rekindled.
It is a time of some excitement when the steamers go. On the 1st and 15th of each month, two of these magnificent vessels,--one for the Panama and the other for the Nicaragua route--are lying side by side, ready at noon to set off for their destination. Through the morning they are thronged by thousands taking leave of departing friends. On all sides you hear the greeting,--"So, you are going home?" often accompanied by the wish that the speaker could himself set his face thither-ward. So general are these expressions, that I was quite startled one morning by hearing a gentleman reply, when asked,--"Are you going home?"--"Why should I, when I am at home already!" It was something so different from the usual spirit of California.
Few of those who go, however, expect to remain at the East. There are some, indeed, who have achieved a fortune and depart to settle down in its enjoyment at home." And yet many of these, after trying the experiment, have come back again. They say--"Everything is so tame at the East." They miss, too, this delightful climate, and find the weather too hot in summer and too cold in winter. Although they talk about "home," just as the old English colonists used to, of England, nine-tenths of those now in the country will live and die here. The majority of those who leave on the steamers are merely going on a visit, to return in a few months, or to bring out their families, or on temporary business.
But still greater is the excitement when the steamers arrive. For days beforehand they are looked for and the time of their coming is calculated. If delayed a few days, the community is filled with anxiety, and countless speculations are indulged in, to account for their non-appearance. Friends and relatives are expected, or letters are looked for, and thus everyone has an interest in their coming. To show the amount of correspondence, even at this early day, I will mention, that one mail recently took out sixty thousand letters from the city of San Francisco alone. At length, a gun is heard at "the Heads," followed in a little while by another as the steamer draws near the city, and at once thousands throng down to the wharf. The deck and cabin are soon filled with friends, long-parted, congratulating each other, and at once there is a sensible change over the whole face of society.
It is at the post-office, however, that this excitement is greatest. As soon as the mails begin to open, and for several days after, it is besieged by crowds. To prevent confusion, the direction has been issued, to fall in line in the order of arrival, and consequently, from each of the half-dozen openings for delivery, there extend long lines of men, stretching off into the street and winding around like long serpents. Sometimes there are more than a hundred in each line, and thus one slowly moves up, and, after waiting for hours, finds oneself at the goal, the head instead of the tail of a long series.
Sometimes an impatient man of business pays a handsome sum for the place of a person who has nearly reached the head. A friend told me that he went one morning just before day was breaking, and then found himself No. 11. No. 1 had been there since just after midnight, and when seven o'clock came had the satisfaction of hearing the clerk say, in answer to his inquiry,--"Nothing for you."
Such are some traits of California life. A gentleman described it to me lately very truly, when he said: "Everything here is hurry-skurry. It is like living on curry. But what will the world do for excitement when California settles down?" The active and energetic have thronged hither from all parts of the world, and there is a rush and hurry to grasp sudden fortunes. Blanks in the lottery are of course innumerable, yet they are seldom heard of, while the prizes are published, and are sufficient to keep alive the Lopes of all. Men who five years ago were worth nothing, are now millionaires. The changes in the value of property, are almost incredible. I pass every day a square which five years ago was sold for twelve dollars: it is now worth six hundred thousand dollars. [In Montgomery Street.] It is impossible, therefore, for dwellers in the East to understand the tone of feeling in this city of fifty thousand inhabitants--all brought together in the last few years, and, as yet, without time to form local attachments or associations.
Public morals, however, are improving. A short time ago Sunday was the great business day. Now, the counting houses and more respectable shops close. It is true the theatres are open, and present their highest attractions for that evening,--horse-racing, bear-fighting, etc., are going on, and gambling saloons are in full operation. Still, there has been a great advance. Through the morning, at least, the streets are comparatively quiet, and the churches are well attended. In this respect, Sunday here has somewhat a Continental character. The gambling saloons now are diminishing in number, and are less and less frequented by the higher class of men. Three years ago, gentlemen were here without their families, and had really no other comfortable places to resort to. They slept at their counting houses and offices, and took their meals at eating houses. When night came, the only bright, cheerful looking places, were the brilliantly lighted gambling saloons, where, too, they had splendid music. Here, therefore, they met, and passed the evenings, even when they ventured nothing at the tables. Now, their families are coming out, they are reconstructing their homes, and home feelings are resuming their sway.
Still, there is much, -very much, to be done here, to breast this current of intense worldliness which is sweeping everything before it. In 1852 it was so impossible to procure the conviction of a criminal, that a Vigilance Committee was formed of the first men in San Francisco, who, sustained by public opinion, sat as a private court, forcibly seized prisoners when the public courts would have acquitted them, and hanged them in the streets before assembled thousands. The feeling is still prevalent, that a man must fall back on his right of vindicating himself, and although the duellist is by statute disqualified for public office, this law is a dead letter. The highest public officers have fought, some of them repeatedly, and only last week a member of the Legislature was killed in a duel with a brother member. Public opinion has not yet set its seal of reprobation on such things. As you walk through the streets with one well acquainted with men and matters, he points out to you--"That is the man who killed-----in a duel." "That is Mr.-----who shot-----last winter!" etc. Yet their position, neither socially nor politically, seems much affected by it.
But here, as elsewhere, there is the other side. Here are also the good and the true hearted, the earnest Christian, and those who have retained their fidelity to the principles they learned in their old homes. In no part of the world would the Church, after a time, be better supported. Yet we need the aid of our brethren at the East, till it can be planted in the moral wastes, which now abound throughout this land, and that religious atmosphere can be created, which is to purify and reform these gathering thousands.
I have written this, after reading a letter just received from a friend in England, dated from "Merton College, Oxford," and it is impossible to imagine the contrast to my mind between the "quiet and still air of delightful studios" which breathes through it, coming out at times involuntarily and the rush and hurry of life about me. [Rev. Edmund Hobhouse, Fellow of Merton College, since Bishop of Nelson, New Zealand.] It is strange to look on this exciting scene without sharing in it, being in it yet not of it. My correspondent says--"There is a general rejoicing here at the successful issue of the visit, The Venerable President of Magdalen College, now in his ninety-ninth year, thanked God that he had lived to see the beginning of a union, which (said he) is the most important step that can be effected for the consolidation and strengthening of Reformed Christendom. [Rev. Dr. Routh. He died next year.] He specially rejoiced in your mission, because it recognizes the Bishop as the essential to make a Diocese, and does not allow a Diocese to grow up first, and seek a Bishop afterwards." [Referring to the Delegation of the Church of England to our General Convention in 1853, consisting of Dr. Spencer, ex-Bishop of Madras, Archdeacon Sinclair, and Rev. Earnest Hawkins, Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.]
Another, who is widely known in this country for authorship in Church literature, writes me--"I cannot forbear telling you how much I am interested in the success of your undertaking, and how earnestly I hope that God's blessing may be with you, and that He will grant you the bodily health, and the mental and moral strength, needed for so great and important work. You must be so much occupied now that it seems unkind to ask you to write, yet if you could find a few minutes to tell me something about your future plans, I should be very much interested in hearing them." [Miss Sewell--author of "Amy Herbert," etc., etc.]
Doubly pleasant, indeed, to us who are laboring in this "far-off land," are these proofs of the Unity of the Church!