San Francisco History

Chambliss' Diary

Chapter XVII.

THE first person I had the honor of meeting on Australian soil was the elder Miss Wilson. She came down to the wharf, accompanied by several of her relatives and friends, whose guest she was in Sydney, to meet her father and mother and Miss Anna upon their arrival.

After the usual family greetings had been exchanged all around, Miss Anna sent for me, and introduced me to her sister and her friends, and told them about my having taught her to steer the ship during the voyage. The old folks, having recovered entirely from their sea-sickness, were as jolly as the young ladies. The result of all this was that I received a very cordial invitation to call. When Miss Anna said "good-by," as the pleasant party were leaving the ship, she repeated the invitation that her mother had already extended, and added: "We will be at home this evening, and will expect you at eight."

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, in the way of courtesy, that a young man appreciates as much as he does an invitation to call on a young lady, especially a pretty one. Imagine one's self a stranger on his first visit to a city that is situated on the opposite side of the earth to that of his own home, and the appreciation of an invitation extended in the very best form by persons of unquestionable refinement can be better understood than explained.

When Quartermaster Hearne relieved me on deck at six o'clock that evening, I went to Mr. Hart and explained to him that I desired permission to go ashore. The first officer, in his bluff, good-natured way, bade me "go ahead." Two hours later I alighted from a cab in front of a handsome residence fronting on Sydney's beautiful park, known as the Palace Gardens. The dignified butler bowed courteously as he opened the door and extended a dainty little enameled card receiver. He read the name on the card, looked at me in a knowing way, and ushered me into the parlor, at the door of which I was met by two lovely young ladies in beautiful evening costume.

Talk about transformations! Why the scene in Faust is scarcely a circumstance to the change that the low-necked gown with puffed abbreviated sleeves, and French coiffure made in Miss Anna's appearance, after my having known her only in a gray traveling suit and yachting cap, suitable for rough wear on board a passenger steamer. Both she and her sister were strictly proper in the matter of dress, as well as in everything else. They had been trained up in that by their mother, who belonged to that particular class of society which Dickens speaks of as the most desirable class for a person to be identified with. I do not recall Mr. Dickens' exact words, but the impression that I got from reading his version of what constituted the best element of society, was that he meant persons who believed in and lived right up to the very highest code of moral law: the natural law which the God of civilized man made after his own ideas, and a copy of which he presents to each good mother--to be--that she may begin in time to learn to impart its beautiful sentiments (some persons call it conscience) to that portion of the coming generation for whose training she is to be responsible, and for whose acts she may be held accountable on the day of our final reckoning.

This beautiful living picture,--two young ladies in faultless reception attire, standing just inside the door, with the tastily arranged parlor forming a most appropriate background,--which I beheld as I entered, convinced me at first glance that I was in a home of rare culture and refinement. It was not the mere fact that the ladies were pretty, and tastily dressed, and the house so well arranged, which reminded me so much of the homes of my relatives and friends in that beautiful part of the South called Mississippi, where my dear mother and father, and their parents and grandparents before them on both sides of the house were born and raised,--where refinement, culture, and pure hospitality are, to this very day, the three principal factors in that which is called the pride of the Southerners' heart,--it was the atmosphere of purity that the perfect lady creates in the home.

When the two ladies greeted me, the elder sister came first, and extended her pretty little hand in a way that reminded me of an old and beautiful custom, the origin of which I have no authentic record.

To kiss a lady's hand on entering her house, and on taking leave of her, is a mark of respect that is always due to the gentle sex, in polite society.

When I speak of the gentle sex, I certainly do not include Attorney Clara Foltz or any of her clique, or any similar clique of women who are dissatisfied with nature for having created them females instead of males.

Mannish women are not very gentle. Just think of it! What! Kiss a hand which has filed charges, counter charges, demurrers, and other vulgar type-written documents in murder cases, bigamy cases, divorce cases, and other hideous litigations! Excuse me! I should as lief kiss the right fore paw of a grizzly bearess.

I thank God, however, that my lady friends are not like Laura de Force Gordon, or Clara, of the Portia Lawd-help-us Club.

DOCTOR H. B. SOLTAN. The great advocate of common sense principles for the government of society. Also one of the few society leaders who refuse to cater to the Parvenucracy.

When I see a masculine female, it always reminds me of those effeminate supposed-to-be men, like Mr. Wil-per-force, Mr. Addie Mizner, Mr. Nosegrave, and such highly perfumed mistakes-of-nature as Oscar Wilde is said to be.

The hostess, whose husband was a cousin to the young ladies, and bore the same name, after welcoming me and bidding me make myself at home, excused herself, saying: "I will leave you with the young people for a little while, and let Anna show you the pictures."

There were four portraits in Mrs. Wilson's collection that I was astonished to see in an English lady's house; but my astonishement took the form of a pleasant surprise when Miss Anna told me that Mrs. Wilson was a native of Virginia; Mr. Wilson having met her there soon after the Civil War, when they fell in love and got married, and sailed for Australia. This accounted for the presence in an English house of portraits of Washington, Lee, Davis, and Grant.

When I told Mrs. Wilson that I was a native of Mississippi, and who my father was, I was invited to consider her home as my own while the Mariposa remained in Sydney; and she concluded by inviting me to be one of her guests at a theater party the following evening at the Royal.

I spent many pleasant evenings at the Wilson home during the next fortnight, and to say that I was sorry to leave Sydney, would convey only an indefinite idea of how I felt on bidding them good-by. Here was a family of citizens whose home was about as near perfect as could be imagined. There are hundreds of just such homes in San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, and, in fact, in all American cities; but their names are never seen over the doors of saloons and poker clubs, and in divorce courts a la Parvenucracy.

As I walked back to the ship that night,--the eve of our departure,--I pondered about as follows: What a vast difference there is between a family of this kind,--to the manor born, reared, trained, and educated in all that is just, right, and proper,--and a "family" of typical modern parvenus, born after the fashion of cattle, of parents who knew not their nearest male predecessors, nor cared a cent who or what they were; creatures whose sole claim on the recognition of good citizens rests in a coarse similarity in the formation of the body; creatures possessing absolutely nothing in the line of genuine accomplishments, and whose only acquirements are knavery, presumption, vulgar pretensions, and an unnatural and insatiable desire to grasp that which they know not how to use properly when they get it, and which enables them merely to display their true colors, that all the world may know what they are,--pretenders, ignorant knaves, vulgar upstarts, and arrant snobs, who, being possessed of cyclonic imaginations, instead of natural brains or common sense, pose as "high society," and advertise in the "society" columns of public papers that they are the only citizens entitled to social recognition, when they are, in reality, only pitiable laughing-stock members of Parvenucracy.

Such creatures as these latter answer all criticisms by saying: "We have money enough to pay for complimentary notices--see?"

I sincerely regret the necessity of mentioning the best element of society in the same paragraph with the worst; but, as I have already said, I desire to explain the actual matter-of-fact difference between genuine respectability and the spurious counterfeit so easily recognized at sight.

For further information concerning the last mentioned strata, including names of those who compose it, see the almost daily reports, written by themselves and "edited" and published by their paid "leaders" and special press agents, such as Cooke, Cosgrave, Hume, Greenway & Company, under the headings of "Society."

Here are some samples of Mr. Greenway's reportings of his own "social triumphs," extracted from the papers that he is paid to furnish news for.

Note the originality, the absence of repetitions in the display of headlines, and the modest and unpretentious style of this great "leader" of society, whose versatile ideas of etiquette permit a "perfect gentleman" to clerk for the son of the late ex-saloon keeper Flood; receive commissions from caterers and musicians on refreshments and music furnished for dances for which he charges his friends and other upstarts big admission fees; take orders for small baskets of champagne; take little tips "on the side," like a waiter; pose as leader of cotillions which are participated in by such "society lights" as the Fairs, the Oelrichs, the Mackays, the Delmases, the Goads, the Mizners, the Murphys (Nellie and sisters), the Floods, the Catherwoods, the Crockers (even unto George and the Widow Henryford), the Huntingtons, the Hobbses, the Quack-Nuts, the Joneses, the Cookes, the Birdie Irvings, the "fruit-pickers," and the Lord-knows-who-alls, and then, as if the above were not enough to put to shame even President S. G. Murphy and the entire crew of the First Irishonal Bank (who tried to beat Mrs. Colton out of eight thousand dollars), and the directors of the Pacific and the People's "Home Savings'" Banks, with Dick McDonald and his dishonorable, gluttonous betrayers, Waterhouse and Dorn, thrown in, this great Greenway caps all previous climaxes of parvenu modesty by writing up the "details" of those heterogeneous mixtures, and publishing the same in a daily paper, with as much assurance as if they were legitimate news articles.

I quote extracts:




"More than a Dozen Débutantes Grace the Ballroom at Odd Fellows' Hall, and all of them are Lovely and Alluring Heiresses.


"It has become necessary for the Friday Night Cotillion Club to be more exclusive than it predecessors, for which reason the most rigid rules have been applied as to the admission of anyone without the pale.

"There has not been a winter in San Francisco's history which has introduced so many beautiful girls to society. All of them are heiresses, and some of them are exceptionally so.*

[*Note : Owing to the fact that some of those "alluring heiresses" referred to are daughters of such men as Fair, Crocker, and Flood, Mr. Greenway neglected to tell us how the money which they are supposed to inherit later on was accumulated.]

"In their white gowns, they gave the spectator who could not dance the idea that they were young girls going to first communion. They seemed so happy and yet so tremulous.

THE SELF-MADE SOCIETY LEADER. Mr. E. M. Greenway writing up the details of his own "social triumphs (?)" for the delectation of the Parvenucracy.

"The men, who were in abundance, flocked to them as if they had known them since childhood; for there is a 'certain feeling' among men who dance that the young princesses of society should be welcomed with open arms in order that the dance may go on.

"Next to the stage, at the upper left hand corner, there stood a sideboard from which 'seductive' punches and many-colored lemonades were dispensed between the figures--of the dance.

"Mr. Greenway was the very efficient manager of this most select and enjoyable affair; and, like everything he does, he did it well."

Now, patient reader, what do you think about the above extracts? What do you think of a person who would publish such rubbish in a newspaper and take pay for it besides?

Such modesty is very good proof that public opinion is entirely correct in declaring that when an organization composed of a hundred or two hundred persons inaugurates itself on a foundation composed of the "gall" of its "leader,"--who is a peddler of small orders of wine,--the ill-gotten gains of its male members, the shameless conduct of its female patrons, and the pitiable ignorance of its entire membership, that organization is, to say the least, composed of and governed by a peculiar brand of society.

It is with reference to this class of "society" that I use the word Parvenucracy, which, as I said in the preface, I coined expressly for this subject.

In reviewing the hall gatherings and the alleged private and exclusive "entertainments" of the Parvenucracy, it would be unfair to overlook a certain very important fact,--unfair, I say, yea, unjust and unpardonable, too, for it is the only redeeming feature that real respectability has ever discovered in one of those gatherings: They always have good music. Blanchard, Brandt, Blum, Rosner, Huber, Ballenberg, Hynes, and other soul-stirring artists do what they can to charm and civilize mankind--and the Parvenucracy as well.

That good music has a tendency to soften the prejudices of good society against its worst enemies is an indisputable fact; but it is also a fact that good society is not obliged to cater to its enemies in order to hear good music.

The best orchestra may be secured by polite society, as well as by others, at the same rates--plus the commissions that Mr. Greenway and other leaders of the Parvenucracy demand from the orchestra leaders.

Source: Chambliss, William H. Chambliss' Diary; Or, Society As It Really Is. 1895: New York.  Library of Congress, "California as I Saw It:" First-Person Narratives of California's Early Years, 1849-1900.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License