The Duke’s Progress: The English Lord’s American Journey
Gallons of ice water. Great gusts of suffocating steam heat. The heiress-hunting Englishman was always being buffeted by extremes in America. Take, for instance, the hotels: so wonderfully luxurious, yet so deeply uncomfortable. The elaborate meals were poorly served, and wine was not a matter of course with dinner. The elegant bedrooms were heated to the point of boiling, the enormous, shiny bathrooms overrun with complex, unmanageable systems of faucets. There were bells, buttons and switches everywhere— but no one to look after His Lordship personally, to meet his own little idiosyncratic needs. And topping it all was the demeaning practice of signing the guest book, where any plebeian might thereafter finger his noble name.
No less confounding were the young American ladies. Never before had the English Lord found himself in such unrestricted contact with unmarried females, hurrying here and there, from one social or sporting activity to the next, with no evidence of adult supervision. It was not the least bit necessary for the Englishman to exercise any rituals of courtship formalities until the very last moment. Although he might perpetually expect the red-faced, indignant parent to appear on the horizon of his lovemaking, none ever materialized. The indignity was, in fact, all his own and from another quarter: he soon discovered that he was only one among many, that the girl in question had a veritable horde of equally favored “admirers.”
The question of the girls aside, the English Lord found that civilized America bored him. True, the famous American openness was preferable to the stilted formalities back home— no one was kept standing in the States, and everyone was free to speak his or her mind. But this very freedom produced a certain blandness. Only occasionally could one enjoy an excited discussion of corruption in government, and there was almost no gossip— no little scandalous stories, no intrigues to titillate and amuse. Of much greater interest was primitive America. “Though one can dine in New York,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “one could not dwell there. Better the far West with its grizzly bears and its untamed cowboys.” (Indeed, the West was so full of aristocratic Englishmen that the famous Antlers Hotel in Colorado Springs had be come known as “little London.”) Thus the wife-hunting English Lord, after a patient review of American heiress strongholds along the Atlantic coast (where he might or might not attend to the business at hand), would head happily west to points wild and unknown. — From “To Marry an English Lord,” 1989
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