LONDON AS A SUMMER RESORT
by William Lyon Phelps
I had an interesting conversation with Bernard Shaw last week. The next day he and Mrs. Shaw were leaving to spend the summer on the Riviera, which from time immemorial has been regarded as a winter resort.He gave, as is his custom, an original and diverting explanation of the fact that many now prefer to visit winter resorts in the summer.It is a matter of clothes. The Victorians were forced to go to cool places, or at any rate to avoid warm places; because they were compelled to wear stuffy clothes, the men being encased in frock coats, thick waistcoats, collars and swaddling neckcloths. But today, when one leaves off almost everything, the finest place in the world, according to G. B. S., is a climate where one can live outdoors in comfort, day and night.It is certainly true that many European resorts, where the hotels used to be open only during a short winter season, now attract visitors the year round. The converse is also true.
I can well remember when the great hotels of Switzerland-the playground of Europe-were open only during the summer; and were crowded only during the month of August. But now they never close and are as much sought after in December and January as in the good old summertime. The same is true of Lake Placid in America and of many other places. People in Victorian times were forced to dress according to the prevailing style, which bore no reference to climate or common sense; remember how the women used to look, playing golf and term is!
Furt hermore the old idea that everyone who could afford it must leave the city during the "heated term" has become obsolete, even in America. President Harper of the University of Chicago established a Summer Quarter, and professors who wished to do so could take their three months' vacation in the winter, a privilege that many continue to enjoy. The Country clubs and golf have had much to do with the contentment of business men who remain in cities during the summer. As a matter of fact, the city is not at all a bad place, I mean, of course, for those who can afford to snake themselves comfortable.
The city of Munich has for many years been a Mecca for summer pilgrims. The season of music, arranged for foreign visitors, reaches its climax in August.Now I wish to urge the millions of Americans who at one time or another cross the ocean to consider the merits of London as a summer resort.
For over a hundred years July has been a part of the London "season"; Parliament is in session, operas and theatres are open, and parties flourish amain. The twelfth of August, the opening of the grouse shooting season, is the formal beginning of the vacation; Parliament always adjourns for it, and London society flies north. But to an American London is day by day interesting, and there should be no closing of any season for him.
London has no prolonged hot weather, like St. Louis. It has been said that the English climate consists of eight months of winter, and four months of bad weather.This is an exaggeration. Every now and then there is a year when summer is omitted; but even in such an unfortunate time, one is better off in London than in the country. In fact, to an American London, while not the most beautiful city in the world, is assuredly the most interesting. It is inexhaustible. Every foot of it, to one well read in English literature, is hallowed ground; I think I could walk along Fleet street a thousand days in succession, and always receive a thrill.
I wish that every American journalist, every American book reviewer, every American drama critic, would spend a month in London and diligently read the morning newspapers, such as The Times, The Telegraph, The Morning Post. Every page seems to be written for intelligent readers. These London journalists review tennis, golf and cricket matches with more dignity than the average New Yorker reviews plays and books. One reason that militates steadily against intellectual progress in America is the fact that apparently we have no language suitable as a medium for the exchange of ideas. Our book reviews and our drama criticisms are too often written in a cheap kind of slang that is intended to be smart. If anyone imagines that the journalism of London loses in intensity by being written in suitable English, let him turn to a file of The London Times and read the story of Tilden playing tennis at Wimbledon.
A remarkable thing about literary society in London is that age has nothing to do with it. One meets in social gatherings men and women in the twenties and in the eighties-disparity in years seems to be forgotten.
One should remember that, owing to the small size of England, one can use London as a base of operations and take excursions into the country on the swift English trains, returning to London every evening; many happy, baggageless days have I spent in this manner.
When G. K. Chesterton was in America, I asked him what difference between the two countries impressed him most. Instantly he replied, "Your wooden houses." I had never thought of them as curiosities, but one does not see them in England.The thing that to me is most noticeable on the London streets is the absence of straw hats.There are many more bare male heads than there are straw hats. It is almost impossible to attract attention in London, but a straw hat will come nearest to doing the trick. Some men are exquisitely and others strangely clad, and nobody cares. I saw a man riding a bicycle.He had on tan shoes, homespun trousers, a frock coat, and a tall silk hat.