The British Empire was at its pinnacle when the famous author Rudyard Kipling visited Yellowstone Park in 1889. The 24-year-old Kipling often let his smug superiority show when he wrote about the people and places he saw while touring America that year. Here’s his description of a Fourth of July celebration at Mammoth Hot Springs.
When we struck the Mammoth Hot Spring Hotel, a signboard informed us that the altitude was six thousand two hundred feet. The Park is just a howling wilderness of three thousand square miles, full of all imaginable freaks of a fiery nature. An hotel company, assisted by the Secretary of State for the Interior, appears to control it; there are hotels at all the points of interest, guide-books, stalls for the sale of minerals, and so forth, after the model of Swiss summer places.
The tourists—may their master die an evil death at the hand of a mad locomotive!—poured into that place with a joyful whoop, and, scarce washing the dust from themselves, began to celebrate the Fourth of July. They called it “patriotic exercises,” elected a clergyman of their own faith as president, and, sitting on the landing of the first floor, began to make speeches and read the Declaration of Independence. The clergyman rose up and told them they were the greatest, freest, sublimest, most chivalrous, and richest people on the face of the earth, and they all said Amen. Another clergyman asserted in the words of the Declaration that all men were created equal, and equally entitled to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
I should like to know whether the wild and woolly West recognizes this first right as freely as the grantors intended. The clergyman then bade the world note that the tourists included representatives of seven of the New England States; whereat I felt deeply sorry for the New England States in their latter days. He opined that this running to and fro upon the earth, under the auspices of the excellent Raiment, would draw America more closely together, especially when the Westerners remembered the perils that they of the East had surmounted by rail and river. At duly appointed intervals the congregation sang ‘My country, ’tis of thee,’ to the tune of’ God Save the Queen’ (here they did not stand up) and the’ Star-Spangled Banner’ (here they did), winding up the exercise with some doggerel of their own composition to the tune of ‘John Brown’s Body,’ movingly setting forth the perils before alluded to. They then adjourned to the verandahs and watched firecrackers of the feeblest, exploding one by one, for several hours.
What amazed me was the calm with which these folks gathered together and commenced to belaud their noble selves, their country, and their ‘institootions’ and everything else that was theirs. The language was, to these bewildered ears, wild advertisement, gas, bunkum, blow, anything you please beyond the bounds of common sense. An archangel, selling town-lots on the Glassy Sea, would have blushed to the tips of his wings to describe his property in similar terms. Then they gathered round the pastor and told him his little sermon was ‘perfectly glorious,’ really grand, sublime, and so forth, and he bridled ecclesiastically. At the end a perfectly unknown man attacked me and asked me what I thought of American patriotism. I said there was nothing like it in the Old Country. By the way, always tell an American this. It soothes him.
Then said he: ‘Are you going to get out your letters—your letters of naturalization?’
‘Why?’ I asked.
‘I presoom you do business in this country, and make money out of it—and it seems to me that it would be your dooty.’
‘Sir,’ said I sweetly, ‘there is a forgotten little island across the seas called England. It is not much bigger than the Yellowstone Park. In that island a man of your country could work, marry, make his fortune or twenty fortunes, and die. Throughout his career not one soul would ask him whether he were a British subject or a child of the Devil. Do you understand?’
I think he did, because he said something about ‘Britishers’ which wasn’t complimentary.
— Pages 70-72 in Rudyard Kipling, From Sea to Sea, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1914.
— Photo from the Yellowstone Digital Slide File.
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One thought on “A Tale: An Englishman Describes the Fourth of July at Mammoth Springs — Rudyard Kipling, 1889”
Thanks, Mark, this was all quite interesting. Kipling was obviously an extremely superior Britisher! Deanna