A Strange Vehicle
an assemblage of Bostonians . . . trampling about in the liquid snow. Many of them were looking up and down; they apeared to be waiting for something. From time to time a strange vehicle drew near to the place where they stood &mdash such a vehicle as the lady at the window, in spite of a considerable acquaintance with human inventions, had never seen before: a huge, low omnibus, painted in brilliant colours, and decorated apparently with jingling bells, attached to a species of groove in the pavement, through which it was dragged, with a great deal of rumbling, bouncing, and scratching, by a couple of remarkably small horses. When it reached a certain point the people in front of the graveyard, of whom much the greater number were women, carrying satchels and parcels, projected themselves upon it in a compact body &mdash a movement suggesting the scramble for places in a lifeboat at sea &mdash and were engulfed in its large interior. Then the life-boat &mdash or the life-car, as the lady at the window of the hotel vaguely designated it &mdash went bumping and jingling away upon its invisible wheels, with the helmsman (the man at the wheel) guiding its course incongruously from the prow. This phenomenon was repeated every three minutes, and the supply of eagerly moving women in cloaks, bearing reticules and bundles, renewed itself in the most liberal manner.
As I lingered at the English-language shelf yesterday in my favorite Brno bookshop, I happened upon this passage. It couldn't be skipped or thrown aside of course, and I had to get the book: Henry James's The Europeans (1878). The novel is described as James's finest effort in articulating the difference between Old and New World society (explains the ever-so-helpful-and-informative Penguin Popular Classics introduction). These contrasts are interesting to read a century later, particularly for an American in Europe, but it was this wonderful description of public transport (on the second page!) that grabbed my attention.
Tags: transportation, books