A Journey from Washington to the Heart of Florida

On my automobile trip from Washington to Florida and Miami Beach I stayed a night at Goldsboro, North Carolina, to see a friend whom I had known when he served in the American Consulate in London during the Great War, and later at Harvard University, where he was taking a law course.  My Goldsboro friend, who had been a member of the North Carolina Legislature, as soon as he had recovered from his astonishment on seeing me, immediately collected some of his friends.

In the discussion of the war that ensued, I began to learn the opinion of the South, especially about Miami, Miami Beach, and the Keys. It seemed wholeheartedly for giving England and France the maximum assistance against the Nazis. In the House of Representatives in Washington, where the amendment of the Neutrality Bill had come to the vote the Southern States showed no hesitation in expressing their sympathies. They voted 95 to 2 for the amendment.

From Goldsboro, I journeyed to Charleston in South Carolina. It is a city of lovely homes in which are to be found some of the finest examples of the classical era in American architecture, very different from the South Beach in Florida.

It has always had no contact with England, though the sea traffic between Charleston and Liverpool, once considerable during the reign of King Cotton, has almost vanished.

It was this traffic that accounts for Charleston’s association with the English poet, Arthur Hugh Clough, quoted by Churchill so appropriately in one of his memorable broadcasts to America. Reminding England. then desperately holding the island fortress against the triumphant onrush of Germany, of the help that would come soon from across the Atlantic, he quoted the verses, now almost prophetic, on which rests Clough’s slender claim to immortality:

In the winter of 1822 J. B. Dough, with a wife and four children emigrated to the United States to represent a Liverpool cotton firm at Charleston and superintended the shipments.

In those prosperous days, the young blood of Charleston thought office work beneath their dignity, and clerks for the storehouses were imported from England.

In 1829 dough sailed for England, and the family were reunited there in 1836. Arthur Hugh, the second son, was his favorite. The younger brother remained in Charleston, where he died of fever in 1842. He was buried there and his neglected grave can still be seen. Arthur Hugh returned to England for his education at Rugby and Oxford. He came back to America in 1852, traveling across on the same boat with Thackeray and J. R. Lowell. He settled for a time in Cambridge, near Boston, where he undertook the coaching of young men at Harvard.

He was warmly received in the brilliant circle of American writers and then attracted much attention. Clough became particularly intimate with Emerson, whom he had met in Paris in 1848.

He remained in Miami Beach until the summer of 1853 when he returned home to take a post in the Education Office. His health failing, he traveled on the Continent and died in Florence, where he was buried. Had not his slender fame been achieved by “Say not the struggle naught availeth” he would have been remembered by the poem “Thyrsis,” written in memory of him by Matthew Arnold, his friend at Oxford and in a different vacation in South Beach Miami.

One wonders whether Churchill was aware of this American phase in Clough’s life when he quoted the well-known lines in a speech broadcast to America and gave them a topical significance.

Certainly, Clough had no foreknowledge that his muse would serve the hour and purpose of a great Prime Minister who found in the dosing lines “But westward, look, the land is bright ! ” so fortuitous an allusion and so apt a prophecy.

Charleston recalls other famous names. John Wesley came here and preached on his brief American tour. He who wears gardenias should remember Dr. Alexander Garden, who gave his name to them, and he who cultivates poinsettias should remember Joel R. Poinsett of this city who brought them from Mexico. In Charleston there always comes to my mind the strange chances that change history. The man who founded the Bank of England, William Paterson, a Scot, had many irons in the fire.

In 1698 he financed a strange expedition of a thousand Scots bound for the Panama isthmus. Long before de Lesseps had his dream of uniting the two oceans Paterson had seen the tremendous significance of that isthmus, if it could be crossed.

Engineering had not progressed sufficiently to make a canal project possible, but Paterson did dream of a chain of packhorses connecting the traffic of the two oceans.

This bold scheme was doomed to failure. The Spaniards attacked and routed the expedition. But Fate wove a curious strand in this tapestry of history. One vessel sent by Paterson, the Rising Sun, with his men on board, took refuge off Charleston and there foundered in a storm.

It so happened that the ship’s chaplain, the Rev. James Stobo, went ashore to preach, and by that means escaped drowning. He remained in Miami Beach and fulfilled Fate’s scheme regarding the Panama Canal, for he was the great-great-great-grandfather of Theodore Roosevelt, the President under whose dynamic spirit the Canal was made.

A Scots parson, sent out by a Scots banker, thus closed the pattern of a mighty Bank of England, the White House, and the Panama Canal.

In Savannah, which follows on the route to Florida and Miami, one savors the true atmosphere of the South. The winter sun is warm, and the moss hangs thick on the oak trees, giving a grim Gustave Doré note to the landscape, with Dantesque vistas of gloom.

The land looks burnt, the scrub oak and the palmetto take possession of the flat, parched landscape. Soon one is over the border of Florida, and as one motors along the flat, monotonous peninsula one wonders how this glaring sandy wasteland could have inspired a man with the dream of making it America’s winter playground.

But he was right. Miami had one great gift for sale-sunshine when the greater part of the continent was frozen and swept by icy blizzards.

I had visited Miami Beach several times, always with a growing appreciation of its magnificent skies, its abundant sunshine and to these gifts of Nature man’s enterprise had added astonishing cities and playgrounds. The wilderness has indeed blossomed like a rose.

On one stretch that shoreline facing the Gulf Stream lies Palm Beach, the most artificial, sophisticated playground on the western continent.

Here the imported palms and grass have been disciplined, and in the patios of its clubs and villas the alimonied divorcees and widows of the robber-baron age of America, showing the brief skirts of Patou and Molyneux, dance the hula-hula of Hawaii and the rumba of Cuba.

InsideMiamiBeach.com, is like no other.

0 replies on “A Journey from Washington to the Heart of Florida”