« ZurückWeiter »
BY HENRY SEDLEY,
Editor of the "New York Round Table."
SIR JOSHUA REYNOLDS, in his "Discourses," draws a curious picture of a meeting between a European and a Cherokee Indian. The European has cut off his beard and put false hair on his head, or bound his own hair in hard knots totally unlike nature; he then, having stiffened the mass with the fat of hogs, has covered the whole with flour, regularly laid on by a machine. In this guise he sallies forth and meets the Cherokee, who has bestowed as much time at his toilet, and daubed his face with red and yellow ochre, and has otherwise ornamented his person in the manner he thinks most becoming. Now, says Sir Joshua, whoever of these two despises the other for his attention to the fashion of his country; whichever first feels himself provoked to laugh is the barbarian. There is a truth and delicacy in the picture which people of refinement must acknowledge, and yet to assent to its inference is to fly directly in the face of conventionality. Those who have studied the character of the North-American Indian and who also know something of that of the modern European, would not hesitate an instant in resolving the great painter's problem. Nothing could induce an average Indian to express astonishment, although his reserve would be due to respect for himself rather than for the stranger thus encountered. Nothing, on the other hand, could restrain an average European from expressing surprise, and probably contempt, for attire or manners different from his own. Are we, therefore, to hold that the European is the barbarian and the Indian the civilized man? The conclusion seems unavoidable, and yet, of course, it is reductio ad absurdum. It forces us either to pronounce Sir Joshua's principle unsound or imperfectly expressed. If we assume that what was meant by barbarian was impolite man, the matter is simple enough. NorthAmerican Indians were often a great deal more like gentlemen than most shopkeepers are in the most civilized countries in the world; and probably the same may be said of Arabs and other uncivilized or barbarian races of the Old World. The truth is, that civilization in its accepted sense is not necessarily accompanied in its progress by good breeding, although it suits civilized people to maintain the contrary. Those who are most conventional, not those who are least so, are the
ones who ridicule whatever strikes them as strange-i.e., different from themselves. Ridicule, however, does not necessarily imply antipathy, Antipathy, indeed, frequently although it generally provokes it. betrays, as Hazlitt and others have said, a secret affinity. It is in a blending of the two that we have to seek for the origin of much of the common prejudice of Americans against Englishmen, and also, although in a different ratio of the parts, for that of the prejudice of Englishmen against Americans.
There are, undoubtedly, many complicated elements to be taken into account beside. A parent state and a powerful offshoot are likely to cherish jealousies, however unphilosophical, for various obvious reasons. The new country resents the exercise or tradition of authority and the implication of inferiority, which in such cases are prominent in history or the immediate present. She has a certain envious dislike for the social symmetry, the mellow literature, the perfected establishments, the venerable architecture, the hallowed associations which cluster around places and names in the mother-land, even while she half-pettishly claims a share in the honour and glory of them. The old country views with uneasiness the rapid growth and youthful arrogance of her junior, and is apt to forget the credit due to begetting so strapping an offspring, in doubt as to what growing strength and imperfect experience may haply tempt her to do. To these considerations, in the Anglo-American instance, must be added those religious and political divergences which have unhappily done so much at times to embitter, one towards the other-the two great branches of a common race. Physiological differences arising from more material things, that is to say, from diet and climate, have also had their share in stimulating aversion. An amusing exemplification of this is furnished by the late Mr. Hawthorne, who, although no Puritan, was otherwise a New Englander to the backbone. He was enthusiastic in his admiration of "Our Old Home," but not of those who now live in it. The climate of New England is attenuating, and in a few generations dries the substance of even the brawniest English Stock. Yankees, therefore, usually think people gross who have an ounce of superfluous flesh about their bones, and Hawthorne strikingly illustrated the prejudice when writing of England and the English. His whole book was coloured by this particular tinge. His love of nature and of antiquity were sufficiently catholic. Everything, indeed, in the old country was beautiful in his eyes except her people. On the whole, however, the ridicule which has sprung from conventional oppositeness, the resentment to which this has given rise, and the antipathy which comes of affinity
ar, or have bee, the prolific sources of international prejudice between the countries.
Among these conventional diversities one which widely provokes ridicule, and in this case also dislike, is that of pronunciation or accent between the two peoples. Americans of the common type almost always fancy that the speech of an educated Englishman is affected. The national distaste for personal peculiarities which mark a distinction from the general mass has been observed by De Tocqueville and other travellers, and is partly ascribable to democratic influences. A high degree of purity or syntactical precision being unattainable by the majority is conscquently disliked by them; and the explanation that such a thing has its source in a certain pretentiousness is therefore eagerly accepted. The eminent philologist, Mr. Marsh, claims that current American pronunciation of the common tongue is more accurate and exact than that of the English; and that what is considered by foreigners a disagreeable drawl, arises in truth from a full or diphthongal sound of the vowels. The objection, however, to which I refer applies to syntax as well as to orthoëpy, and the speech of an Englishman of the upper classes is, perhaps, as displeasing to many American ears as is the dropping of the h and the transposition of the v and w to the same ears as heard from the Cockney.* Perhaps these observations should fairly be put in the past tense, as the distinctions to which they refer are much less perceptible than they were twenty years ago. So many Americans have been in England, and so many Englishmen have been in America since the days of Jefferson Brick, Pogram, and Colonel Diver, that Mr. Dickens will scarcely recognize his old acquaintances now, even should he meet them at all. To this increased intercommunication, in fact, must those who desire to see a greater warmth of friendship and closeness of sympathy between the branches of the common family look for the gradual accomplishment of their wishes. It is safe to say in spite of prejudices, and in spite of demagogues who strive to inflame them, and dunces who, through ignorance, assent to such teachings, that the more the inhabitants of the two countries intermingle, the better they will like each other; since it is clear that the greater part of their mutual prejudices originate in want of knowledge.
A whimsical evidence that the Anti-English feeling in the United
* I shall not easily forget the amused indignation of an Englishwoman of my acquaintance at being told by an American sister (who had been presented to her after having heard my friend speak), that she "knew she was English by her accent"—as if she had been a foreigner.
States is an affair of names, not of things, of sound rather than of substance, is found in the readiness with which Americans encourage artists of English birth, and gravely assume, after a time, that they are of indigenous production. Thus, Miss Phillips, a favourite contralto; Mrs. Lauder, an actress, who has essayed, with some success, to follow in the footsteps of Madame Ristori; Mr. Sothern, the clever farceur; and Mr. Edwin Booth, a tragedian whose unfortunate name has not deprived him of popularity, are universally claimed as Americans, although each of them is, in fact, of English birth and parentage. Malle. Adelina Patti is likewise credited to Yankee-land, although as pure an Italian as Ristori herself. Literary, political, and artistic parallels to this are not wanting in England, although the practice does not, so far as I know, extend to the perversion of fact respecting nativity. Lyndhurst, West, and Leslie are scarcely thought of in the old country as Americans, and Washington Irving is not the only writer who, on achieving English popularity, has been claimed as English in style, quality, and sympathies, even when his western extraction has been admitted. Americans, on the other hand, never forget the claims of their country as the birth-place of these distinguished persons, and are by no means pleased when it is ignored by their cousins over sea. It was diverting during the late civil war, when a general on either side happened to distinguish himself, to sce how quickly he was claimed in the British Islands, if not positively as of English, Scotch, or Irish birth, as of a direct and immediate descent from a good old stock in one of the three kingdoms; and it has afforded me no little amusement at times to observe how Americans, when they take an Englishman for a countryman, and say so, always manifestly expect the mistake to be regarded as a compliment-just as Englishmen do on making the same mistake about an American. All this is natural enough and not disagreeable; showing conclusively as it does, despite all our bickerings, how many and close are the bonds of affinity which still unite us.
It is greatly to be regretted, for the sake of international goodwill as well as for that of knowledge in general, that Mr. Buckle did not live to pay his intended visit to the United States, and to add a survey of that country to those of England, Scotland, France, and Spain, which are included in his unfinished history. What Americans have most resented at the hands of English writers is being laughed at. Displeasure of this nature will probably never be so acute again, partly because the nation is so much stronger than it was and partly, perhaps, because there is less than there formerly was to laugh at. The weak
proverbially dread ridicule more than the strong, and the country has so far emerged from its nonage and provincialism as to present fewer salient points to be seized upon by the satirist. There are still, however, some signs of sensitiveness among which the general tone of the press respecting Mr. Dickens's former visit to the country, and his subsequent descriptions of American scenes is quite noticeable. The press would seem to wish to establish the theory that the novelist is or ought to be very much ashamed of those youthful caricatures, and that he is to be received on a basis of contrition and atonement.
Now the "American Notes" are weak, and unworthy of their author; but the American sketches in "Martin Chuzzlewit" are among the cleverest and truest things he has ever written. The satire was richly deserved, well applied, and has done a great deal of good. To claim that it was mere burlesque and exaggeration, is sheer nonsense, and it is highly disingenuous to deny the existence of the absurdities upon which it was founded. Moreover, the popular implication that there is really nothing now in the country justly to provoke a smile-to urge with so much complacency that we have changed all that argues the continued existence of not a little of the same thinskinned tetchiness, the same inability "to see ourselves as others see us," which made us so legitimate a target before. We have improved very much indeed in some respects, no doubt; but the materials for humorous description and caustic satire still exist in appreciable abundance.
The effects of such satire, however, although wholesome, are, of necessity, comparatively superficial. Had Mr. Buckle consummated his purpose, good might have been done of a different kind. Treating the subject, as he doubtless would have treated it, in a philosophical spirit, he would have shown how, for ethnological, climatic, and physiological reasons, as well for theological, political, and social ones, the English race has been modified, changed, and subjected to dissimilar springs of development in its new home from those that affected it in its old one. By thus pointing out the laws which have made these mutations inevitable he would have led Englishmen on both sides of the Atlantic to regard each other with a larger measure of appreciation and toleration. For even the stupid will learn to tolerate differences from themselves which they see are produced by the action of immutable laws, and which, consequently, cannot be attributed to caprice or wilfulness, or even to individual volition at all. Show Englishmen that a given number of themselves, subjected to certain similar conditions, will inevitably become what Americans now