II: a word about America.
, in an interesting but rather tart essay, “On a certain Condescension in foreigners,” warns off Englishmen who may be disposed to write or speak about the United States of America
. “I never blamed England
for not wishing well to democracy,” he cries; “how should she?”
But the criticisms and dealings of Englishmen, in regard to the object of their ill-will, are apt, Mr. Lowell
declares, to make him impatient.
“Let them give up trying to understand us, still more thinking that they do, and acting in various absurd ways as the necessary consequence; for they will never arrive at that devoutly to be wished consummation, till they learn to look at us as we are, and not as they suppose us to be.”
On the other hand, from some quarters in America
come reproaches to us for not speaking about America
enough, for not making sufficient use of her in illustration of what we bring forward.
expresses much surprise
that when, for instance, I dilate on the benefits of equality, it is to France
that I have recourse for the illustration and confirmation of my thesis, not to the United States
A Boston newspaper supposes me to “speak of American manners as vulgar,” and finds, what is worse, that the Atlantic Monthly
, commenting on this supposed utterance of mine, adopts it and carries it further.
For the writer in the Atlantic Monthly
says that, indeed, “the hideousness and vulgarity of American manners are undeniable,” and that “redemption is only to be expected by the work of a few enthusiastic individuals, conscious of cultivated tastes and generous desires” ; or, as these enthusiasts are presently called by the writer, “rather highly civilized individuals, a few in each of our great cities and their environs.”
The Boston newspaper observes, with a good deal of point, that it is from these exceptional enthusiasts that the heroes of the tales of Mr. James
and Mr. Howells
seem to be recruited.
It shrewdly describes them as “people who spend more than half their life in Europe
, and return only to scold their agents for the smallness of their remittances” ; and protests that such people “will have, and can have, no perceptible influence for good on the real civilization of America
Then our Boston
friend turns to me again, says that “it is vulgar people from the large cities who have given Mr. Arnold
his dislike of American manners,” and adds, that “if it should ever happen that hard destiny should force Mr. Arnold
to cross the Atlantic
,” I should find “in the smaller cities of the interior, in the northern, middle, and southwestern states, an elegant and simple social order, as entirely unknown in England
, or Italy
, as the private life of the dukes or princes of the blood is unknown in America
Yes, I “should find a manner of life belonging to the highest civilization, in towns, in counties, and in states whose names had never been heard” by me; and, if I could take the writer in the Atlantic Monthly
to see it along with me, it would do him, says his compatriot, a great deal of good.
I do not remember to have anywhere, in my too numerous writings, spoken of American manners as vulgar, or to have expressed my dislike of them.
I have long accustomed myself to regard the people of the United States
as just the same people with ourselves, as simply “the English
on the other side of the Atlantic
The ethnology of that American diplomatist, who the other day assured a Berlin audience
that the great admixture of Germans had now made the people of the United States
as much German as English
, has not yet prevailed with me. I adhere to my old persuasion, the Americans
of the United States
are English people on the other side of the Atlantic
I learned it from Burke
But from Burke
I learned, too, with what immense consequences and effects this simple matter — the settlement of a branch of the English
people on the other side of the Atlantic
— was, from the time of their constitution as an independent power, certainly and inevitably charged.
Let me quote his own impressive and profound words on the acknowledgment of American independence, in 1782:--
A great revolution has happened — a revolution made, not by chopping and changing of power in any of the existing states, but by the appearance of a new state, of a new species, in a new part of the globe.
It has made as great a change in all the relations, and balances, and gravitations of power, as the appearance of a new planet would in the system of the solar world.
As for my esteeming it a hard destiny which should force me to visit the United States
, I will borrow Goethe
's words, and say, that “not the spirit is bound, but the foot” ; with the best will in the world, I have never yet been able to
go to America
, and probably I never shall be able.
But many a kind communication I re. ceive from that quarter; and when one has much discoursed on equality and on civilization, and then is told that in America
a lover of these will find just what suits him, and is invited, and almost challenged, to turn one's eyes there, and to bear testimony to what one beholds, it seems ungracious or cowardly to take no notice at all of such challenges, but to go on talking of equality and civilization just as if America
had never existed.
True, there is Mr. Lowell
Englishmen easily may fall into absurdities in criticising America
, most easily of all when they do not, and cannot, see it with their own eyes, but have to speak of it from what they read.
Then, too, people are sensitive; certainly, it would be safer and pleasanter to say nothing.
And as the prophet Jonah
, when he had a message for Nineveh
, hurried off in alarm down to Joppa
, and incontinently took ship there for Tarshish, in just the opposite direction, so one might find plenty of reasons for running away from the task, when one is summoned to give one's opinion of American civilization.
says that it was a sorry and unworthy calculation, petty human reasonmongering--menschliche Vernunftelei
made Jonah run away from his task in this fashion; and we will not run away from ours, difficult though it be.
Besides, there are considerations which diminish its difficulty.
When one has confessed the belief that the social system of one's own country is so far from being perfect that it presents us with the spectacle of an upper class materialized, a middle class vulgarized, a lower class brutalized, one has earned the right, perhaps, to speak with candor of the social systems of other countries.
complains that we English make our narrow Anglicism, as he calls it, the standard of all things; but “we are worth nothing,” says Mr. Lowell
of himself and his countrymen, “we are worth nothing except so far as we have disinfected ourselves of Anglicism.”
Mr. Hussey Vivian
, the member for Glamorganshire
, goes to travel in America
, and when he comes back, delighted with the country and the people, he publishes his opinion that just two things are wanting to their happiness,--a sovereign of the British
type, and a House of Lords:--
If Americans could only get over the first wrench, and elect a king of the old stock, under the same limited constitutional conditions as our sovereigns, and weld their separate states into one compact and solid nation, many
of them would be only too thankful.
I cannot help suspecting, also, that they would not be sorry to transform their Senate into a House of Lords.
There are fortunes amply large enough to support hereditary rule, and men who will not now enter political life upon any consideration would doubtless do their duty as patriotically as our peers, if not compelled to face the dirt of candidature.
As to aristocratic ideas being foreign to Americans, I do not believe it for a moment; on the contrary, I believe them to be a highly aristocratic people.
I suppose this may serve as a specimen of the Anglicism which is so exasperating to Mr. Lowell
I do not share it. Mr. Hussey Vivian
has a keen eye for the geological and mining facts of America
, but as to the political facts of that country, the real tendencies of its life, and its future, he does not seem to me to be at all at the centre of the situation.
Far from “not wishing well to democracy,” far from thinking a king and a House of Lords, of our English pattern, a panacea for social ills, I have freely said that our system here, in my opinion, has too, much thrown the middle classes in upon themselves, that the lower classes likewise are thus too much thrown in upon themselves, and that we suffer from the want of equality.
Nothing would please me better than to find the difficulty solved in America
, to find democracy a success there, with a type of equality
producing such good results, that, when one preaches equality, one should illustrate its advantages not from the example of the French
, but, as Mr. Higginson
recommends, from the example of the people of the United States
I go back again to my Boston
In towns whose names Mr. Arnold never heard, and never will hear, there will be found almost invariably a group of people of good taste, good manners, good education, and of self-respect, peers of any people in the world.
Such people read the best books, they interpret the best music, they are interested in themes world-wide, and they meet each other with that mutual courtesy and that self-respect which belong to men and women who are sure of their footing.
This is what we want; and if American democracy gives this, Mr. Lowell
may rely upon it that no narrow Anglicism shall prevent my doing homage to American democracy.
Only, we must have a clear understanding about one thing.
This is a case where the question of numbers is of capital importance.
Even in our poor old country, with its aristocratic class materialized, its middle class vulgarized, its lower class brutalized, there are to be found individuals, as I have again and again said, lovers of the humane life, lovers of perfection, who emerge in all classes, and who, while
they are more or less in conflict with the present, point to a better future.
Individuals of this kind I make no doubt at all that there are in American society as well as here.
The writer in the Atlantic Monthly
himself, unfavorable as is his judgment on his country's civilization in general, admits that he can find a certain number of “enthusiastic individuals conscious of cultivated tastes and generous desires.”
Of these “rather highly civilized individuals” there are, he says, “a few in each of our great cities and their environs.”
His rebuker in the Boston
newspaper says that these centres of sweetness and light are rather in the small towns than in the large ones; but that is not a matter of much importance to us. The important question is: In what numbers are they to be found?
Well, there is a group
of them, says the Boston
newspaper, in almost any small town of the northern, middle, and southwestern states.
This is indeed civilization.
A group of lovers of the humane life, an “elegant and simple social order,” as its describer calls it, existing in almost every small town of the northern, middle, and southwestern states of America
, and this in addition to circles in New York and other great cities with “a social life as dignified, as elegant, and as noble as any in the world” --all this
must needs leaven American society, and must surely, if we can take example from it, enable us to leaven and transform our own. Leaven American society it already does, we hear:--
It is such people who keep the whole sentiment of the land up to a high standard.
While the few “rather highly civilized individuals” are hopping backwards and forwards over the Atlantic to learn what is the last keynote which a pinchbeck emperor has decided on, or what is the last gore which a man-milliner has decreed, these American gentlemen and ladies, in the dignity of their own homes, are making America.
It is they who maintain the national credit, it is they who steadily improve the standard of national education.
If Mr. Arnold should ever see them in their own homes, it is they who will show him what is the normal type of American manners.
informant writes so crisply and smartly that one is unwilling to part with him. I can truly say that I would rather read him and quote him than join issue with him. He has seen America
, and I have not. Perhaps things in America
are as he says.
I am sure I hope they are, for, as I have just said, I have been long convinced that English society has to transform itself, and long looking in vain for a model by which we might be guided and inspired in the bringing forth of our new civilization; and here is the model ready to hand.
But I own
that hitherto I have thought that, as we in England
have to transform our civilization, so America
has hers still to make; and that, though her example and co-operation might, and probably would, be of the greatest value to us in the future, yet they were not of much use to our civilization now. I remember, that when I first read the Boston
newspaper from which I have been quoting, I was just fresh from the perusal of one of the best of Mr. James
's novels, “Roderick Hudson
That work carries us to one of the “smaller cities of the interior,” a city of which, I own, I had never heard — the American Northampton
Those who have read “Roderick Hudson
” will recollect, that in that part of the story where the scene is laid at Northampton
, there occurs a personage called Striker, an auctioneer.
And when I came upon the Boston
newspaper's assurances that, in almost every small town of the Union
, I should find “an elegant and simple social order,” the comment which rose to my lips was this: “I suspect what I should find there, in great force, is Striker.”
Now Striker was a Philistine.
I have said somewhere or other that, whereas our society in England
distributes itself into Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace, America
is just ourselves, with the Barbarians quite left
out, and the Populace nearly.
This would leave the Philistines for the great bulk of the nation; a livelier sort of Philistines than our Philistine middle class which made and peopled the United States
--a livelier sort of Philistine than ours, and with the pressure and the false ideal of our Barbarians taken away, but left all the more to himself, and to have his full swing.
That this should be the case seemed to me natural, and that it actually was the case, everything which I could hear and read about America
tended to convince me. And when my Boston
friend talks of the “elegant and simple social order established in almost every small town in America
, and of the group, in each, of people of good taste, good manners, good education and self-respect, peers of any people in the world,” I cannot help thinking that things are not quite so bright as he paints them, and so superior to anything of which we have experience elsewhere; that he is mixing two impressions together, the impression of individuals scattered over the country, real lovers of the humane life, but not yet numerous enough or united enough to produce much effect, and the impression of groups of worthy respectable people to be found in almost every small town of the Union
, people with many merits, but not
yet arrived at that true and happy goal of civilization, “an elegant and simple social order.”
We, too, have groups of this kind everywhere, and we know what they can do for us and what they cannot do. It is easy to praise them, to flatter them, to express unbounded satisfaction with them, to speak as if they gave us all that we needed.
We have done so here in England
These groups, with us, these serious and effective forces of our middle class, have been extolled as “that section of the community which has astonished the world by its energy, enterprise, and self-reliance, which is continually striking out new paths of industry and subduing the forces of nature, which has done all the great things that have been done in all departments, and which supplies the mind, the will, and the power for all the great and good things that have still to be done.”
So cry the newspapers; our great orators take up the same strain.
The middle-class doers of English race, with their industry and religion, are the salt of the earth.
“The cities you have built,” exclaims Mr. Bright
, “the railroads you have made, the manufactures you have produced, the cargoes which freight the ships of the greatest mercantile navy the world has ever seen!”
There we have their industry.
comes the praise of their religion, their own specially invented and indomitably maintained form of religion.
“Let a man consider,” exclaims Mr. Bright
again, “how much of what there is free and good and great, and constantly growing in what is good, in this country, is owing to Nonconformist action.
Look at the churches and chapels it has reared over the whole country; look at the schools it has built; look at the ministers it has supported; look at the Christian
work which it has conducted.
It would be well for the Nonconformists, especially for the young among them, that they should look back to the history of their fathers, and that they should learn from them how much is due to truth and how much they have sacrificed to conscience.”
It is the groups of industrious, religious, and unshakable Nonconformists in all the towns, small and great, of England
, whose praise is here celebrated by Mr. Bright
But he has an even more splendid tribute of praise for their brethren of the very same stock, and sort, and virtue, in America
The great scale of things in America
powerfully impresses Mr. Bright
's imagination always; he loves to count the prodigious number of acres of land there, the prodigious number of bushels of wheat
The voluntary principle, the principle of modern English Nonconformity, is on the same grand and impressive scale.
“There is nothing which piety and zeal have ever offered on the face of the earth as a tribute to religion and religious purposes, equal to that which has been done by the voluntary principle among the people of the United States
I cannot help thinking that my Boston
informant mixes up, I say, the few lovers of perfection with the much more numerous representatives, serious, industrious, and in many ways admirable, of middle-class virtue; and imagines that in almost every town of the United States
there is a group of lovers of perfection, whereas the lovers of perfection are much less thickly sown than he supposes, but what there really is in almost every town is a group of representatives of middle-class virtue.
And the fruits by which he knows his men, the effects which they achieve for the national life and civilization, are just the fruits, be it observed, which the representatives of middle-class virtue are capable of producing and produce for us here in England
, too, and for the production of which we need not have recourse to an extraordinary supply of lovers of perfection.
“It is such people,” he says, “who keep the whole sentiment of the
land up to a high standard when war comes, or rebellion.”
But this is just what the middle-class virtue of our race is abundantly capable of doing; as Puritan England
in the seventeenth century, and the inheritors of the traditions of Puritan England
since, have signally shown.
“It is they who maintain the national credit, it is they who steadily improve the standard of national education.”
By national education our informant means popular education; and here, too, we are still entirely within the pale of middle-class achievement.
Both in England
and in America
, the middle class is abundantly capable of maintaining the national credit, and does maintain it. It is abundantly capable of recognizing the duty of sending to school the children of the people; nay, of sending them also, if possible, to a Sunday school, and to chapel or church.
True; and yet, in England
at any rate, the middle class, with all its industry and with all its religiousness,--the middle class well typified, as I long ago pointed out, by a certain Mr. Smith
, a secretary to an insurance company, who “labored under the apprehension that he would come to poverty and that he was eternally lost,” --the English
middle class presents us at this day, for our actual needs, and for the purposes of national civilization, with a defective
type of religion, a narrow range of intellect and knowledge, a stunted sense of beauty, a low standard of manners.
For the building up of human life, as men are now beginning to see, there are needed not only the powers or industry and conduct, but the power, also, of intellect and knowledge, the power of beauty, the power of social life and manners.
And that type of life of which our middle class in England
are in possession is one by which neither the claims of intellect and knowledge are satisfied, nor the claim of beauty, nor the claims of social life and manners.
That which in England
we call the middle class is in America
virtually the nation.
It is in America
in great measure relieved, as I have said, of what with us is our Populace, and it is relieved of the pressure and false ideal of our Barbarians.
It is generally industrious and religious, as our middle class.
Its religion is even less invaded, I believe, by the modern spirit than the religion of our middle class.
An American of reputation as a man of science tells me that he lives in a town of a hundred and fifty thousand people, of whom there are not fifty who do not imagine the first chapters of Genesis to be exact history.
, of Birmingham
, found, he says, that “orthodox Christian
people in America
were less troubled by attacks on the orthodox creed than the like people in England
They seemed to feel sure of their ground and they showed no alarm.”
Public opinion requires public men to attend regularly some place of worship.
The favorite denominations are those with which we are here familiar as the denominations of Protestant dissent; when Mr. Dale
tells us of “the Baptists, not including the Free Will Baptists
, Seventh Day Baptists, Six Principle Baptists, and some other minor sects,” one might fancy oneself reading the list of the sects in Whitaker's Almanack
. But in America
this type of religion is not, as it is here, a subordinate type, it is the predominant and accepted one.
Our Dissenting ministers think themselves in paradise when they visit America
In that universally religious country, the religious denomination which has by much the largest number of adherents is that, I believe, of Methodism originating in John Wesley
, and which we know in this country as having for its standard of doctrine Mr. Wesley
's fifty-three sermons and notes on the New Testament.
I have a sincere admiration for Wesley, and a sincere esteem for the Wesleyan Methodist
body in this country; I have seen much of it, and for
many of its members my esteem is not only sincere but also affectionate.
I know how one's religious connections and religious attachments are determined by the circumstances of one's birth and bringing up; and probably, if I had been born and brought up among the Wesleyans, I should never have left their body.
But certainly I should have wished my children to leave it; because to live with one's mind, in regard to a matter of absorbing importance as Wesleyans believe religion to be, to live with one's mind, as to a matter of this sort, fixed constantly upon a mind of the third order, such as was Mr. Wesley
's, seems to me extremely trying and injurious for the minds of men in general.
And people whose minds, in what is the chief concern of their lives, are thus constantly fixed upon a mind of the third order, are the staple of the population of the United States
, in the small towns and country districts above all. Yet our Boston
friend asks us to believe, that a population of which this is the staple can furnish what we cannot furnish, certainly, in England
, and what no country that I know of can at present furnish,--a group, in every small town throughout the land, of people of good taste, good manners, good education, peers of any people in the world, reading the
best books, interpreting the best music, and interested in themes world-wide!
Individuals of this kind, America
can doubtless furnish, peers of any people in the world; and in every town, groups of people with excellent qualities, like the representatives of middle-class industry and virtue among ourselves.
And a country capable of furnishing such groups will be strong and prosperous, and has much to be thankful for; but it must not take these groups for what they are not, or imagine that having produced them it possesses what it does not possess, or has provided for wants which are in fact still unprovided for.
“ The arts have no chance in poor countries,” says Mr. Lowell
. “From sturdy father to sturdy son, we have been making this continent habitable for the weaker Old World breed that has swarmed to it, during the last half-century.”
This may be quite true, and the achievements wrought in America
by the middle-class industry, the middle-class energy and courage, the middle-class religion of our English race, may be full as much as we have any right to expect up to the present time, and only a people of great qualities could have produced them.
But this is not the question.
The question is as to the establishment in America
, on any considerable
scale, of a type of civilization combining all those powers which go to the building up of a truly human life — the power of intellect and knowledge, the power of beauty, the power of social life and manners, as well as the great power of conduct and religion, and the indispensable power of expansion.
“Is it not the highest act of a republic,” asks Mr. Lowell
, “to make men of flesh and blood, and not the marble ideals of such?”
Let us grant it. “Perhaps it is the collective, not the individual humanity,” Mr. Lowell
goes on, “that is to have a chance of nobler development among us.”
Most true, the well-being of the many, and not of individuals and classes solely, comes out more and more distinctly to us all as the object which we must pursue.
Many are to be made partakers of well-being, of civilization and humanization; we must not forget it, and America
, happily, is not likely to let us forget it. But the ideal of well-being, of civilization, of humanization, is not to be, on that account lowered and coarsened.
Now the New York Nation
--a newspaper which I read regularly and with profit, a newspaper which is the best, so far as my experience goes, of all American newspapers, and one of the best newspapers anywhere — the New York
had the other day some remarks on the higher sort of education in America
, and the utility of it, which were very curious:--
In America (says the Nation) scarcely any man who can afford it likes to refuse his son a college education if the boy wants it; but probably not one boy in one thousand can say, five years after graduating, that he has been helped by his college education in making his start in life.
It may have been never so useful to him as a means of moral and intellectual culture, but it has not helped to adapt him to the environment in which he has to live and work; or, in other words, to a world in which not one man in a hundred thousand has either the manners or cultivation of a gentleman, or changes his shirt more than once a week, or eats with a fork.
Now upon this remarkable declaration many comments might be made, but I am going now to make one comment only.
Is it credible, if there were established in almost every town of the great majority of the United States
a type of “elegant and simple social order,” a “group of people of good taste, good manners, reading the best books, interpreting the best music, interested in themes world-wide, the peers of any people in the world,” is it credible, with the instinct of self-preservation which there is in humanity, and choice things being so naturally attractive as they undoubtedly are,--is it credible,
that all this excellent leaven should pro. duce so little result, that these groups should remain so impotent and isolated, that their environment, in a country where our poverty is unknown, should be “a world in which not one man in a hundred thousand has either the manners or cultivation of a gentleman, or changes his shirt more than once a week, or eats with a fork?”
It is not credible; to me, at any rate, it is not credible.
And I feel more sure than ever, that our Boston
informant has told us of groups where he ought to have told us of individuals; and that many of his individuals, even, have “hopped over,” as he wittily says, to Europe
himself describes his own nation as “the most common-schooled and the least cultivated people in the world.”
They strike foreigners in the same way. M. Renan
says that the “United States
have created a considerable popular instruction without any serious higher instruction, and will long have to expiate this fault by their intellectual mediocrity, their vulgarity of manners, their superficial spirit, their lack of general intelligence.”
Another acute French critic speaks of a “hard unintelligence” as characteristic of the people of the United States
--la dure inintelligence
des Americains du Nord
. Smart they are, as all the world knows; but then smartness is unhappily quite compatible with a “hard unintelligence.”
The Quinionian humour of Mr. Mark Twain
, so attractive to the Philistine of the more gay and light type both here and in America
, another French critic fixes upon as literature exactly expressing a people of this type, and of no higher.
“In spite of all its primary education,” he says, “America
is still, from an intellectual point of view, a very rude and primitive soil, only to be cultivated by violent methods.
These childish and half-savage minds are not moved except by very elementary narratives composed without art, in which burlesque and melodrama, vulgarity and eccentricity, are combined in strong doses.”
It may be said that Frenchmen, the present generation of Frenchmen at any rate, themselves take seriously, as of the family of Shakespeare
, and Goethe
, an author half genius, half charlatan, like M. Victor Hugo
They do so; but still they may judge, soundly and correctly enough, another nation's false literature which does not appeal to their weaknesses.
I am not blaming America
for falling a victim to Quinion, or to Murdstone either.
We fall a victim to Murdstone and Quinion ourselves,
as I very well know, and the Americans
are just the same people that we are. But I want to deliver England
from Murdstone and Quinion, and I look round me for help in the good work.
And when the Boston
newspaper told me of the elegant and simple social order, and the group of people in every town of the Union
with good taste and good manners, reading the best books and interpreting the best music, I thought at first that I had surely found what I wanted, and that I should be able to invade the English
realm of Murdstone and Quinion with the support of an overpowering body of allies from America
But now it seems doubtful whether America
is not suffering from the predominance of Murdstone and Quinion herself — of Quinion at any rate.
Yes, and of Murdstone too. Miss Bird
, the best of travellers, and with the skill to relate her travels delightfully, met the rudimentary American type of Murdstone not far from Denver
, and has described him for us. Denver
— I hear some one say scornfully-Denver!
A new territory, the outskirts of civilization, the Rocky Mountains
But I prefer to follow a course which would, I know, deliver me over a prey into the Americans
' hands, if I were really holding a controversy with them and attacking
I am not holding a controversy with them.
I am not attacking their civilization.
I am much disquieted about the state of our own. But I am holding a friendly conversation with American lovers of the humane life, who offer me hopes of improving British civilization by the example of a great force of true civilization, of elegant and simple social order, developed in the northern, middle, and southwestern states of the Union
I am not going to pick holes in the civilization of those well-established States.
But in a new territory, on the outskirts of the Union
, I take an example of a spirit which we know well enough in the old country, and which has done much harm to our civilization; and I ask my American friends how much way this spirit — since on their borders, at any rate, they seem to have it — has made and is even now making amongst themselves; whether they feel sure of getting it under control, and that the elegant and simple social order in the older states will be too strong for it; or whether, on the other hand, it may be too strong for the elegant and simple social order.
then describes the Chalmers family, a family with which, on her journey from Denver
to the Rocky Mountains
, she lodged for
, as those who have read her books well know, is not a lackadaisical person, or in any way a fine lady; she can ride, catch, and saddle a horse, “make herself agreeable,” wash up plates, improvise lamps, teach knitting.
Oh (she says), what a hard, narrow life it is with which I am now in contact!
A narrow and unattractive religion, which I believe still to be genuine, and an intense but narrow patriotism, are the only higher influences.
Chalmers came from Illinois nine years ago. He is slightly intelligent, very opinionated, and wishes to be thought well-informed, which he is not. He belongs to the strictest sect of Reformed Presbyterians; his great boast is that his ancestors were Scottish Covenanters.
He considers himself a profound theologian, and by the pine logs at night discourses to me on the mysteries of the eternal counsels and the divine decrees.
Colorado, with its progress and its future, is also a constant theme.
He hates England with a bitter personal hatred.
He trusts to live to see the downfall of the British monarchy and the disintegration of the empire.
He is very fond of talking, and asks me a great deal about my travels, but if I speak favorably of the climate or resources of any other country, he regards it as a slur on Colorado.
Mrs. Chalmers looks like one of the English poor women of our childhood — lean, clean, toothless, and speaks, like some of them, in a piping, discontented voice, which seems to convey a personal reproach.
She is never idle for one moment, is severe and hard, and despises everything but work.
She always speaks of me as this or that woman. The family consists of a grown — up son,
a shiftless, melancholy-looking youth, who possibly pines for a wider life; a girl of sixteen, a sour, repellant-looking creature, with as much manners as a pig; and three hard, unchildlike younger children.
By the whole family all courtesy and gentleness of act or speech seem regarded as works of the flesh, if not of the devil. They knock over all one's things without apologizing or picking them up, and when I thank them for anything they look grimly amazed.
I wish I could show them “a more excellent way.”
This hard greed, and the exclusive pursuit of gain, with the indifference to all which does not aid in its acquisition, are eating up family love and life throughout the West.
I write this reluctantly, and after a total experience of nearly two years in the United States. Mrs. Chalmers is cleanly in her person and dress, and the food, though poor, is clean.
Work, work, work, is their day and their life.
They are thoroughly uncongenial.
There is a married daughter across the river, just the same hard, loveless, moral, hard-working being as her mother.
Each morning, soon after seven, when I have swept the cabin, the family come in for “worship.”
Chalmers wails a psalm to the most doleful of dismal tunes; they read a chapter round, and he prays.
Sunday was a dreadful day. The family kept the commandment literally, and did no work.
Worship was conducted twice, and was rather longer than usual.
The man attempted to read a well-worn copy of Boston's Fourfold State, but shortly fell asleep, and they only woke up for their meals.
It was an awful day, and seemed as if it would never come to an end. You will now have some idea of my surroundings.
It is a moral, hard, unloving, unlovely, unrelieved, unbeautified, grinding life.
These people live in a discomfort and lack of ease and refinement which seem only possible to people of British stock.
What is this but the hideousness, the immense ennui
, of the life on which we have touched so often, the life of our serious British Philistine, our Murdstone; that life with its defective type of religion, its narrow range of intellect and knowledge, its stunted sense of beauty, its low standard of manners?
Only it is this life at its simplest, rudimentary stage.
I have purposely taken the picture of it from a region outside the settled states of the Union
, that it might be evident I was not meaning to describe American civilization, and that Americans
might at once be able to say, with perfect truth, that American civilization is something totally different.
And if, to match this picture of our Murdstone in other lands and other circumstances, we are to have — as, for the sake of clearness in our impressions, we ought to have — a picture of our Quinion too, under like conditions, let us take it, not from America
at all, but from our own Australian colonies.
The special correspondent of the Bathurst Sentinel
criticises an Italian singer who, at the Sydney Theatre
, plays the Count
in the Somnambula;
and here is the criticism: “Barring his stomach, he is the finest-looking artist I have seen on the stage for years; and if he don't slide into the affections or break the gizzards of half
our Sydney girls, it's a pretty certain sign there's a scarcity of balm in Gilead
This is not Mark Twain
, not an American humorist at all; it is the Bathurst Sentinel
So I have gone to the Rocky Mountains
for the New World Murdstone, and to Australia
for the New World Quinion.
I have not assailed in the least the civilization of America
in those northern, middle, and southwestern states, to which Americans
have a right to refer us when we seek to know their civilization, and to which they, in fact, do refer us. What I wish to say is, and I by no means even put it in the form of an assertion — I put it in the form of a question only, a question to my friends in America
who are believers in equality and lovers of the humane life as I also am, and who ask me why I do not illustrate my praise of equality by reference to the humane life of America-what I wish to say is: How much does the influence of these two elements, natural products of our race, Murdstone and Quinion, the bitter, serious Philistine and the rowdy Philistine, enter into American life and lower it?
I will not pronounce on the matter myself; I have not the requisite knowledge.
But all that we hear from America
— hear from Americans
themselves — points, so far as I can see, to a great presence
and power of these middle-class misgrowths there as here.
We have not succeeded in counteracting them here, and while our statesmen and leaders proceed as they do now, and Lord Frederick Cavendish
congratulates the middle class on its energy and self-reliance in doing without public schools, and Lord Salisbury summons the middle class to a great and final stand on behalf of supernaturalism, we never shall succeed in counteracting them.
We are told, however, of groups of children of light in every town of America
, and an elegant social order prevailing there, which make one, at first, very envious.
But soon one begins to think, I say, that surely there must be some mistake.
The complaints one hears of the state of public life in America
, of the increasing impossibility and intolerableness of it to self-respecting men, of the “corruption and feebleness,” of the blatant violence and exaggeration of language, the profligacy of clap-trap — the complaints we hear from America
of all this, and then such an exhibition as we had in the Guiteau trial the other day, lead one to think that Murdstone and Quinion, those misgrowths of the English
middle-class spirit, must be even more rampant in the United States
than they are here.
himself writes, in that very same essay
in which he is somewhat sharp upon foreigners, he writes of the sad experience in America
of “government by declamation.”
And this very week, as if to illustrate his words, we have the American
newspapers raising “a loud and peremptory voice” against the “gross outrage on America
, insulted in the persons of Americans
imprisoned in British dungeons” ; we have them crying: “The people demand their release, and they must be released; woe to the public men or the party that stand in the way of this act of justice!”
We have them turning upon Mr. Lowell
himself in such style as the following: “This Lowell
is a fraud, and a disgrace to the American
nation; Minister Lowell
has scoffed at his own country, and disowned everything in its history and institutions that makes it free and great.”
I should say, for my part, though I have not, I fully own, the means for judging accurately, that all this points to an American development of our Murdstone and Quinion, the bitter Philistine and the rowdy Philistine, exhibiting themselves in conjunction, exhibiting themselves with great luxuriance and with very little check.
As I write from Grub Street, I will add that, to my mind, the condition of the copyright question between us and America
appears to point
to just the same thing.
The American refusal of copyright to us poor English souls is just the proceeding which would naturally commend itself to Murdstone and Quinion; and the way in which Mr. Conant
justifies and applauds the proceeding, and continues to justify and applaud it, in disregard of all that one may say, and boldly turns the tables upon England
, is just the way in which Murdstone and Quinion, after regulating copyright in the American
fashion, would wish and expect to be backed up. In Mr. Conant
they have a treasure: illi robber et es triplex
And no doubt a few Americans
, highly civilized individuals, “hopping backwards and forwards over the Atlantic
,” much disapprove of these words and works of Mr. Conant
and his constituents.
But can there be constant groups of children of light, joined in an elegant order, everywhere throughout the Union
for, if there were, would not their sense of equity, and their sense of delicacy, and even their sense of the ridiculous, be too strong, even in this very matter of copyright, for Mr. Conant
and his constituents?
But on the creation and propagation of such groups the civilized life of America
depends for its future, as the civilized life of our own country, too, depends for its future upon the same
thing;--so much is certain.
And if America
succeeds in creating and installing hers, before we succeed in creating and installing ours, then they will send over help to us from America
, and will powerfully influence us for our good.
Let us see, then, how we both of us stand at the present moment, and what advantages the one of us has which are wanting to the other.
We in England
have liberty and industry and the sense for conduct, and a splendid aristocracy which feels the need for beauty and manners, and a unique class, as Mr. Charles Sumner
pointed out, of gentlemen, not of the landed class or of the nobility, but cultivated and refined.
has not our splendid aristocracy, but then this splendid aristocracy is materialized, and for helping the sense for beauty, or the sense for social life and manners, in the nation at large, it does nothing or next to nothing.
So we must not hastily pronounce, with Mr. Hussey Vivian
, that American civilization suffers by its absence.
Indeed they are themselves developing, it is said, a class of very rich people quite sufficiently materialized.
has not our large and unique class of gentlemen; something of it they have, of course, but it is not by any manner of means on the same scale there as here.
Acting by itself, and untrammelled,
our English class of gentlemen has eminent merits; our rule in India
, of which we may well be proud, is in great measure its work.
But in presence of a great force of Barbarian power, as in this country, or in presence of a great force of Philistinism, our class of gentlemen, as we know, has not much faith and ardor, is somewhat bounded and ineffective, is not much of a civilized force for the nation at large; not much more, perhaps, than the few “rather civilized individuals” in America
, who, according to our Boston
informant, go “hopping backwards and forwards over the Atlantic
, with her needs, has no very great loss in not having our special class of gentlemen.
Without this class, and without the pressure and false ideal of our Barbarians, the Americans
have, like ourselves, the sense for conduct and religion; they have industry, and they have liberty; they have, too, over and above what we have, they have an excellent thing — equality.
But we have seen reason for thinking, that as we in England
, with our aristocracy, gentlemen, liberty, industry, religion, and sense for conduct, have the civilization of the most important part of our people, the immense middle class, impaired by a defective type of religion, a narrow range of intellect and
knowledge, a stunted sense of beauty, a low standard of manners; so in America
, too, where this class is yet more important and all-pervading than it is here, civilization suffers in the like way. With a people of our stock it could not, indeed, well be otherwise, so long as this people can be truly described as “the most commonschooled and least cultivated people in the world.”
The real cultivation of the people of the United States
, as of the English
middle class, has been in and by its religion, its “one thing needful.”
But the insufficiency of this religion is now every day becoming more manifest.
It deals, indeed, with personages and words which have an indestructible and inexhaustible truth and salutariness; but it is rooted and grounded in preternaturalism, it can receive those personages and those words only on conditions of preternaturalism, and a religion of preternaturalism is doomed — whether with or without the battle of Armageddon for which Lord Salisbury is preparing — to inevitable dissolution.
Fidelity to conscience
! cries the popular Protestanism
of Great Britain
, and thinks that it has said enough.
But the modern analysis relentlessly scrutinizes this conscience, and compels it to give an account of itself.
of a conscience?
a true conscience or a false one? “Conscience is the most changing of rules; conscience is presumptuous in the strong, timid in the weak and unhappy, wavering in the undecided; obedient organ of the sentiment which sways us and of the opinions which govern us; more misleading than reason and nature.”
So says one of the noblest and purest of moralists, Vauvenargues; and terrible as it may be to the popular Protestanism
and of America
to hear it, Vauvenargues thus describes with perfect truth that conscience to which popular Protestanism appeals as its supposed unshakable ground of reliance.
And now, having up to this point neglected all the arts of the controversialist, having merely made inquiries of my American friends as to the real state of their civilization, inquiries which they are free to answer in their own favor if they like, I am going to leave the advantage with them to the end. They kindly offered me the example of their civilization as a help to mend ours; and I, not with any vain Anglicism, for I own our insular civilization to be very unsatisfactory, but from a desire to get at the truth and not to deceive myself with hopes of help from a quarter where at present there is none to be found, have inquired whether
really think, on looking into the matter, that their civilization is much more satisfactory than ours.
And in case they should come to the conclusion, after due thought, that neither the one civilization nor the other is in a satisfactory state, let me end by propounding a remedy which really it is heroic in me to propound, for people are bored to death, they say, by me with it, and every time I mention it I make new enemies and diminish the small number of friends that I have now. Still, I cannot help asking whether the defects of American civilization, if it is defective, may not probably be connected with the American
people's being, as Mr. Lowell
says, “the most common-schooled and the least cultivated people in the world.”
A higher, larger cultivation, a finer lucidity, is what is needed.
The friends of civilization, instead of hopping backwards and forwards over the Atlantic
, should stay at home a while, and do their best to make the administration, the tribunals, the theatre, the arts, in each state, to make them become visible ideals to raise, purge, and ennoble the public sentiment.
Though they may be few in number, the friends of civilization will find, probably, that by a serious apostolate of this kind they can accomplish a good deal.
But the really fruitful reform to be looked
for in America
, so far as I can judge, is the very same reform which is so urgently required here — a reform of secondary instruction.
The primary and common schools of America
we all know; their praise is in every one's mouth.
About superior or University instruction one need not be uneasy, it excites so much ambition, is so much in view, and is required by comparatively so small a number.
An institution like Harvard is probably all that one could desire.
But really good secondary schools, to form a due proportion of the youth of America
from the age of twelve to the age of eighteen, and then every year to throw a supply of them, thus formed, into circulation — this is what America
, I believe, wants, as we also want it, and what she possesses no more than we do. I know she has higher schools, I know their programme: Latin, Greek
, German, French, Surveying, Chemistry, Astrology, Natural History, Mental Philosophy, Constitution, Bookkeeping, Trigonometry, etc. Alas, to quote Vauvenargues again: “On ne corrigera jamais les hommes d'apprendre des choses inutiles!”
But good secondary schools, not with the programme of our classical and commercial academies, but with a serious programme — a programme really suited to the wants and capacities of those who are to be
trained — this, I repeat, is what American civilization in my belief most requires, as it is what our civilization, too, at present most requires.
The special present defects of both American civilization and ours are the kind of defects for which this is a natural remedy.
I commend it to the attention of my friendly Boston
critic in America
; and some months hence, perhaps, when Mr. Barnum
begins to require less space for his chronicles of Jumbo, my critic will tell me what he thinks of it.
A word more about America