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Chapter 16: Anglomania and Anglophobia

It must always be borne in mind that the range of our alleged Anglomania is not very wide nor its depth very great. It touches mainly a few points of dress and social usage, sometimes caught up foolishly for imitation, but more often wisely. Yet even among the class most charged with it the costliest things, the domestic architecture, the furniture, the internal decorations of houses, are almost all brought from the continent of Europe, not from England; while we go mainly to France for pictures and to Germany for science, very much as if England did not exist. In all this there is properly no element of liking or disliking, but merely the natural impulse of a newer nation to go where there are the best models, and to get the most valuable things. It is an instinct as natural as that which led Robinson Crusoe to visit and revisit the wrecked [117] vessel: he was not paying a compliment to the vessel; he simply desired the things on board. But it is a curious fact that men's likings are usually simpler and less perplexing than their dislikings; and this is true of our national instincts. It is plain enough why we should like or imitate England; but whence comes this vague and widely spread dislike of her? Why is it that our naval officers tell us that they fraternize more cordially in foreign ports with French or Russian naval officers than with English? Why is it that if sane Americans could soberly contemplate the prospect of a war with any nation on earth, there is no question that a war with England would be more popular than any other, in almost all parts of the United States?

Undoubtedly there are many causes. There are the long traditions of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, and the instinctive dislikes towards England of Republican protectionists and of Irish-American Democrats. But it would seem as if, in spite of all these things, blood must be thicker than water, and that even those who are not linked with “the mother-country” by blood must recognize some tie of language, at least at a time when it looks as if that great empire, so aggressive [118] and yet so beneficent, were about to be left to fight its battles single-handed. Possibly it would be so when it came to the point; but the most ominous thing is the fact, lying behind all the condition of affairs, that this covert antagonism is in a manner reciprocal. It is very curious, for instance, to trace through the pages of Matthew Arnold's correspondence, just published, the traces of a profound international distrust pervading his whole life, long before he had ever planned crossing the Atlantic. A man of cold temperament, often narrow, often whimsical, but thoroughly wishing to be just, he can never even compliment an American except with an implied surprise that he should be such a wholly exceptional specimen of his kind. If he thinks well of the offender, it is as some tailor or footman sometimes compliments one of us in London: “You an American, sir? I give you my word of honor I never should have suspected it!” Finally he touches the precise point now at issue when he writes to his mother at the very beginning of our Civil War. “I don't imagine the feeling of kinship with them [Americans] exists at all among the higher classes; after immediate blood-relationship, the relationship of the soul is the [119] only important thing; and this one has far more with the French, Italians, or Germans than with the Americans.” 1 Very well, if this be so, why should Americans not accept the situation, and fraternize more readily with the French, the Italians, or the Germans than with the English?

And if it be said that though kindred may quarrel yet an emergency commonly reunites them, it must be remembered that this was written at the time of our own greatest emergency, the only effect of which was to set these our kindred further off. As the England-loving Motley wrote in those days, “the greatest war of principle which has been waged in this generation at least was of no more importance to her [England], except as it bore upon the cotton question, than the wretched squabbles of Mexico or South America.” 2--We knew that this was true at that time of the aristocratic class and of the literary class; but Mr. Arnold's correspondence gives us a curious illustration how true it was of the middle class also. In the very last year of the Civil War, it seems, a class in the [120] Training College, which Arnold was inspecting, had it as a subject to write an imaginary letter from an English emigrant in America in regard to matters here, “and there is really not one per cent.,” Arnold writes, “who does not take the strongest possible side for the Confederates; and you know from what class these students were drawn.” 3 They were drawn, we may assume, from the lower middle class. This corresponds to all the experience of those who visited England during or soon after the Civil War, to the overwhelming antagonism there existing against the Union cause at a time when we were, in General Sherman's phrase, “expending one thousand million dollars and one hundred thousand lives” to put down the slavery which England had always condemned us for tolerating. Moreover, fortunately or unfortunately, the sympathy of England for secession when manifested came in a form so inadequate and inconsistent that it offended even those whom it meant to befriend, and there is no especial sympathy visible in our Southern States in that direction.

Add to this the long series of insults so [121] ingeniously brought by the Times and the Saturday Review, and by the London penny-a-liners, all studiously working to destroy all English sympathy in the minds of that literary class in America which should be, in case of need, most friendly to England. It is impossible to estimate how much this petty literary antagonism has done to furnish fuel for the so-called “jingo” side in a world where the gospel of turning the other cheek to the smiter is yet imperfectly established. When we speak of England as “isolated” among the nations of Europe is it possible to forget how long the arrogance of the typical Englishman has been isolating itself? Surprise is felt that France, amid the rumors of wars, should turn to Germany, which so lately humiliated her, and should turn from England, which was only an ancient foe. But to find the secrets of this hostility we must look from the publicists to the literary men, who will reveal it. It was the accomplished critic Jules Lemaitre who wrote, a few years ago: “The Frenchman who sets foot in London feels himself weighed down by the contempt of the whole people. All their journals dispel it (Ce mepris, tous leurs journaux le suent). How are we to love those who treat us thus? To give so much of esteem and [122] admiration and receive such scorn in return, this demands of us too much humility or too complete an indifference.” 4

The so-called “jingo” feeling in America — which seems, to the present writer, a peril and an anachronism — will never be fully comprehended except by studying the kindred condition of the French mind, as seen in these words of the most accomplished of French critics. The moral is that nations, like individuals, reap what they have sown; and that if we too do injustice, we may awake too late to the discovery that we must pay the price.


1 Letters, I., 182.

2 Motley's Correspondence, I., 373.

3 Letters, I., 285.

4 Les Contemporains, IV., 299.

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