on a certain humility in Americans.
It has always seemed to me that Lowell
's paper on the condescension of foreigners should be followed by one on the humility of Americans
It may be that we do not make that quality obtrusive when travelling abroad, for there we are frequently stung and goaded out of this fine constitutional trait.
“My dear young lady,” said the kind English clergyman to a certain American traveller in Europe
, “Let me urge you not to make use of that word unless you are willing to be known as an American.”
“But suppose,” said her mother, “that my daughters have no objection to being known as Americans
, what then?”
To this the good man had no answer ready, as it was a contingency he had not foreseen.
In such cases the bruised Yankee
will turn upon his assailant; nor does he always fail to offer the original provocation.
But it is chiefly at home and in our dealings with foreigners that the constitutional humility asserts itself.
It is needless to deny that many or most of our
foreign visitors are persons of fairly good manners.
It was especially to be noticed, in the large company of scientific men who visited the United States
a few years ago, what simplicity and modesty marked the most eminent.
Yet taking a whole year's yield, so to speak, of foreign arrivals, how much discrimination is needed, and how little we make!
There is something admirable in the meekness with which we associate, on equal or even deferential terms, with persons of a far lower grade of courtesy than that to which we are accustomed-provided they come in under the laws of hospitality.
Who has not dined in company with some travelling Englishman, perhaps a man of note, whose manners were so intolerable that, as a Boston woman said lately on one occasion, they justified dynamite?
And who has not lived to see the same person's book of travels, in which he kindly gave his own verdict of approval or condemnation of the society which had made an exception from its general standard of good-breeding when it admitted him?
Who has not heard some English lecturer, while coiling and uncoiling himself into and out of positions of inconceivable awkwardness, dole out elementary lessons on literature and science, as it were in words of one syllable, to audiences which had heard these same themes discussed by Agassiz
And who has not subsequently read that worthy man's
book or magazine essay, in which he perhaps benignantly complimented the intelligence of his audience --an intelligence which he never could fairly compute, since he never found out how it had criticised him. I forget which of these excellent gentlemen it was who gravely recommended to the good people of Boston
a wholly new means of mental improvement-reading aloud in the evening!
What is it that carries us calmly through these inflictions?
No doubt good-nature has something to do with it, and the feeling of hospitality ; but it is also largely due to the tradition of humility, the habit of thinking that light and grace come from Europe
-ex oriente lux
We early overcame this humility in political matters, because it took a race of strong men to free us from the parental yoke, and we recognized their strength; but literature and art and science and refined manners come more slowly, and in these we do not yet trust ourselves.
That was true of our early days which Aulus Gellius
as saying of early Rome
: “Poetry was not held in honor; if any one devoted himself to it, or went about to banquets, he was called a vagabond” (grassator vocabatur
). Hence we were slower to assert ourselves in these finer arts, and when we did, it was with becoming modesty.
It was thought daring in Emerson
to sing of the bumblebee, or Lowell
bobolink; as for Whittier
, who had never even crossed the Atlantic
, how could he sing at all?
Especially in the realm of manners this humility has prevailed.
During the last French Empire it used to be held at Newport
and New York that there was no standard of good-breeding but in Paris
, as if the best-bred American society were not of older tradition as well as better strain than the dynasty of the Napoleons.
The truth is that the finest American manners are indigenous, not imported.
You will find such manners in little towns in Virginia
, where not a person has ever seen Europe
, and where to have been to Philadelphia
or New York is to be a great traveller.
Never have I seen more truly gracious and dignified manners than in the little Boston
of my youth, among ladies mostly untravelled, and speaking no language but their own. The Italian refugee Gallenga
, formerly Mariotti
, has lately borne testimony to their social standard and to the conceited familiarity with which he repaid it. Their bearing would have fully justified such unflinching patriotism as that of Senator Tracy
, of Connecticut
, when, at the end of the last century, the British Minister
expressed his admiration for Mrs. Oliver Wolcott
, of Litchfield, Connecticut
, wife of the Secretary of the Treasury
. “Your countrywoman,” said the Englishman, “would be admired at the court of St.
“Sir,” said the sturdy American
, “she is admired even on Litchfield Hill
There is no occasion for any petty prejudice against European
science or art or literature or manners; all nations can learn of each other, and we as the younger nation have more to learn, in many ways, than to teach.
The nations of Europe
are the elder sons of Time; but the youngest-born are also sons.
It was not mere imitation that gave us Morse
's telegraph, or Bell
's telephone, or Emerson
's books, or Lowell
's speeches, or the American
trotting horse, or those illustrated magazines that are printed for two continents.
I heard the most eminent of English electricians say, a few years ago, that he had learned more of the possible applications of electricity during his first fortnight in this country than in his whole life before.
When I spoke to Mr. Darwin
of the Peabody Museum at Yale College, he said, “Huxley
tells me that there is more to be learned from that museum than from all the museums of Europe
I do not urge a foolish insulation from England
, but only to remember that what we need is not imitation, but growth; that a healthy growth implies a certain self-reliance; and that strength, like charity, begins at home.