previous next

V. The swing of the social pendulum.

The newspapers are constantly satirizing a tendency to Anglomania which is said to prevail just now in American society, or at least in a few cities and watering-places along the Atlantic shore. It is not habitually mentioned that this is but a swing of the same pendulum which seemed, twenty years ago, to be swinging the other way, and carrying us away from everything English and towards everything French. The same pendulum has been steadily vibrating, indeed, ever since the foundation of our government, and its movements have never had any great or important influence upon the mass of the American people. Be this as it may, it is perfectly certain that the whim in fashion thirty and even twenty years ago was quite unlike what it now is. Good Americans were said, when they died, to go to Paris, and even the wit of Tom Appleton never ventured to suggest that they should go to London. At Newport it was for many years held essential to do things in the French way, not the English. It was at the French court that fashionable [23] Americans yearned to be presented; they uniformly preferred to live on the other side of the English Channel; and I remember to have had this explained to me by a man of some fashion, on the ground that if an ambitious American family lived in Paris they were not vexed at being omitted from this or that entertainment of the nobility; whereas in England, where their own language was spoken, that sort of omission chafed them far more. The reason thus assigned may have been flimsy, but the fact recognized was important; it indicated a period when French standards, not English, prevailed in our more fashionable society. The change coincided with the fall of the French Empire. While that prevailed, it was the smile of the emperor, not of the Prince of Wales, which gave distinction and currency to a society belle. There is not much gained, perhaps, by the substitution of one roue; for another, as the arbiter of manners for our young people; but it is something to know that it is only a temporary swing of the pendulum after all.

It must be remembered that Anglomania is confined among us to a limited class, and to certain very limited pursuits and interests of that class. It does not exist, for instance, among our men of science, inasmuch as they go to Germany in shoals for study, and rarely visit England since the death of Darwin. It is not now charged upon our literary [24] men, since the death of Richard Grant White, who was, moreover, as ardently anti-English in some directions as he was vehemently English in others. It is not found in our journalism, which aspires to lead the English, and actually leads it in enterprise, while falling behind it in evenness of execution and in the minor proprieties of life. It is not to be found in our public-school system or in our college systems, for these, where they are not American, are German. It is not found in our library methods, for in the librarians' conventions of the last few years Americans have led and not followed. Even when we come on more intimate and domestic ground, limitations still exist. Our standard of cookery, so far as we have any, is French and not English. No American lady would wish to be charged with dressing like an English woman, and no American man, when travelling anywhere but in England, would wish to be taken for an Englishman, for the simple reason that Americans are everywhere so much more popular. Nor would any one of our own countrymen desire to be said to speak foreign languages like an Englishman. Even in our amusements there exists a similar limitation, In yachting the interest is in the American type of yachts; as to horse-racing, mainly in the American breed of trotting-horses; our college students compete in base-ball, rarely in cricket; and almost all [25] the prizes won by our bicyclists are won on American machines.

The key to this alleged Anglomania, therefore, is simply this: that the American habit of mind is essentially cosmopolitan, and goes to each nation for that which it finds best of its kind. As unerringly as it goes to Germany for its scientific instruction, or to France for its cools, so it goes to England for what is not so well to he found in France or Germany--the minor conveniences and facilities which belong to a highly trained leisure class. Itself newly developed, this American class turns to England for a good standard of minor essentials, as horse equipments and coachmen's clothes. It borrows more than these; it borrows those accessaries of high-bred life which promote daily comfort and convenience, the organization of a large household, the routine of social life. In these directions England is very strong, though it may be doubted if this is the highest sphere; if it can be set against the dignity of the best Spanish or Italian manners, the keenness of French wit, and the depth and solidity of German knowledge. These also are fully appreciated among us, but their traces do not lie so much on the surface. All these things, so far as we can, we borrow ; why not? If older nations borrow from one another, why not younger from older? It is no discredit to England that her one high philological [26] authority, Max Muller, is a German, and that her one humorous periodical — in America every newspaper is humorous-still bears trace of its French origin in the title, Punch, or the London Charivari. The English journals are constantly pointing out that their own people are becoming Americanized; why, then, should not an American here or there be Anglicized? It is pretty certain all the while that we are exerting far more influence than we receive.

Let us not disturb ourselves. Out of the fifty millions of Americans, the passing wave of Anglomania or Francomania reaches but a few thousands, and merely touches close on the surface. Even the young men whom it reaches are at heart good Americans, and if another civil war or foreign war arose, would respond as promptly as they did in 1861. They will doubtless buy their clothes in England while these can be bought there more cheaply and of better material; they will employ English grooms or Scotch gardeners if these do their work better. But so long as monarchy and hereditary aristocracy exist in England-and I fear that they will last our time — there will be an essential and ineradicable difference in the habits of mind of English and American young men; and this will show itself in their whole feeling as to caste, as to labor, as to self-respect. And since climate and institutions are [27] constantly tending to produce a physical difference also, there seems every prospect that Englishmen and Americans will be farther apart, instead of nearer, fifty years hence than now. After that, perhaps, they will begin to assimilate.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
France (France) (2)
Department de Ville de Paris (France) (2)
Newport (Rhode Island, United States) (1)
English Channel (1)
Cambria (United Kingdom) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Americans (7)
English (2)
Richard Grant White (1)
Max Muller (1)
German (1)
French (1)
Erasmus Darwin (1)
Tom Appleton (1)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1861 AD (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: