America To-day, Observations and Reflections
by William Archer
Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

The Englishman who visits America for pleasure, and enjoys the inexhaustible hospitality of New York, Boston, and Washington, must be careful not to imagine that he gets really in touch with the sentiment of the American nation. His circle of acquaintance is almost certain to be composed mainly of people whom he, or friends of his, have met in Europe, people of more or less clearly remembered British descent, who know England well, have many English friends and possibly relatives, and are conscious of a distant sentimental attachment to "the Old Country." They are almost without exception people of culture, as well read as he himself in the English classics, ancient and modern. They show their Americanism not in that they love English literature less, but that very probably they love French literature more, than he does. Further, they are an exceedingly polite people, and, sensitive themselves on points of national honour, they instinctively keep in the background all topics on which a too free interchange of opinions might be apt to wound the susceptibilities of their guest. Thus he loses entirely his sense of being in a foreign country, because he moves among people most of whom have an affection for England almost as deep as his own, while all are courteous enough to respect his prejudices. This class is large in actual numbers, no doubt, but in proportion to the whole American people it is infinitesimal, and would be a mere featherweight in the scale at any moment of crisis. Its voice is clearly audible in literature and even in journalism, but at the polls it would be as a whisper to the thunder of Niagara. The traveller who has "had a good time" in literary, artistic, university circles in the Eastern cities, has not felt the pulse of America, but has merely touched the fringe of the fringe of her garment.

We deceive ourselves if we imagine that there is, or at any rate that there was until recently, the slightest sentimental attachment to England in the heart of the American people at large. Among the "hyphenated Americans," as they are called—Irish-Americans, German-Americans, and so forth—it would be folly to look for any such feeling.[L] The conciliation of America will never be complete until we have achieved the conciliation of Ireland. It is evident, indeed, from many symptoms, that Irish-American hostility to England is declining, if not in rancour, at any rate in influence. Still, a popular New York paper, on St. Patrick's Day, thinks it worth while to propitiate "The Powerful Race of Ireland" by a leader under that heading, and to this effect:

"The Irish race is famous as producing the best fighters and poets among men, and the most beautiful and most virtuous of women.

"Such a reputation should suffice for any nation.

"And note that Ireland still is and always will be a NATION. There is no Anglomania in that fair land, no yearning for reciprocity for the sake of a few dollars, no drinking of the Queen's health first....

"Noble patriots like John Dillon and William O'Brien fight for them in the House of Commons, and they are good fighters everywhere, from the glass-covered room in Westminster Abbey (!) to the prize-ring, where a Sullivan, of pure Irish blood, forbids any man to stand three rounds before him.

"The English whipped the Irish at the battle of the Boyne—true. But the English on that occasion had the good luck to be led by a Dutchman, and the Irish—sorra the day—had an English King for a leader. The English King was running fast while the Irish were still fighting the Dutchman.

"Wellington, of Irish blood, beat Napoleon; Sheridan, of Irish blood, fought here most delightfully.

"Here's to the Irish!"

This spirited performance no doubt represents fairly enough the political philosophy of the thousands composing the league-long procession which filed stolidly up Fifth Avenue on the day of its appearance.

But even among unhyphenated Americans—Americans pure and simple—the tendency to regard England as a hereditary foe, though sensibly weakened by recent events, remains very strong. A good example of this frame of mind and habit of speech is afforded by the following passage from an address delivered by Judge Van Wyck at the Democratic Club's Jefferson Dinner in New York on April 13 last. Referring to England, the speaker said:—

"Let us be influenced by the natural as well as the fixed policy of that nation toward us for a century and a half, rather than by their profuse expressions of friendship during the Spanish War. England's policy has been one of sharp rivalry and competition with America; it impelled the Revolution of 1776, fought for business as well as political independence; brought on the war of 1812, waged against the insolent claim of England for the right to search our ships of commerce while riding the highways of the ocean; caused her to contest every inch of our northern boundary line from ocean to ocean; made her encourage our family troubles from 1860 to 1865, for which she was compelled to pay us millions and admit her wrong; and actuated her, in violation of the Monroe doctrine, to attempt an unwarrantable encroachment on the territory of Venezuela, until ordered by the American Government to halt."

Apart from the obvious begging of the question with reference to Venezuela, there is nothing in this invective that has not some historical foundation. It is the studiously hostile turn of the phraseology that renders the speech significant. Everything—even the honourable amends made for the Alabama blunder—is twisted to England's reproach. She is "compelled" to do this, and "ordered" to do that. There is here no hint of good feeling, no trace of international amenity, but sheer undisguised hatred and desire to make the worst of things. And this address, be it noted, was the speech of the evening at a huge and representative gathering of the dominant party in New York municipal politics.

I need scarcely adduce further evidence of the fact that Anglophobia is still a power in the land, if not the power it once was. But active and aggressive Anglophobia is, I think, a less important factor in the situation than the sheer indifference to England, with a latent bias towards hostility, which is so widespread in America. To the English observer, this indifference is far more disconcerting than hatred. The average Briton, one may say with confidence, is not indifferent towards America. He may be very ignorant about it, very much prejudiced against certain American habits and institutions, very thoughtless and tactless in expressing his prejudices; but the United States is not, to him, a foreign country like any other, on the same plane with France, Germany, or Russia. But that is precisely what England is to millions of Americans—a foreign country like any other. We see this even in many travelling Americans; much more is it to be noted in multitudes who stay at home. Many Americans seem curiously indifferent even to the comfort of being able to speak their own language in England; probably because they have less false shame than the average Englishman in adventuring among the pitfalls of a foreign tongue. They—this particular class of travellers, I mean—land in England without emotion, visit its shrines without sentiment, and pass on to France and Italy with no other feeling than one of relief in escaping from the London fog. These travellers, however, are but single spies sent forth by vast battalions who never cross the ocean. To them England is a mere name, and the name, moreover, of their fathers' one enemy in war, their own chief rival in trade. They have no points of contact with England, such as almost every Englishman has with America. We make use every day of American inventions and American "notions": English inventions and "notions," if they make their way to America at all, are not recognised as English. There are few Britishers, high or low, that have not friends or relatives settled in America, or have not formed pleasant acquaintanceships with Americans on this side. But there are innumerable families in America who, even if they be of British descent, have lost all vital recollection of the fact; who (as the tide of emigration has not yet turned eastwards) have no friends or relatives settled in England; and who, in their American homes, are far more apt to come in contact with men of almost every other nationality than with Englishmen. "But surely English literature," it may be said, "brings England home even to people of this class, and differentiates her from France or Germany." In a measure, doubtless; but I think it will be found that the lower strata of the reading public (not in America alone, of course) are strangely insensitive to local colour. To people of culture, the bond of literature is a very strong one; but the class of which I am speaking is not composed of people of culture. They read, it is true, and often greedily; but generally, I think, without knowing or greatly caring whether a book is English or American, and at all events with no such clear perception of the distinctive qualities of English work as could beget in them any imaginative realisation of, or affection for, England. Let us make no mistake—in the broad mass of the American people no such affection exists. They are simply indifferent to England, with, as I have said, a latent bias towards hostility.

Thus the scale of American feeling towards England, while its gradations are of course infinite, may be divided into three main sections. At one end of the scale we have the cultured and travelled classes, especially in the Eastern States, conscious for the most part of British descent, alive to the historical relationship between the two countries, valuing highly their birthright in the treasures of English literature, knowing, and (not uncritically) understanding England and her people, and clinging to a kinship of which, taking one thing with another, they have no reason to be ashamed. This class is intellectually influential, but its direct weight in politics is small. It is, with shining exceptions, a "mugwump" class. At the other end of the scale we have the hyphenated Americans, who have imported or inherited European rancours against England, and those unhyphenated Americans whose hatred of England is partly a mere plank in a political platform, designed to accommodate her hyphenated foe-men, partly a result of instinctive and traditional chauvinism, reinforced by a (in every sense) partial view of Anglo-American history. Finally, between these two extremes, we have the great mass of the American people, who neither love nor hate England, any more than they love or hate (say) Italy or Japan, but whose indifference would, until recently, have been much more easily deflected on the side of hatred than of love. The effect of the Spanish War has been in some measure to alter this bias, and to differentiate England, to her advantage, from the other nations of Europe.


[Footnote L: A very distinguished American authority writes to me as follows with regard to this passage: "I hardly think you lay enough weight upon the fact that in two or three generations the great bulk of the descendants of the immigrants of non-English origin become absolutely indistinguishable from other Americans, and share their feelings. This is markedly so with the Scandinavians, and most of the Germans of the second, and all the Germans of the third, generation, who practically all, during 1898, felt toward Germany and England just exactly as other Americans did.... Twice recently I have addressed huge meetings of eight or ten thousand people, each drawn, as regards the enormous majority, from exactly that class which you pointed out as standing between the two extremes. In each case the men who introduced me dwelt upon the increased good feeling between the English-speaking peoples, and every complimentary allusion to England was received with great applause." At the same time my correspondent adds: "Your division of the American sentiment into three classes is exactly right; also your sense of the relative importance of these three classes."]


It is commonly alleged that the anti-English virulence of the ordinary school history of the United States is mainly responsible for this bias towards hostility in the mind of the average American. Mr. Goldwin Smith, a high authority, has contested this theory; and I must admit that, after a good deal of inquiry, I have been unable to find the American school historians guilty of any very serious injustices to England. Some quite modern histories which I have looked into (yet written before the Spanish War) seem to me excellently and most impartially done. The older histories are not well written: they are apt to be sensational and chauvinistic in tone, and to encourage a somewhat cheap and blusterous order of patriotism; but that they commonly malign character or misrepresent events I cannot discover. They are perhaps a little too much inclined to make "insolent" the inseparable epithet of the British soldier; but there is no reason to doubt that in many cases it was amply merited. I have not come across the history in which Mr. G.W. Steevens discovered the following passages:

"The eyes of the soldiers glared upon the people like hungry bloodhounds. The captain waved his sword. The red-coats pointed their guns at the crowd. In a moment the flash of their muskets lighted up the street, and eleven New England men fell bleeding upon the snow.... Blood was streaming upon the snow; and though that purple stain melted away in the next day's sun, it was never forgotten nor forgiven by the people.... A battle took place between a large force of Tories and Indians and a hastily organised force of patriotic Americans. The Americans were defeated with horrible slaughter, and many of those who were made prisoners were put to death by fiendish torture.... More than six thousand American sailors had been seized by British warships and pressed into the hated service of a hated nation."

These passages are certainly not judicial or even judicious in tone; but I fancy that the book or books from which Mr. Steevens culled them must be quite antiquated. In books at present on the educational market I find nothing so lurid. What I do find in some is a failure to distinguish between the king's share and the British people's share in the policy which brought about and carried on the Revolutionary War. For instance, in Barnes's Primary History of the United States (undated, but brought down to the end of the Spanish War) we read:

"The English people after a time became jealous of the prosperity of the colonists, and began to devise plans by which to grasp for themselves a share of the wealth that was thus rolling in.... Indeed, the English people acted from the first as if the colonies existed only for the purpose of helping them to make money."

George III. and his Ministers are not so much as mentioned, and the impression conveyed to the ingenuous student is that the whole English nation was consciously and deliberately banded together for purposes of sheer brigandage. The same history is delightfully chauvinistic in its account of the Colonial Wars. The British officers are all bunglers and poltroons; if disasters are averted or victories won, it is entirely by the courage and conduct of the colonists:

"When Johnson reached the head of Lake George he met the French, and a fierce battle was fought. Success seemed at first to be altogether with the French; but after a while Johnson was slightly wounded, when General Lyman, a brave colonial officer, took command, and beat the French terribly.... Abercrombie's defeat was the last of the English disasters. The colonists now had arms enough, and were allowed to fight in their own way, and a series of brilliant victories followed.... By the energy, courage, and patriotism of her colonies, England had now acquired a splendid empire in the New World. And while she reaped all the glory of the war and its fruits, it was the hardy colonists who had throughout, borne the brunt of the conflict."

The child who learns his history from Mr. Barnes may not hate England, but will certainly despise her.

Text-books of this type, however, are already obsolescent. A committee of the New England History Teachers' Association published in the Educational Review for December 1898 a careful survey of no fewer than nineteen school histories of the United States, and summed up the results as follows:

"In discussing the causes of the Revolution, text-book writers have sounded pretty much the whole scale of motives. England has been pictured, on the one hand, as an arbitrary oppressor, and, on the other, as the helpless victim of political environment. Under the influence of deeper study and a keener sense of justice, however, the element of bitterness, which so often entered into the discussion of this subject, has largely disappeared; and while the treatment of the Revolution in the text-books still leaves much to be desired, it is now seldom dogmatic and unsympathetic."

The fact remains, however, that we have still to live down our wars with the United States, in which there was much that was galling to the just pride of the American people, and much, too, that was perhaps over-stimulating to their self-esteem. There is no doubt, on the one hand, that we were inclined to adopt a supercilious and contemptuous attitude towards the "rebel colonists" of 1775, the new-made nation of 1815; no doubt, on the other hand, that they made a splendid fight against us, and taught our superciliousness a salutary lesson. They feel to this day the humiliation of having been despised, and the exultation of having put their despisers to shame. These wars, which were, until 1861, almost the whole military history of the United States, were but episodes in our history, and one of them a trifling episode. Therefore, while the average Englishman has not studied them sufficiently to realise how much he ought to deplore them, the average American has been taught to dwell upon them as the glorious struggles in which his nation won its spurs. To the juvenile imagination, battles are always the oases in the desert of history, and the schoolboy never fails to take sides fiercely and uncompromisingly, exaggerating, with the histrionic instinct of youth, his enthusiasm and his hatreds. Thus the insolent Britisher became the Turk's-head or Guy Fawkes, so to speak, of the American boy, the butt of his bellicose humours; and a habit of mind contracted in boyhood is not always to be eradicated by the sober reflection of manhood, even in minds capable of sober reflection. The Civil War, be it noted, did not depose the insolent Britisher from his bad eminence in the schoolboy imagination. The Confederates were, after all, Americans, though misguided Americans; and the fostering, the brooding upon, intestine rancours was felt by teachers and pupils alike to be impossible. But there is in the juvenile mind at any given moment a certain amount of abstract combativeness, let us call it, which must find an outlet somewhere. Hatred is a natural function of the human mind, just as much as love; and the healthy boy instinctively exercises it under the guise of patriotism, without clearly distinguishing the element of sheer play and pose in his transports. England's attitude during the Civil War certainly did nothing to endear her either to the writers or the readers of school histories; and she remained after that struggle, as she had been before, the one great historical adversary on whom the abstract combativeness of young America could expend itself. How strong this tendency is, or has been, in the American school, may be judged from the following anecdote. A boy of unmixed English parentage, whose father and mother had settled in America, was educated at the public school of his district. On the day when Mr. Cleveland's Venezuela message was given to the world, he came home from school radiant, and shouted to his parents: "Hurrah! We're going to war with England! We've whipped you twice before, and we're going to do it again." It is clear that at this academy Anglomania formed no part of the curriculum; and who can doubt that in myriads of cases these schoolboy animosities subsist throughout life, either active, or dormant and easily awakened?

Let us admit without shrinking that the history of the United States cannot be truthfully written in such a way as to ingratiate Great Britain with the youth of America. There have been painful episodes between the two nations, in which England has, on the whole, acted stupidly, or arrogantly, or both. Nor can we shift the whole blame upon George III. or his Ministers. They were responsible for the actual Revolution; but after the Revolution, down even to the time of the Civil War inclusive, the English people, though guiltless in the main of active hostility to America, cannot be acquitted of ignorance and indifference. It is not in the least to be desired that American history should be written with a pro-English bias, and, as I have said, I do not find the anti-English bias, even in inferior text-books, so excessive as it is sometimes represented to be. The anti-English sentiment of American schools is, as it seems to me, an inevitable phenomenon of juvenile psychology, under the given conditions; and it is the alteration in the actual conditions wrought by recent events, rather than any marked change in the tone of the text-books, that may, I think, be trusted to soothe the schoolboy's savage breast. England has now done what she had never done before: shown herself conspicuously friendly to the United States; and another European country has given occasion for spirit-stirring manifestations of American prowess. Thus England is deposed for the time, and we may trust for ever, from her position as the one traditional arch-enemy.

But though the errors of commission in American history-books have been exaggerated, I cannot but think that a common error of omission is worthy of remark and correction. They begin American history too late—with the discovery of America—and they do not awaken, as they might, the just pride of race in the "unhyphenated" American boy. Long before Columbus set sail from Palos, American history was a-making in the shire-moots of Saxon England, at Hastings, and Runnymead, and Bannockburn. In all the mediaeval achievements of England, in peace and war—in her cathedrals, her castles, her universities, in Cressy, Poictiers, and Agincourt—Americans may without paradox claim their ancestral part. Why should the sons of the English who emigrated leave to the sons of those who stayed at home the undivided credit of having sent to the right-about the Invincible Armada? Nay, it is only the very oldest American families that can disclaim all complicity in having, as Lord Auchinleck put it, "garred kings ken that they had a lith in their necks." Of course I do not mean that the American schoolboy should be taken in detail through British history down to the seventeenth century before, so to speak, he crosses the Atlantic. But I do suggest that he would be none the worse American for being encouraged to set a due value on his rightful share in the achievements of earlier ancestors than those who fought at Trenton or sailed with Decatur. Let him realise his birthright in the glories of Britain, and he will perhaps come to take a more magnanimous view of her errors and disasters.


Britain has been too forgetful of the past, America, perhaps, too mindful; and in the everyday relations of life Britain has often been tactless and unsympathetic, America suspicious and supersensitive. There is every prospect, I think, that such errors will become, in the future, rarer and ever rarer; and it behoves us, on our side, to be careful in guarding against them. We have not hitherto sufficiently respected America,—that is the whole story. We have taken no pains to know and understand her. We have too often regarded her with a careless and supercilious good feeling, which she has not unnaturally mistaken for ill feeling, and repaid in kind. The events of the past year seem to have brought the two countries almost physically closer to each other, and to have made them more real, more clearly visible, each to each. America has won the respectful consideration of even the most thoughtless and insular among us. She has come home to us, so to speak, as a vast and vital factor in the problem of the future. Superciliousness towards her is a mere anachronism.

Many Englishmen, however, are still guilty of a thoughtless captiousness towards America, which is none the less galling because it manifests itself in the most trifling matters. A friend of my own returned a few years ago from a short tour in the United States, declaring that he heartily disliked the country, and would never go back again. Inquiry as to the grounds of his dissatisfaction elicited no more definite or damning charge than that "they" (a collective pronoun presumed to cover the whole American people) hung up his trousers instead of folding them—or vice versa, for I am heathen enough not to remember which is the orthodox process. Doubtless he had other, and possibly weightier, causes of complaint; but this was the head and front of America's offending. Another Englishman of education and position, being asked why he had never crossed the Atlantic, gravely replied that he could not endure to travel in a country where you had to black your own boots! Such instances of ignorance and pettiness may seem absurdly trivial, but they are quite sufficient to act as grits in the machinery of social intercourse. Americans are very fond of citing as an example of English manners the legend of a great lady who, at an American breakfast, saw her husband declining a dish which was offered to him, and called across the table, "Take some, my dear—it isn't half as nasty as it looks." Three different people have vouched to me for the truth of this anecdote, each naming the heroine, and each giving her a different name. True or false, it is held in America to be typical; and it would scarcely be so popular as it is unless people had suffered a good deal from the tactlessness which it exemplifies. The same vice, in a more insidious form, appears in a remark made to me the other day by an Englishman of very high intelligence, who had just returned from a long tour in America, and was, in the main, far from unsympathetic. "What I felt," he said, "was the suburbanism of everything. It was all Clapham or Camberwell on a gigantic scale." Some justice of observation may possibly have lain behind this remark, though I certainly failed to recognise it. But in the form of its expression it exemplified that illusion of metropolitanism which is to my mind the veriest cockneyism in disguise, and which cannot but strike Americans as either ridiculous or offensive.

Englishmen who, as individuals, wish to promote and not impede an international understanding, will do well to take some little thought to avoid wounding, even in trifles, the just and inevitable susceptibilities of their American acquaintances. Our own national self-esteem is cased in oak and triple brass,[M] and we are apt to regard American sensitiveness as a ridiculous foible. It is nothing of the sort: it is a psychological necessity, deep-rooted in history and social conditions.

Again, there are certain misunderstandings which Englishmen, not as individual human beings but as citizens of the British Empire, ought carefully to guard against. Let us beware of speaking or thinking as though friendship for England involved on the part of America any acceptance of English political ideas or imitation of English methods. In especial, let us carefully guard against the idea that an Anglo-American understanding, however cordial, implies the adoption of an "expansionist" policy by the United States, or must necessarily strengthen the hands of the "expansionist" party. If America chooses to "take up the white man's burden" in the Kiplingesque sense, it would ill become England to object; but her doing so is by no means a condition of England's sympathy. It might seem, indeed, that she had plenty of "white man's burden" to shoulder within her own continental boundaries; but that is a matter which she is entirely competent to determine for herself.

Most of all must we beware of anything that can encourage an impression, already too prevalent in America, that we find the "white man's burden" too heavy for us, and are anxious to share it with the United States. This suspicion is very generally felt and very openly expressed. Take, for instance, this paragraph from an editorial in one of the leading Chicago papers:

"It would be a strange thing to see Continental Europe take up arms against Great Britain alone.... That it is a very reasonable possibility, however, is generally recognised in Europe, and it was doubtless a knowledge of this fact that induced Great Britain to make such unusual exertions to ally itself with the United States."

Here, again, is another journalistic straw floating on the stream:

"Referring to the fact that English and American officers had fallen side by side in Samoa while promoting commercial interests, Lord [Charles] Beresford expressed the hope that the two nations would 'always be found working and fighting in unison.' This might keep us pretty busy, your lordship."

In a rather low-class farce which I saw in a Chicago theatre, two men wandered through the action, with the charming irrelevance characteristic of American popular drama, attired, one as John Bull, the other as Brother Jonathan. There came a point in the action where some one had to be kicked out of the house. "You do it, Jonathan," said John Bull; whereupon Jonathan retorted: "I know your game; you want me to do your fighting for you, but I don't do it! See?" These are ridiculous trifles, no doubt, but they might be indefinitely multiplied; and they show the set of a certain current in American feeling. Let us beware of lending added strength to this current by any appearance of self-interested eagerness in our advances towards America.

One thing we cannot too clearly realise, and that is that the true American clings above everything to his Americanism. The status of an American citizen is to him the proudest on earth, and that although he may clearly enough recognise the abuses of American political life, and the dangers which the Republic has to encounter. The feeling (which is not to be confounded with an ignorant chauvinism, though in some cases it may take that form) is the fundamental feeling of the whole nation; and no emotion which threatened to encroach upon it, or compete with it in any way, would have the least chance of taking a permanent place in the American mind. The feeling which, as one may reasonably hope, is now growing up between the two nations must be based on the mutual admission of absolute independence and equality. The relation is new to history, and must beget a new emotion. Strong as is the bond of mutual interest, it must have a large idealism to reinforce it—a sentiment (shall we say?) of mutual admiration—if the English-speaking peoples are to play the great part in the drama of the future which Destiny seems to be urging upon them. In order to stand together in perfect freedom and dignity, it is essential that each of the brother-nations should be incontestably able to stand alone. If we want to cement the Anglo-American understanding, the first thing we have to do is to cement the British Empire.

There is no more typical and probably no more widely respected American at the present moment than Governor Roosevelt, of New York. Even those who dissent from his "strenuous" ideal and his expansionist opinions, admit him to be a model of political integrity and public spirit. In an article on "The Monroe Doctrine," published in 1896, Mr. Roosevelt wrote as follows:

"No English colony now stands on a footing of genuine equality with the parent State. As long as the Canadian remains a colonist, he remains in a position which is distinctly inferior to that of his cousins, both in England and in the United States. The Englishman at bottom looks down on the Canadian, as he does on any one who admits his inferiority, and quite properly too. The American, on the other hand, with equal propriety, regards the Canadian with the good-natured condescension always felt by the freeman for the man who is not free. A funny instance of the English attitude towards Canada was shown after Lord Dunraven's inglorious fiasco last September, when the Canadian yachtsman Rose challenged for the America Cup. The English journals repudiated him on the express ground that a Canadian was not an Englishman, and not entitled to the privileges of an Englishman. In their comments, many of them showed a dislike for Americans which almost rose to hatred. The feeling they displayed for Canadians was not one of dislike. It was one of contempt."

There are several contestable points in this statement, and I quote it, though it is but three years old, as a historical rather than a contemporary utterance. At the same time it expresses an almost universal American point of view, and indicates errors to be corrected, dangers to be avoided. It is absurd, of course, that the American should look down upon the Canadian as a "man who is not free"; but every shadow of an excuse for such an attitude ought to be removed, and the citizen of the British Empire ought to have as clearly defined a status as the citizen of the American Republic.

Even if such unpleasant incidents should recur as those to which Mr. Roosevelt alludes, we may trust with tolerable confidence that he would now find no "hatred" for America, or "contempt" for Canada, in the tone of the British Press. The years which have passed since 1896 have not only created a new feeling between England and America, but have drawn the Empire together. In this respect—in every respect—much remains to be done.

But at least we can say with assurance that a good beginning has been made towards that consolidation of the English-speaking countries on which the well-being of the world so largely depends.

POSTSCRIPT.—The notion of inevitable hostility between a constitutional Monarchy and a Republic has been fostered by American writers in whom one would have expected greater clearness of perception. We find Lowell, for instance, writing in his well-known essay On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners: "I never blamed her (England) for not wishing well to democracy—how should she?" The more obvious question is, How should not one democracy wish another well? There may have been at the time when Lowell wrote, and there may even be to-day, a handful of royalty-worshippers in England who regard a Republic as a vulgar, unpicturesque form of government; but this is not a political opinion, or even prejudice, but mere stolid snobbery. Whatever were England's misdemeanours towards America at the time of the Civil War, they were not prompted by any hatred of democracy.

I find the same misconception insisted on in a document much later than Lowell's essay: a leaflet by the Rev. Edward Everett Hale, contributed to a Good Citizenship Series especially designed for the enlightenment of the more ignorant class of American voters. The tract is called The Ruler of America, and sets forth that the Ruler of America is "The People with a very large P." Now, according to Dr. Hale, we benighted Europeans are absolutely incapable of grasping this truth. He says: "This is at bottom the trouble with the diplomatists of Europe, with prime ministers, and with leaders of ''Er Majesty's Hopposition.'... Even men of intelligence.... can make nothing of the central truth of our system.... In my house, once, an English gentleman of great intelligence told me that he had visited the White House, and was most glad to pay his respects to 'the Ruler of our Great Nation.' Poor man! he thought he would please me! But he saw his mistake soon enough. I stormed out, 'Ruler of America? Who told you he was the ruler of America? He never told you so. He is the First Servant of America.' And I hope the poor traveller learned his lesson."

It is true that the poor traveller used a pompous and rather absurd expression, but if he had had his wits about him he might have reminded Dr. Hale that the President is much more effectively the Ruler of America than the Queen is the Ruler of England. He rules by the direct mandate of the People, but he rules none the less. It would greatly conduce to a just understanding between America and England if the political instructors of the American people would correct instead of confirming the prevalent impression that they have a monopoly of democracy.


Great Britain and the United States are sister Commonwealths, enjoying the advantages and exposed to the dangers of sisterhood. The dangers are as real, though we trust not as great, as the advantages. Family quarrels are apt to be bitterest; a chance word will seem unkind and unbearable from a near kinsman, which, coming from a stranger, would carry no sting at all. As Lowell very truly said, "The common blood, and still more the common language, are fatal instruments of misapprehension." But behind this statement there lies a far deeper though still obvious truth. We misunderstand because we understand; and it would be an extravagance of pessimism to doubt that, in the long run, understanding will carry the day. Light may dazzle here and bewilder there; but, after all, it is light and not darkness. We English and Americans hold a talisman that makes us at home over half, and more than half, the world; and we are not going to rob it of its virtue by renouncing our ties, and wantonly declaring ourselves aliens to each other.

Our unity of speech is such a commonplace that we scarcely notice it. But, rightly regarded, it is a thing to be rejoiced in with a great joy, and not without a certain sense of danger happily escaped. He would have been a bold man who should confidently have prophesied at the Revolution that American and English would remain the same tongue, and that at the end of the nineteenth century there would not be the slightest perceptible cleavage, or threat of ultimate divergence. No doubt there were forces obviously tending to preserve the linguistic unity of the two nations. There was the English Bible for one thing, and there was the whole body of English literature. The Americans, it might have been said, could scarcely be so foolish as deliberately to renounce their spiritual birthright, or let it drift little by little away from them. But, on the other hand, virulent and inveterate political enmity, had it arisen, might quite conceivably have led the Americans to make it a point of honour to differentiate their speech from ours, as many Norwegians are at this moment making it a point of honour to differentiate their language from the Danish, which was until of late years the generally accepted medium of literary expression. In the evolution of their literature, the Americans might purposely have rejected our classical tradition, making their effort rather to depart from than to adhere to it. Again, an observer in 1776 could not have foreseen the practical annihilation, by steam and electricity, of that barrier which then appeared so formidable—the Atlantic Ocean. He might have foreseen the immense influx of men of every race and tongue into the unpeopled West; but he could scarcely have anticipated with confidence the ready absorption of all these alien elements (save one!) into the dominant Anglo-Saxon polity. It was quite on the cards that a new American language might have developed from a fusion of all the diverse tongues of all the scattered races of the earth.

Nothing of the sort, as we know, has happened. The instinct of kinship from the first kept political enmity in check; the Atlantic has been practically wiped out; and English has easily absorbed, in America, all the other idioms which have been brought into contact, rather than competition, with it. The result is that the English language occupies a unique position among the tongues of the earth. It is unique in two dimensions—in altitude and in expanse. It soars to the highest heights of human utterance, and it covers an unequalled area of the earth's surface. Undoubtedly it is the most precious heirloom of our race, and as such we must reverence and guard it. Nor must we islanders talk as though we hold it in fee-simple, and allowed our trans-Atlantic kinsfolk merely a conditional usufruct of it. Their property in it is as complete and indefeasible as our own; and we should rejoice to accept their aid in the conversation and renovation (equally indispensable processes) of this superb and priceless heritage.

English critics of the beginning of the century so convincingly set forth the reasons why America, absorbed in the conquest of nature and in material progress, could not produce anything great in the way of literature, that their arguments remain embedded in many minds even to this day, when events have conclusively falsified them. It is a commonplace with some people that America has not developed a great American literature. If this merely means that, in casting off her allegiance to George III., America did not cast off her allegiance to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Addison, Swift, Pope, the reproach, if it be one, must be accepted. If it be a humiliation to American authors to own the traditions and standards established by these men, and thereby to enrol themselves in their immortal fellowship, why, then it must be owned that they have deliberately incurred that humiliation. One American of vivid originality tried to escape it, and with what result? Simply that Whitman holds a place of his own, somewhat like that of Blake one might say, in the literature of the English language, and has produced at least as much effect in England as in America. If, on the other hand, it be implied that American literature feebly imitates English literature, and fails to present an original and adequate interpretation of American life, no reproach could well be more flagrantly unjust. It is not only the abstract merit of American literature, though that is very high, but precisely the Americanism of it, that gives it its value in the eyes of all thinking Englishmen. Only one American author of the first rank could possibly, at a superficial glance, appear—not so much English as—European, cosmopolitan. I mean, of course, Edgar Allan Poe, who has left perhaps a deeper impress upon literature outside the English-speaking countries than any other imaginative writer of the century, with the exception of Byron. Poe was a born idealist, a creature of pure intelligence. Whether in poetry or fiction, he was always solving problems; and it is hard to be distinctively national in an exercise of pure intelligence. We do not look for local colour in, for example, the agreeable essays of Euclid. But Poe's intelligence was, at bottom, of a characteristically American type. He was the Edison of romance.[N] As for the other great writers of America, what can be more patent than their Americanism? Speaking only, for the present, of those who have joined the majority, I would name two who seem to me to stand with Poe in the very front rank of original genius. They are Emerson, that starlike spirit, dwelling in a serener ether than ours, which, though we may never attain, it is yet a refreshment to look up to; and Hawthorne, not perhaps the greatest romancer in the English tongue, but certainly the purest artist in that sphere of fiction. Now, it is a mere truism to say that each of these men was, in his way, a typical product of New England, inconceivable as the offspring of any other soil in the world. Emerson, it has been said, not without truth, was the first of the American humourists, carrying into metaphysics that gift of realistic vision and inspired hyperbole which has somehow been grafted upon the Anglo-Saxon character by the conditions of American life. As for Hawthorne, though he has felt and reproduced the physical charm of Rome more subtly than any other artist, his genius drew at once its strength and its delicacy from his Puritan ancestry and environment. To realise how intimately he smacks of the soil, we have but to think of that marvellous scene in The Blithedale Romance, the search for Zenobia's body. From what does it derive its peculiar quality, its haunting savour? Simply from the presence of Silas Foster, that delightful incarnation of the New England yeoman. "If I thought anything had happened to Zenobia, I should feel kind o' sorrowful," said the grim Silas; and there never was a speech more dramatically true, or, in its context, more bitterly pathetic.

Even while English critics were proving that there could be no such thing as an American literature, Washington Irving and Fenimore Cooper were laying its foundations on a thoroughly American basis. Irving was none the less American for loving the picturesque traditions of his English ancestry; Cooper, a gallant and fertile genius, did his country and our language an inestimable service by adding a whole group of specifically American figures to the deathless aristocracy of the realms of romance. Then, in the generation which has just passed away, we have such men as Thoreau, racy of his native soil; Longfellow, in his day and way the chief interpreter of America to England; Whittier, so intensely local that, as Professor Matthews puts it, "he wrote for New England rather than for the whole of the United States;" Lowell, courtly, cultured, cosmopolitan, and yet the creator of Hosea Biglow; Holmes, as American in his humour as Lamb was English, who justly ranks with Lamb and Goldsmith among the personally best-beloved writers of the English tongue. Prescott, in the sphere of history, paralleled the achievement of Cooper in fiction, by giving literary form to the romance of the New World; while Motley was inspired (too ardently, perhaps) by the spirit of free America in writing the great epic of religious and political freedom in Europe. Finally, it must not be forgotten that in Uncle Tom's Cabin, a tragically American production, Mrs. Beecher Stowe added to the literature of the English language the most potent, the most dynamic, pamphlet ever hurled into the arena of national life.

Of all that living Americans are doing for the literature of our common tongue it is as yet impossible to speak adequately. Since 1870, a new spirit of nationalism has entered into American literature, which has not yet been thoroughly studied in America or appreciated in England. So far from having no national literature, America has now, perhaps, the most intimately national body of fiction in the modern world. Before the Civil War there was practically no deliberate and systematic study of local and racial idiosyncracies. Hosea Biglow was a mask, not a character, and Parson Wilbur was a literary device. Even Hawthorne thought primarily of the element of imagination in the romances—the universal, not the local, element. His leading characters are psychological creations, with nothing specifically American about them; his local colour and local character-study, though admirable, are incidental, or at any rate stand on a secondary plane. In the South there was no literature at all, local or otherwise, with the one startling exception of Uncle Tom's Cabin.[O] But since 1870, and mainly, indeed, within the past twenty years, a marvellous change has come over the scene. Not only the national but the local self-consciousness of America has sprung to literary life, until at the present day there is scarcely a corner of the country, scarcely an aspect of social life, that has not found its special, and, as a rule, very able interpreter through the medium of fiction. Pursuing technical methods partly borrowed from abroad (from France rather than from England), American writers have undertaken what one is tempted to call a sociological ordnance-survey of the Republic from Maine to Arizona, from Florida to Oregon. There is scarcely a human being in the United States, from the Newport society belle to the "greaser" of New Mexico, that has not his or her more or less faithful counterpart in fiction. No European country, so far as I know, has achieved anything like such comprehensive self-realisation. Comprehensive, I say—not necessarily profound. Perhaps France in Balzac, perhaps Russia in Turgueneff and Tolstoi, found more searching interpretation than America has found even in her host of novelists. But never, surely, was there a body of fiction that touched life at so many points, to mirror if not to probe it. And in many cases to probe it as well.

It would take a volume to criticise these writers in any detail. I can attempt no more than a bald and imperfect enumeration. Miss Mary Wilkins's studies of New England life are well known and appreciated in England, but the talent of Miss Sarah Orne Jewett is not sufficiently recognised. In her Country of the Pointed Firs, for example, there are whole chapters that rise to a classical perfection of workmanship. The novelists of the Eastern cities, with Mr. Howells, a master craftsman, at their head, are of course numberless. For studies in the local colour of New York nothing could be better than Professor Brander Matthews' Vignettes of Manhattan, and other stories. Mr. Paul Leicester Ford's Honorable Peter Stirling, though antiquated in style, gives a remarkable picture of political life in New York. The Bowery Boy is cleverly represented, so far as dialect at any rate is concerned, by Mr. E.W. Townsend in his Chimmie Fadden. Even the Jewish and the Italian quarters of New York have their portraitists in fiction. Life in Washington has been frequently and ably depicted; for instance, in Mrs. Burnett's Through one Administration. Of the many interpreters of the South I need mention only three: Mr. Cable, Mr. Thomas Nelson Page, and Mr. Chandler Harris. Miss Murfree ("Charles Egbert Craddock") has made the mountains of Tennessee her special province. Chicago has several novelists of her own: for example, Mr. Henry Fuller, author of The Cliff Dwellers, Mr. Will Payne, and that close student of Chicago slang, Mr. George Ade, the author of Artie. The Middle West counts such novelists as Miss "Octave Thanet" and Mr. Hamlin Garland, whose Main Travelled Roads contains some very remarkable work. The Far West is best represented, perhaps, in the lively and graphic sketches of Mr. Owen Wister; while California has novelists of talent in Miss Gertrude Atherton and Mr. Frank Norris. At least two Americans living abroad have made noteworthy contributions to this sociological survey of their native land: the late Mr. Harold Frederic, who has dealt mainly with country life in New York State, and Miss Elizabeth Robins, whose picture, in The Open Question, of a Southern family impoverished by the war, is exceedingly vivid and bears all the marks of the utmost fidelity. Nor must I omit to mention that the stage has borne a modest but not insignificant part in this movement of national self-portraiture. Mr. Augustus Thomas' Alabama is a delightful picture of Southern life, while Mr. James A. Herne's Shore Acres takes a distinct place in the literature of New England, his Griffith Davenport[P] in the literature of Virginia.

There must, of course, be many gaps in this summary enumeration. It is very probable that many novelists of distinction have altogether escaped my notice; and I have made no attempt to include in my list the writers of short magazine stories, many of them artists of high accomplishment. One omission, however, I must at once repair. "Mark Twain's" contributions to the work of self-realisation have been in the main retrospective, but nevertheless of the first importance. He is the "sacred poet" of the Mississippi. If any work of incontestable genius, and plainly predestined to immortality, has been issued in the English language during the past quarter of a century, it is that brilliant romance of the Great Rivers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Intensely American though he be, "Mark Twain" is one of the greatest living masters of the English language. To some Englishmen this may seem a paradox; but it is high time we should disabuse ourselves of the prejudice that residence on the European side of the Atlantic confers upon us an exclusive right to determine what is good English, and to write it correctly and vigorously. We are apt in England to class as an "Americanism" every unfamiliar, or too familiar, locution which we do not happen to like. As a matter of fact, there is a pretty lively interchange between the two countries of slipshod and vulgar "journalese;" and as the picturesque reporter is a greater power in America than he is with us, we perhaps import more than we export of this particular commodity. But there can be no rational doubt, I think, that the English language has gained, and is gaining, enormously by its expansion over the American continent. The prime function of a language, after all, is to interpret the "form and pressure" of life—the experience, knowledge, thought, emotion, and aspiration of the race which employs it. This being so, the more tap-roots a language sends down into the soil of life, and the more varied the strata of human experience from which it draws its nourishment, whether of vocabulary or idiom, the more perfect will be its potentialities as a medium of expression. We must be careful, it is true, to keep the organism healthy, to guard against disintegration of tissue; but to that duty American writers are quite as keenly alive as we. It is not a source of weakness but of power and vitality to the English language that it should embrace a greater variety of dialects than any other civilised tongue. A new language, says the proverb, is a new sense; but a multiplicity of dialects means, for the possessors of the main language, an enlargement of the pleasures of the linguistic sense without the fatigue of learning a totally new grammar and vocabulary. So long as there is a potent literary tradition keeping the core of the language one and indivisible, vernacular variations can only tend, in virtue of the survival of the fittest, to promote the abundance, suppleness, and nicety of adaptation of the language as a literary instrument. The English language is no mere historic monument, like Westminster Abbey, to be religiously preserved as a relic of the past, and reverenced as the burial-place of a bygone breed of giants. It is a living organism, ceaselessly busied, like any other organism, in the processes of assimilation and excretion. It has before it, we may fairly hope, a future still greater than its glorious past. And the greatness of that future will largely depend on the harmonious interplay of spiritual forces throughout the American Republic and the British Empire.


[Footnote M: I do not mean that we are callous to American criticism, or always take it in good part when it comes home to us. I think with shame, for example, of the stupid insolence with which certain English journalists used for years to treat Mr. W.D. Howells, merely because he had expressed certain literary judgments from which they dissented. What I do mean, and believe to be true, is that we are habitually unconscious of American criticism, while Americans may rather be said to be habitually over-conscious that the eyes of England and of the world are on them. The existence of this habit of mind seems to me no less evident than the fact that it is rapidly correcting itself.]

[Footnote N: I went to see Poe's grave in Baltimore, marked by a mean and ugly monument, little more than a mere tombstone. It is surely time that a worthy memorial should be raised, at his burial-place or elsewhere, to this unique genius. England and the English-speaking world would gladly contribute. For a masterly criticism and vindication of Poe, let me refer the reader to Mr. John M. Robertson's New Essays towards a Critical Method. London and New York, 1897.]

[Footnote O: For the reasons of this barrenness, see an essay on Two Studies in the South, in Professor Brander Matthews' Aspects of Fiction. New York, 1896.]

[Footnote P: Founded on a novel by Miss Helen H. Gardener.]



Nothing short of an imperative sense of duty could tempt me to set forth on that most perilous emprise, a discussion of the American language. The path is beset with man-traps and spring-guns. Not all the serious causes of dissension between England and America have begotten half the bad blood that has been engendered by trumpery questions of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. I cannot hope to escape giving offence, probably on both sides; but if I can induce one or two people on either side to think twice before they scoff once, I shall not have written in vain.

In the way of scoffing, we English have doubtless (and inevitably) been the worst offenders. We have habitually used "Americanism" as a term of reproach, implying, if not saying in so many words, that America was the great source of pollution, and of nothing but pollution, to the otherwise limpid current of our speech. Dean Alford wrote offensively to this effect; Archbishop Trench, on the other hand, discussed the relations between the English of America and the English of England with courtesy and good sense.[Q] He protested against certain transatlantic neologisms, including in his list that excellent old word "to berate," and a word so useful and so eminently consonant with the spirit of the language as "to belittle;" but, whether wise or unwise, his protest was at least civil. Other writers, both in books and periodicals, have been apt to take their tone from the Dean rather than from the Archbishop. It may even be said that the instinct of the majority of Englishmen, which finds heedless expression in the newspapers and common talk, is to regard Americanisms as necessarily vulgar, and (conversely) vulgarisms as probably American. If challenged and brought to book, they can generally realise the narrowness and injustice of this way of thinking; yet they relapse into it next moment. It is time we should be on our guard against so insidious a habit. Its reduction to absurdity may be found (alackaday!) in Fors Clavigera for June 1, 1874. With shame and sorrow I transcribe the passage, for the time has not yet come for it to be forgotten. If it were merely the aberration of an individual, however distinguished, it were better kept out of sight, out of mind; but it is, I repeat, the reckless exaggeration of a not altogether uncommon habit of thought:—

"England taught the Americans all they have of speech or thought, hitherto. What thoughts they have not learned from England are foolish thoughts; what words they have not learned from England, unseemly words; the vile among them not being able even to be humorous parrots, but only obscene mocking-birds."

Can we wonder that Americans have retorted with some asperity upon criticisms in which any approach to such insolent insularism is even remotely or inadvertently implied?

The American retort, however, has not always been judicious or dignified. It has too often consisted in the mere pitting of one linguistic prejudice against another. It is very easy to prove that there are bad speakers and bad writers in both countries, and the attempt to determine which country has the more numerous and the greater sinners is exceedingly unprofitable. The "You're another" style of argument has been far too prevalent. Here we have Mr. Gilbert M. Tucker, for instance, in a book entitled Our Common Speech (1895) implying, if he does not absolutely assert (p. 173), that a "boldness of innovation" in matters linguistic, amounting to "absolute licentiousness," is more characteristic of England than of America. The suggestion leaves my British withers entirely unwrung, for I approve of bold innovation in language, trusting to the impermanence of the unfit to counteract the effects of licentiousness. If I could believe that we British were the bolder innovators, I should admit it without blenching; but observation and probability seem to me to point with one accord in the opposite direction. New words are begotten by new conditions of life; and as American life is far more fertile of new conditions than ours, the tendency towards neologism cannot but be stronger in America than in England. America has enormously enriched the language, not only with new words, but (since the American mind is, on the whole, quicker and wittier than the English) with apt and luminous colloquial metaphors; and I know not why Mr. Tucker should disclaim the credit.

He next sets forth to show how recent English writers are corrupting the language; and, in doing so, he falls into some curious errors.

Dickens was boldly innovating when he made Silas Wegg say, "Mr. Boffin, I never bargain"—"haggle," it would seem, is the proper word. But if Mr. Tucker will look into the matter, he will find it extremely probable that this was the original sense of the word "bargain," and quite certain that it was a very early sense; for instance—

"So worthless peasants bargain for their wives, As market-men for oxen, sheep, or horse."

I HENRY VI., V. v. 53.

And, in any case, is it possible to set up such a distinction between "bargaining" and "haggling" as to be worth an international wrangle? "Starved" for frozen is to Mr. Tucker an innovation; it was used both by Shakespeare and Milton. "Assist" in the sense of to "be present at" is an "absurd" innovation; it was used by Gibbon and by Prescott, a "tolerably good authority," says Mr. Tucker himself, "in the use of English." Miss Yonge is taken to task for saying, "Theodora flung away and was rushing off;" but Milton says, "And crop-full out of doors he flings." Charles Reade "is guilty of such phrases as 'Wardlaw whipped before him,' 'Ransome whipped before it;'" but the Princess in Love's Labour's Lost is guilty of saying, "Whip to our tents, as roes run o'er the land," and the word occurs in the same sense in Ben Jonson and Steele, to search no further. The simple fact is that Mr. Tucker has not happened to note the intransitive sense of "to fling" and "to whip," which has been current in the best authors for centuries. He is very severe on the English habit of "inserting utterly superfluous words," instancing from Lord Beaconsfield, "He was by way of intimating that he was engaged on a great work," and, from a magazine, "She was by way of painting the shrimp girl." Now, this is not an elegant expression, and for my part I should be at some pains to avoid it; but it has a perfectly distinct meaning, and is not a mere redundancy. If Mr. Tucker supposes that "She was by way of painting the shrimp girl" means exactly the same as "She was painting the shrimp girl," he misses one of the fine shades of the English language. Similarly, his remark on the "peculiar misuse of the affix ever, as in saying 'Whatever are you doing?'" stands in need of reconsideration. It is wrong, certainly, to treat ever as an affix, and to mistake the first two words of "What ever are you doing?" for the one word "whatever;" but to suppose the "ever" meaningless and inert, is to overlook a clearly marked and very useful gradation of emphasis. "What are you doing?" expresses simple curiosity; "What ever are you doing?" expresses surprise; "What the devil are you doing?" expresses anger—we need not run farther up the scale. Nor is this use of "ever" an innovation, licentious or otherwise. "Ever" has for centuries been employed as an intensive particle after the interrogative pronouns and adverbs how, who, what, where, why. For instance, in The World of Wonders (1607), "I shall desire him to consider how ever it was possible to get an answer from these priests."

One of the most remarkable paragraphs in Mr. Tucker's book is that in which he proves "the greater permanence and steadiness of our American speech as compared with that of the mother country" by going through Halliwell's Dictionary of Archaisms and Provincialisms, and picking out 76 words which Halliwell regards as obsolete, but which in America are all alive and kicking. (The vulgarism is mine, not Mr. Tucker's.) Now as a matter of fact not one of these words is really obsolete in England, and most of them are in everyday use; for instance, adze, affectation, agape, to age, air (appearance), appellant, apple-pie order, baker's dozen, bamboozle, bay window, between whiles, bicker, blanch, to brain, burly, catcall, clodhopper, clutch, coddle, copious, cosy, counterfeit money, crazy (dilapidated), crone, crook, croon, cross-grained, cross-patch, cross purposes, cuddle, to cuff (to strike), cleft, din, earnest money, egg on, greenhorn, jack-of-all-trades, loophole, settled, ornate, to quail, ragamuffin, riff-raff, rigmarole, scant, seedy, out of sorts, stale, tardy, trash. How Halliwell ever came to class these words as archaic I cannot imagine; but I submit that any one who sets forth to write about the English of England ought to have sufficient acquaintance with the language to check and reject Halliwell's amazing classification. Does Mr. Tucker so despise British English as never to read an English book? How else is one to account for his imagining for a moment that clodhopper, clutch, copious, cosy, cross-grained, greenhorn, and rigmarole are obsolete in England?

Far be it from me to assert that Mr. Tucker makes no good points in his catalogue of English solecisms. I merely hint that this game of pot and kettle is neither dignified nor profitable; that purism is almost always over-hasty, and apt to ignore both the history and the psychology of language; and, finally, that nothing is gained by introducing acerbity (though I have admitted the frequent provocation) into a discussion which a little exercise of temper should render no less agreeable than instructive to both parties. "The speech of the lower orders of our people," says Mr. Tucker, "... differs from what all admit to be standard correctness in a much smaller degree[R] than we have every reason to believe to be the case in England, our enemies themselves being judges." Now I protest I am not Mr. Tucker's enemy, and I know of no reason why he should be mine. I cannot share the withering contempt with which he regards the extension of the term "traffic" from barter to movement to and fro, as in a street or on a railway; but if he prefers another word (he does not suggest one, by the way) for the traffic on Broadway or on the New York Central, I shall not esteem him one whit the less.[S] Even when he tells me that "bumper" is the English term for the American "buffer" (on a railway carriage) I do not feel my blood boil. A very slight elevation of the eyebrows expresses all the emotion of which I am conscious. So long as he does not insist on my saying a "bumper state" when I mean a "buffer state," I see no reason whatever for any rupture of that sympathy which ought to subsist between two men who take a common interest and pride in the subject of his treatise—Our Common Speech.


[Footnote Q: See English Past and Present, ninth edition, pp. 63, 215.]

[Footnote R: "What great city of this country," Mr. Tucker inquires, "has developed, or is likely to develop, any peculiar class of errors at all comparable in importance to those of the Cockney speech of London?" The answer is pat: New York and Chicago—unless Mr. Townsend's Chimmie Fadden and Mr. Ade's Artie are sheer linguistic libels.]

[Footnote S: It must be very painful to Mr. Tucker to find Shakespeare talking of the "two hours' traffic of our stage." He was a hardened offender, was Shakespeare, against Mr. Tucker's ideal of one single, inelastic, cast-iron signification for every word in the language.]


It is not to be expected that an extremely English intonation should ever be agreeable to Americans, or an extremely American intonation to Englishmen. We ourselves laugh at a "haw-haw" intonation in English; why, then, should we forbid Americans to do so? If "an accent like a banjo" is recognised as undesirable in America (and assuredly it is), there is no reason why we in England should pretend to admire it. But a vulgar or affected intonation is clearly distinguishable, and ought to be clearly distinguished, from a national habit in the pronunciation of a given letter, or accentuation of a particular word, or class of words. For instance, take the pronunciation of the indefinite article. The American habitually says "ā man" (a as in "game"); the Englishman, unless he wants to be emphatic, says, "ă man."[T] Neither is right, neither wrong; it is purely a matter of habit; and to consider either habit ridiculous is merely to exhibit that childishness or provincialism of mind which is moved to laughter by whatever is unfamiliar. Again, when I first read the works of the sagacious Mr. Dooley, I thought it a curiously far-fetched idea on the part of that philosopher to talk of Admiral Dewey as his "Cousin George," and assert that "Dewey" and "Dooley" were practically the same name. I had not then noticed that the American pronunciation of "Dewey" is "Dooey," and that the liquid "yoo" is very seldom heard in America. In the course of the five minutes I spent in the Supreme Court at Washington, I heard the Chief Justice of the United States make this one remark: "That, sir, is not constitootional." To our ears this "oo" has an old-fashioned ring, like that of the "ee" in "obleeged;" but to call it wrong is absurd, and to find it ridiculous is provincial. Very possibly it can be proved that had Shakespeare used the word at all, he would have said "constitootional;" but that would make the "oo" neither better nor worse in my eyes. There always have been, and always will be, changing fashions in pronunciation; and the Americans have as good a right to their fashion as we to ours. Fifty years hence, perhaps, our grandsons will be saying "constitootional," and theirs "constityootional." I confess that, in point of abstract sonority, I prefer the "yoo" to the dry "oo;" but that, again, is a pure matter of taste. If Americans choose to say,

"From morn To noon he fell, from noon to dooey eve, A summer's day."

I am perfectly willing that they should do so, reserving always my own right to say "dyooey." It would not at all surprise me to learn that Milton said "dooey;" but neither would it lead me to alter the pronunciation which, as one of the present generation of Englishmen, I have learnt to prefer.

It is said that when Mr. Daly's company returned to New York, after a long visit to England, they pronounced "lieutenant" according to the English fashion, "leftenant," but were called to order by an outburst of protest. Though, for my own part, I say "leftenant," I heartily sympathise with the protesters. "Leftenant," though a corruption of respectable antiquity, is a corruption none the less, and since it has died out in America, it would be mere snobbery to reintroduce it.

So, too, with questions of accentuation. We say "prim-arily" and "tem-porarily;" most (or at any rate many) Americans say "primar-ily" and "temporar-ily." Here there is no question of right or wrong, refinement or vulgarity. The one accentuation is as good as the other. It may be argued, indeed, that our accentuation throws into relief the root, the idea, the soul of the word, not the mere grammatical suffix, the "limbs and outward flourishes;" but on the other hand, it may be contended with equal truth that the American accentuation has the Latin precedent in its favour. Neither advantage is conclusive; neither, indeed, is, strictly speaking, relevant; for Englishmen do not make a principle of accentuating the root rather than the prefix or suffix, else we should say "inund-ation," "resonant," "admir-able;" and the Americans do not make a principle of following the Latin emphasis, else they would say "ora-tor" and "gratui-tous," and the recognised pronunciation of "theatre" would be "theayter." It is argued that there is a general tendency among educated Englishmen to throw the accent as far back as possible; that, for instance, the educated speaker says "in-teresting," the uneducated, "interest-ing." True; but until this tendency can be proved to possess some inherent advantage, there is not a shadow of reason why Americans should be reproached or ridiculed for obeying their own tendency rather than ours. The English tendency is a matter of comparatively recent fashion. "Con-template," said Samuel Rogers, "is bad enough, but bal-cony makes me sick." Both forms have maintained themselves up to the present; but will they for long? I think one may already trace a reaction against the universal throwing backward of the accent. I myself say "per-emptory" and "ex-emplary;" but it would take very little encouragement to make me say "peremp-tory" and "exemp-lary," which seem to me much more expressive words. There is surely no doubt that, in accenting a prefix rather than the root of the word, we lose a certain amount of force. "Con-template," for instance, is not nearly so strong a word as "contemp-late." We say an "il-lustrated" book or the "Il-lustrated London News" because we do not require any particular force in the epithet; but when the sense demands a word with colour and emotion in it, we say the "illus-trious" statesman, the "illus-trious" poet, throwing into relief the essential element in the word, the "lustre." What a paltry word would "tri-umphant" be in comparison with "trium-phant!" But the larger our list of examples, the more capricious does our accentuation seem, the more evidently subject to mere accidents of fashion. There is scarcely a trace of consistent or rational principle in the matter. To make a merit of one practice, and find in the other a subject for contemptuous criticism, is simply childish.

Mere slovenliness of pronunciation is a totally different matter. For instance, the use of "most" for "almost" is distinctly, if not a vulgarism, at least a colloquialism. It may be of ancient origin; it may have crossed in the Mayflower for aught I know; but the overwhelming preponderance of ancient and modern usage is certainly in favour of prefixing the "al," and there is a clear advantage in having a special word for this special idea. If American writers tried to make "most" supplant "almost" in the literary language, we should have a right to remonstrate; the two forms would fight it out, and the fittest would survive. But as a matter of fact I am not aware that any one has attempted to introduce "most," in this sense, into literature. It is perfectly recognised as a colloquialism, and as such it keeps its place. Again, such pronunciations as "mebbe" for "maybe" and "I'd ruther" or "I druther" for "I'd rather" are obvious slovenlinesses. No American would defend them as being correct, any more than an Englishman would defend "I dunno" for "I don't know" or "atome" for "at home." If an actor, for instance, were to say,

"I druther be a dog and bay the moon Than such a Roman,"

American and English critics alike could not but protest against the solecism; for in poetry absolute precision of utterance is clearly indispensable. But in everyday speech a certain amount of colloquialism is inevitable. Let him whose own enunciation is chemically free from localism or slovenliness cast the first stone even at "mebbe" and "ruther."

A curious American colloquialism, of which I certainly cannot see the advantage, in the substitution of "yep," or "yup" for "yes," and of "nope" for "no." No doubt we have in England the coster's "yuss;" but one hears even educated Americans now and then using "yep," or some other corruption of "yes," scarcely to be indicated by the ordinary alphabetical symbols. It seems to me a pity.

Much more respectable in point of antiquity is the habit which obtains to some extent even among educated Americans, of saying "somewheres" and "a long ways." Here the "s" is an old case-ending, an adverbial genitive. "He goes out nights," too, on which Mr. Andrew Lang is so severe, is a form as old as the language and older. I turn to Dr. Leon Kellner's Historical English Syntax (p. 119) and find that the Gothic for "at night" was "nahts," and that the form (with its correlative "days ") runs through old Norse, old Saxon, old English, and middle English: for instance, "dages endi nahtes" (Heliand), "daeges and nihtes" (Beowulf), "daeies and nihtes" (Layamon), all meaning "by day and by night." In all, or almost all, words ending in "ward," the genitive inflection, according to modern English practice, can either be retained or dropped at will. It is a mere pedantry to declare "toward" better English than "towards," "upward" than "upwards." Thus we see that here again there is neither logical principle nor consistent practice to be invoked. At the same time, as "somewheres" has become irremediably a vulgarism in England, it would, I think, be a graceful concession on the part of educated Americans to drop the "s." After all, "somewhere" does not jar in America, and "somewheres" very distinctly jars in England.

An insidious laxity of pronunciation (rather than of grammar), which is taking great hold in America, is the total omission of the "had" or "have," in such phrases as "You'd better," "we've got to." Mr. Howells's Willis Campbell, a witty and cultivated Bostonian, says, in The Albany Depot, "I guess we better get out of here;" Mr. Ade's Artie, a Chicago clerk, says, "I got a boost in my pay," meaning "I have got:" the locution is very common indeed. It is no more defensible than "swelp me" for "so help me." It arises from sheer laziness, unwillingness to face the infinitesimal difficulty of pronouncing, "d" and "b" together. As a colloquialism it is all very well; but I regard it with a certain alarm, for where all trace of a word disappears, people are apt to forget the logical and grammatical necessity for it. Though contracted to its last letter, a word still asserts its existence; but when even the last letter has vanished its state is parlous indeed.

An Anglicism much ridiculed in America is "different to." As a Scotchman, I dislike it, and would neither use nor defend it. At the same time I cannot but hint to American critics that the use of a particular preposition in a particular context is largely a matter of convention; that when we learn a new language we have simply to get up by rote the conventions that obtain in this regard, reason being little or no guide to us; and that within the same language the conventions are always changing. You may easily nonplus even a good grammarian by asking him suddenly, "What preposition should you use in such-and-such a context?" just as you may puzzle a man by asking him to spell a word which, if he wrote it without thinking about it, would present no difficulty to him. Some very good American writers always say, "at the North," and "at the South," where an Englishman would certainly say "in." "At," to my mind, suggests a very narrow point of space. I should say "at" a village, but "in" a city—"at Concord," but "in Boston." I recognise, however, that this is a mere matter of convention, and do not dream of condemning "at the North" as an error. In the same way I would claim tolerance, though certainly not approval, for "different to."

As a general rule, I think, educated Americans are more apt to err on the side of purism than of laxity. I have before me, for example, a long list of rules and warnings for American writers, issued by the New York Press, many of which are very much to the point, while others seem to me captious and pedantic. For instance, a woman is not to "marry" a man; she is "married to" him; "the clergyman or magistrate marries both." The grammatical suitor, then, when the awful moment arrives, must not say to the blushing fair, "Will you marry me?" but "Will you be married to me?" Again, you not only must not split infinitives, but you must not separate an auxiliary from its verb; you must say "probably will be," not "will probably be." This is English by the card indeed.

I will not waste space upon discussing the different fashions of spelling in England and America. The rage excited in otherwise rational human beings by the dropping of the "u" in "favor," or the final "me" in "program," is one of the strangest of psychological phenomena. The baselessness of the reasonings used to bolster up the British clinging to superfluous letters is very ably shown in Professor Matthews' Americanisms and Briticisms. Let me only put in a plea for the retention of such abnormal spellings as serve to distinguish two words of the same sound. For instance, it seems to me useful that we should write "story" for a tale and "storey" for a floor, and in the plural "stories" and "storeys."


[Footnote T: "Surely, on Mr. Archer's own showing," writes Mr. A.B. Walkley, "the Englishman has the advantage here, for 'when he wants to be emphatic' he can be, whereas the American cannot." This is a misapprehension on Mr. Walkley's part. The American a can be spoken with or without emphasis, just as the speaker pleases. It is because we are accustomed always to associate this particular sonority with emphasis that even when it is spoken without emphasis, we imagine it to be emphatic.]


Passing now from questions of pronunciation and grammar to questions of vocabulary, I can only express my sense of the deep indebtedness of the English language, both literary and colloquial, to America, for the old words she has kept alive and the new words and phrases she has invented. It is a sheer pedantry—nay, a misconception of the laws which govern language as a living organism—to despise pithy and apt colloquialisms, and even slang. In order to remain healthy and vigorous, a literary language must be rooted in the soil of a copious vernacular, from which it can extract and assimilate, by a chemistry peculiar to itself, whatever nourishment it requires. It must keep in touch with life in the broadest acceptation of the word; and life at certain levels, obeying a psychological law which must simply be accepted as one of the conditions of the problem, will always express itself in dialect, provincialism, slang.

America doubles and trebles the number of points at which the English language comes in touch with nature and life, and is therefore a great source of strength and vitality. The literary language, to be sure, rejects a great deal more than it absorbs; and even in the vernacular, words and expressions are always dying out and being replaced by others which are somehow better adapted to the changing conditions. But though an expression has not, in the long run, proved itself fitted to survive, it does not follow that it has not done good service in its time. Certain it is that the common speech of the Anglo-Saxon race throughout the world is exceedingly supple, well nourished, and rich in forcible and graphic idioms; and a great part of this wealth it owes to America. Let the purists who sneer at "Americanisms" think for one moment how much poorer the English language would be to-day if North America had become a French or Spanish instead of an English continent.

I am far from advocating a breaking down of the barrier between literary and vernacular speech. It should be a porous, a permeable bulwark, allowing of free filtration; but it should be none the less distinct and clearly recognised. Nor do I recommend an indiscriminate hospitality to all the linguistic inspirations of the American fancy. All I say is that neologisms should be judged on their merits, and not rejected with contumely for no better reason than that they are new and (presumably) American. Take, for instance, the word "scientist." It was originally suggested by Whewell in 1840; but it first came into common use in America, and was received in England at the point of the bayonet. Huxley and other "scientists" disowned it, and only a few years ago the Daily News denounced it as "an ignoble Americanism," a "cheap and vulgar product of transatlantic slang." But "scientist" is undoubtedly holding its own, and will soon be as generally accepted as "retrograde," "reciprocal," "spurious," and "strenuous," against which Ben Jonson, in his day, so—strenuously protested. It holds its own because it is felt to be a necessity. No one who is in the habit of writing will pretend that it is always possible to fall back upon the cumbrous phrase "man of science."[U] On the other hand, the purist objection to "scientist"—that it is a Latin word with a Greek termination, and that it implies the existence of a non-existent verb—may be urged with equal force against such harmless necessary words as deist, aurist, dentist, florist, jurist, oculist, somnambulist, ventriloquist, and—purist. Much more valid objection might be made to the word "scientific," which is not hybrid indeed, but is, if strictly examined, illogical and even nonsensical. The fact is that three-fourths of the English language would crumble away before a purist analysis, and we should be left without words to express the commonest and most necessary ideas.

Contrast with the case of "scientist" a vulgarism such as the use of "transpire" in the sense of "happen." I do not quote it as an Americanism; it is probably of English origin; it occurs, I regret to note, in Dickens. I select it merely as an example of a demonstrably vicious locution which ought indubitably to be banished from the language. It has its origin in sheer blundering. Some one, at some time, has come upon the phrase "such-and-such a thing has transpired"—that is, leaked out, become known—and, ignorantly mistaking its meaning, has noted and employed the word as a finer-sounding synonym for "occurred" or "happened." The blunder has been passed on from one penny-a-liner to another, until at last it has crept into the pages of writers, on both sides of the Atlantic, who ought to know better. If it served any purpose, expressed any shade of meaning, it might be tolerated; but being at once a useless pedantry and an obvious blunder, it deserves no quarter.

My point, then, is that "scientist" ought to live on its merits, "transpire" to die on its demerits. With regard to every neologism we ought first to inquire, "Does it fill a gap? Does it serve a purpose?" And if that question be answered in the affirmative, we may next consider whether it is formed on a reasonably good analogy and in consonance with the general spirit of the language. "Truthful," for example, is said to be an Americanism, and at one time gave offence on that account. It is not only a vast improvement on the stilted "veracious," but one of the prettiest and most thoroughly English words in the dictionary.

The above-quoted writer in the New York Press is a purist in vocabulary, no less than in grammar. He will not allow us to be "unwell," we must always be "ill;" an inhuman imperative. Why should we sacrifice this clear and useful gradation: unwell, very unwell, ill, very ill? On "sick" he does not deliver judgment. The American use of the word is ancient and respectable, but the English limitation of its meaning seems to me convenient, seeing we have the general terms "unwell" and "ill" ready to hand. Again, the New York Press authority follows Freeman in wishing to eject the word "ovation" from the language; surely a ridiculous literalism. It is true we do not sacrifice a sheep at a modern "ovation," but neither (for example) do we judge by the flight of birds when we declare the circumstances to be "auspicious" for such and such an undertaking. Again, we are never to "retire" for the night, but always to "go to bed." If, as is commonly alleged, Americans say "retire" because they consider it indelicate to go to bed, the feeling and the expression are alike foolish. But I do not believe that either is at all common in America. On the other hand, one may retire for the night without going to bed. In the case of ladies especially, the interval between retiring and going to bed is reputed to be far from inconsiderable. If, then, one really means "retired for the night" and does not definitely mean "went to bed," I see no crime in employing the expression that conveys one's exact meaning. Finally the New York Press will not let us use the word "commence;" we must always "begin." This is an excellent example of unreflecting or half-reflecting purism. "Commence" is a very old word; it is used by the best writers; it is easily pronounceable and not in the least grandiloquent; indeed it has precisely the length and cadence of its competitor. But somebody or other one day observed that it was Latin, whereas "begin" was Saxon; and since then there has been a systematic attempt, in several quarters, to hound the innocent and useful synonym out of the language. Whence comes this rage for impoverishing our tongue! The more synonyms we possess the better. Wherefore (by the way) I for my part should not be too rigorous in excluding a forcible Americanism merely because it happens to duplicate some word or expression already current in England. The rich language is that which possesses not only the necessaries of life but also an abundance of superfluities.


[Footnote U: Mr. Andrew Lang says: "Plenty of other words are formed on the same analogy: the Greeks, in the verb 'to Medize,' set the example. But we happen to have no use for 'scientist.'" It is not quite clear whether Mr. Lang employs "have no use" in the American sense, expressing sheer dislike, or in the literal and English sense. In the latter case I can only say that he has been fortunate in never coming across conjunctures in which "man of science" came in awkwardly and inelegantly.]


Let me note a few of the Americanisms, good, bad, and indifferent, which specially struck me, whether in talk or in books, during my recent visit to the United States. I call them Americanisms without inquiring into their history. Some of them may be of English origin; but for practical purposes an Americanism may be taken to mean an expression commonly used in America and not commonly used in England.

I had not been three hours on American soil before I heard a charming young lady remark, "Oh, it was bully!" I gathered that this expression is considered admissible, in the conversation of grown-up people, only in and about New York. I often heard it there, and never anywhere else. A very distinguished officer, who served as a volunteer in Cuba, was asked to state his impressions of war. "War," he said, "is a terrible thing. You can't exaggerate its horrors. When you sit in your tent the night before the battle, and think of home and your wife and children, you feel pretty sick and downhearted. But," he added, "next day, when you're in it, oh, it is bully!"

The general use of picturesque metaphor is of course a striking feature of American conversation. Many of these expressions have taken firm root in England, such as "to have no use for" a man, or "to take no stock in" a theory. But fresh inventions crop up on every hand in America. For instance, where an English theatrical manager would say, "We must get this play well talked about and paragraphed in advance," an American manager puts the whole thing much more briefly and forcibly in the phrase, "We don't want this piece to come in on rubbers." Metaphor apart, many Americans have a gift of fantastic extravagance of phrase which often produces an irresistible effect. A gentleman in high political office had one day to receive a deputation with whose objects he had no sympathy. He listened for some time to the spokesman of the party, and then, at a pause, broke in with the remark: "Gentlemen, you need proceed no further. I am not an entirely dishevelled jackass!" One would give something for a snapshot photograph of the faces of that deputation.

Small differences of expression (other than those with which every one is familiar—such as "elevator," "baggage," "depot," &c.)—strike one in daily life. The American for "To let" is "For rent;" a "thing one would wish to have expressed otherwise" is, more briefly, "a bad break;" instead of "He married money" an American will say "He married rich;" but this, I take it, is a vulgarism—as, indeed, is the English expression. I find that in the modern American novel, setting forth the sayings and doings of more or less educated people, there are apt to be, on an average, about half a dozen words and phrases at which the English reader stumbles for a moment. Mr. Howells, a master of English, may be taken as a faithful reporter of the colloquial speech of Boston and New York. In one of his comediettas, he makes Willis Campbell say, "Let me turn out my sister's cup" (pour her a cup of tea). Mrs. Roberts, in another of these delightful little pieces, says, "I'll smash off a note," where an English Mrs. Roberts would say "dash off "; and where an English Mrs. Roberts would ring the bell, her American namesake "touches the annunciator." It is commonly believed in England that there is no such thing as a "servant" in America, but only "hired girls" and "helps." This is certainly not so in New York. I once "rang up" a friend's house by telephone, and, on asking who was speaking to me, received the answer, in a feminine voice, "I'm one of Mr. So-and-so's servants."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4     Next Part
Home - Random Browse