The Growth of American Influence Over England

THERE can be no doubt that the triumph of the American Revolution was greeted with a passionate enthusiasm by the democratic portion of the English community ; that for the working classes in particular the United States became for many years a veritable Land of Promise. In literature two names chiefly personify that influence : Tom Paine, who, though an Englishman, first attained to celebrity in America, and Franklin. The works of the latter, with his own memoir of his early life (three volumes), were published in London in 1806.1 His private correspondence appeared in two volumes in 1817, and six volumes of memoirs of his life and writings in 1833. Marshall’s Life of Washington, in five octavo volumes, had indeed been published in London in 1804, and I can only say for myself that one of the historical figures whom in my childhood I was earliest taught to reverence was America’s first President. Again, Jefferson’s Memoirs, Correspondence, etc., were published in London in 1829, and his life by Tucker in 1837.

So far, American influence upon English thought had been mainly political; for, however admirably lucid and simple might be Franklin’s style, lie was far surpassed as a writer by our Cobbett. In literature proper, the first really popular American writer amongst us was Washington Irving, all whose works were successively published in London, from the Sketch-Book in 1820 and Bracebridge Hall in 1822 to the Life and Poetical Remains of Margaret Miller Davidson which he edited in 1842, and may thus have paved a way to the publication of Jefferson’s Memoirs, etc. Yet, besides that. Irving’s earlier republished works were on English subjects, he was himself, so far as style and turn of thought, were concerned, rather an Englishman born out of England tlum an American. But the delight he gave to our cultivated classes tended. I think, greatly to soften their hearts towards the great transatlantic rebel, as I am afraid they for the most part still considered America.

But Washington Irving’s popularity was confined mainly to those cultivated classes, and it required a literary taste to appreciate him. A far more widespread popularity was achieved by Fenimore Cooper, and that by works distinctively American in subject. I remember beginning my novel-reading in 1827 (at the mature age of six) with Walter Scott and Cooper simultaneously, and feeling a far more rapt interest in Uncas and Leatherstocking than in any of Walter Scott’s heroes. Nor has any subsequent American novelist, except Mrs. Stowe, — not even Hawthorne, immeasurably superior to Cooper in genius, — ever, I believe, been so widely read in England.

The next American influence was a religious one, that of Channing, — singular in one respect as proceeding from the circumference to the centre of English thought, since his works were published both at Glasgow (1841) and at Belfast (1863) before they were published in London. Nor was it less singular in its contrast to another great religious influence which had proceeded from America to the mother country in pre-Revolutionary times, —that of Jonathan Edwards, whose works had been first printed in London in 1765. But Jonathan Edwards had addressed himself to a sect only ; Channing addressed himself to all men. His Self-Culture was at one time in almost, every English house not absolutely steeped in ignorance and frivolity.

Then Longfellow revealed America to England as a land capable of poetry (London edition, 1848). This, I say, was Longfellow’s revelation ; not forgetting that Bryant’s poems had been published in London as early as 1832, but without exciting more than a little curiosity amongst cultivated people ; of influence the poems had not a particle. Longfellow’s influence, on the other hand, was very great, chiefly indeed over the young and the imperfectly educated, whose bad taste especially gloated over the two most absurd of his pieces, that Psalm of Life which finds sublimity in leaving footsteps on sand, like a gull or a crab, to be washed out by the next tide, and that Excelsior which calls upon us to admire an idiot climbing the Alps at night with a banner in his hand.2 Later on, indeed, Hiawatha convinced the more educated that Longfellow really had added something to the permanent literature of the world.

I ought perhaps to have mentioned Emerson before Longfellow, as the edition of his Essays introduced by Carlyle appeared in London as early as 1841. But his was a much more slow-growing influence than that of Channing or Longfellow. Through him America revealed herself in ethics and philosophy to the mother country.

I cannot separate the next two names, widely different as are the types of character which they embody. — Lowell and Mrs. Stowe. Both represent the revelation of America in the field of political ethics: the one through humorous satire, the other through dramatic presentment ; the one to the English-speaking races only, the other to all mankind. The anti-slavery societies in both countries were in full touch of sympathy, and as early as 1840 I had heard Garrison and Wendell Phillips speak from a London platform. But they had addressed themselves only to those who felt with them already. Charming, Longfellow, Emerson, had all prepared the way for the new-comers. But what had been a side issue for those was by these thrust into the forefront. The Biglow Papers, indeed, at first reached but few in this country, since the first English edition was not published till 1859. But I cannot describe the passionate delight with which they were hailed by some of the younger generation of the day, when one who was then only Henry Sumner Maine, afterwards the Sir Henry Maine of world-wide juridical fame, first reviewed them in the Morning Chronicle, I think in 1848. How deeply the book has influenced many contemporary English writers it would be difficult to say. Thomas Hughes, for one, is simply saturated with Biglowism. On the other hand, Uncle Tom’s Cabin took the heart of the people by storm. One hundred thousand copies were sold. It was everywhere. No single English novel had ever had such a success. It reached every unossified human heart.

About this time, or a little earlier, Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter — the first book of his that was reprinted in England, soon succeeded by the Mosses from an Old Manse — had been making a conquest over the more cultivated few parallel to that of Mrs. Stowe over the many. In spite of the popularity of Cooper’s novels twenty years before, it was Hawthorne who first raised for us the American novel into the category of works of literary art, securing for him a distinct and permanent place in the history of fiction.

Meanwhile, however, other influences from over the western ocean were at work upon the English people. The pouring forth, during many years, of emigrants into the United States had produced a reflex action, which began, probably, with the sending over of copies of American newspapers — often in place of a letter — from emigrants to their families in the old country. This grew into the subscribing regularly for such papers, and to the establishment of offices for their sale. In the autumn of 1851, I traveled, mostly on foot, through a large portion of the manufacturing districts of Lancashire and Yorkshire, mixing chiefly with workingmen, and in many eases received at their homes. I was amazed at the large diffusion of American newspapers. I was told that in the factory districts there were nearly as many American papers as English sold to workingmen; that there was scarcely an operative’s home where at least a copy of one was not to be found. And as these came almost solely from the North, the foundation was laid of that marvelous sympathy of our manufacturing population with the North in the American war for the Union, — a steadfast sympathy, based upon knowledge and combined with true insight, — which held in check not only the Southern proclivities of our aristocratic and moneyed classes, but the indifference and self-interest of that portion of our working population which was not so directly connected with America.3

Paradoxical as it may appear, I do not hesitate to say that nothing since the separation of the North American colonies from the mother country brought England and America so closely together, made England feel how nearly and indissolubly she was knit to her revolted colonies, as the war for the Union. I believe this sense of indestructible connection was shown as much in the Southern sympathies of the one part of the nation as in the Northern sympathies of the other. For on each side there was a passion which I have never witnessed In connection with any Continental struggle. Between English Tories and American Confederates, between English democrats and the American North, there was a feeling of active brotherhood which no really foreign nation could have called forth. And when the final act of the tragedy of war took place, it would be impossible to exaggerate the effect it produced in this country. Very genuine sympathy was called forth among us, a short time ago, by the assassination of President Carnot. But it was as the last faint ripple on the beach compared to that towering wave of grief and horror which swept over the land, from palace to cottage, on the news of Abraham Lincoln’s martyr death.

It was at the time of the civil war. I believe, that most of the great American newspapers first established offices in London. It was certainly at this time that the American monthly magazines began to be largely taken in among us. Before, they were to be found on club tables; now. Harper’s and Scribner’s (not yet the Century) began to be seen in every bookseller’s shop, in many a private drawing-room. The literature of the two countries grew more and more to be practically one.

There remained one more link to be established. Individual Americans had been popular. From the days of Charles Sumner’s visit to England, many Americans had been for the time being “ stars ” in English society: Mrs. Stowe was a lion of first-rate magnitude. But American representatives had been simply foreign ambassadors who spoke English. I remember the days when Mr. Stevenson’s sharp sayings were quoted in drawingrooms. For example, some one had said before him that Lord Brougham was mad. I wish he ’d bite me,” was the American’s reply. But personally he was considered disagreeable. The tradition still remains of Washington Irving’s popularity when secretary of legation. But otherwise not even Mr. C. F. Adams — typical elderly Englishman though he was in appearance — had attained to anything like the friendly footing among us of a German, Chevalier Bunsen, as representative of Prussia. But when Lowell came, all barriers were broken down. The humorist whose righteous satire had added a new type to the world’s literature, the poet whose Commemoration Ode claimed a place in the literature of English-speaking peoples between the masterpieces of Milton and of Wordsworth, was found to be the most lovable of guests. I do not think the most passionate Tory bore him a grudge for hard things said of us. He was popular, not as some foreign hero of the hour, some Kossuth, some Garibaldi, but as one who was bone of our bone, and flesh of our flesh. I do not remember half a dozen of our public men who were so absolutely welcome wherever they might go. And this without any sacrifice of his Americanism ; simply by showing that he lived at the heart of that deeper unity — that unity of blood “ thicker than water,” according to the saying of the noble American sailor — which binds the two nations indissolubly together with links such as no art of man could forge with any other. And Lowell’s example has been worthily followed by his successors, Mr. Phelps especially, and Mr. Bayard. The American minister among us holds henceforth •— unless he chooses to repudiate it — a very different position from that of any other representative.

In the sphere of religious teaching one other name must be mentioned, that of Phillips Brooks. His influence, if less widespread, went far deeper than that of Channing. I say, if less widespread, and even that is doubtful. Crowds hung on his lips wherever he went, though his too quick delivery did scant justice to his matter. He took the old country by storm, for my copy of the first volume of his sermons reprinted in England (in 1879) is of the “tenth thousand.” A Boston clergyman was recognized far and wide as one of the leading divines of the English race. And he too was loved wherever he was known, — I might say, wherever he was seen. In his massive strength he seemed to embody the description of Scripture, “ a lionlike man of Judah.” But the lion nature in him was a glorified one, joining all sweetness with all strength.

Another American influence has yet to be named, this time working in the field of economics, — that of Henry George. Belated protectionists among us had been fond of quoting Carey against free-traders. American free-traders, on the other hand, had been made much of at the Cobden Club. But Henry George was the first to lay hold on the sympathies of a large portion of the English masses. The forcible truth of much of his criticism on existing social arrangements seemed with the less educated to accredit the correctness of his conclusions ; the simplicity of those conclusions was a powerful attraction for shallow minds ; the man’s own narrow sincerity, and his faculty of never knowing when he was beaten, had for many the effect of invincible power. I do not hesitate to say that Henry George’s teaching represents now an element in popular English thought which has to be seriously reckoned with.

In the above brief sketch I have left out the names of men of merely transient popularity, like that of Henry Ward Beecher, and influences strong over a few only among us, like that of Theodore Parker or that of Walt Whitman. I have also left on one side the field of history, — in which, since the days of Washington Irving, America has held her own, — simply because I do not trace any distinct influence exerted by the American masters, Prescott, Motley, Packman. It may indeed be otherwise with Captain Malian’s works, which have received among us an unprecedented greeting. The same applies to jurisprudence, though Story’s rather thin Commentaries were, in my youth at all events, more widely read by English lawyers than many far abler works of German or French jurists. In art, whilst West is a mere name, and Bierstadt was admired, but not followed, Mr. Sargent appears really to represent a rising influence among our younger painters. Of the field of pure science I do not feel competent to speak. In that of applied science the quicker inventiveness of the American is freely acknowledged.

In matters of business America has had only too much influence upon us. As a latest development, the “ trusts ” which we have borrowed from her have yet to vindicate their moral title to existence. But it would require special knowledge to treat adequately of this side of the subject. How closely the interests of the two countries are connected in the field of business, how powerfully American troubles react upon England, may be shown by the words to me, the other day, of the senior member of one of our most eminent publishing firms. He was saying that he had never known such a dull publishing season as that of 1894, and assigned as the reason for it the labor disturbances in America. “You mean,” I said, “ that you cannot enter into contracts with American publishers ? ” “ Partly that,” he replied, “ but rather that people are waiting to see whether the thing may not spread to England.” The fear, I believe, is unfounded, but its existence is noteworthy.

And now, what are the results upon the thought of the mother country of all these various influences from her tall daughter beyond the seas ?

It is in many respects very difficult to say. One thing, however, will, I think, be universally admitted. The best literature of the two countries is henceforth one. Every American work of merit is sure of republication in England ; some are republished which scarcely deserve it. Marion Crawford, W. I). Howells and Henry James, Frank Stockton and Mark Twain, Elizabeth Phelps and Kate Wiggin, are as widely read among us as any English authors of fiction. Longfellow, Lowell, Emerson (the order of names is that of their popularity, not of their merit), are to be found in the library of almost every English home.

Socially, there is a much closer intermixture of the two peoples. I can remember the day when an American hostess in an English house was a notable singularity; the presentation at court of an American lady not directly connected with the legation a subject of astonishment. Now American ladies preside over many an English household, and the presentation of several at every drawing-room is a thing of course.

Still, the relation between the two countries, however altered within my experience, is not reversed. England has dared to look down upon America, an attitude which to a large extent prevailed till the close of the American war for the Union, whether among those who scorned, or among those who loved and pitied. But England does not look up to America. The period of corruption in politics which followed the triumph of the North was a terrible cause of disillusion to many. The feeling is now more one of equality, of brotherhood. No Englishman. I think, would hesitate or feel pained to admit that this or that is better done in America than in England. But I doubt if there be any one who does not feel convinced that many things are better done still in the old country than in the new. No one now rejoices when misfortune overtakes America. But the passionate admiration for her as the great champion of democracy, which once existed in a portion of our working class, subsists, I think, no longer; nay, what remains of it is outside of that class. The relations between the two countries have become so intimate that emigration to America has come largely to be a mere migration to and fro, to such an extent, that, through the cheapness of fares on the ocean steamers, thousands of English workmen habitually divide each year between the two countries. Our English workingmen are thus most intimately acquainted with the conditions of the American labor market; and, so far as I can ascertain, they believe at present that the labor relation is generally more strained in the United States than in the mother country, that the average transatlantic employer is harder and more unscrupulous, that transatlantic workingmen’s combinations are worse regulated than the English. The violence of the late labor conflicts in the United States is, I find, generally disapproved by our labor leaders. Indeed, a friend of mine who has spent many years in the United States, and is still obliged frequently to cross the Atlantic for business purposes, was saying to me the other day that if you were to take an English and an American railway employee at random, and put them side by side, you could tell the Englishman at once by the look of greater contentment on his face. But there is, I think, a much deeper and more general interest than formerly in American matters, a more general concern for American troubles, a more intimate feeling of the community of race.

Unless through the mere fact of the centennial existence of the United States, I do not think that America has made us more democratic. England seems to me to be evolving her own ideas of democracy out of her own “ inner consciousness,” her own experience. Outside of Ireland, the movement towards federal home rule of the last decade does not. I think, arise from any transatlantic influence. If it had done so, the movement towards what is called “ imperial federation ” would not merely have grown pari passu, but would have absorbed the other. Very few Englishmen have as yet, I fear, realized the fact that the development of the United States has been largely a process of organized colonization, through the wide and far-reaching provisions of the Constitution for the admission of new Territories and States, so that the American protective system itself implies absolute free-trade throughout two thirds of a continent. Even thoughtful journals cannot take in the idea that a Canadian should be looked upon simply as an Englishman in Canada, an Australian as an Englishman in Australia ; that every colony which attains a certain development has a right to a share in the government of the empire. It was not long ago that the Spectator delivered itself of this sentiment : “We have no objection to the colonies giving specially favorable treatment to our goods, . . . but we can never return the favor in kind.” So utterly lost upon it is the spectacle of the American Union; so far is it from realizing the idea of an imperial unity, every part of which should join in forming one country, and taking its proportionate share in the government.

And yet that idea is growing, and beyond it a grander one still, — that of a league of all English-speaking peoples, in which America should take her place beside England for preserving the freedom and safety of the seas, for the promotion of international justice and international peace. A dream, no doubt, at present; but the dreams of one century are often the facts of the next.

In the mean while both countries have much to do, England as well as America, in raising the standard of political life, of commercial morality ; America more than England in making the law strong and respected. She must depose Judge Lynch for good.

J. M. Ludlow.

  1. For this date and many of the subsequently given dates of publication I rely on the catalogue of the London Library.
  2. Mr. Ludlow States bluntly the judgment of many besides himself; but there is a symbolism in poetry as well as in other arts, and the symbolism of Excelsior should not, be made to do service as realism. —ED. ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
  3. A noted labor leader among the Scotch miners was, I was informed by one who had full opportunities of knowing’, deeply interested in blockade running.