To an English Friend
MY DEAR FRIEND, — You and I have known and liked each other for several years; and as we cannot meet at present, and you, my valued friend, are very numerous, and I cannot write a private letter to the whole of you at once, it seems natural to address you here. I think of you very often, and always with warm regard and gratitude ; regard which has sometimes subjected me to blame at home as an Anglomaniac. Beyond all such general sentiments, however, I have a special matter on which to write, yet one which I am afraid will elude my pen in the very act of writing. There is that between us which is as transparent yet as impassable as glass ; and I greatly fear that whoever tries to break it will only cut his fingers.
When we talk, we speak the same language, — only we don’t, as Dr. Holmes says. (Yes, I will use the present tense.) If we had met for the first time in Siam, you would have known me for an American, and I you for an Englishman, — each by his accent. You laugh at us for talking as if there could be such a thing as an English accent. But you remember, in Shirley, how the North Country woman among you despises the South Country man for his mincing, feeble talk as being less English than his own ; and less Angle it certainly is. I will not discuss now if my ancestors did not carry off and preserve as pure an English speech as they left with yours, if Shakespeare is not at this hour enjoying his talks with Lowell more than those with Matthew Arnold. But from a difference of speech which you do recognize let me illustrate a difference of thought which I doubt if you do.
A century or more ago, every one who spoke English wrote emperour, errour, favour, honour, and a score of such words. Nowadays you drop the “ in some of these words; we are apt to drop it in all. Yet you generally deride or scold us for not making precisely the same omissions that you do. Why should we? Is there any clause in the treaty of 1783 that leaves in England the supreme control of the common language ? Yet the same perplexity that possesses you as to this point seems to me to hang round you in all your dealings with us. Some of you dislike all of us because we are Americans. Some of you treat some of us very well, and again some of you have a very friendly disposition to our whole nation, and are eager to learn all about us. But it seems to me as if the kindest and best of you fail to understand us; and this failure, which need be no more, leads to real injustice and unkindness. I suppose you have treated me as well as an American can be treated, yet I who write these lines have suffered in my own person unjust and unkind treatment among you which I cannot think you ever would have put on any Englishman of the same social rank, but which you thought could involve you in no censure that you would care for when done to an American. Just so my nation is subjected by you to many pieces of injustice quite inconsistent with your cordial professions in public and private, and quite inconsistent, as I believe, with the way you would treat us if you knew us.
You may say : “ Is not this always the ease between two nations ? Do you understand a Frenchman? Does he comprehend a German, or either of you a Pole ? ” Of course not; but that, my dear Johnny Bull, is not the specific trouble between you and me. That trouble is, you will not or cannot see at all that your American cousins are a real nation by themselves. If you could once get hold of that idea, you would know us as you never could hope or wish to know the child of any other land. If you only would recognize our absolute nationality, you would get twice the good you do out of our real connections with you.
What do you think we are ? Still provincials of your own ? It seems sometimes that this is your view, as you will persist in calling us “ the States,” just as you say “the Provinces.” That is a name that “the Provinces” give us, but that we do not give ourselves. You would think an American from the United States very ignorant or affected who spoke of your country as “ Britain,” yet that is more correct than “the States.” Could you not manage to learn our name ? Or is such blundering all of a piece with that which makes so many of you say Niagára, and Chícago, and Óhio, and Pótomac, and the Last of the Móhicans ; that made so many of you, in our war, even at Washington, talk of the Secretary of State as Mr. “ See-ward ” (what would you have said of an American who had sounded the l in Palmerston ? ) ; the rudeness which allows an Englishman to direct letters to an American whom he has known for weeks “—Jones, Esq.,” because it is too much trouble to learn Mr. Jones’s Christian name, and really we ought not to mind ? But you see we do mind.
Have you never yet found out, my friend, that we are no longer under you in any way ? Very early in our civil war, before actual fighting had begun, and the sympathy of England was, if anything, with the North, I was in company with three of your most thoughtful men, and the talk turned on the troubles arising from secession. A little college chaplain (you know the species ; “ in the catalogue they pass for men ”) remarked, in a highpitched attempt at intoning, “ Perhaps the Northern States would like to put themselves under the protection of the British crown.” And yet the man was sober ! That was a generation ago. No doubt the good man knows better now. Yet occasionally I hear or read something in your mention of us which reminds me of George III.’s title of “ King of France ” retained a century and a half after any king of England held an acre of French soil.
One of you wrote some time ago, “ Englishmen have no Fourth of July, and do not want one.” Perhaps some of our celebrations on that day are foolish, but at least we do date our years from the day we became independent of you and every one else. But what does your official chronology start from, according to a fixed custom which Mr. Freeman could not break up? From the 14th of October, or perhaps Christmas Day, 1066, when Englishmen lost their independence to the Norman aristocracy, a yoke which they are just beginning to think about shaking off. I like our date better.
It is the truths of the Fourth of July, which you have never learned, as not all of us, perhaps, have learned them. We are a nation equal to and different from — or as you would say, different to — any other. We are not your provincials, nor are we a mass of Englishmen, — separated indeed by distance and circumstances, but Englishmen after all. We have whole communities, rivals of England in size, where the men and women not of English descent are in the overwhelming majority, having completely absorbed and transmuted the blood of the pioneers from the old Atlantic settlements. Scotch, Scotch Irish, Celtic Irish, Germans of many emigrations, Hollanders, old and new, Scandinavians, and various Latin races, they care nothing about Old England; what they know of her they dislike, to put it mildly. Talk to them of the alliance and affinity to her, which you hold up to us as a fetter of control rather than a bond of love, and they laugh at the idea.
There are, I might say, whole States that would enjoy a war with you next week, because they believe the influence of our connection with England is wholly pernicious, and prevents men like myself from becoming true Americans. Do I hold this feeling ? Of course not ; a war with you I should deem a calamity beyond thought; but the last way to prevent it is for you to continue your half-petting, half-scolding, governess treatment.
The typical governess of the English novel trains her pupils by a certain conventional rule of propriety, whereby she gauges knowledge and ignorance, social behavior, religious and political opinions, and in fact character. Provided the inmates of her schoolroom keep to the established standard, all is well; if any of them obviously do not care for that standard, they are woes to be borne. In the view of many of you, Americans need a governess.
Some friends of mine, on going to a table d’hôte at Athens, heard a lady say to her daughter, in a voice which seemed an echo of Miss Yonge’s novels, “ Yes, they look like Amaricans ; but we must bear it, me love.” It so happened that the terrible, untrained provincials, the Australians of the West, whom she accepted with Christian resignation, were among the most cultivated people who ever took the pilgrimage to Greece ; and if such a Primrose Dame knew anything of the historic land she was visiting, she would know that Americans stand far higher in the affections of the Hellenic people than her own countrymen. But what provincialism there was in looking upon it as an inconvenance de voyage that this outlying tribe should dare to come between the breezes of Hymettus and her parsonality !
It is not strange that you do not know what we are. What do most of your tourists do, those who stay some months with us ? Every year scores of your young men come to our coast cities, are received by families who are fond of England and her ways, and when they are tired of familiar luxuries go boltingoff to the farthest West, to play ranch life or exterminate buffaloes, — or as they say, “ buffalo,” for a sportsman’s grammar is as rough us his tastes, — as if our Western States were entirely outside land surveys and laws, a kind of Uganda or Transoxiana. Back they go, without having stayed a week with the real, average American citizen in any part of our country. They see one section of us which they compare to England ; they see another which they choose to consider a No Man’s Land ; and they have taken no pains to know the real United States at all, probably thinking a cowboy the pure American.
Nay, when some of you do realize we are no part of England, you propose to make us so by colonization. It never seemed, for instance, as if Mr. Hughes’s colonists at Rugby started with the idea of becoming Americans ; they meant to have a little piece of England in Tennessee. So there are in many parts of our country little Hollands or little Waleses ; but they get absorbed and assimilated. There is, my European friends, all of you, an American nationality into which you must be drawn, like Sydney Smith’s celebrated description of a pudding : “ ‘ Dear me,’ says one of the ingredients, ‘ was n’t I an egg just now ? ’ But he finds the batter sticking to him.” The Roman Colonia, that remained a piece of Rome, has no place here.
Now I know to all this many of you will reply that the common-sense and progressive spirit of England is not responsible for the rudeness and ignorance of Toryism; that it studies, admires, and loves America, — nay, imitates her in more ways than one; that all England is a living testimony to the growing influence of America. It is true ; and yet some of you who are our warm friends misunderstand us almost as badly as the old Tories. You seem to think the United States are peopled by a set of philosophical radicals, whose true place is on the Liberal benches, behind Mr. John Morley. Your writers of this school know we are a separate nation ; but they are persuaded that it is a nation of philosophers, right out of Plato or Sir Thomas More. Mr. Howells has a charming story where a girl from the practical but still visionary “ West ” thinks Boston is peopled with reformers, who revolve round the abolitionists as bright stars. She is amazed to hear talk an agreeable young gentleman of Boston who never met these people in society, and as far as he had heard of them looked upon them as dangerous eccentrics. Now, some of your highly educated thinkers seem to regard the average American as largely occupied with reading or writing treatises on the philosophy of government, coming down in a long catena from Jefferson, and as much concerned with conventions and referenda. My friend, we did that once for all when we started; and though no doubt such things are talked of more than they used to be twenty years ago, I assure you we are in the mass anything but a set of theorizing radicals. We are very conservative, very humdrum, much attached to existing machinery, especially in politics, and with a great distrust of Utopian and ideal schemes. Custom is almost as great a tyrant with us as in your Indian dominions. Eager as we are for novelties in dress and buildings, we are hard to stir from our accepted ways of letting ourselves be governed, even when these are tangled and muddy. Our philosophers complain that their speculations do not make the impression they ought on most of their fellow-citizens, who are engaged in the mere work of living. I suspect England is a good deal nearer female suffrage than we are.
When Professor Bryce was last here, he rushed off from all his friends to see what he considered the intensely interesting spectacle of a constitutional convention in the State of Kentucky, an institution to which he had given much space in his very valuable book. I do not believe that at this hour twenty members of Congress outside Kentucky know whether the results of that convention were adopted or not. We can get half as big a vote again on the pettiest election when the choice is between persons as when people solemnly vote “ yes ” or “ no ” on a question of organic law.
No, my old friend, we are not English provincials, we are not half-civilized pioneers, we are not Utopian radicals, above all we are not naughty boys and silly girls. We are not anything that you have decided we must be. There is one liberty we claim as our English birthright, — the liberty of being illogical when we please, and succeeding or failing according to our own ideas of working out our own problems, whether they are yours or not. If this character of ours is ignored, if you treat us as pets, or schoolboys, or barbarians, or abstract philosophers, instead of the self-sustaining integral part of the civilized commonwealth of nations that we claim to be, we shall not be delicate to show what you call our sensitiveness, and we call proper resentment of what is always disagreeable, and sometimes insulting.
I will test — a word which you call an Americanism — your readiness to learn. When an Englishman has learned how to pronounce the name of the author of Maud Muller, and also that he, and not the peculiar person whose name begins with the same letters, is our truly national poet, I will admit that you are getting some intimacy with our nation. Till then, thanking you again for the repeated kindness you have shown me, and the distinguished way in which you have manifested your appreciation of some eminent individuals among us, I bid you farewell, with this warning, that if you really want to maintain peace between the nations, you must not think it enough to admit certain Americans to “ dine and sleep,” but must recognize the United States once for all, not as a daughter, a pupil, or a forest guide, but your full equal sister in all that constitutes an enlightened, historic, imperial nation. Your friend,