English as Against French Literature
THE French have had hospitable reception from us of late years ; their books have been read with diligence, their novels have strewn ladies’ tables, their ideas have inspired our men of letters.“ Englished,” “ done into English,” translated, converted, transfused into English, French literature furnishes forth our young ladies with conversation and our young gentlemen with cosmopolitanism, until the crushed worm of national prejudice begins to squirm and turn. Flaubert the high aspiring, Maupassant the cunning craftsman, Bourget the puppetshifter, Zola the zealot, have had their innings ; their side is out; the fiery bowling of Mr. Kipling has taken their last wicket, and those of us who have been born and bred in prejudice and provincialism may return to our English-American ways with a fair measure of jauntiness. We are no longer ashamed to lose interest when we hear of an “ inevitable ” catastrophe or of an “ impeccable ” style ; we yawn openly over “ bitterly modern spiritual complexities.” Let us have done with raw admiration of foreigners ; let us no more heed Ibsen and Zola,
Let us speak out our prejudices; let us uncover our honest thoughts and our real affections. Let us openly like what nature has commanded us to like, and not what we should were we colossi spanning the chasm between nations.
Cosmopolitanism spreads out its syllables as if it were the royal city of humanity, but if, whenever its praises are sung, the context be regarded, the term is found to be only a polysyllabic equivalent for Paris and things Parisian ; it means preference of French ideas and ways to English. We are not cosmopolitan ; we learned our French history from Shakespeare, Marryat, and Punch, and from a like vantage-ground of literary simplicity we survey the courses of English and French literatures, and with the definiteness of the unskeptical we believe that in novel and story, in drama and epic, in sermon and essay, in ballad and song, the English have overmatched the French.
The heart of all literature is poetry. The vitality of play, story, sermon, essay, of whatever there is best in prose, is the poetic essence in it. English prose is better than French prose, because of the poetry in it. We do not mean prose as a vehicle for useful information, but prose put to use in literature. English prose gets emotional capacity from English poetry, not only from the spirit of it, but also by adopting its words. English prose has thus a great poetical vocabulary open to it, and a large and generous freedom from conventional grammar. It draws its nourishment from English blank verse, and thus strengthened strides onward like a bridegroom. If you are a physician inditing a prescription, or a lawyer drawing a will, or a civil engineer putting down logarithmic matter, write in French prose : your patient will die, his testament be sustained, or an Eiffel Tower be erected to his memory in the correctest and clearest manner possible. But when you write a prayer, or exhort a forlorn hope, or put into words any of those emotions that give life its dignity, let your speech be English, that your reader shall feel emotional elevation, his heart lifted up within him, while his intellect peers at what is beyond his reach.
If a man admits that for him poetry is the chief part of literature, he must concede that French prose cannot awaken in him those feelings which he has on reading the English Bible, Milton, Ruskin, Carlyle, or Emerson. It is the alliance of our prose with our poetry that makes it so noble. What English-speaking person in his heart thinks that any French poet is worthy to loose one shoe-latchet in the poets’ corner of English shoes ?
As much as his mother tongue,
Can either have had no mother,
Or that mother no mother’s tongue.”
We have shown too much deference to this inmate of clubs and weekly newspapers, this international Frankenstein of literary cosmopolitanism. English poetry is the greatest achievement in the world; we think so, why then do we make broad our phylacteries and say that we do not? Ben Jonson says, “There is a necessity that all men should love their country ; he that professeth the contrary may be delighted with his words, but his heart is not there.” But we here concern ourselves with another matter. We desire to praise the two chief qualities that have combined to make English literature so great: they are common sense and audacity, and their combined work is commonly called, for lack of a better name, romance.
Younger brother to English poetry is English romance, which of all strange things in this world is most to be wondered at. Brother to poetry, cousin to greed, neighbor to idealism, friend to curiosity, English romance in deed and word is the riches of the English race. Its heroes march down the rolls of history like a procession of kings : Raleigh and Spenser, Drake and Sidney, Bunyan and Harry Vane, Hastings and Burns, Nelson and Sir Walter Scott, Gordon and Kipling. Strange as English romance is, if a man would learn its two constituent qualities in little space, he need only take from the library shelf The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques, and Discoveries of the English Nation, made by Sea or Overland, compiled by Richard Hakluyt, Preacher. Here we perceive the bond between romance, greed, idealism, and curiosity; here we see how the British Empire plants its feet of clay upon the love of gain. Trade, trade, trade, with Russians, Tartars, Turks, with Hindoos, Hottentots, and Bushmen, with Eskimo, Indian, and South Sea Islander ; and yet hand in hand with greed go curiosity, love of adventure, and search for some ideal good. A wonderful people are the English so faithfully to serve both God and Mammon, and so sturdily to put their great qualities to building both an empire and a literature.
Who is not pricked by curiosity upon seeing “ certeine bookes of Cosmographie with an universalle Mappe ” ? Who is not splendidly content, of a winter evening, his oblivious boots upon the fender, his elbows propped on the arms of his chair, to read Mr. Preacher Hakluyt’s Voyages ? Who does not feel himself disposed “ to wade on farther and farther in the sweet study of Cosmographie ” ? Let us leave gallicized gallants, literary cosmopolites, their adherents and accomplices, and read old Hakluyt.
What quicker can attune the reader’s attention to the valiant explorations that are to follow than to read that “ when the Emperour’s sister, the spouse of Spaine, with a Fleete of 130 sailes, stoutly and proudly passed the narrow Seas, Lord William Howard of Effingham, accompanied with ten ships onely of Her Majestie’s Navie Roiall, environed their Fleete in most strange and warrelike sorte, enforced them to stoope gallant, and to vaile their bonets for the Queene of England ” !
On the 9th of May, 1553, the ordinances of M. Sebastian Cabota, Esquier, Governour of the Mysterie and Companie of Marchants Adventurers, were all drawn up. The merchants aboard the ships were duly warned “in countenance not to shew much to desire the forren commodities ; nevertheless to take them as for friendship ; ” and Sir Hugh Willoughby, Knight, Richard Chancellor, their officers, mariners, and company, set sail down the Thames in the Edward Bonaventure, the Bona Speranza, and the Confidencia, on their way by the northeast passage to Cathay. Before they had gone far, Thomas Nash, cook’s mate on the Bona Speranza, was ducked at the yard’s - arm for pickerie. The ships sailed up the North Sea, past Scandinavia, and into the Arctic Ocean, where Sir Hugh Willoughby and his two ships were lost, but Chancellor entered the White Sea, and landed in Russia. He then drove on sledges to Moscow, where he was received most graciously by his Majesty Ivan the Terrible. Chancellor wrote a description of the Russians, in which he tells their ways and customs. Although Chancellor could remember very well the days of Henry VIII. and the seizure of Church lands, et he remarks that when a rich Russian grows old " he shall be called before the Duke, and it shall be sayd unto him, Friend, you have too much living, and are unserviceable to your Prince, lesse will serve you, and the rest will serve other men that are more able to serve, whereupon immediately his living shall be taken away from him saving a little to find himselfe and his wife on ; and he may not once repine thereat, but for answere he will say, that he hath nothing, but it is God’s and the Duke’s graces, and cannot say, as we the common people in England say, if wee have anything ; that it is God’s and our owne. Men may say that these men are in wonderful great awe and obedience, that thus one must give and grant his goods which he hath bene scraping and scratching for all his life, to be at his Prince’s pleasure and commandement.”
Coming back from his second voyage, Chancellor brought an ambassador from Ivan Vasilivich, Emperour of all Russia, Great Duke of Smolenski, Tuerskie, Yowgoriskie, Permskie, Viatskie, Bolgarskie and Sibierskie, Emperour of Chernigoskie, Rezanskie, Polodskie, Rezewskie, Bielskie, Rostoskie, Yeraslaveskie, Bealozarskie, Oudarskie, Obdorskie, Condenskie, and manie other countries, to the most famous and excellent Princes Philip and Mary. (This patent inferiority of designation was the cause of much diplomatic correspondence.) Chancellor sailed out of the White Sea through the Arctic Ocean ; for the Russians had no access to the Baltic, as they had granted exclusive privileges to the Flemings. Storms overtook him on the Scottish coast: Chancellor and most of the men were drowned ; only “ the noble personage of the Ambassadour ” was saved.
In 1557 Master Anthonie Jenkinson in the Primerose, the Admirall, with three other tall ships, took this ambassador back to Russia by the same northern way, seven hundred and fifty leagues. Jenkinson sailed up the river Dwina in a little boat, lodging in the wilderness by the riverside at night; and “ he that will travell those wayes, must carie with him an hatchet, a tinderboxe, and a kettle, to make fire and seethe meate, when he hath it; for there is small succour in those parts, unless it be in townes.” He was graciously received in Moscow by the Emperor about Christmas time, and witnessed the court ceremonies. At their Twelftide, the Emperor with his crown of Tartarian fashion upon his head, and the Metropolitan attended by divers bishops and nobles and a great concourse of people, went in long procession to the river, which was completely frozen over. A hole was cut in the ice, and the Metropolitan hallowed the water with great solemnity, and did cast of the water upon the Emperor’s son and upon the nobility. “ That done, the people with great thronging filled pots of the said water to carie home to their houses, and divers children were throwen in,and sicke people, and plucked out quickly again, and divers Tartars christened. Also there were brought the Emperour’s best horses to drink of the sayd hallowed water, and likewise many other men brought their horses thither to drinke, and by that means they make their horses as holy as themselves.”
The English merchants were now well established in Muscovy, and sent home frequent reports about the manners and customs of Russians. They noticed the Russian custom “ every yere against Easter to die or colour red with Brazell a great number of egs ; the common people use to carie in their hands one of their red egs, not onely upon Easter day, but also three or foure days after, and gentlemen and gentlewomen have egs gilded which they cary in like maner. When two friends meete, the one of them sayth, the Lord is risen, the other answereth, it is so of a truth, and then they kisse and exchange their egs both men and women, continuing in kissing 4 dayes together.”
One of the agents of the company in Moscow, Master Henrie Lane, had a controversy with one Sheray Costromitskey concerning the amount of a debt due from the English merchants. Lane proffered six hundred rubles, but the Russians demanded double the sum, and not agreeing they had recourse to law. For trial by combat Master Lane was provided with a strong, willing Englishman, one of the company servants ; but the Russian champion was not willing to meet him, and the case was brought to trial before two chief judges. The English party were taken within the bar, and their adversaries placed outside. “ Both parties were first perswaded with great curtesie, to wit, I to enlarge mine offer, and the Russes to mitigate their challenge. Notwithstanding that I protested my conscience to be cleere, and their gaine by accompt to bee sufficient, yet of gentlenes at the magistrate’s request I make proffer of 100 rubles more ; which was openly commended, but of the plaintifes not accepted. Then sentence passed with our names in two equall balles of waxe made and holden up by the Judges, their sleeves stripped up. Then with standing up and wishing well to the trueth attributed to him that should be first drawen, by both consents from among the multitude they called a tall gentleman, saying: Thou with such a coate or cap, come up: where roome with speede was made. He was commanded to hold his cappe (wherein they put the balles) by the crown, upright in sight, his arme not abasing. With like circumspection they called at adventure another tall gentleman, commanding him to strip up his right sleeve, and willed him with his bare arme to reach up, and in God’s name severally to take out the two balles; which he did delivering to either Judge one. Then with great admiration the lotte in ball first taken out was mine: which was by open sentence so pronounced before all the people, and to be the right and true parte. I was willed forthwith to pay the plaintifes the sum by me appointed. Out of which, for their wrong or sinne, as it was termed, they payd tenne in the hundred to the Emperour. Many dayes after, as their maner is, the people took our nation to be true and upright dealers, and talked of this judgement to our great credite.”
Thus, with daring, good sense, and good luck, English commerce laid the foundation - stones of the English Empire. But the reader must read for himself how these merchants flew the English flag for the first time across the Caspian Sea, and made their way to Persia in the teeth of danger. Or if the reader would learn more of English courage, let him read that volume in which Raleigh describes how Sir Richard Grenville fought the Revenge.
We wish only to call attention to the union of boldness and prudence in these English traders at the budding time of Elizabethan literature.
Commerce is like colonizing : it demands manly virtue, forethought, audacity, quickness to advance, slowness to yield ; it requires diplomacy, flattery, lies, and buffets. Misadventure may follow misadventure, yet the money-bags of England continue to propel new adventurers over the globe. Merchant adventurers do not seek Utopias, — let a man plan a Utopia, and the English cut his head off; they seek a gay and gallant market, where black, red, or yellow men will barter taffeta and furs for English homespun, English glass, and English steel; or, better yet, will give England a kingdom for “ a cherry or a fig.” The money - getting English are no misers. Their gold-bags breed audacity. Nobles of Devon, franklins of Kent, burghers of London, make many companies of merchant adventurers, and delight to risk their possessions for the sake of great returns. Half the famous ships that beat the Spanish Armada — the Bull, the Bear, the Dreadnaught, the Arkraleigh — were built for the commercial enterprise of piracy on the Spanish Main. Elizabeth and her nobles drew their ten per centum per mensem from such investments.
Money searched for cheap routes to Cathay, and opened up trade with Russia, Tartary, and Persia. Hope of gain sent colonists westward to Virginia, lured by the description of land “ which wall not onely serve the ordinary turnes of you which are and shall bee, planters and inhabitants, but such an overplus sufficiently to be yielded, as by way of trafficke and exchaunge will enrich yourselves the providers, and greatly profit our owne countrymen.” The swelling money - bags of England set Clive and Hastings over India, took the Cape of Good Hope, and sought twentyfold increase in Australia.
English commerce is no headstrong fool. It looks first, and leaps afterward. Like a wary captain, it takes its reckoning by compass and sextant, and then spreads all sail. It acts with the self-confidence of common sense. Commerce is as prudent as Cecil and as bold as Drake; but prudence is the controlling spirit. Common sense, also, is the characteristic of English literature which has exalted it so far beyond its modern rivals. Powerful as have been its fantastic, monstrous, and metaphysical elements, disturbing as have been affectation and demagogy, these influences have been but little eddies whirling round in the strong, steady current of common sense that has carried English literature on its flood. Common sense unconsciously recognizes that men are human ; that imagination must play round the facts of daily life ; that poetry and prose must be wrought out of the dust of the earth, and not out of some heavenly essence. Common sense acts upon instant needs, and meets the dangers of the hour ; it is not diverted from its path by fears or allurements of the distant future ; it climbs like a child, clinging to one baluster and then another, till it plants its steps securely. There is a world of difference between it and “ une certaine habitude raisonnahle qui est le propre de la race française en poée,” according to Sainte-Beuve. One is bred in the closet by meditation ; the other comes from living.
The good sense of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dryden, Defoe, Pope, Fielding, Walter Scott, Tennyson, George Eliot, and others walls in English literature, so that it can stand the push of unruly genius in a Marlowe or a Shelley. Against this dominating common sense allegory rises in vain ; passion cannot overtopple it; too subtle thought is sloughed off by it; dreams serve but to ornament; desires are tamed ; parlor rhymesters are tossed aside. Common sense, with its trust in common humanity, has made English literature. The same solid wisdom which makes English money ballasts English verse and prose. There is an impress as of pounds, shillings, and pence on most of their pages; not vulgar and rude, as these words suggest, but like images on antique coins, stamped by conservatism, by precious things accumulated, by tradition and authority.
There is a certain melancholy about prudence; it bears witness to innumerable punishments suffered by ignorance and rashness, which must have been heaped up to a monstrous mass in order to create prudence as an instinct. But most of the punishments were accomplished before prudence appeared, and she reaps the harvest. There is something pathetic in the lives of Marlowe, Greene, Peele, Chatterton, Byron, Shelley, and Poe, who suffered, and in that wiser men had advantage therefrom. But after this manner runs the world away. English literature has been nourished by such sufferings, and the English Empire has also received from individuals all that they had to give. There is pathos in the reports sent by Hakluyt’s traders to the home company. The investors dangle round Hampton Court, or sit in their counting-rooms in the city, while the adventurers leave England for years, brave hardships, risk disease and death, and send their duties back with humble hopes that their good masters in London may be content with what they do.
Whither the flaw shall fail us, or the Trades drive down :
Plain-sail — storm-sail — lay your board and tack again —
And all to bring a cargo up to London town ! ”
Nevertheless, the desire to make money is not of itself capable of great action. It can put its livery upon a number of needy fellows who care not what they do, — who will trap beavers in Alaska, dig diamonds in Brazil, carry Hampshire kerseys to Tartars ; but its main function is to be the utensil for the true adventurer: if he will sail, it builds a ship; if he will plant, it gives him seed; if he will rob, it loads him with powder and shot; it is the packmule that shall carry him and his equipment over the Alps of enterprise. The real strength of money lies in the wild spirits that will use it. Curiosity seeking the secrets of the world, daring looking for giant obstacles, conquerors in search of possessions whereto their courage shall be their title-deeds, — these must have money-getters. They publish abroad their needs that are to be, and farmers, miners, weavers, spinners, millers, smiths, and all grubbers spare and save, sweating to serve romantic adventurers.
The spirit of romance has flung its boldness into English literature. It plunders what it can from Greek, Latin, Italian, French, and Spanish. It ramps over the world : it dashes to Venice, to Malta, to Constantinople, to the Garden of Eden, to the Valley of the Shadow of Death, to Lilliput, to desert islands, to Norman baron and Burgundian noble, to Virginia, to Florence, to India, to the South Sea, to Africa, and fetches home to England foreign wealth by land and sea. How boldly it sails east, west, south, and north, and by its shining wake shows that it is the same spirit of romance that has voyaged from Arthurian legend to Mr. Kipling!
French men of letters have not had enough of this audacious spirit. They troop to Paris, where they have been accustomed to sit on their classical benches since Paris became the centre of France. The romance of Villon is the romance of a Parisian thief ; the romance of Ronsard is the romance of the Parisian salon. Montaigne strolls about his seigniory while England is topsy-turvy with excitement of new knowledge and new feeling. Corneille has the nobleness of a jeune fille. You can measure them all by their ability to plant a colony. Wreck them on a desert island, Villon will pick blackberries, Ronsard will skip stones, Montaigne whittle, Corneille look like a gentleman, and the empire of France will not increase by a hand’sbreath. Take a handful of Elizabethan poets, and Sidney chops, Shakespeare cooks, Jonson digs, Bacon snares, Marlowe catches a wild ass: in twenty-four hours they have a log fort, a score of savage slaves, a windmill, a pinnace, and the cross of St. George flying from the tallest tree.
It is the adventurous capacity in English men of letters that has outdone the French. They lay hold of words and sentences and beat them to their needs. They busy themselves with thoughts and sentiments as if they were boarding pirates, going the nearest way. They do not stop to put on uniforms ; whereas in France the three famous literary periods of the Pléiade, the Classicists, and the Romanticists have been three struggles over form, — quarrels to expel or admit some few score words, questions of rubric and vestments. The English have never balked at means after this fashion. Fenelon says of the French language " qu’elle n’est ni variée, ni libre, ni bardie, ni propre àa donner de l’essor.”
It is not fanciful to find this common element of daring in both English trade and poetry. English adventurers have sailed eastward and westward, seeking new homes for the extravagant spirits that find the veil of familiarity hang too thick over their native fields and cottages. Turn to the French : their merchants ply to Canada and India in vain. What sails belly out before the poetry of Ronsard or Malherbe ? Into what silent sea is French imagination the first to break ? The Elizabethan poets are a crew of mariners, rough, rude, bold, truculent, boyish, and reverent. How yarely they unfurl the great sails of English literature and put to open sea! The poor French poets huddle together with plummet in their hands, lest they get beyond their soundings.
No man can hold cheap the brilliant valor of the French. From Roncesvalles to the siege of Paris French soldiers have shown headlong courage. Nothing else in military history is so wonderful as the French soldiers from the 10th of August to Waterloo. Their dash and enterprise are splendid, but they do not take their ease in desperate fortune as if it were their own inn, as Englishmen do. They have not the shiftiness and cunning that can dodge difficulties. They cannot turn their bayonets into reaping-hooks, their knapsacks into bushels, their cannon to keels, their flags to canvas. They have not the prehensile hands of the English that lay hold, and do not let loose.
English courage owes its success to its union with common sense. The French could send forty Light Brigades to instant death; French guards are wont to die as if they went a-wooing; but the French have not the versatile absorption in the business at hand of the English. The same distinction shows in the two literatures. Nothing could be more brilliant than Victor Hugo in 1830. His verse flashes like the white plume of Navarre. His was the most famous charge in literature. Hernani and Ruy Blas have prodigious brilliancy and courage, but they lack common sense. They conquer, win deafening applause, bewilder men with excitement; but, victory won, they have not the aptitude for settling down. They are like soldiers who know not how to go back to plough and smithy. The great French literature of the Romantic period did not dig foundation, slap on mortar, or lay arches in the cellar of its house, after the English fashion. Next to Victor Hugo, not counting Goethe, the greatest man of letters in Europe, of this century, is Sir Walter Scott. Mark the difference between him and Hugo. Scott’s poetry and novels have a vigorous vitality from his common sense, and therefore they are ingrained in the trunk of English literature; the fresh sap of their romance quickens every root and adds greenery to every bough. Victor Hugo is passionate, imaginative, majestic, powerful, eloquent, demagogical, but he does not stand the hard test of squaring with the experience of common men.
Consider M. Zola, the greatest of living French novelists, and we find the same lack in him. His strong, sturdy talents have fought a brilliant and victorious fight; but the brilliancy of his victory serves merely as a light to rally his enemies ; he has offended against the abiding laws of the common knowledge of common men, and his books have already passed the zenith of their glory. There is hardly a famous man who does not point the same moral. Michelet records the introduction of tobacco. “ Dès le début de cette drogue, on put prévoir son effet. Elle a supprimé le baiser. Ceci en 1610. Date fatale qui ouvre les routes où l’homme et la femme iront divergents.” Read Renan’s chapters upon King David. Take Racine, of whom Voltaire says “ que personne n’a jamais porté l’art de la parole à un plus haut point, ni doné plus de charme àa la langue française.” He is noble, and appeals to the deepest feelings in men, love, religion, heroism. By virtue of his spiritual nature he deserves great reverence, but he does not touch the understanding of common men. Ronsard, du Bellay, Clément Marot, have the same fault; they are witty, epigrammatic, musical, but they have not the one essential element. The two most successful French men of letters are the two possessing most common sense, Molière and Balzac.
Common sense is difficult to define, and suffers from a vulgar notion that it is totally separate and distinct from high virtues. It is Sancho Panza, but Sancho learned to appreciate Don Quixote. Common sense knows that it must be squire to the hero until the hero shall recognize his own dependence upon the squire. The wise and witty Voltaire failed in this respect, for he did not understand the daily need of idealism. Common sense sees the immediate obstacle which is to be overcome ; in order to sharpen a pencil, instead of Durandal or Exealibur, it uses a penknife. Common sense trims its sails to catch the breeze, be it a cat’s-paw, but it does not avoid the hurricanes of passion. Common sense uses common words; it husbands; it practices petty economies, so that the means of the hero shall be ample to his great enterprise. Of itself it can do little, but it makes straight the path for great achievement.
Jowett was fond of repeating Coleridge’s remark that “ the only common sense worth having is based on metaphysics.” This saying is in part true, and it would not be over-curious to trace the indirect influence of metaphysics on the English Empire and on English literature.
There is no profit, however, in attempting to lug reason into this matter of the preference of English literature over French. There is no justification here except by faith. There is none to hold the scales, while we heap English books into one to outweigh French books in the other. Men who have thrown off the bias of nationality have disqualified themselves for the task, for they have cut off all those prime feelings and blind, indistinct sentiments that must be the judges of last resort, and have set up in their stead reason propped on crutches of grammar, syntax, style, and euphony. In fundamental matters, the intellect must take counsel of the heart. Every man’s memory has stored in some odd corner the earliest sounds of his mother’s voice saying the Lord’s Prayer ; it remembers the simple words that first distinguished the sun and the moon, buttercup and dandelion, Kai the bull terrier and Sally the cat. No cultivation, no sojourning in foreign lands, no mastery of many books, can erase these recollections. Some men there are whose conception of human relations is so large and generous that to them the differences between peoples are slight, when matched with the resemblances. Such men are noble and lovable, but they are not qualified to pronounce upon the merits of two languages. Native language is restricting and confining so far as concerns peoples in international affairs, but it ennobles and enlarges fellow countrymen. Out of our native language are made our home and our country. The sweet sounds of speech heard only at home create our fundamental affections. The separation of nation from nation is a cheap price to pay for the great benefit which we of one people have received from the bond of common speech.
That which is true of language is true of literature. The great books for us are the books which we read when we were young ; they bewitched us with our own language, they brought to us our English thoughts. The power of the English Bible is not the reward of merit only, — merit has never enjoyed such measure of success ; it exists because we read it and re-read it when we were little boys. This early language of our mother and of our books is part of the “ trailing clouds of glory ” that came with us from the East. Love of it is a simple animal instinct, and the man who can proclaim himself free from it does not comprehend the riches of language or the great passions of life. We would alter a line of Wordsworth to fit this case: —
We must be bond who speak the tongue that Shakespeare spake.
We cannot throw off the strong shackles that Shakespeare, the Bible, and all our English inheritance have put upon us ; we are barred and bolted in this English tongue ; only he who does not feel the multitudinous touch of these spiritual hands of the great English dead can stand up and say that the English and French languages are equal.
Mr. Matthew Arnold used to instruct us — as a professor of Hellenism was bound to do — that we must divest ourselves of national prejudices. We all admired him, and meant to mend our ways. He borrowed the word “ saugrenu ” from the French to tell us more exactly what manner of behavior was ours ; but faster than his prose pushed us on to international impartiality his poetry charmed us back. Mr. Arnold’s poetry is essentially English ; it is the poetry of an English Englishman. He is a descendant in direct line from Sidney, Herbert, Gray, Cowper, Wordsworth. He appeals to our native emotion ; he has English morals, English sentiment, English beliefs and disbeliefs ; his character is doubly emphasized by his occasional imitation of Greek forms. He has about him the atmosphere of the Anglican Church, — love of form, fondness for those emotions which are afraid to acknowledge instinct as their father, and yet shudder at logic. Mr. Arnold is an English poet, and for that reason we love him, and disregard his entreaties for cosmopolitan standards.
We are intolerant; we are among those persons from whom bigots successfully seek recruits ; we have little respect, and rightly enough, for the free play of our reason ; we follow the capricious humor of our affections. We like old trodden paths, on whose rude bottoms we can still discern the prints of our fathers’ feet.
We are yeomen of the mind, as ready to throw our intellectual caps in the air for a Henry VIII. as for Hampden and liberty. We have the dye of conservatism; we cannot hide it for more than a few sentences, and then only upon forewarning. We have just cause to fear that our behavior is bad in the presence of the sonnets of M. José Maria de Heredia; we make faces when we read Verlaine. We cannot take those gentlemen as poets. They look to us like masqueraders, harlequins, unfairly brought from the darkness of the stage into the light of the sun. Nevertheless, at the opening of the summer vacation, when idleness looks eternal, under the boughs of a protecting pine, the needles dry beneath, a ripe apple odorous in our pocket, we read with regularity an essay by M. Brunetière, a poem by M. Sully Prudhomme, and some French novel of the year. All is in vain ; we must accept that condition of the mind to which it has pleased God to call us.
What a pleasure, after reading those books, to go back to old Hakluyt, and read aloud the lists of merchandise sent abroad or fetched home; item, good velvets, crimosins, purples and blacks, with some light watchet colours; item, ten or twelve pieces of westerne karsies, thicked well and close shut in the weaving and died into scarlet; item, one hundred brushes for garments (none made of swine’s hair) ; item, forty pieces of fine holland. What breaking of fences, what smashing of locks, what air, what comradeship, what a sense of poetry ! Surely, there is more poetry in the making of the English Empire than was ever printed in France.
Let us open wide the doors of our minds and give hospitable reception to foreign literature whence soever it may come, but let us not forget that it only comes as a friend to our intelligence, and can never be own brother to our affections.
“A health to the native-born ! ”
Henry D. Sedgwick, Jr.