IN the exuberant hospitality of America if a person wants anything he has only to ask for it. Whether he gets it, is another matter; he will at least get something with the same name.
In London if one in his secret heart longs for something, he has only to leave the main thoroughfares and get lost. He finds himself in a maze of narrow streets where shopkeepers make a living by selling unheard-of things to people who have wandered in by accident. These shopkeepers never advertise. Their disposition is secretive, and they trust to the method of ambush. A person is walking along with only a vague impulse to find his way out without demeaning himself by asking advice of a policeman. He finds himself in front of a shop devoted to traffic in snails from Astrakhan. It is the sole emporium for these articles. If the wayfarer be of an inquiring mind the unexpected supply wakens a demand, at least the demand for further knowledge. Who is there in all London who would be likely to support such a shop, or even know that it is here ? The dingy sign appeals not to his conscious aims but to a dim sub-conscious longing for he knows not what. It seems like a strange coincidence that he of all persons in the world should have come upon the only place in London where these articles are for sale. The chances are that if he be an American he will pluck up courage and venture in and ask the proprietor, “How’s the snail-trade to-day?” The shopkeeper receives him without surprise. He knows that, according to the doctrine of probabilities, somebody is bound to turn up in his shop, sometime.
To my mind this is the very romance of trade. Had I a moderate but assured income, as I trust all these London shopkeepers have, I should follow their example. I have no ambition to be a great “captain of industry,” and have the magazine writers tell the truth about me. I should prefer to be one of these merchant adventurers in a small way. Hiding my shop from the unsympathetic public “as if the wren taught me concealment,” I should bide my time. Let the huge department stores cater to the obvious wants of the crowd. Some day my customer will drift in. He will find that my shop satisfies an inner, and hitherto unfelt, want. He will inadvertently buy something. Then he wall drift off to the Antipodes, and ever after boast of his bargain. When he compares notes with other travelers he wall take down his treasure and ask, “When you were in London did you happen upon a queer little shop, the only place where they sell this sort of thing?” And when they, in shamefaced fashion, confess their failure to have discovered me they will fall in his esteem.
I claim no merit for having one day wandered from the plain path of High Holborn into an obscure street where I accidentally stumbled upon what was to me the most interesting place in London. I am aware that, if I had not stumbled accidentally upon it, it would not have seemed so interesting to me. It was not, as it happened this time, a shop, but an educational institution. The sign above the door must have been recently painted, but the London smoke had already given it an air of grimy respectability. I read with pleasure the legend, “The AngloAmerican School of Polite Unlearning.”
I was gratified over my discovery. Institutions of learning we have at home — and some very good ones too; but I realized that in the nature of things somewhere in London there must be an institution for the benefit of persons who are desirous, not so much of learning, but of being assisted to unlearn a number of things that are not good for them. And here it was. Like so many things in London, the moment I saw it, I felt that I had always seen it.
A few moments later I was in familiar converse with the Principal of the school, who gave me the history of the institution from its inception. He was a quiet, unassuming man, thoroughly devoted to his idea. In this age of educational fads it was a pleasure to find some one who adhered to very simple methods. “ We do not believe,” he said, “in what is called enriching the curriculum. When there have accumulated such vast stores of misinformation, we do not think it wise to burden our pupils’ minds by trying to get them to unlearn everything. Such smattering has little educational value. We limit ourselves to seeing that a few things which make the people of one country obnoxious to the people of another shall be thoroughly unlearned. When we consider what soil and climate have done in developing our own splendid type of manhood, it is natural that we should think highly of our own national environment, but it is unfortunate that we should usually think so poorly of those whose environment has been different. Each nation ‘holds a thought’ of its neighbors, and these thoughts are seldom altogether flattering. This is evidently a case for the application of mind cure.
“Even with nations so akin to each other as the British and the American, the thoughts that are held are not always pleasing, especially when they sometimes forget their company manners. The adjective American is not usually found in conjunction with those heavenly twins, ‘Sweetness and Light.’ Indeed, the suggestion is quite the opposite. Only when used in connection with dentists does it imply undoubted excellence. In the United States the word British is not used as a term of endearment.
“A good while ago Emerson declared that the English had good will toward America, but in their ordinary conversation they forgot their philosophy and remembered their disparaging anecdotes. Of course the difficulty lies partly in the nature of an anecdote. Those we tell about our best friends usually convey to a stranger the impression that they are half-witted. It would be possible to collect a vast number of anecdotes illustrative of the fact that most people will, under ordinary circumstances, act in a rational manner. The trouble with such anecdotes is that they are so hard to remember.
“One is led to inquire as to the best means to promote international goodwill. One of the most obvious methods is through the encouragement of travel. Railways and steamships by annihilating distance may, it is said, annihilate the enmities between nations. The more opportunities people have of seeing one another, the better friends they will be. This theory is such a credit to human nature that at first I accepted it without a question.
“I looked at the growing passenger lists of the transatlantic steamers and thought of the peaceful invasion of our American cousins. Here are missionaries of good will. No collections! Every man his own Missionary Board, paying his bills and diffusing the gospel of kindliness. Think of these fresh, enthusiastic missionaries who are continually seeing and being seen, appreciating and being appreciated. And think of the cordial feeling diffused through America by every English traveler who goes about viewing American institutions and candidly telling the people what he thinks of them. I had thought of suggesting that the Palace of Peace at the Hague should be surmounted by an heroic statue of the travel-compelling Cook.
“My enthusiasm for travel as a sufficient corrective of international misunderstandings was chilled by observations on its results.
“A friend who for many years had spent his summers in Switzerland remarked that the Germans are less popular than they were before their present era of prosperity. I asked the reason, and he answered, ‘We see more of them now.’ I have known Germans who insisted that a visit to England did not cure Anglophobia, any more than the application of water would cure Hydrophobia. It might even aggravate the symptoms. That going to see people may have different effects is shown in our use of the words ‘visit’ and ‘visitation.’ Whether a visit shall seem like a visitation depends a good deal on the visitor.
“I greeted a Lancashire manufacturer on his’s return from the United States. ‘ How did you like it over there ? ’ I asked. ’I did n’t expect to like it,’ he answered, ‘and I did n’t like it as well as I expected. It was brag! brag! all the time, and when I found that I was beginning to brag too, I thought it was time for me to come home.’
“He seemed grateful for his preservation as one who had providentially escaped the plague. A few months later, being in New York, I happened to mention his name to a gentleman to whom he had brought letters of introduction. It appeared that this gentleman had not recognized the admirable qualities which had made my Lancashire friend an ornament to his native city. He had however borne him no personal malice but had set down all his less pleasing characteristics to his nationality. After narrating several incidents illustrative of the general quality of pig-headedness, he added charitably, ‘But what could you expect of a Britisher ? ’
“Travel can hardly be relied upon as a sufficient salve for international irritations. There is sure to be a fly in this ointment. The fly, I take it, is apt to be imported. The trouble comes, not from something the traveler sees which he dislikes, but from some prepossession which makes him dislike what he sees. He sets out with certain preconceived ideas which he uses alternately as a club with which to belabor the foreigners on their native heath, and as blinders to prevent himself from seeing anything new. As a consequence, his little journey in the world does not add to the sum total of the amenities.
“An Englishman goes to New York with the settled conviction that it ought to be just like London. When he discovers that it is n’t, trouble begins. He accumulates inconvertible evidences of divergencies. It is too hot in summer and too cold in winter and too noisy all the time. The buildings are too high, and the lifts drop suddenly from under him, giving him a ‘gone’ feeling that he does n’t like. Above all there is a distressing dearth of afternoon tea.
“With the best intentions in the world he points out these defects of a crude civilization. He waxes didactic. These things, my brethren, ought not so to be.
“And his American brethren do not like it. It is not because they really care a fig about their sky-scrapers, with their necessary attendant evils. It is because they had wished to show him some things they were really proud of and which he in his misery refuses to see.
“The American in the old country makes himself obnoxious in the same way. He starts out with the assumption that London is and of right ought to be a bigger Seattle. It has had plenty of time, and if it is not up-todate it argues a mental defect on the part of its citizens. He is disappointed in what he sees. The belated people still go about on omnibuses and seem to like it. The telephone service is beneath contempt, and the ordinary business man does only one thing at a time. This is all wrong, and with the zeal of a missionary he urges the native islanders to ‘get busy.’ He explains to them the defects in their education. On the slightest provocation he indulges in statistics of American bank clearances and grain shipments, and the increase in population since the last census. He is annoyed because they refuse to be astonished at these things and reserve their surprise for his incidental revelations of the methods of municipal politics. He is thoroughly kind. He is careful to make them understand that he does not wish to offend against any of their inherited prejudices.
“ That attitude which Lowell described as ‘a certain condescension in foreigners’ is not confined to any one nation. It seems to be the most natural thing in the world for the foreigner as foreigner. When a person leaves his home and becomes, for the time being, a foreigner, he is likely, unless he has had the benefit of a school like ours, to retain his home standards of judgment. He passes rather severe verdicts on what he sees, and imagines that he renders them agreeable by expressing them in the most conciliatory tones. Perhaps he even tries to keep his opinions to himself. He does n’t say anything, but he does a lot of thinking. He would n’t for the world have the people among whom he is moving know how inferior, in certain respects, he thinks them. Usually they are clever enough to find out for themselves.
“You see the same thing among dogs. You take your little dog for a walk in a strange part of the town. Before starting on your travels you have admonished him, and he is on his good behavior. He trots along in the middle of the road, ‘saying nothing to nobody.’ To the obtuse human observation he is a model of propriety; but to the more acute canine sensibility there is something in the glint of his eye or the crook of his tail that is most offensive. The sudden altercations that seem to come like bolts out of the clear sky must have some reason. I am sure that the curs that leave the sweet security of their own dooryards to do battle do so because they have detected a certain condescension in this foreigner. Something in his bearing has emphasized the fact that he is not of their kind; and that he is mighty glad of it.”
“Your remarks,” I said, interrupting the Principal, “about the way people carry their home-bred opinions about with them reminds me of a dear old lady I once knew in the Mississippi Valley. She went to London to attend the Queen’s Jubilee. On her return we asked her to describe the pageant. It seemed that the Queen and all the imperial pomp made very little impression on her mind, she had been so interested in herself. She told how, at considerable expense, she had secured a good seat. ‘Then I looked down and saw a ragged little boy. I called him to come up with me, and I wrapped him in an American flag which I always take with me. And there I sat all day, “The Genius of America protecting the British Poor.” ’ It was a beautiful symbolic act, but I fear it may have been misinterpreted.”
“I see you get the point,” said the Principal. “Now we may come back to the School of Polite Unlearning. Its aim is to rid the foreigner in as short a time as possible of the preconceived notions of his own superiority. These notions if left unchecked would have prevented his getting any good of his travels, as well as making him more or less of a nuisance to the people among whom he happened to be. We intend to enlarge our institution gradually until we have branches in all the great capitals. We will teach Frenchmen that their ideas of Germany are all wrong, and eventually we may solve the Eastern question by convincing the Russians, Bulgarians, Macedonians, Servians, Turks, and others, that they do not really know so much to each other’s discredit as they have for centuries been led to suppose.
“At the present we are confining our attention to improving the relations between the British and the Americans. That two nations with a common language and literature should heartily like each other seems eminently desirable.
Do we not belong to the same reading club ? But what avail these literary communings so long as thousands of persons are annually let loose in the territories of each nation disseminating misunderstandings of the most irritating character ?
“The customs regulations might do something. The United States has already adopted the policy of forbidding the importation on regular lines of steamships of certain ideas. On entering an American port the passenger is asked whether he has in his possession any anarchistic opinions. If he makes the declaration in due form, he is immediately deported. This has had an excellent effect in keeping out anarchists whose veracity is above the normal; though for those of the baser sort there is a great opportunity for smuggling.
“In like manner we might have the customs officers anticipate the newspaper reporters, and ask each foreigner before landing what he thinks of the country. If he reveals a set of opinions that are not likely to be modified by further experience he might be sent back at the expense of the steamship company. All this however is of purely academic interest. For the present, we must trust to voluntary action. If the visitor is wise he will welcome any aid in getting rid of the opinions which stand in the way of his pleasure and profit. Our school attempts to minister to this need. Here for example is a middle-aged Englishman who is contemplating a visit to America. He has a number of ideas in regard to what he calls ‘the States,’ and he is much attached to those ideas. He has not had occasion clearly to differentiate ‘the States’ from ‘the colonies;’ they are all alike a long way off. He thinks of the States as British colonies that got themselves detached a long time ago from the apron-strings of the mother country. Since then they have been going to the dogs more or less without knowing it. They have fallen into the hands of trusts and dissenters. They have taken to over-educating the lower classes and under-educating the upper classes, till you can’t tell which is which. In their use of the English language liberty has degenerated into license, as it always does where you have no leisure class that has time to speak correctly. Their pronunciation is utterly barbarous, and now they are endeavoring to conceal their offenses by getting us to spell the language as they pronounce it. They are always talking about the dollar, which is a very different thing from our silent respect for shillings and pence. Their children are intolerable, owing to their precocious imitation of the manners of their elders. While boastful of their liberty they are curiously submissive to tyranny, and if their newspapers are to be believed, they universally cower in the presence of a janitor. In their public conveyances they hang to straps and gasp for air in a manner pitiable to behold. All these tortures they endure with stoical fortitude, which they have learned through their long intercourse with the Red Indians.
“He is aware that in the States he will hear a deal of‘tall talk;’ this he is prepared to discount. A very safe rule to observe is not to believe anything that sounds large.
“The American business men, he understands, have no interests whatever except in money-getting. They are prodigiously active, but their activity is providentially limited by dyspepsia and nervous prostration. He is inclined to attribute the physical break-down of the race to the universal consumption of Chicago tinned meats.
“On the whole, however, he has a friendly feeling toward the people of the States. They are doing as well as could be expected of such people, under the circumstances. They have already, in their immature civilization, produced some men whose names are household words — there was Artemus Ward and Fenimore Cooper and Mark Twain and Buffalo Bill. This proves that after all blood is thicker than water.
“He starts on his travels very much as the elder brother in the parable might have done had he thought to pay a visit to the prodigal in the far country. After all, the lad came of good stock, even though he did show poor judgment in going so far off. He had heard a good deal about his adventures, though he did n’t believe half of it. It might be interesting to run over and see for himself whether the reports about those husks had not been exaggerated.
“Now is it safe to allow such a person to go about in a friendly country, unattended ? ‘One sinner destroyeth much good,’ and one such traveler destroyeth much international good feeling. After three months he will have returned having every one of his opinions confirmed by a dozen instances. And he will have left behind him a score or more Americans confirmed in their opinion as to what a typical Britisher is like.
“How much better for him to enter our school before engaging his passage westward. Here, surrounded by all the comforts of home, he could begin the painful but necessary process of unlearning. Each day we would examine him and find out his fixed opinion and flatly contradict it. He would lose his temper, and become grumpy and sarcastic, and threaten to write to the newspaper. But this would hurt nobody’s feelings, for all the teachers and attendants in the institution are immune. Our object is a simple one: to rid him of the opinion that there is one right way of doing things, and that all other ways are wrong. We want to teach him to be content to say simply that the other ways are different. When he has learned rather to like the differences, and to be interested in finding out why they are as they are, we give him a diploma.
“A great deal of our time is spent over the bare rudiments. You may have noticed as you came in, in the little classroom to the left, a gentleman unwillingly engaged in studying a large wall map of Oklahoma. He is an Oxford man who makes his living writing for the reviews. He lately expressed the intention of visiting America. His friends felt that he was not in a fit state, and advised him to take a short course in our school simply as a precautionary measure. You have no idea how hard it is for him to unlearn, he had learned everything so thoroughly. We have had to put him in a class by himself in elementary geography. We found that he had a most inadequate idea of the extent of the American Union, and had always looked upon the States as corresponding to the English counties. This of itself would have been no detriment to him if his geographical ideas had been held only as a part of the equipment of a modest ignorance. It would have endeared him to his American friends, who would have been only too happy to set him right. But unfortunately he is not the kind of a man who can be set right with impunity. When any one would tell him the distance from New York to San Francisco it would not make the slightest impression on his mind. He would set it down as a piece of American brag. We have found that the best way is to give him set tasks. We have dissected maps of Europe and America drawn to the same scale, and we make him put the map of Great Britain into the map of Texas and calculate the marginal area. Then we have memory work, having him from time to time repeat the length of the Missouri-Mississippi, and the number of vessels passing every year through the Detroit River. We set before him the latest railway map of the United States and ask him to tell at sight which railways belong to Hill and which to Harriman, and since when ? When he asks what difference it makes, we rebuke his impertinence, and keep him after school.
“We give him daily themes to write. For example we present this text from Sam Slick: ‘They are strange folks, them English. On particulars they know more than any people; but on generals they are as ignorant as owls. The way they don’t know some things is beautiful.’
“What national characteristics did Mr. Samuel Slick of Slickville, Connecticut, have in mind when he made these animadversions ? Is the dislike for general ideas really necessary to the stability of the British Constitution ? Is Mr. Slick’s criticism sufficiently answered by pointing out the fact that it is couched in language that seriously conflicts with the accepted rules of English grammar?
“On another occasion I gave him these lines from one of our own poets: —
Did nothing in particular,
And did it very well.’
Compare this admirable record of the finished work of our upper house with the proceedings of a session of the Missouri Legislature, which did a lot of highly important and necessary work, and did it all very badly. Give your opinion as to the comparative value of the two legislative bodies. Indicate on the margin whether you consider a person who holds the opposite opinion to be beneath your contempt, or just worthy of it ?
“Yesterday I gave him an item from the sporting columns of a San Francisco newspaper. After describing the strenuous physical exercises of a distinguished pugilist, the writer adds: ‘O’Brien is diligently using his leisure time in study. It is his intention when retiring from the ring to devote himself exclusively to literary pursuits. To this end he has engaged a tutor and under his direction is reading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Dante, and Homer.’
“Use this paragraph as a text for a sarcastic article on the absurdities of popular education and the chaotic condition of a society in which anybody feels competent to study anything he has a mind to. After having done this to your own satisfaction look at the subject from another point of view. Granted that you with your excellent classical education are more capable of appreciating Homer, ask which one would Homer be more likely to appreciate, you or O’Brien ?
“We are now making use of the phonograph, which repeats for him choice extracts from American newspapers and magazines devoted to making the world familiar with the growth of the country. This familiarizes him, through the ear, with certain uncongenial habits of thought.”
The Principal led me for a moment into the entry, and looking through the door we saw the Oxford man in a dejected attitude listening to the phonograph, which was monotonously informing him of the glories of Chicago and the exact floor-space of Marshall Field’s store.
“He will have to hear these things sometime,” said the principal, on returning to his own room, “and he might as well do so now. I fear, however, I may have been too severe in the training, and that he may be going stale. He told me this morning that perhaps he might give up his American trip and take a little run up to Bibury instead.
“The real difficulties are always those that lie in the background of the mind and therefore are hard to get at. The traveler insists on putting everything into the same categories he uses at home, and sometimes they won’t fit. Englishmen, for example, have got used to dividing themselves into three distinct classes, and when they come to a community where these divisions are not obvious they regard it with suspicion, as they would an egg in which the distinction between the white and the yellow is not as clearly marked as in the days of its first innocency.
“I have been reading the book of a clever writer who discourses on ‘The Future in America.’ He found in America no recognized upper class and no plainly marked lower class, and so he drew the conclusion that all Americans belong to the middle class. Then he attributed to them all the characteristics which middle-class Englishmen of a literary turn of mind are always attributing to their own class. But this is fallacious. In my youth we used to amuse ourselves by beheading words. We would ruthlessly behead a word and then curtail it. But when the middle letters were relieved of their terminal incumbrances and set up as an independent word, that word had a meaning of its own. My own opinion is that we middle-class Englishmen are pretty fine fellows, and that we are in most respects superior to our betters; but if we had n’t one class to look up to and another to look down on, I doubt whether we should feel middle-class at all. We should feel, as do our American brethren, that we are the whole show.”
“A most difficult matter is to bring my pupils to a sympathetic appreciation of American optimism. It goes against all their preconceived notions of the fitness of things. The airy way in which an American will mention the most distressing present moral conditions and assure you that everything is as bad as it can be, and is coming out all right, irritates them. It seems to argue a state of ethical inconsequence. ‘You can’t pin these fellows down to hard facts,’ a pupil complained to me, ‘the pin won’t hold.’
‘“That’s just it,’ I answered, the facts these people are dealing with are not hard, they are fluid. In the old world social facts are hard, they have been solidified by the pressure of population exerted for generations. In the vast spaces of America this pressure has as yet been little felt. If you don’t like the facts that are presented to you you need not take the disappointment seriously, for you are promised a new set of facts while you wait. And the remarkable thing is that about half the time the promise is fulfilled. The facts are flowing. You can’t nail them; the best thing you can do is to float on them. The American is not a worshiper of things as they are, his curiosity is aroused by the things that are going to be.’
“We try to make our students, through a variety of illustrations of rapid change, and that mostly in the right direction, see that there is some justification for the American expectation that when things are pretty bad they are about to be better. It is not altogether to his discredit that even his moral indignation at obvious abuses takes a characteristically cheerful and even self-congratulatory tone. ‘Things are looking up morally,’ he says, ‘ when I can get so righteously indignant as all this.’
“I endeavor to get my pupils to unlearn their natural repugnance to the American quality of self-assertiveness. Sometimes I try the kindergarten method. Most of them are interested in pop-corn, which they have heard is the chief diversion of rural America. To shake a cornpopper over a glowing bed of coals is a new experience. When the miniature bombardment is at its height I begin to moralize.
“ ‘ That is what you will see over in America, and I hope you will like it. Think of the states in the Mississippi valley as a huge corn-popper. Into the popper are poured millions of grains of ordinary humanity. They don’t take very much room, for they have grown close together. They are not much to look at. They are shaken till they are pretty evenly distributed and each one feels the genial warmth of a general prosperity. Then they begin to expand, not in a quiet fashion but in a series of small explosions, each individual popping out of his shell and surprised that he takes up so much room in the world. He very naturally thinks he’s the biggest thing out.’
“If you are a cross-grained foreigner you may look at the process with critical disfavor. You may say that there is n’t any more substance in it than there was before and that they ought to have remained in the original envelope which Providence had provided for them. You may look upon it as highly dangerous, and say that if they keep on popping like that they will burst the popper. Or you may end the conversation by remarking that, for your own part, you don’t like pop-corn, anyway. But if you are open to conviction we hope to bring you to a better frame of mind.”
“That is all very interesting,” I said, “to get your pupils to unlearn their distaste for American self-assertiveness. I hope you will go farther and get them to unlearn the notion that all Americans are self-assertive. I am sure that many of my country menpossess the pearl humility.”
“Yes,” said the principal, “I have no doubt of it. By the way, there is a singular thing about pearls, which I believe has never been explained. It is said that the best way to preserve their lustre is to wear them occasionally.”
I learned that the American students had not begun to drift in, though my arrival had strengthened the hope that such accidents might happen. Of course the tourist who had only a few days to spend in the country could hardly be expected to give up part of his holidays for the sake of getting rid of a few long-cherished notions which had no value except to their owner. But the needs of those who were anticipating a more prolonged stay could be provided for.
“I anticipate great pleasure,” said the Principal, “from my American pupils, when once they find their way here, for I am told that they unlearn easily. They will also have the great advantage of being removed from their customary environment, so that their erroneous opinions may be more readily eradicated.
“A matter to which we shall give some attention is the American’s notion that the stay-at-home Englishman’s ignorance of things American arises from superciliousness. When his host, in order to put him at his ease, makes a few vague remarks about the Great Republic and then lets the subject drop, it seems to indicate an affectation of haughty indifference. We shall endeavor to correct this impression and to show that the ignorance is not affected but is quite real. When the pupil feels that he has a grievance because he has been asked whether Philadelphia is on the right or left bank of the Mississippi River, we shall apply a counter-irritant.
“’Brazil,’ we shall say, ‘is a great and glorious country. Indicate in a pleasant conversational way what you know about it, avoiding the appearance of having looked it up, for the occasion, in the Encyclopædia. After you have made a few remarks about Rio, connected in your mind with coffee and yellow fever, lead the conversation in a sprightly fashion to some of the other great cities. In alluding to some of the states of Brazil, show that you greatly admire them, and tactfully conceal the fact that you are not very clear in your mind as to where they are. In mentioning the Amazon indicate that you have some ideas about it besides those derived in your childhood from Mayne Reid’s Afloat in the Forest. When the conversation turns upon the great statesmen and men of letters of Brazil, take your part with sympathetic intelligence. When, providentially, the subject is changed, do not appear to be too much relieved.’
“After a few such exercises the pupil will be introduced to an Englishman who knows as much about the United States as he does about South America. A fellow feeling will make them wondrous kind.
“I shall prepare a short course of lectures on English Reserve for the benefit of pupils from the great West who complain because we do not open our hearts to strangers before we have learned their names. It seems to them undemocratic that cordiality of manner should be dependent on the mere accident of being acquainted. I suppose that they are right, and that if we were more large-minded we should consider nothing human as foreign to us. But we are not so happily constituted. Something more than mere humanity is needed to start the genial currents of our nature. Our pump must be ‘ primed ’ with something in the way of an introduction.
“In the Far West, I understand, you have a system of agriculture known as ‘ dry farming.’ The plan is to keep the surface pulverized so that the moisture stored beneath may be preserved for the feeding roots. We English have for generations cultivated our friendships by a similar method. The non-conducting surface of our manner keeps the deeper feelings from evaporating. There is, we think, a good deal to be said in behalf of this system of dry farming.’
“A much more delicate subject for unlearning is the American’s curious notion about the Englishman’s attitude toward humor. Ever since Artemus Ward amused the citizens of London by giving notice that he would call upon them at their residences in order to explain his jokes, his countrymen have assumed a patronizing air. When an American ventures on a pleasantry, he tells the story simply, as to a little child; he has heard that an Englishman finds difficulties in such matters. He somewhat officiously offers ‘first aid.’ All this is strange when one considers how much our transatlantic brethren have been indebted to the glorious company of English humorists, from Chaucer down. One is reminded of George Eliot’s Legend of Jubal. Jubal, ‘the father of all such as handle the organ and pipe’ and other instruments of music, returned from a long journey to find the people whom he had blessed enjoying a musical festival. He was not recognized by the new generation, and when he attempted to join in the jubilation the musicians turned upon him and ‘beat him with their flutes.’”
“I think we appreciate our literary indebtedness ” I interrupted, “though our gratitude does not always take the form of a lively anticipation of favors to come. It seems to be the old story of forgetting our philosophy and remembering only our anecdotes. Now, I can tell you an anecdote which will illustrate what we mean.”
“It is not necessary,”said the Principal; “we have made a large collection of them, and they are all essentially the same. The American tells a story which is received by his respectable British friend with solemn attention worthy of a better cause. Then, when the legal time for laughter has expired according to the statute of limitation, he acknowledges his liability and pays his debt of merriment, with deferred interest. The American argues that his mental processes, though sure, are somewhat slow.
“But if we had Courts of Humor as in the days of chivalry they had Courts of Love, I should like to present these cases for adjudication. I should argue that the anecdotes do not prove a deficiency in humor so much as a higher standard of rectitude. The Englishman is not less quick than the American to see a point, but when he does not see it he is less likely to conceal the fact. If he suspects that there is a poor little joke concealed somewhere, he does not find it in his heart to allow it to perish of neglect, but returns to it as a friendly visitor, to see what he can do for it.”
“ I shall endeavor,” said the Principal, “to get them, if not to unlearn, at least to moderate the ‘Old Home’ idea. Every American, no matter where his family originated, likes to think of England as the Old Home. It satisfies his historic sense and gives him the feeling that he is revisiting the green graves of his sires.
“Once arrived at the Old Home he goes about in search of the quaint and venerable. His head is chock-full of more or less vague historical and literary allusions which he is anxious to attach to their proper localities. He is on the lookout for the people he has read about. He would not be surprised to meet Falstaff or Mr. Pickwick when he turns the corner. I was myself taken for Mr. Pickwick once, and I did n’t like it.
“In the mean time the Twentieth Century England, with its rapidly growing cities, its shifting population, its radical democracy, its socialistic experiments, its model tenements, its new universities, its ferment of fresh thought, escapes his notice.
“’Fine country this,’ he says, ‘to rest in. Beautiful ruins, well-kept lawns, good old customs unchanged for a thousand years. Everything is kept up just as it used to be. I like to see the conservative ways; makes you realize how your forefathers felt. I tell you it touches a soft spot in your heart to come back to the Old Home.'
“To the alert, public-spirited, intensely modern Englishman who is eager to show him the latest thing in municipal housekeeping this is disconcerting.”
“Yes,” I said, “I think I understand. If I were a prosperous planter away down on the Suwanee River, and were anxious to show my visitor the brandnew mansion I had built with the proceeds of my last year’s cotton crop, I should object to his striking a sentimental attitude and warbling the ditty about the ‘old folks at home.’ I should especially object if he mistook me for one of the old folks.”
“That is the trouble,” said the Principal, “with living in a place that has become a household word. The traveling public seems like a many-headed monster with only one idea. When the idea is a trivial one and keeps popping up continually, it becomes tiresome. There for instance is Banbury, a thriving market town. The present inhabitants are eminently progressive, and the town bears all the evidences of prosperity. But when the train draws up in the summer, one may hear girlish American voices exclaiming, ‘How fascinating! Is n’t it too cunning for anything! Ride a cock horse.’ And they look out upon the Banbury people as if they belonged to an immemorial nursery.
“The Americans ignore the political divisions of the country, and acknowledge only the divisions into the Scott country, the Burns country, the Wordsworth country, the Shakespeare country, the Dickens country, and the Lorna Doone country. We sometimes wonder where they think we come in.”
“Still,” I said, “we must remember that though it may be tiresome to the inhabitants to have a few associations recurring continually, a great part of the pleasure of travel consists in comparing our previous impressions with what we see. There was that most delightful of English wayfarers, George Borrow; he was doing that all the time.
“‘ On arriving at Chester,’ he says, ‘at which place we intended to spend two or three days, we put up at an old-fashioned inn in Northgate Street to which we had been recommended. My wife and daughter ordered tea and its accompaniments; and I ordered ale and that which should always accompany it, cheese. “The ale I shall find bad,” said I; “ Chester ale had a bad reputation since the time of old Sion Tudor, who made a first-rate Englyn about it, but I shall have a treat in the cheese; Cheshire cheese has always been reckoned excellent.” '
“To his great delight he found the ale as bad as it was in the days of Sion Tudor, and therefore he hilariously threw it out of the window. Then tasting the cheese, he found the cheese bad also, and promptly threw that after the ale. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘if I have been deceived in the cheese, at any rate I have not been deceived in the ale, which I expected to find execrable. Patience! I shall not fall into a passion, more especially as there are things I can fall back upon. Wife! I will trouble you for a cup of tea. Henrietta, have the kindness to cut me a slice of bread and butter.’
“Now it is evident that Borrow had two distinct pleasures in his visit to Chester. The ale was as bad as from his previous reading of the Welsh bards he had been led to suppose, and the cheese was worse. The pleasure in each case came from the fact that his experience had reacted upon his previous ideas. After all, this is a harmless sort of pleasure.”
“Yes,” said the Principal, “in a bluff, whole-souled Briton like Borrow, there could be no harm in throwing the ale and cheese around, just for the sake of auld lang syne; but it is different with a vulgar rich Am—— Pardon me, I am falling into the bad habits of my pupils.”
”I take no offense,” I said; “you know I am not rich.”
“We shall,” he said, “deal tenderly with the literary and historical treasures which our pupils bring with them, but we shall endeavor to teach them to use their excellent gifts in such a way that the Past may not altogether obscure the Present.”
“Another idea,” said the Principal, “is that of ‘the tight little island.’ It is a term that the British themselves delight in; but it should be remembered that diminutives, while very endearing when used in the family circle, are less pleasing when taken up by strangers. The American expects to find the British quite insular, and so they are, — ‘of or pertaining to an island, surrounded by water, opposed to continental.’ The real question is, what effect has being surrounded by water upon the mind ? Is water, especially when it is salt, a conductor or nonconductor of cosmopolitan sympathies ? The dictionary takes the latter view and goes on to the slurring secondary definition, ‘characteristic of the inhabitants of islands, hence, narrow, contracted.’
“Why ‘hence, narrow, contracted’? It would seem as if the dictionary man had been consorting with land-lubbers and had taken their point of view. One would suppose from his reasoning that the sea cut one off from communication with the rest of the world, while prairies and mountains were the true highways of nations. This is not the doctrine of the Blue-water school. It is based on the recognition of the broadening effect of an insular position. There is no place so easy to get at or to get away from as an island. It makes us next-door neighbors to the ends of the earth, especially when we’ve got the ships, we’ve got the men, we’ve got the money too. It is your dweller in a section of a continent who is shut in, ‘hence, narrow, contracted.’ Your islander knows no such narrow bounds as he sings his victorious Song of the Seven Seas. If this be insularity make the most of it!”
At this moment the door-bell rang and a shy individual appeared whom I took to be the first American student.