America To-Day, Observations and Reflections/The Republic and the Empire
THE REPUBLIC AND THE EMPIRE
Though one of the main objects which I proposed to myself in visiting America was to take note of American feeling towards England as affected by the Spanish War, I soon found that, so far as the gathering of information by way of question and answer was concerned, I might almost as well have stayed at home. A curious diffidence beset me from the first. I shrank from recognising that there was any question as to the good feeling between the two countries, and still more from seeming to appeal to a non-existent or a grudging sense of kinship. It seemed to me tactless and absurd for an Englishman to lay any stress on the war as affecting the relations between the two peoples. What had England done? Nothing that had cost her a cent or a drop of blood. The British people had sympathised with the United States in a war which it felt to be, in the last analysis, a part of the necessary police-work of the world; it had applauded in American soldiers and sailors the qualities it was accustomed to admire in its own fighting men; and the British Government, giving ready effect to the instinct of the people, had, at a critical moment, secured a fair field for the United States, and broken up what might have been an embarrassing, though scarcely a very formidable, anti-American intrigue on the part of the Continental Powers. What was there in all this to make any merit of? Nothing whatever. It was the simplest matter in the world—we had merely felt and done what came natural to us. The really significant fact was that any one in America should have been surprised at our attitude, or should have regarded it as more friendly than they had every right and reason to expect. In short, I felt an irrational but I hope not unnatural disinclination to recognise as matter for question and remark a state of feeling which, as it seemed to me, ought to "go without saying."
Above all was I careful to avoid the word "Anglo-Saxon." I heard it and read it with satisfaction: I uttered it, never. It is for the American to claim his Anglo-Saxon birthright, if he feels so disposed; it is not for the Briton to thrust it upon him. To cheapen it, to send it a-begging, were to do it a grievous wrong. Besides, the term "Anglo-Saxon" is inaccurate, and, so to speak, provisional. Rightly understood, it covers a great idea; but if one chooses to take it in a strict ethnological sense, it lends itself to caricature. The truth is, it has no strict ethnological sense—it may rather be called an ethnological countersense, no less in England than in America. It represents an historical and political, not an ethnological, concept. The Anglo-Saxon was already an infinitely composite personage—Saxon, Scandinavian, Gaul, and Kelt—before he set foot in America; and America merely proves her deep-rooted Anglo-Saxonism in accepting and absorbing all sorts of alien and semi-alien race-elements. But when we have to go so far behind the face-value of a word to bring it into consonance with obvious facts, it is safest to use that word sparingly.
In brief, I did not wear my Anglo-Saxon heart on my sleeve, or go about inviting expressions of gratitude to England for having, like Mr. Gilbert's House of Lords,
Done nothing in particular,
And done it very well.
Yet evidences of a new tone of feeling towards England met me on every hand, both in the newspapers and in conversation. The subject which I shrank from introducing was frequently introduced by my American acquaintances. It was evident that the change of feeling, though far from universal, was real and widespread. Americans who had recently returned to their native land, after passing some years abroad, assured me that they were keenly conscious of it. Many of my acquaintances were opposed to the policy which brought about the Spanish War, and declared the better mutual understanding between England and America to be its one good result. Others adopted the view to which Mr. Kipling had given such far-echoing expression, and frankly rejoiced in the sympathy with which England regarded America's determination to "take up the white man's burden." In the Kipling craze as a whole, after making all deductions, I could not but see a symptom of real significance. It was partly a mere literary fashion, partly a result of personal and accidental circumstances; but it also arose in no small degree from a novel sense of kinship with the men, and participation in the ideals, celebrated by the poet of British Imperialism.
The change, moreover, extended beyond the book-reading class, wide as that is in America. It was to be noted even in the untravelled and unlettered American, the man whose spiritual horizon is bounded by his Sunday newspaper, the man in the street and on the farm. The events of the past year had taught him—and he rubbed his eyes at the realisation—that England was not an "effete monarchy," evilly disposed towards a Republic as such, and dully resentful of bygone humiliations by land and sea, but a brotherly-minded people, remembering little (perhaps too little) of those "old, unhappy, far-off things," willing to be as helpful as the rules of neutrality permitted, and eager to applaud the achievements of American arms.
Millions of people who had hitherto felt no touch of racial sympathy, and had been conscious only of a vague historic antipathy, learned with surprise that England was in no sense their natural enemy, but rather, among all the nations of Europe, their natural friend. Anglophobes, no doubt, were still to be found in plenty; but they could no longer reckon on the instant popular response which, a few years ago, would almost certainly have attended any movement of hostility towards England. An American publicist, who has perhaps unequalled opportunities for keeping his finger on the pulse of national feeling, said to me, "It is only three or four years since I heard a Federal judge express an earnest desire for war with England, as a means of consolidating the North and South in a great common enthusiasm. Of course this was pernicious talk at any time," he added; "but it would then have found an echo which it certainly would not find to-day."
This puts the international situation in a nutshell, so far as to-day is concerned. But what about to-morrow?
When people spoke to me of the sudden veering of popular sympathy from France and Russia, and towards England, I could not help asking, now and again, "When is the reaction coming?" "There is no reaction coming," I was told with some confidence. For my own part, I hope and believe that a permanent advance had been made, and that any reaction that may set in will be trifling and temporary. But to ensure this result there is still the most urgent need for the exercise of wisdom and moderation on both sides. The misunderstandings of more than a century are not to be wiped out in two or three months of popular excitement. What we have arrived at is not a complete mutual understanding, but merely the attitude of mind which may, in course of time, render such an understanding possible. That, to be sure, is half the battle; but the longer and more tedious half is before us.
The Englishman who visits America for pleasure, and enjoys the inexhaustible hospitality of New York, Boston, and Washington, must be careful not to imagine that he gets really in touch with the sentiment of the American nation. His circle of acquaintance is almost certain to be composed mainly of people whom he, or friends of his, have met in Europe, people of more or less clearly remembered British descent, who know England well, have many English friends and possibly relatives, and are conscious of a distinct sentimental attachment to "the Old Country." They are almost without exception people of culture, as well read as he himself in the English classics, ancient and modern. They show their Americanism not in that they love English literature less, but that very probably they love French literature more, than he does. Further, they are an exceedingly polite people, and, sensitive themselves on points of national honour, they instinctively keep in the background all topics on which a too free interchange of opinions might be apt to wound the susceptibilities of their guest. Thus he loses entirely his sense of being in a foreign country, because he moves among people most of whom have an affection for England almost as deep as his own, while all are courteous enough to respect his prejudices. This class is large in actual numbers, no doubt, but in proportion to the whole American people it is infinitesimal, and would be a mere featherweight in the scale at any moment of crisis. Its voice is clearly audible in literature and even in journalism, but at the polls it would be as a whisper to the thunder of Niagara. The traveller who has "had a good time" in literary, artistic, university circles in the Eastern cities, has not felt the pulse of America, but has merely touched the fringe of the fringe of her garment.
We deceive ourselves if we imagine that there is, or at any rate that there was until recently, the slightest sentimental attachment to England in the heart of the American people at large. Among the "hyphenated Americans," as they are called—Irish-Americans, German-Americans, and so forth—it would be folly to look for any such feeling. The conciliation of America will never be complete until we have achieved the conciliation of Ireland. It is evident, indeed, from many symptoms, that Irish-American hostility to England is declining, if not in rancour, at any rate in influence. Still, a popular New York paper, on St. Patrick's Day, thinks it worth while to propitiate "The Powerful Race of Ireland" by a leader under that heading, and to this effect:
"The Irish race is famous as producing the best fighters and poets among men, and the most beautiful and most virtuous of women.
"Such a reputation should suffice for any nation.
"And note that Ireland still is and always will be a Nation. There is no Anglomania in that fair land, no yearning for reciprocity for the sake of a few dollars, no drinking of the Queen's health first. . . .
"Noble patriots like John Dillon and Willam O'Brien fight for them in the House of Commons, and they are good fighters everywhere, from the glass-covered room in Westminster Abbey (!) to the prize-ring, where a Sullivan, of pure Irish blood, forbids any man to stand three rounds before him.
"The English whipped the Irish at the battle of the Boyne—true. But the English on that occasion had the good luck to be led by a Dutchman, and the Irish—sorra the day—had an English King for a leader. The English King was running fast while the Irish were still fighting the Dutchman.
"Wellington, of Irish blood, beat Napoleon; Sheridan, of Irish blood, fought here most delightfully.
"Here's to the Irish!"
This spirited performance no doubt represents fairly enough the political philosophy of the thousands composing the league-long procession which filed stolidly up Fifth Avenue on the day of its appearance.
But even among unhyphenated Americans—Americans pure and simple—the tendency to regard England as a hereditary foe, though sensibly weakened by recent events, remains very strong. A good example of this frame of mind and habit of speech is afforded by the following passage from an address delivered by Judge Van Wyck at the Democratic Club's Jefferson Dinner in New York on April 13 last. Referring to England, the speaker said:
"Let us be influenced by the natural as well as the fixed policy of that nation toward us for a century and a half, rather than by their profuse expressions of friendship during the Spanish War. England's policy has been one of sharp rivalry and competition with America; it impelled the Revolution of 1776, fought for business as well as political independence; brought on the war of 1812, waged against the insolent claim of England for the right to search our ships of commerce while riding the highways of the ocean; caused her to contest every inch of our northern boundary line from ocean to ocean; made her encourage our family troubles from 1860 to 1865, for which she was compelled to pay us millions and admit her wrong; and actuated her, in violation of the Monroe doctrine, to attempt an unwarrantable encroachment on the territory of Venezuela, until ordered by the American Government to halt."
Apart from the obvious begging of the question with reference to Venezuela, there is nothing in this invective that has not some historical foundation. It is the studiously hostile turn of the phraseology that renders the speech significant. Everything—even the honourable amends made for the Alabama blunder—is twisted to England's reproach. She is "compelled" to do this, and "ordered" to do that. There is here no hint of good feeling, no trace of international amenity, but sheer undisguised hatred and desire to make the worst of things. And this address, be it noted, was the speech of the evening at a huge and representative gathering of the dominant party in New York municipal politics.
I need scarcely adduce further evidence of the fact that Anglophobia is still a power in the land, if not the power it once was. But active and aggressive Anglophobia is, I think, a less important factor in the situation than the sheer indifference to England, with a latent bias towards hostility, which is so widespread in America. To the English observer, this indifference is far more disconcerting than hatred. The average Briton, one may say with confidence, is not indifferent towards America. He may be very ignorant about it, very much prejudiced against certain American habits and institutions, very thoughtless and tactless in expressing his prejudices; but the United States is not, to him, a foreign country like any other, on the same plane with France, Germany, or Russia. But that is precisely what England is to millions of Americans—a foreign country like any other. We see this even in many travelling Americans; much more is it to be noted in multitudes who stay at home. Many Americans seem curiously indifferent even to the comfort of being able to speak their own language in England; probably because they have less false shame than the average Englishman in adventuring among the pitfalls of a foreign tongue. They—this particular class of travellers, I mean—land in England without emotion, visit its shrines without sentiment, and pass on to France and Italy with no other feeling than one of relief in escaping from the London fog. These travellers, however, are but single spies sent forth by vast battalions who never cross the ocean. To them England is a mere name, and the name, moreover, of their fathers' one enemy in war, their own chief rival in trade. They have no points of contact with England, such as almost every Englishman has with America. We make use every day of American inventions and American "notions": English inventions and "notions," if they make their way to America at all, are not recognised as English. There are few Britishers, high or low, that have not friends or relatives settled in America, or have not formed pleasant acquaintanceships with Americans on this side. But there are innumerable families in America who, even if they be of British descent, have lost all vital recollection of the fact; who (as the tide of emigration has not yet turned eastwards) have no friends or relatives settled in England; and who, in their American homes, are far more apt to come in contact with men of almost every other nationality than with Englishmen. "But surely English literature," it may be said, "brings England home even to people of this class, and differentiates her from France or Germany." In a measure, doubtless; but I think it will be found that the lower strata of the reading public (not in America alone, of course) are strangely insensitive to local colour. To people of culture, the bond of literature is a very strong one; but the class of which I am speaking is not composed of people of culture. They read, it is true, and often greedily; but generally, I think, without knowing or greatly caring whether a book is English or American, and at all events with no such clear perception of the distinctive qualities of English work as could beget in them any imaginative realisation of, or affection for, England. Let us make no mistake—in the broad mass of the American people no such affection exists. They are simply indifferent to England, with, as I have said, a latent bias towards hostility.
Thus the scale of American feeling towards England, while its gradations are of course infinite, may be divided into three main sections. At one end of the scale we have the cultured and travelled classes, especially in the Eastern States, conscious for the most part of British descent, alive to the historical relationship between the two countries, valuing highly their birthright in the treasures of English literature, knowing, and (not uncritically) understanding England and her people, and clinging to a kinship of which, taking one thing with another, they have no reason to be ashamed. This class is intellectually influential, but its direct weight in politics is small. It is, with shining exceptions, a "mugwump" class. At the other end of the scale we have the hyphenated Americans, who have imported or inherited European rancours against England, and those unhyphenated Americans whose hatred of England is partly a mere plank in a political platform, designed to accommodate her hyphenated foemen, partly a result of instinctive and traditional chauvinism, reinforced by a (in every sense) partial view of Anglo-American history. Finally, between these two extremes, we have the great mass of the American people, who neither love nor hate England, any more than they love or hate (say) Italy or Japan, but whose indifference would, until recently, have been much more easily deflected on the side of hatred than of love. The effect of the Spanish War has been in some measure to alter this bias, and to differentiate England, to her advantage, from the other nations of Europe.
It is commonly alleged that the anti-English virulence of the ordinary school history of the United States is mainly responsible for this bias towards hostility in the mind of the average American. Mr. Goldwin Smith, a high authority, has contested this theory; and I must admit that, after a good deal of inquiry, I have been unable to find the American school historians guilty of any very serious injustices to England. Some quite modern histories which I have looked into (yet written before the Spanish War) seem to me excellently and most impartially done. The older histories are not well written: they are apt to be sensational and chauvinistic in tone, and to encourage a somewhat cheap and blusterous order of patriotism; but that they commonly malign character or misrepresent events I cannot discover. They are perhaps a little too much inclined to make "insolent" the inseparable epithet of the British soldier; but there is no reason to doubt that in many cases it was amply merited. I have not come across the history in which Mr. G. W. Steevens discovered the following passages:
"The eyes of the soldiers glared upon the people like hungry bloodhounds. The captain waved his sword. The red-coats pointed their guns at the crowd. In a moment the flash of their muskets lighted up the street, and eleven New England men fell bleeding upon the snow. . . . Blood was streaming upon the snow; and though that purple stain melted away in the next day's sun, it was never forgotten nor forgiven by the people. . . . A battle took place between a large force of Tories and Indians and a hastily organised force of patriotic Americans. The Americans were defeated with horrible slaughter, and many of those who were made prisoners were put to death by fiendish torture. . . . More than six thousand American sailors had been seized by British warships and pressed into the hated service of a hated nation."
These passages are certainly not judicial or even judicious in tone; but I fancy that the book or books from which Mr. Steevens culled them must be quite antiquated. In books at present on the educational market I find nothing so lurid. What I do find in some is a failure to distinguish between the king's share and the British people's share in the policy which brought about and carried on the Revolutionary War. For instance, in Barnes's Primary History of the United States (undated, but brought down to the end of the Spanish War) we read:
"The English people after a time became jealous of the prosperity of the colonists, and began to devise plans by which to grasp for themselves a share of the wealth that was thus rolling in. . . . Indeed, the English people acted from the first as if the colonies existed only for the purpose of helping them to make money."
George III. and his Ministers are not so much as mentioned, and the impression conveyed to the ingenuous student is that the whole English nation was consciously and deliberately banded together for purposes of sheer brigandage. The same history is delightfully chauvinistic in its account of the Colonial Wars. The British officers are all bunglers and poltroons; if disasters are averted or victories won, it is entirely by the courage and conduct of the colonists:
"When Johnson reached the head of Lake George he met the French, and a fierce battle was fought. Success seemed at first to be altogether with the French; but after a while Johnson was slightly wounded, when General Lyman, a brave colonial officer, took command, and beat the French terribly. . . . Abercrombie's defeat was the last of the English disasters. The colonists now had arms enough, and were allowed to fight in their own way, and a series of brilliant victories followed. . . . By the energy, courage, and patriotism of her colonies, England had now acquired a splendid empire in the New World. And while she reaped all the glory of the war and its fruits, it was the hardy colonists who had, throughout, borne the brunt of the conflict."
The child who learns his history from Mr. Barnes may not hate England, but will certainly despise her.
Text-books of this type, however, are already obsolescent. A committee of the New England History Teachers' Association published in the Educational Review for December 1898 a careful survey of no fewer than nineteen school histories of the United States, and summed up the results as follows:
"In discussing the causes of the Revolution, text-book writers have sounded pretty much the whole scale of motives. England has been pictured, on the one hand, as an arbitrary oppressor, and, on the other, as the helpless victim of political environment. Under the influence of deeper study and a keener sense of justice, however, the element of bitterness, which so often entered into the discussion of this subject, has largely disappeared; and while the treatment of the Revolution in the text-books still leaves much to be desired, it is now seldom dogmatic and unsympathetic."
The fact remains, however, that we have still to live down our wars with the United States, in which there was much that was galling to the just pride of the American people, and much, too, that was perhaps over-stimulating to their self-esteem. There is no doubt, on the one hand, that we were inclined to adopt a supercilious and contemptuous attitude towards the "rebel colonists" of 1775, the new-made nation of 1815; no doubt, on the other hand, that they made a splendid fight against us, and taught our superciliousness a salutary lesson. They feel to this day the humiliation of having been despised, and the exultation of having put their despisers to shame. These wars, which were, until 1861, almost the whole military history of the United States, were but episodes in our history, and one of them a trifling episode. Therefore, while the average Englishman has not studied them sufficiently to realise how much he ought to deplore them, the average American has been taught to dwell upon them as the glorious struggles in which his nation won its spurs. To the juvenile imagination, battles are always the oases in the desert of history, and the schoolboy never fails to take sides fiercely and uncompromisingly, exaggerating, with the histrionic instinct of youth, his enthusiasm and his hatreds. Thus the insolent Britisher became the Turk's-head or Guy Fawkes, so to speak, of the American boy, the butt of his bellicose humours; and a habit of mind contracted in boyhood is not always to be eradicated by the sober reflection of manhood, even in minds capable of sober reflection. The Civil War, be it noted, did not depose the insolent Britisher from his bad eminence in the schoolboy imagination. The Confederates were, after all, Americans, though misguided Americans; and the fostering, the brooding upon, intestine rancours was felt by teachers and pupils alike to be impossible. But there is in the juvenile mind at any given moment a certain amount of abstract combativeness, let us call it, which must find an outlet somewhere. Hatred is a natural function of the human mind, just as much as love; and the healthy boy instinctively exercises it under the guise of patriotism, without clearly distinguishing the element of sheer play and pose in his transports. England's attitude during the Civil War certainly did nothing to endear her either to the writers or the readers of school histories; and she remained after that struggle, as she had been before, the one great historical adversary on whom the abstract combativeness of young America could expend itself. How strong this tendency is, or has been, in the American school, may be judged from the following anecdote. A boy of unmixed English parentage, whose father and mother had settled in America, was educated at the public school of his district. On the day when Mr. Cleveland's Venezuela message was given to the world, he came home from school radiant, and shouted to his parents: "Hurrah! We're going to war with England! We've whipped you twice before, and we're going to do it again." It is clear that at this academy Anglomania formed no part of the curriculum; and who can doubt that in myriads of cases these schoolboy animosities subsist throughout life, either active or dormant and easily awakened?
Let us admit without shrinking that the history of the United States cannot be truthfully written in such a way as to ingratiate Great Britain with the youth of America. There have been painful episodes between the two nations, in which England has, on the whole, acted stupidly, or arrogantly, or both. Nor can we shift the whole blame upon George III. or his Ministers. They were responsible for the actual Revolution; but after the Revolution, down even to the time of the Civil War inclusive, the English people, though guiltless in the main of active hostility to America, cannot be acquitted of ignorance and indifference. It is not in the least to be desired that American history should be written with a pro-English bias, and, as I have said, I do not find the anti-English bias, even in inferior text-books, so excessive as it is sometimes represented to be. The anti-English sentiment of American schools is, as it seems to me, an inevitable phenomenon of juvenile psychology, under the given conditions; and it is the alteration in the actual conditions wrought by recent events, rather than any marked change in the tone of the text-books, that may, I think, be trusted to soothe the schoolboy's savage breast. England has now done what she had never done before: shown herself conspicuously friendly to the United States; and another European country has given occasion for spirit-stirring manifestations of American prowess. Thus England is deposed for the time, and we may trust for ever, from her position as the one traditional arch-enemy.
But though the errors of commission in American history-books have been exaggerated, I cannot but think that a common error of omission is worthy of remark and correction. They begin American history too late—with the discovery of America—and they do not awaken, as they might, the just pride of race in the "unhyphenated" American boy. Long before Columbus set sail from Palos, American history was a-making in the shire-moots of Saxon England, at Hastings, and Runnymead, and Bannockburn. In all the mediæval achievements of England, in peace and war—in her cathedrals, her castles, her universities, in Cressy, Poictiers, and Agincourt—Americans may without paradox claim their ancestral part. Why should the sons of the English who emigrated leave to the sons of those who stayed at home the undivided credit of having sent to the right-about the Invincible Armada? Nay, it is only the very oldest American families that can disclaim all complicity in having, as Lord Auchinleck put it, "garred kings ken that they had a lith in their necks." Of course I do not mean that the American schoolboy should be taken in detail through British history down to the seventeenth century before, so to speak, he crosses the Atlantic. But I do suggest that he would be none the worse American for being encouraged to set a due value on his rightful share in the achievements of earlier ancestors than those who fought at Trenton or sailed with Decatur. Let him realise his birthright in the glories of Britain, and he will perhaps come to take a more magnanimous view of her errors and disasters.
Britain has been too forgetful of the past, America, perhaps, too mindful; and in the everyday relations of life Britain has often been tactless and unsympathetic, America suspicious and supersensitive. There is every prospect, I think, that such errors will become, in the future, rarer and ever rarer; and it behoves us, on our side, to be careful in guarding against them. We have not hitherto sufficiently respected America—that is the whole story. We have taken no pains to know and understand her. We have too often regarded her with a careless and supercilious good feeling, which she has not unnaturally mistaken for ill feeling, and repaid in kind. The events of the past year seem to have brought the two countries almost physically closer to each other, and to have made them more real, more clearly visible, each to each. America has won the respectful consideration of even the most thoughtless and insular among us. She has come home to us, so to speak, as a vast and vital factor in the problem of the future. Superciliousness towards her is a mere anachronism.
Many Englishmen, however, are still guilty of a thoughtless captiousness towards America, which is none the less galling because it manifests itself in the most trifling matters. A friend of my own returned a few years ago from a short tour in the United States, declaring that he heartily disliked the country, and would never go back again. Inquiry as to the grounds of his dissatisfaction elicited no more definite or damning charge than that "they" (a collective pronoun presumed to cover the whole American people) hung up his trousers instead of folding them—or vice versâ, for I am heathen enough not to remember which is the orthodox process. Doubtless he had other, and possibly weightier, causes of complaint; but this was the head and front of America's offending. Another Englishman of education and position, being asked why he had never crossed the Atlantic, gravely replied that he could not endure to travel in a country where you had to black your own boots! Such instances of ignorance and pettiness may seem absurdly trivial, but they are quite sufficient to act as grits in the machinery of social intercourse. Americans are very fond of citing as an example of English manners the legend of a great lady who, at an American breakfast, saw her husband declining a dish which was offered to him, and called across the table, "Take some, my dear—it isn't half as nasty as it looks." Three different people have vouched to me for the truth of this anecdote, each naming the heroine, and each giving her a different name. True or false, it is held in America to be typical; and it would scarcely be so popular as it is unless people had suffered a good deal from the tactlessness which it exemplifies. The same vice, in a more insidious form, appears in a remark made to me the other day by an Englishman of very high intelligence, who had just returned from a long tour in America, and was, in the main, far from unsympathetic. "What I felt," he said, "was the suburbanism of everything. It was all Clapham or Camberwell on a gigantic scale." Some justice of observation may possibly have lain behind this remark, though I certainly failed to recognise it. But in the form of its expression it exemplified that illusion of metropolitanism which is to my mind the veriest cockneyism in disguise, and which cannot but strike Americans as either ridiculous or offensive.
Englishmen who, as individuals, wish to promote and not impede an international understanding, will do well to take some little thought to avoid wounding, even in trifles, the just and inevitable susceptibilities of their American acquaintances. Our own national self-esteem is cased in oak and triple brass, and we are apt to regard American sensitiveness as a ridiculous foible. It is nothing of the sort: it is a psychological necessity, deep-rooted in history and social conditions.
Again, there are certain misunderstandings which Englishmen, not as individual human beings but as citizens of the British Empire, ought carefully to guard against. Let us beware of speaking or thinking as though friendship for England involved on the part of America any acceptance of English political ideas or imitation of English methods. In especial, let us carefully guard against the idea that an Anglo-American understanding, however cordial, implies the adoption of an "expansionist" policy by the United States, or must necessarily strengthen the hands of the "expansionist" party. If America chooses to "take up the white man's burden" in the Kiplingesque sense, it would ill become England to object; but her doing so is by no means a condition of England's sympathy. It might seem, indeed, that she had plenty of "white man's burden" to shoulder within her own continental boundaries; but that is a matter which she is entirely competent to determine for herself.
Most of all must we beware of anything that can encourage an impression, already too prevalent in America, that we find the "white man's burden" too heavy for us, and are anxious to share it with the United States. This suspicion is very generally felt and very openly expressed. Take, for instance, this paragraph from an editorial in one of the leading Chicago papers:
"It would be a strange thing to see Continental Europe take up arms against Great Britain alone. . . . That it is a very reasonable possibility, however, is generally recognised in Europe, and it was doubtless a knowledge of this fact that induced Great Britain to make such unusual exertions to ally itself with the United States."
Here, again, is another journalistic straw floating on the stream:
"Referring to the fact that English and American officers had fallen side by side in Samoa while promoting commercial interests, Lord [Charles] Beresford expressed the hope that the two nations would 'always be found working and fighting in unison.' This might keep us pretty busy, your lordship."
In a rather low-class farce which I saw in a Chicago theatre, two men wandered through the action, with the charming irrelevance characteristic of American popular drama, attired, one as John Bull, the other as Brother Jonathan. There came a point in the action where some one had to be kicked out of the house. "You do it, Jonathan," said John Bull; whereupon Jonathan retorted: "I know your game; you want me to do your fighting for you, but I don't do it! See?" These are ridiculous trifles, no doubt, but they might be indefinitely multiplied; and they show the set of a certain current in American feeling. Let us beware of lending added strength to this current by any appearance of self-interested eagerness in our advances towards America.
One thing we cannot too clearly realise, and that is that the true American clings above everything to his Americanism. The status of an American citizen is to him the proudest on earth, and that although he may clearly enough recognise the abuses of American political life, and the dangers which the Republic has to encounter. The feeling (which is not to be confounded with an ignorant chauvinism, though in some cases it may take that form) is the fundamental feeling of the whole nation; and no emotion which threatened to encroach upon it, or compete with it in any way, would have the least chance of taking a permanent place in the American mind. The feeling which, as one may reasonably hope, is now growing up between the two nations must be based on the mutual admission of absolute independence and equality. The relation is new to history, and must beget a new emotion. Strong as is the bond of mutual interest, it must have a large idealism to reinforce it—a sentiment (shall we say?) of mutual admiration—if the English-speaking peoples are to play the great part in the drama of the future which Destiny seems to be urging upon them. In order to stand together in perfect freedom and dignity, it is essential that each of the brother-nations should be incontestably able to stand alone. If we want to cement the Anglo-American understanding, the first thing we have to do is to cement the British Empire.
There is no more typical and probably no more widely respected American at the present moment than Governor Roosevelt, of New York. Even those who dissent from his "strenuous" ideal and his expansionist opinions, admit him to be a model of political integrity and public spirit. In an article on "The Monroe Doctrine," published in 1896, Mr. Roosevelt wrote as follows:
"No English colony now stands on a footing of genuine equality with the parent State. As long as the Canadian remains a colonist, he remains in a position which is distinctly inferior to that of his cousins, both in England and in the United States. The Englishman at bottom looks down on the Canadian, as he does on any one who admits his inferiority, and quite properly too. The American, on the other hand, with equal propriety, regards the Canadian with the good-natured condescension always felt by the freeman for the man who is not free. A funny instance of the English attitude towards Canada was shown after Lord Dunraven's inglorious fiasco last September, when the Canadian yachtsman Rose challenged for the America Cup. The English journals repudiated him on the express ground that a Canadian was not an Englishman, and not entitled to the privileges of an Englishman. In their comments, many of them showed a dislike for Americans which almost rose to hatred. The feeling they displayed for Canadians was not one of dislike. It was one of contempt."
There are several contestable points in this statement, and I quote it, though it is but three years old, as a historical rather than a contemporary utterance. At the same time it expresses an almost universal American point of view, and indicates errors to be corrected, dangers to be avoided. It is absurd, of course, that the American should look down upon the Canadian as a "man who is not free"; but every shadow of an excuse for such an attitude ought to be removed, and the citizen of the British Empire ought to have as clearly defined a status as the citizen of the American Republic.
Even if such unpleasant incidents should recur as those to which Mr. Roosevelt alludes, we may trust with tolerable confidence that he would now find no "hatred" for America, or "contempt" for Canada, in the tone of the British Press. The years which have passed since 1896 have not only created a new feeling between England and America, but have drawn the Empire together. In this respect—in every respect—much remains to be done. But at least we can say with assurance that a good beginning has been made towards that consolidation of the English-speaking countries on which the well-being of the world so largely depends.
Postcript.—The notion of inevitable hostility between a constitutional Monarchy and a Republic has been fostered by American writers in whom one would have expected greater clearness of perception. We find Lowell, for instance, writing in his well-known essay On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners: "I never blamed her (England) for not wishing well to democracy—how should she?" The more obvious question is, How should not one democracy wish another well? There may have been at the time when Lowell wrote, and there may even be to-day, a handful of royalty-worshippers in England who regard a Republic as a vulgar, unpicturesque form of government; but this is not a political opinion, or even prejudice, but mere stolid snobbery. Whatever were England's misdemeanours towards America at the time of the Civil War, they were not prompted by any hatred of democracy.
I find the same misconception insisted on in a document much later than Lowell's essay: a leaflet by the Rev. Edward Everett Hale, contributed to a Good Citizenship Series specially designed for the enlightenment of the more ignorant class of American voters. The tract is called The Ruler of America, and sets forth that the Ruler of America is "the People with a very large P." Now, according to Dr. Hale, we benighted Europeans are absolutely incapable of grasping this truth. He says: "This is at bottom the trouble with the diplomatists of Europe, with prime ministers, and with leaders of ''Er Majesty's Hopposition.' . . . Even men of intelligence . . . can make nothing of the central truth of our system. . . . In my house, once, an English gentleman of great intelligence told me that he had visited the White House, and was most glad to pay his respects to 'the Ruler of our Great Nation.' Poor man! he thought he would please me! But he saw his mistake soon enough. I stormed out, 'Ruler of America? Who told you he was the ruler of America? He never told you so. He is the First Servant of America.' And I hope the poor traveller learned his lesson."
It is true that the poor traveller used a pompous and rather absurd expression; but if he had had his wits about him he might have reminded Dr. Hale that the President is much more effectively the Ruler of America than the Queen is the Ruler of England. He rules by the direct mandate of the People, but he rules none the less. It would greatly conduce to a just understanding between America and England if the political instructors of the American people would correct instead of confirming the prevalent impression that they have a monopoly of democracy.
- See Postscript to this article.
- A very distinguished American authority writes to me as follows with regard to this passage: "I hardly think you lay enough weight upon the fact that in two or three generations the great bulk of the descendants of the immigrants of non-English origin become absolutely indistinguishable from other Americans, and share their feelings. This is markedly so with the Scandinavians, and most of the Germans of the second, and all the Germans of the third, generation, who practically all, during 1898, felt toward Germany and England just exactly as other Americans did. . . . Twice recently I have addressed huge meetings of eight or ten thousand people, each drawn, as regards the enormous majority, from exactly that class which you pointed out as standing between the two extremes. In each case the men who introduced me dwelt upon the increased good feeling between the English-speaking peoples, and every complimentary allusion to England was received with great applause." At the same time my correspondent adds: "Your division of the American sentiment into three classes is exactly right; also your sense of the relative importance of these three classes."
- I do not mean that we are callous to American criticism, or always take it in good part when it comes home to us. I think with shame, for example, of the stupid insolence with which certain English journalists used for years to treat Mr. W. D. Howells, merely because he had expressed certain literary judgments from which they dissented. What I do mean, and believe to be true, is that we are habitually unconscious of American criticism, while Americans may rather be said to be habitually over-conscious that the eyes of England and of the world are on them. The existence of this habit of mind seems to me no less evident than the fact that it is rapidly correcting itself.