THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY
would stand a little ahead of French, and not too far behind Spanish, Italian or German in the way of logic and simplicity. But all that trouble would be vain—a tremendous trouble, since it would oblige the Anglo-Saxon world to learn its language anew. The qualities of English, not its defects, are the main obstacles to its adoption.
The raciness of English is its glory and its bane. There is no more strongly individualized language. On account of the very simplicity of its grammar, of its syntactical flexibility, it has more idioms, and is more puzzling to foreign minds, than either German or French. English is an admirable tool, plain, strong and sharp, singularly dangerous in unskilled hands.
The might of the English-speaking countries would be the next objection. The balance of power would seem to be destroyed in their favor. Germany could agree to the selection of Italian without loss of self-respect, or even to that of French, because there are, for the adoption of French, historical reasons which, at present, do not wound the susceptibilities even of the most sensitive nation. But to accept English would be to acknowledge one's own inferiority. The boastful tone of certain writers and orators, although that is fast becoming a thing of the past, greatly increases the moral force of this objection.
Finally, the English-speaking race is progressive, but on its own traditional lines; its literature is deeply human, but intensely national in its expression. The abstract, analytical character of classical French, the effort to describe "man in general," and to discover truths of immediate and universal application, are lacking in English. To this fortunate lack, English literature owes much of its depth and freshness, English thought its "congruency with the unutterable," English political life its wise compromises, its freedom from revolutions and adventures. French is essentially international. Patriotism has inspired French writers to compose admirable poems, and Chauvinism is, or used to be until quite recently, as rife in Paris as Jingoism in London. Yet the French language can be so completely dissociated from the French nation that the most abundant and the bitterest denunciations of France are written in French.
Once more, I hold no brief for French. I do not believe that it will ever be more fully recognized as international than it is at present. There are strong reasons in its favor, but none is decisive. And there are two great objections against it. It is the language of one of the world-powers, and international jealousy would prevent its adoption. Then its strongest claims are historical: but the new nations, America, Japan, quietly ignore European history. A tradition is not a reason; it loses all its virtue as soon as it is no longer respected. America refuses to be ruled by the shade of Louis XIV. We can not blame her. And I must say that, as a Frenchman, I do not regret it.