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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/294

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286
THOUGHTS OF AN OUTSIDER:

neighbors. The admission that they do things better in France means just as much or as little as this confession of the ordinary Pharisee. Nations differ widely in their mode of expressing their self-satisfaction, but hardly in the degree of complacency. A German, perhaps, is the most priggish in his consciousness of merit. He expounds his theory of world-history with the airs of a professor, and lays down his superiority to all mankind as the latest discovery of scientific thought. French vanity is the most childlike and therefore at once the least offensive and the most extravagant. American brag is often the noisiest; but it has a certain frankness which is not without its attraction. If you meet an English and an American snob together in a picture-gallery, they may be equally indifferent to the fine arts; but the American will frankly confess that he never heard of Raphael before, and dislikes what he now sees whereas your true Briton puts on a sheepish affectation of good taste and hopes that you will mistake his stupidity for pride. If English patriotism is not pedantic, nor vain, nor bombastic, it has a tinge of sulkiness beneath its apparent self-depreciation which is almost peculiar to itself, and can therefore be more offensively vulgar than that of any other race.

There is, however, little to choose in reality between the varying manifestations of the feeling. A profound conviction that every one is a barbarian who does not wear clothes of our pattern is common to all mankind. Whether it takes this or that coloring, whether it is frank or reserved, directly or indirectly boastful, is a secondary consideration. And, moreover, the reason is obvious enough; namely, that the conviction does not, properly speaking, represent any intellectual conviction whatever, but is simply the reverse side of the universal instinct of self-satisfaction. When Johnson said, "Foreigners are fools," he expressed a belief as universal as the belief that two and two make four. Like that valuable proposition, it may be regarded as really an identical proposition. It means simply, foreigners are foreigners. A man is a foreigner in so far as he differs in some degree from my ways of thinking; that is, as I think that he thinks wrong; but thinking wrong is the mark of folly: therefore, I think that he is a fool. No mathematical demonstration can he more practically convincing, though, from the point of view of universal reason, it may be possible to detect some error in the chain of reasoning.

So long as we remain in generalities, most people will admit that there is an ugly side to all patriotism. Patriotism is one of the great virtues, and the mainspring of the noblest human actions; but a monstrous brood of mean and ugly prejudices shelters itself under this venerable name. The people of whom we are most ashamed naturally brag the most of our acquaintance; and, on the same principle, the least admirable of Britons are apt to flaunt the silliest British prejudices most annoyingly in the eyes of the civilized world. We often have to blush for the pride of our countrymen. If, however, we were to try to go a step farther and to settle which Britons are offensive and which British prejudices are silly, we should no longer meet with the same agreement. Some people, for example, would begin by condemning all our military self-glorification from the days of Crécy and Agincourt down to the Balaclava charge. At the outside, a battle should be remembered as long as we love to pay pensions to those who took part in it. But this doctrine is a little premature.

There is another question more relevant at the present moment, which will bear a few words — would that they could he the last ever devoted to it! Englishmen and Americans have had various uncomfortable relations and seem to he endowed with special power for irritating each other's vanity. The Americans, as we fancy, act like the perverse sailor who excited the boatswain's wrath. "A plague on thee!" exclaimed that official as he flourished the cat, "wherever I hit thee there is no pleasing thee!" We have laid on the lash in every possible way: sometimes it comes down with a stinging satire; sometimes with a lofty moral reproof; and sometimes with profound political reasoning. Then, to make things pleasant, we rub in a good unctuous compound of flattery and philanthropy, and to our surprise and disgust our attentions are scornfully rejected. If we condemn, we are prejudiced; if we praise, we are silly flatterers; if we speak calmly, we are treating our cousins like children; if warmly, like rivals; if we say nothing, we show a brutal indifference to their claims; if we say anything, we show our profound ignorance at every word. We are like people examining some queer chemical compound, which, for anything they can say, will explode if it is touched, or heated, or chilled, or rubbed, or taken