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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/295

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INTERNATIONAL PREJUDICES.

up, or set down, or let alone. We only know that our words are pretty sure to be taken the wrong way and our silence to be misinterpreted. That the fault is not entirely our own may be guessed from the remarks of intelligent Americans; but there may be some force also in their statement that we have spoken of their countrymen in every way but one, namely, as ordinary human beings with much the same faults and virtues as ourselves. If we could manage to hit off the mean between the patronizing and the sycophantic attitude, we should perhaps succeed better. But it is not surprising that the failure of many attempts to make ourselves pleasant, and our signal success in attempts of the reverse kind, have produced a certain nervousness in our mutual relations.

After all, matters have improved. Americans have become more independent and less sensitive; and Englishmen perhaps have outlived some foolish prejudices. Let us reflect for a moment how a further advance of good feeling may be secured. A century of separation should have taught us to accept our mutual relations with a good grace. Why do, or why did, Americans and Englishmen dislike each other? One fact is plain. It was not because they knew anything of each other. If so, the question occurs whether it can be accurately said that they did in fact dislike each other. Each nation disliked a certain imaginary entity which it chose to label with the name of its antagonist, but which had of necessity the vaguest possible relation to realities. Suppose, to imagine an impossible case, that Guy Faux was still alive and living in some English village; suppose further that he was in reality one of those highly respectable and immaculate personages who have been made scapegoats by historians to be rehabilitated in later days; suppose that, so far from wishing to blow up the king and the Parliament, the true Guy Faux was really a devout Protestant, who occupied the vault for legitimate purposes of business, and that all the rest of the story was a lie contrived by politicians: if, then, the genuine Faux, being now some three hundred years ago, should walk abroad on November 5, and see a hideous image of himself paraded, with a turnip for a head, an old pipe in its mouth, and old rags on its back, and then assist at the conflagration of the said image amidst a discharge of crackers, general exultation, and vows to remember forever something that never happened, and in regard of which the performers had no conceivable means of judging whether it happened or not — would the respectable Faux be justified in saying that he was hated, or in resenting the hatred? He might be excusably annoyed at the reflection that his Christian name had been converted into a new term of abuse, and regret the fallibility of mankind; but, if he was of a logical turn, he would console himself by thinking that the true object of popular contempt was a mere figment, accidentally connected with his name, and he would admit that the rioters were not responsible for the illusion which they had no means of testing. He would have no more cause for wrath or for a sense of martyrdom than if one of his old hats had fallen into the hands of a tribe of savages and been converted by them into a fetish, which might be accidentally worshipped or regarded as a symbol of diabolical power.

Now the ideal John Bull or Brother Jonathan is to the real Englishman or American what the factitious dummy is to our supposed Guy Faux. He is made up of vague scraps and tatters which have somehow floated across the Atlantic. The steeple-crowned hat of Guy Faux is, perhaps, a traditional portrait of the genuine original; and so the top-boots and knee-breeches of John Bull, and the lantern-jaws and bowie-knife of Jonathan, as they figure in our conventional caricatures, have no doubt a foundation in fact. But what is the substance clothed in this external form? In the case of Guy, it may be supposed, if we are charitable, that the ceremonial partly reflects a horror of dark conspiracy, which is a respectable if not a virtuous sentiment; or a love of Protestantism, with which we may or may not sympathize, but which is at least not intrinsically a vicious sentiment; and whatever the ostensible pretext, the chief constituent of the popular emotion is clearly a love of noise. What are the analogous elements in the absurd fetish which we call by the name of a nation? He is made up partly of vague antipathy — the dislike of a fat man for a thin, or of the man who shaves his chin instead of the upper lip for the man who shaves on the inverse principle; partly, again, of the pure spirit of combativeness — a very excellent ingredient in national character, though sometimes developed in excess; but chiefly, of course, of what we call patriotic feeling. To an American, John Bull represents simply the outside world; England being the only country with which