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Page:Littell's Living Age - Volume 130.djvu/296

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THOUGHTS OF AN OUTSIDER:

he has sensibly come in contact. England meant little more than not America; and the hatred of England was merely the shadow cast by his own self-esteem. The English sentiment is, of course, a little more complex. We have been knocked about enough in the world to distinguish between foreigners and foreigners; and the American dummy might be chiefly the reflection of that most sensitive part of national feeling which was bound up with pride in the British empire. It is not simply dislike to the non-English world, but dislike to that part of it which had most humiliated England. That is to say, it is the reverse side of the vague but keen sentiment produced by a consciousness of our colonial greatness. To hate the foreign nation is, therefore, at bottom to think with complacency of ourselves. The feeling is of course natural. Not long ago I heard some farm-laborers chanting an old song which ended by a vigorous defiance hurled at "the pope and the king of Spain." How the poor king of Spain came in for this denunciation I knew not. Perhaps it was a tradition from the times of the Armada, or possibly from the more recent excitement in the days of Walpole. Anyhow it was highly probable that the singers did not know whether Spain was nearer to England or Australia, whether Spaniards talked Hebrew or Japanese, or worshipped Mumbo-jumbo or the Virgin Mary. They would doubtless have cheered the monarch whom they denounced if he had presented himself in flesh and blood. But, in any case, their hatred of Spaniards might just as well have been called hatred of the Chinese or love of ourselves. It implied no sort of opinion about the real Spain, bad or good. The ordinary English judgment of Americans is not much more valuable. In the lower classes it means a vague impression that America is the land of promise for laborers; in the higher a vague impression that America is a bad place for people of artistic tendencies or conservative politics. But in any case it would be ludicrous to consider it as a serious judgment formed upon sufficient evidence.

If, indeed, we consider for a moment what it implies to make any decently satisfactory judgment of thirty or forty millions of human beings; how difficult it is for the imagination to realize different conditions of country and climate and social development; what ludicrous mistakes are committed by the most acute and impartial foreign travellers; how little we know even of our own country; how little an ordinary cockney, for example, knows of the farm-laborer or of the factory-hand; how little he knows even of nine-tenths of his fellow-townsmen in this wilderness of brick and mortar; what miscalculations are made even by statesmen whose business in life is to understand their fellows as to the real currents of national sentiment on the most important matters; how hopelessly different are the estimates formed by intelligent persons as to the religion, the morality, the cultivation of classes with whom they are in daily contact; how confidently one man will decide, say, that intoxication is visibly increasing and another that it is diminishing, — we may form some estimate of the utter inadequacy of nine-tenths of our hasty verdicts about nations. We could easily mention writers of great ability who have studied English literature and English characteristics for years, and yet make errors in every page palpable to the most ordinary Englishmen. Our judgment of our neighbors is very unlikely to be as near the mark as (say) M. Taine's judgment of us. And yet what Englishman thinks that he can really learn from M. Taine? We think ourselves entitled, indeed, to form opinions by a very expeditious process. Most people reason by particular instances. An American ruffian plots the destruction of a ship, or a Frenchman cuts half-a-dozen throats, and we assume that they represent typical instances of national development. An international antipathy means a healthy instinct combined with a logical fallacy. The instinct flourishes in proportion as a nation is contented and happy. It is developed when the sentiments of which all the bonds of society are ultimately composed are in a thoroughly healthy state; its decay would mean the approach of revolution or national dissolution. Its vigor means that the social order is moulded upon the strongest popular convictions. But this most desirable passion gives strength incidentally to a mass of silly prejudices. It encourages us to hate or despise people of whom we know nothing but the name and the fact that they differ from ourselves. We should be ashamed in any matter of daily life to frame any opinion upon grounds so slight as those which determine our judgment of a foreign nation Those grounds are vague traditions, trifling observations of the external peculiarities of an infinitesimal fraction of the phenomena in question, or hasty surmises of incompetent judges passed through a dozen intermediate stages. But when a