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Title: What I Saw in America
Author: Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "What I Saw in America" ***

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WHAT I SAW IN AMERICA

BY

G. K. CHESTERTON

HODDER AND STOUGHTON

LIMITED LONDON

MCMXXII

Printed in Great Britain by T. and A. CONSTABLE LTD. at the Edinburgh
University Press



_Contents_

                                    PAGE

WHAT IS AMERICA?                       1

A MEDITATION IN A NEW YORK HOTEL      19

A MEDITATION IN BROADWAY              33

IRISH AND OTHER INTERVIEWERS          47

SOME AMERICAN CITIES                  63

IN THE AMERICAN COUNTRY               80

THE AMERICAN BUSINESS MAN             97

PRESIDENTS AND PROBLEMS              121

PROHIBITION IN FACT AND FANCY        145

FADS AND PUBLIC OPINION              163

THE EXTRAORDINARY AMERICAN           182

THE REPUBLICAN IN THE RUINS          195

IS THE ATLANTIC NARROWING?           208

LINCOLN AND LOST CAUSES              222

WELLS AND THE WORLD STATE            235

A NEW MARTIN CHUZZLEWIT              253

THE SPIRIT OF AMERICA                267

THE SPIRIT OF ENGLAND                281

THE FUTURE OF DEMOCRACY              295



_What is America?_


I have never managed to lose my old conviction that travel narrows the
mind. At least a man must make a double effort of moral humility and
imaginative energy to prevent it from narrowing his mind. Indeed there
is something touching and even tragic about the thought of the
thoughtless tourist, who might have stayed at home loving Laplanders,
embracing Chinamen, and clasping Patagonians to his heart in Hampstead
or Surbiton, but for his blind and suicidal impulse to go and see what
they looked like. This is not meant for nonsense; still less is it meant
for the silliest sort of nonsense, which is cynicism. The human bond
that he feels at home is not an illusion. On the contrary, it is rather
an inner reality. Man is inside all men. In a real sense any man may be
inside any men. But to travel is to leave the inside and draw
dangerously near the outside. So long as he thought of men in the
abstract, like naked toiling figures in some classic frieze, merely as
those who labour and love their children and die, he was thinking the
fundamental truth about them. By going to look at their unfamiliar
manners and customs he is inviting them to disguise themselves in
fantastic masks and costumes. Many modern internationalists talk as if
men of different nationalities had only to meet and mix and understand
each other. In reality that is the moment of supreme danger--the moment
when they meet. We might shiver, as at the old euphemism by which a
meeting meant a duel.

Travel ought to combine amusement with instruction; but most travellers
are so much amused that they refuse to be instructed. I do not blame
them for being amused; it is perfectly natural to be amused at a
Dutchman for being Dutch or a Chinaman for being Chinese. Where they are
wrong is that they take their own amusement seriously. They base on it
their serious ideas of international instruction. It was said that the
Englishman takes his pleasures sadly; and the pleasure of despising
foreigners is one which he takes most sadly of all. He comes to scoff
and does not remain to pray, but rather to excommunicate. Hence in
international relations there is far too little laughing, and far too
much sneering. But I believe that there is a better way which largely
consists of laughter; a form of friendship between nations which is
actually founded on differences. To hint at some such better way is the
only excuse of this book.

Let me begin my American impressions with two impressions I had before I
went to America. One was an incident and the other an idea; and when
taken together they illustrate the attitude I mean. The first principle
is that nobody should be ashamed of thinking a thing funny because it is
foreign; the second is that he should be ashamed of thinking it wrong
because it is funny. The reaction of his senses and superficial habits
of mind against something new, and to him abnormal, is a perfectly
healthy reaction. But the mind which imagines that mere unfamiliarity
can possibly prove anything about inferiority is a very inadequate mind.
It is inadequate even in criticising things that may really be inferior
to the things involved here. It is far better to laugh at a negro for
having a black face than to sneer at him for having a sloping skull. It
is proportionally even more preferable to laugh rather than judge in
dealing with highly civilised peoples. Therefore I put at the beginning
two working examples of what I felt about America before I saw it; the
sort of thing that a man has a right to enjoy as a joke, and the sort of
thing he has a duty to understand and respect, because it is the
explanation of the joke.

When I went to the American consulate to regularise my passports, I was
capable of expecting the American consulate to be American. Embassies
and consulates are by tradition like islands of the soil for which they
stand; and I have often found the tradition corresponding to a truth. I
have seen the unmistakable French official living on omelettes and a
little wine and serving his sacred abstractions under the last
palm-trees fringing a desert. In the heat and noise of quarrelling Turks
and Egyptians, I have come suddenly, as with the cool shock of his own
shower-bath, on the listless amiability of the English gentleman. The
officials I interviewed were very American, especially in being very
polite; for whatever may have been the mood or meaning of Martin
Chuzzlewit, I have always found Americans by far the politest people in
the world. They put in my hands a form to be filled up, to all
appearance like other forms I had filled up in other passport offices.
But in reality it was very different from any form I had ever filled up
in my life. At least it was a little like a freer form of the game
called 'Confessions' which my friends and I invented in our youth; an
examination paper containing questions like, 'If you saw a rhinoceros
in the front garden, what would you do?' One of my friends, I remember,
wrote, 'Take the pledge.' But that is another story, and might bring Mr.
Pussyfoot Johnson on the scene before his time.

One of the questions on the paper was, 'Are you an anarchist?' To which
a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, 'What
the devil has that to do with you? Are you an atheist?' along with some
playful efforts to cross-examine the official about what constitutes an
[Greek: archê]. Then there was the question, 'Are you in favour of
subverting the government of the United States by force?' Against this I
should write, 'I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour
and not the beginning.' The inquisitor, in his more than morbid
curiosity, had then written down, 'Are you a polygamist?' The answer to
this is, 'No such luck' or 'Not such a fool,' according to our
experience of the other sex. But perhaps a better answer would be that
given to W. T. Stead when he circulated the rhetorical question, 'Shall
I slay my brother Boer?'--the answer that ran, 'Never interfere in
family matters.' But among many things that amused me almost to the
point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was
the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it
respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip
into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting
down to write with a beautiful gravity, 'I am an anarchist. I hate you
all and wish to destroy you.' Or, 'I intend to subvert by force the
government of the United States as soon as possible, sticking the long
sheath-knife in my left trouser-pocket into Mr. Harding at the earliest
opportunity.' Or again, 'Yes, I am a polygamist all right, and my
forty-seven wives are accompanying me on the voyage disguised as
secretaries.' There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these
answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists
are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and
they are certain to tell no lies.

Now that is a model of the sort of foreign practice, founded on foreign
problems, at which a man's first impulse is naturally to laugh. Nor have
I any intention of apologising for my laughter. A man is perfectly
entitled to laugh at a thing because he happens to find it
incomprehensible. What he has no right to do is to laugh at it as
incomprehensible, and then criticise it as if he comprehended it. The
very fact of its unfamiliarity and mystery ought to set him thinking
about the deeper causes that make people so different from himself, and
that without merely assuming that they must be inferior to himself.

Superficially this is rather a queer business. It would be easy enough
to suggest that in this America has introduced a quite abnormal spirit
of inquisition; an interference with liberty unknown among all the
ancient despotisms and aristocracies. About that there will be something
to be said later; but superficially it is true that this degree of
officialism is comparatively unique. In a journey which I took only the
year before I had occasion to have my papers passed by governments which
many worthy people in the West would vaguely identify with corsairs and
assassins; I have stood on the other side of Jordan, in the land ruled
by a rude Arab chief, where the police looked so like brigands that one
wondered what the brigands looked like. But they did not ask me whether
I had come to subvert the power of the Shereef; and they did not exhibit
the faintest curiosity about my personal views on the ethical basis of
civil authority. These ministers of ancient Moslem despotism did not
care about whether I was an anarchist; and naturally would not have
minded if I had been a polygamist. The Arab chief was probably a
polygamist himself. These slaves of Asiatic autocracy were content, in
the old liberal fashion, to judge me by my actions; they did not inquire
into my thoughts. They held their power as limited to the limitation of
practice; they did not forbid me to hold a theory. It would be easy to
argue here that Western democracy persecutes where even Eastern
despotism tolerates or emancipates. It would be easy to develop the
fancy that, as compared with the sultans of Turkey or Egypt, the
American Constitution is a thing like the Spanish Inquisition.

Only the traveller who stops at that point is totally wrong; and the
traveller only too often does stop at that point. He has found something
to make him laugh, and he will not suffer it to make him think. And the
remedy is not to unsay what he has said, not even, so to speak, to
unlaugh what he has laughed, not to deny that there is something unique
and curious about this American inquisition into our abstract opinions,
but rather to continue the train of thought, and follow the admirable
advice of Mr. H. G. Wells, who said, 'It is not much good thinking of a
thing unless you think it out.' It is not to deny that American
officialism is rather peculiar on this point, but to inquire what it
really is which makes America peculiar, or which is peculiar to America.
In short, it is to get some ultimate idea of what America _is_; and the
answer to that question will reveal something much deeper and grander
and more worthy of our intelligent interest.

It may have seemed something less than a compliment to compare the
American Constitution to the Spanish Inquisition. But oddly enough, it
does involve a truth; and still more oddly perhaps, it does involve a
compliment. The American Constitution does resemble the Spanish
Inquisition in this: that it is founded on a creed. America is the only
nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth
with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of
Independence; perhaps the only piece of practical politics that is also
theoretical politics and also great literature. It enunciates that all
men are equal in their claim to justice, that governments exist to give
them that justice, and that their authority is for that reason just. It
certainly does condemn anarchism, and it does also by inference condemn
atheism, since it clearly names the Creator as the ultimate authority
from whom these equal rights are derived. Nobody expects a modern
political system to proceed logically in the application of such dogmas,
and in the matter of God and Government it is naturally God whose claim
is taken more lightly. The point is that there is a creed, if not about
divine, at least about human things.

Now a creed is at once the broadest and the narrowest thing in the
world. In its nature it is as broad as its scheme for a brotherhood of
all men. In its nature it is limited by its definition of the nature of
all men. This was true of the Christian Church, which was truly said to
exclude neither Jew nor Greek, but which did definitely substitute
something else for Jewish religion or Greek philosophy. It was truly
said to be a net drawing in of all kinds; but a net of a certain
pattern, the pattern of Peter the Fisherman. And this is true even of
the most disastrous distortions or degradations of that creed; and true
among others of the Spanish Inquisition. It may have been narrow
touching theology, it could not confess to being narrow about
nationality or ethnology. The Spanish Inquisition might be admittedly
Inquisitorial; but the Spanish Inquisition could not be merely Spanish.
Such a Spaniard, even when he was narrower than his own creed, had to be
broader than his own empire. He might burn a philosopher because he was
heterodox; but he must accept a barbarian because he was orthodox. And
we see, even in modern times, that the same Church which is blamed for
making sages heretics is also blamed for making savages priests. Now in
a much vaguer and more evolutionary fashion, there is something of the
same idea at the back of the great American experiment; the experiment
of a democracy of diverse races which has been compared to a
melting-pot. But even that metaphor implies that the pot itself is of a
certain shape and a certain substance; a pretty solid substance. The
melting-pot must not melt. The original shape was traced on the lines of
Jeffersonian democracy; and it will remain in that shape until it
becomes shapeless. America invites all men to become citizens; but it
implies the dogma that there is such a thing as citizenship. Only, so
far as its primary ideal is concerned, its exclusiveness is religious
because it is not racial. The missionary can condemn a cannibal,
precisely because he cannot condemn a Sandwich Islander. And in
something of the same spirit the American may exclude a polygamist,
precisely because he cannot exclude a Turk.

Now for America this is no idle theory. It may have been theoretical,
though it was thoroughly sincere, when that great Virginian gentleman
declared it in surroundings that still had something of the character of
an English countryside. It is not merely theoretical now. There is
nothing to prevent America being literally invaded by Turks, as she is
invaded by Jews or Bulgars. In the most exquisitely inconsequent of the
_Bab Ballads_, we are told concerning Pasha Bailey Ben:--


     One morning knocked at half-past eight
     A tall Red Indian at his gate.
     In Turkey, as you 'r' p'raps aware,
     Red Indians are extremely rare.


But the converse need by no means be true. There is nothing in the
nature of things to prevent an emigration of Turks increasing and
multiplying on the plains where the Red Indians wandered; there is
nothing to necessitate the Turks being extremely rare. The Red Indians,
alas, are likely to be rarer. And as I much prefer Red Indians to Turks,
not to mention Jews, I speak without prejudice; but the point here is
that America, partly by original theory and partly by historical
accident, does lie open to racial admixtures which most countries would
think incongruous or comic. That is why it is only fair to read any
American definitions or rules in a certain light, and relatively to a
rather unique position. It is not fair to compare the position of those
who may meet Turks in the back street with that of those who have never
met Turks except in the _Bab Ballads_. It is not fair simply to compare
America with England in its regulations about the Turk. In short, it is
not fair to do what almost every Englishman probably does; to look at
the American international examination paper, and laugh and be satisfied
with saying, 'We don't have any of that nonsense in England.'

We do not have any of that nonsense in England because we have never
attempted to have any of that philosophy in England. And, above all,
because we have the enormous advantage of feeling it natural to be
national, because there is nothing else to be. England in these days is
not well governed; England is not well educated; England suffers from
wealth and poverty that are not well distributed. But England is
English; _esto perpetua_. England is English as France is French or
Ireland Irish; the great mass of men taking certain national traditions
for granted. Now this gives us a totally different and a very much
easier task. We have not got an inquisition, because we have not got a
creed; but it is arguable that we do not need a creed, because we have
got a character. In any of the old nations the national unity is
preserved by the national type. Because we have a type we do not need to
have a test.

Take that innocent question, 'Are you an anarchist?' which is
intrinsically quite as impudent as 'Are you an optimist?' or 'Are you a
philanthropist?' I am not discussing here whether these things are
right, but whether most of us are in a position to know them rightly.
Now it is quite true that most Englishmen do not find it necessary to go
about all day asking each other whether they are anarchists. It is quite
true that the phrase occurs on no British forms that I have seen. But
this is not only because most of the Englishmen are not anarchists. It
is even more because even the anarchists are Englishmen. For instance,
it would be easy to make fun of the American formula by noting that the
cap would fit all sorts of bald academic heads. It might well be
maintained that Herbert Spencer was an anarchist. It is practically
certain that Auberon Herbert was an anarchist. But Herbert Spencer was
an extraordinarily typical Englishman of the Nonconformist middle class.
And Auberon Herbert was an extraordinarily typical English aristocrat of
the old and genuine aristocracy. Every one knew in his heart that the
squire would not throw a bomb at the Queen, and the Nonconformist would
not throw a bomb at anybody. Every one knew that there was something
subconscious in a man like Auberon Herbert, which would have come out
only in throwing bombs at the enemies of England; as it did come out in
his son and namesake, the generous and unforgotten, who fell flinging
bombs from the sky far beyond the German line. Every one knows that
normally, in the last resort, the English gentleman is patriotic. Every
one knows that the English Nonconformist is national even when he denies
that he is patriotic. Nothing is more notable indeed than the fact that
nobody is more stamped with the mark of his own nation than the man who
says that there ought to be no nations. Somebody called Cobden the
International Man; but no man could be more English than Cobden.
Everybody recognises Tolstoy as the iconoclast of all patriotism; but
nobody could be more Russian than Tolstoy. In the old countries where
there are these national types, the types may be allowed to hold any
theories. Even if they hold certain theories, they are unlikely to do
certain things. So the conscientious objector, in the English sense,
may be and is one of the peculiar by-products of England. But the
conscientious objector will probably have a conscientious objection to
throwing bombs.

Now I am very far from intending to imply that these American tests are
good tests, or that there is no danger of tyranny becoming the
temptation of America. I shall have something to say later on about that
temptation or tendency. Nor do I say that they apply consistently this
conception of a nation with the soul of a church, protected by religious
and not racial selection. If they did apply that principle consistently,
they would have to exclude pessimists and rich cynics who deny the
democratic ideal; an excellent thing but a rather improbable one. What I
say is that when we realise that this principle exists at all, we see
the whole position in a totally different perspective. We say that the
Americans are doing something heroic, or doing something insane, or
doing it in an unworkable or unworthy fashion, instead of simply
wondering what the devil they are doing.

When we realise the democratic design of such a cosmopolitan
commonwealth, and compare it with our insular reliance or instincts, we
see at once why such a thing has to be not only democratic but dogmatic.
We see why in some points it tends to be inquisitive or intolerant. Any
one can see the practical point by merely transferring into private life
a problem like that of the two academic anarchists, who might by a
coincidence be called the two Herberts. Suppose a man said, 'Buffle, my
old Oxford tutor, wants to meet you; I wish you'd ask him down for a day
or two. He has the oddest opinions, but he's very stimulating.' It would
not occur to us that the oddity of the Oxford don's opinions would lead
him to blow up the house; because the Oxford don is an English type.
Suppose somebody said, 'Do let me bring old Colonel Robinson down for
the week-end; he's a bit of a crank but quite interesting.' We should
not anticipate the colonel running amuck with a carving-knife and
offering up human sacrifice in the garden; for these are not among the
daily habits of an old English colonel; and because we know his habits,
we do not care about his opinions. But suppose somebody offered to bring
a person from the interior of Kamskatka to stay with us for a week or
two, and added that his religion was a very extraordinary religion, we
should feel a little more inquisitive about what kind of religion it
was. If somebody wished to add a Hairy Ainu to the family party at
Christmas, explaining that his point of view was so individual and
interesting, we should want to know a little more about it and him. We
should be tempted to draw up as fantastic an examination paper as that
presented to the emigrant going to America. We should ask what a Hairy
Ainu was, and how hairy he was, and above all what sort of Ainu he was.
Would etiquette require us to ask him to bring his wife? And if we did
ask him to bring his wife, how many wives would he bring? In short, as
in the American formula, is he a polygamist? Merely as a point of
housekeeping and accommodation the question is not irrelevant. Is the
Hairy Ainu content with hair, or does he wear any clothes? If the police
insist on his wearing clothes, will he recognise the authority of the
police? In short, as in the American formula, is he an anarchist?

Of course this generalisation about America, like other historical
things, is subject to all sorts of cross divisions and exceptions, to
be considered in their place. The negroes are a special problem, because
of what white men in the past did to them. The Japanese are a special
problem, because of what men fear that they in the future may do to
white men. The Jews are a special problem, because of what they and the
Gentiles, in the past, present, and future, seem to have the habit of
doing to each other. But the point is not that nothing exists in America
except this idea; it is that nothing like this idea exists anywhere
except in America. This idea is not internationalism; on the contrary it
is decidedly nationalism. The Americans are very patriotic, and wish to
make their new citizens patriotic Americans. But it is the idea of
making a new nation literally out of any old nation that comes along. In
a word, what is unique is not America but what is called
Americanisation. We understand nothing till we understand the amazing
ambition to Americanise the Kamskatkan and the Hairy Ainu. We are not
trying to Anglicise thousands of French cooks or Italian organ-grinders.
France is not trying to Gallicise thousands of English trippers or
German prisoners of war. America is the one place in the world where
this process, healthy or unhealthy, possible or impossible, is going on.
And the process, as I have pointed out, is _not_ internationalisation.
It would be truer to say it is the nationalisation of the
internationalised. It is making a home out of vagabonds and a nation out
of exiles. This is what at once illuminates and softens the moral
regulations which we may really think faddist or fanatical. They are
abnormal; but in one sense this experiment of a home for the homeless is
abnormal. In short, it has long been recognised that America was an
asylum. It is only since Prohibition that it has looked a little like a
lunatic asylum.

It was before sailing for America, as I have said, that I stood with the
official paper in my hand and these thoughts in my head. It was while I
stood on English soil that I passed through the two stages of smiling
and then sympathising; of realising that my momentary amusement, at
being asked if I were not an Anarchist, was partly due to the fact that
I was not an American. And in truth I think there are some things a man
ought to know about America before he sees it. What we know of a country
beforehand may not affect what we see that it is; but it will vitally
affect what we appreciate it for being, because it will vitally affect
what we expect it to be. I can honestly say that I had never expected
America to be what nine-tenths of the newspaper critics invariably
assume it to be. I never thought it was a sort of Anglo-Saxon colony,
knowing that it was more and more thronged with crowds of very different
colonists. During the war I felt that the very worst propaganda for the
Allies was the propaganda for the Anglo-Saxons. I tried to point out
that in one way America is nearer to Europe than England is. If she is
not nearer to Bulgaria, she is nearer to Bulgars; if she is not nearer
to Bohemia, she is nearer to Bohemians. In my New York hotel the head
waiter in the dining-room was a Bohemian; the head waiter in the
grill-room was a Bulgar. Americans have nationalities at the end of the
street which for us are at the ends of the earth. I did my best to
persuade my countrymen not to appeal to the American as if he were a
rather dowdy Englishman, who had been rusticating in the provinces and
had not heard the latest news about the town. I shall record later some
of those arresting realities which the traveller does not expect; and
which, in some cases I fear, he actually does not see because he does
not expect. I shall try to do justice to the psychology of what Mr.
Belloc has called 'Eye-Openers in Travel.' But there are some things
about America that a man ought to see even with his eyes shut. One is
that a state that came into existence solely through its repudiation and
abhorrence of the British Crown is not likely to be a respectful copy of
the British Constitution. Another is that the chief mark of the
Declaration of Independence is something that is not only absent from
the British Constitution, but something which all our constitutionalists
have invariably thanked God, with the jolliest boasting and bragging,
that they had kept out of the British Constitution. It is the thing
called abstraction or academic logic. It is the thing which such jolly
people call theory; and which those who can practise it call thought.
And the theory or thought is the very last to which English people are
accustomed, either by their social structure or their traditional
teaching. It is the theory of equality. It is the pure classic
conception that no man must aspire to be anything more than a citizen,
and that no man should endure to be anything less. It is by no means
especially intelligible to an Englishman, who tends at his best to the
virtues of the gentleman and at his worst to the vices of the snob. The
idealism of England, or if you will the romance of England, has not been
primarily the romance of the citizen. But the idealism of America, we
may safely say, still revolves entirely round the citizen and his
romance. The realities are quite another matter, and we shall consider
in its place the question of whether the ideal will be able to shape
the realities or will merely be beaten shapeless by them. The ideal is
besieged by inequalities of the most towering and insane description in
the industrial and economic field. It may be devoured by modern
capitalism, perhaps the worst inequality that ever existed among men. Of
all that we shall speak later. But citizenship is still the American
ideal; there is an army of actualities opposed to that ideal; but there
is no ideal opposed to that ideal. American plutocracy has never got
itself respected like English aristocracy. Citizenship is the American
ideal; and it has never been the English ideal. But it is surely an
ideal that may stir some imaginative generosity and respect in an
Englishman, if he will condescend to be also a man. In this vision of
moulding many peoples into the visible image of the citizen, he may see
a spiritual adventure which he can admire from the outside, at least as
much as he admires the valour of the Moslems and much more than he
admires the virtues of the Middle Ages. He need not set himself to
develop equality, but he need not set himself to misunderstand it. He
may at least understand what Jefferson and Lincoln meant, and he may
possibly find some assistance in this task by reading what they said. He
may realise that equality is not some crude fairy tale about all men
being equally tall or equally tricky; which we not only cannot believe
but cannot believe in anybody believing. It is an absolute of morals by
which all men have a value invariable and indestructible and a dignity
as intangible as death. He may at least be a philosopher and see that
equality is an idea; and not merely one of these soft-headed sceptics
who, having risen by low tricks to high places, drink bad champagne in
tawdry hotel lounges, and tell each other twenty times over, with
unwearied iteration, that equality is an illusion.

In truth it is inequality that is the illusion. The extreme
disproportion between men, that we seem to see in life, is a thing of
changing lights and lengthening shadows, a twilight full of fancies and
distortions. We find a man famous and cannot live long enough to find
him forgotten; we see a race dominant and cannot linger to see it decay.
It is the experience of men that always returns to the equality of men;
it is the average that ultimately justifies the average man. It is when
men have seen and suffered much and come at the end of more elaborate
experiments, that they see men as men under an equal light of death and
daily laughter; and none the less mysterious for being many. Nor is it
in vain that these Western democrats have sought the blazonry of their
flag in that great multitude of immortal lights that endure behind the
fires we see, and gathered them into the corner of Old Glory whose
ground is like the glittering night. For veritably, in the spirit as
well as in the symbol, suns and moons and meteors pass and fill our
skies with a fleeting and almost theatrical conflagration; and wherever
the old shadow stoops upon the earth, the stars return.



_A Meditation in a New York Hotel_


All this must begin with an apology and not an apologia. When I went
wandering about the States disguised as a lecturer, I was well aware
that I was not sufficiently well disguised to be a spy. I was even in
the worst possible position to be a sight-seer. A lecturer to American
audiences can hardly be in the holiday mood of a sight-seer. It is
rather the audience that is sight-seeing; even if it is seeing a rather
melancholy sight. Some say that people come to see the lecturer and not
to hear him; in which case it seems rather a pity that he should disturb
and distress their minds with a lecture. He might merely display himself
on a stand or platform for a stipulated sum; or be exhibited like a
monster in a menagerie. The circus elephant is not expected to make a
speech. But it is equally true that the circus elephant is not allowed
to write a book. His impressions of travel would be somewhat sketchy and
perhaps a little over-specialised. In merely travelling from circus to
circus he would, so to speak, move in rather narrow circles. Jumbo the
great elephant (with whom I am hardly so ambitious as to compare
myself), before he eventually went to the Barnum show, passed a
considerable and I trust happy part of his life in Regent's Park. But if
he had written a book on England, founded on his impressions of the Zoo,
it might have been a little disproportionate and even misleading in its
version of the flora and fauna of that country. He might imagine that
lions and leopards were commoner than they are in our hedgerows and
country lanes, or that the head and neck of a giraffe was as native to
our landscapes as a village spire. And that is why I apologise in
anticipation for a probable lack of proportion in this work. Like the
elephant, I may have seen too much of a special enclosure where a
special sort of lions are gathered together. I may exaggerate the
territorial, as distinct from the vertical space occupied by the
spiritual giraffe; for the giraffe may surely be regarded as an example
of Uplift, and is even, in a manner of speaking, a high-brow. Above all,
I shall probably make generalisations that are much too general; and are
insufficient through being exaggerative. To this sort of doubt all my
impressions are subject; and among them the negative generalisation with
which I shall begin this rambling meditation on American hotels.

In all my American wanderings I never saw such a thing as an inn. They
may exist; but they do not arrest the traveller upon every road as they
do in England and in Europe. The saloons no longer existed when I was
there, owing to the recent reform which restricted intoxicants to the
wealthier classes. But we feel that the saloons have been there; if one
may so express it, their absence is still present. They remain in the
structure of the street and the idiom of the language. But the saloons
were not inns. If they had been inns, it would have been far harder even
for the power of modern plutocracy to root them out. There will be a
very different chase when the White Hart is hunted to the forests or
when the Red Lion turns to bay. But people could not feel about the
American saloon as they will feel about the English inns. They could not
feel that the Prohibitionist, that vulgar chucker-out, was chucking
Chaucer out of the Tabard and Shakespeare out of the Mermaid. In justice
to the American Prohibitionists it must be realised that they were not
doing quite such desecration; and that many of them felt the saloon a
specially poisonous sort of place. They did feel that drinking-places
were used only as drug-shops. So they have effected the great
reconstruction, by which it will be necessary to use only drug-shops as
drinking-places. But I am not dealing here with the problem of
Prohibition except in so far as it is involved in the statement that the
saloons were in no sense inns. Secondly, of course, there are the
hotels. There are indeed. There are hotels toppling to the stars, hotels
covering the acreage of villages, hotels in multitudinous number like a
mob of Babylonian or Assyrian monuments; but the hotels also are not
inns.

Broadly speaking, there is only one hotel in America. The pattern of it,
which is a very rational pattern, is repeated in cities as remote from
each other as the capitals of European empires. You may find that hotel
rising among the red blooms of the warm spring woods of Nebraska, or
whitened with Canadian snows near the eternal noise of Niagara. And
before touching on this solid and simple pattern itself, I may remark
that the same system of symmetry runs through all the details of the
interior. As one hotel is like another hotel, so one hotel floor is like
another hotel floor. If the passage outside your bedroom door, or
hallway as it is called, contains, let us say, a small table with a
green vase and a stuffed flamingo, or some trifle of the sort, you may
be perfectly certain that there is exactly the same table, vase, and
flamingo on every one of the thirty-two landings of that towering
habitation. This is where it differs most perhaps from the crooked
landings and unexpected levels of the old English inns, even when they
call themselves hotels. To me there was something weird, like a magic
multiplication, in the exquisite sameness of these suites. It seemed to
suggest the still atmosphere of some eerie psychological story. I once
myself entertained the notion of a story, in which a man was to be
prevented from entering his house (the scene of some crime or calamity)
by people who painted and furnished the next house to look exactly like
it; the assimilation going to the most fantastic lengths, such as
altering the numbering of houses in the street. I came to America and
found an hotel fitted and upholstered throughout for the enactment of my
phantasmal fraud. I offer the skeleton of my story with all humility to
some of the admirable lady writers of detective stories in America, to
Miss Carolyn Wells, or Miss Mary Roberts Rhinehart, or Mrs. A. K. Green
of the unforgotten Leavenworth Case. Surely it might be possible for the
unsophisticated Nimrod K. Moose, of Yellow Dog Flat, to come to New York
and be entangled somehow in this net of repetitions or recurrences.
Surely something tells me that his beautiful daughter, the Rose of Red
Murder Gulch, might seek for him in vain amid the apparently
unmistakable surroundings of the thirty-second floor, while he was being
quietly butchered by the floor-clerk on the thirty-third floor, an agent
of the Green Claw (that formidable organisation); and all because the
two floors looked exactly alike to the virginal Western eye. The
original point of my own story was that the man to be entrapped walked
into his own house after all, in spite of it being differently painted
and numbered, simply because he was absent-minded and used to taking a
certain number of mechanical steps. This would not work in the hotel;
because a lift has no habits. It is typical of the real tameness of
machinery, that even when we talk of a man turning mechanically we only
talk metaphorically; for it is something that a mechanism cannot do. But
I think there is only one real objection to my story of Mr. Moose in the
New York hotel. And that is unfortunately a rather fatal one. It is that
far away in the remote desolation of Yellow Dog, among those outlying
and outlandish rocks that almost seem to rise beyond the sunset, there
is undoubtedly an hotel of exactly the same sort, with all its floors
exactly the same.

Anyhow the general plan of the American hotel is commonly the same, and,
as I have said, it is a very sound one so far as it goes. When I first
went into one of the big New York hotels, the first impression was
certainly its bigness. It was called the Biltmore; and I wondered how
many national humorists had made the obvious comment of wishing they had
built less. But it was not merely the Babylonian size and scale of such
things, it was the way in which they are used. They are used almost as
public streets, or rather as public squares. My first impression was
that I was in some sort of high street or market-place during a carnival
or a revolution. True, the people looked rather rich for a revolution
and rather grave for a carnival; but they were congested in great crowds
that moved slowly like people passing through an overcrowded railway
station. Even in the dizzy heights of such a sky-scraper there could not
possibly be room for all those people to sleep in the hotel, or even to
dine in it. And, as a matter of fact, they did nothing whatever except
drift into it and drift out again. Most of them had no more to do with
the hotel than I have with Buckingham Palace. I have never been in
Buckingham Palace, and I have very seldom, thank God, been in the big
hotels of this type that exist in London or Paris. But I cannot believe
that mobs are perpetually pouring through the Hotel Cecil or the Savoy
in this fashion, calmly coming in at one door and going out of the
other. But this fact is part of the fundamental structure of the
American hotel; it is built upon a compromise that makes it possible.
The whole of the lower floor is thrown open to the public streets and
treated as a public square. But above it and all round it runs another
floor in the form of a sort of deep gallery, furnished more luxuriously
and looking down on the moving mobs beneath. No one is allowed on this
floor except the guests or clients of the hotel. As I have been one of
them myself, I trust it is not unsympathetic to compare them to active
anthropoids who can climb trees, and so look down in safety on the herds
or packs of wilder animals wandering and prowling below. Of course there
are modifications of this architectural plan, but they are generally
approximations to it; it is the plan that seems to suit the social life
of the American cities. There is generally something like a ground floor
that is more public, a half-floor or gallery above that is more private,
and above that the bulk of the block of bedrooms, the huge hive with its
innumerable and identical cells.

The ladder of ascent in this tower is of course the lift, or, as it is
called, the elevator. With all that we hear of American hustle and
hurry it is rather strange that Americans seem to like more than we do
to linger upon long words. And indeed there is an element of delay in
their diction and spirit, very little understood, which I may discuss
elsewhere. Anyhow they say elevator when we say lift, just as they say
automobile when we say motor and stenographer when we say typist, or
sometimes (by a slight confusion) typewriter. Which reminds me of
another story that never existed, about a man who was accused of having
murdered and dismembered his secretary when he had only taken his typing
machine to pieces; but we must not dwell on these digressions. The
Americans may have another reason for giving long and ceremonious titles
to the lift. When first I came among them I had a suspicion that they
possessed and practised a new and secret religion, which was the cult of
the elevator. I fancied they worshipped the lift, or at any rate
worshipped in the lift. The details or data of this suspicion it were
now vain to collect, as I have regretfully abandoned it, except in so
far as they illustrate the social principles underlying the structural
plan of the building. Now an American gentleman invariably takes off his
hat in the lift. He does not take off his hat in the hotel, even if it
is crowded with ladies. But he always so salutes a lady in the elevator;
and this marks the difference of atmosphere. The lift is a room, but the
hotel is a street. But during my first delusion, of course, I assumed
that he uncovered in this tiny temple merely because he was in church.
There is something about the very word elevator that expresses a great
deal of his vague but idealistic religion. Perhaps that flying chapel
will eventually be ritualistically decorated like a chapel; possibly
with a symbolic scheme of wings. Perhaps a brief religious service will
be held in the elevator as it ascends; in a few well-chosen words
touching the Utmost for the Highest. Possibly he would consent even to
call the elevator a lift, if he could call it an uplift. There would be
no difficulty, except what I cannot but regard as the chief moral
problem of all optimistic modernism. I mean the difficulty of imagining
a lift which is free to go up, if it is not also free to go down.

I think I know my American friends and acquaintances too well to
apologise for any levity in these illustrations. Americans make fun of
their own institutions; and their own journalism is full of such
fanciful conjectures. The tall building is itself artistically akin to
the tall story. The very word sky-scraper is an admirable example of an
American lie. But I can testify quite as eagerly to the solid and
sensible advantages of the symmetrical hotel. It is not only a pattern
of vases and stuffed flamingoes; it is also an equally accurate pattern
of cupboards and baths. It is a dignified and humane custom to have a
bathroom attached to every bedroom; and my impulse to sing the praises
of it brought me once at least into a rather quaint complication. I
think it was in the city of Dayton; anyhow I remember there was a
Laundry Convention going on in the same hotel, in a room very
patriotically and properly festooned with the stars and stripes, and
doubtless full of promise for the future of laundering. I was
interviewed on the roof, within earshot of this debate, and may have
been the victim of some association or confusion; anyhow, after
answering the usual questions about Labour, the League of Nations, the
length of ladies' dresses, and other great matters, I took refuge in a
rhapsody of warm and well-deserved praise of American bathrooms. The
editor, I understand, running a gloomy eye down the column of his
contributor's 'story,' and seeing nothing but metaphysical terms such as
justice, freedom, the abstract disapproval of sweating, swindling, and
the like, paused at last upon the ablutionary allusion, and his eye
brightened. 'That's the only copy in the whole thing,' he said, 'A
Bath-Tub in Every Home.' So these words appeared in enormous letters
above my portrait in the paper. It will be noted that, like many things
that practical men make a great point of, they miss the point. What I
had commended as new and national was a bathroom in every bedroom. Even
feudal and moss-grown England is not entirely ignorant of an occasional
bath-tub in the home. But what gave me great joy was what followed. I
discovered with delight that many people, glancing rapidly at my
portrait with its prodigious legend, imagined that it was a commercial
advertisement, and that I was a very self-advertising commercial
traveller. When I walked about the streets, I was supposed to be
travelling in bath-tubs. Consider the caption of the portrait, and you
will see how similar it is to the true commercial slogan: 'We offer a
Bath-Tub in Every Home.' And this charming error was doubtless clinched
by the fact that I had been found haunting the outer courts of the
temple of the ancient Guild of Lavenders. I never knew how many shared
the impression; I regret to say that I only traced it with certainty in
two individuals. But I understand that it included the idea that I had
come to the town to attend the Laundry Convention, and had made an
eloquent speech to that senate, no doubt exhibiting my tubs.

Such was the penalty of too passionate and unrestrained an admiration
for American bathrooms; yet the connection of ideas, however
inconsequent, does cover the part of social practice for which these
American institutions can really be praised. About everything like
laundry or hot and cold water there is not only organisation, but what
does not always or perhaps often go with it, efficiency. Americans are
particular about these things of dress and decorum; and it is a virtue
which I very seriously recognise, though I find it very hard to emulate.
But with them it is a virtue; it is not a mere convention, still less a
mere fashion. It is really related to human dignity rather than to
social superiority. The really glorious thing about the American is that
he does not dress like a gentleman; he dresses like a citizen or a
civilised man. His Puritanic particularity on certain points is really
detachable from any definite social ambitions; these things are not a
part of getting into society but merely of keeping out of savagery.
Those millions and millions of middling people, that huge middle class
especially of the Middle West, are not near enough to any aristocracy
even to be sham aristocrats, or to be real snobs. But their standards
are secure; and though I do not really travel in a bath-tub, or believe
in the bath-tub philosophy and religion, I will not on this matter
recoil misanthropically from them: I prefer the tub of Dayton to the tub
of Diogenes. On these points there is really something a million times
better than efficiency, and that is something like equality.

In short, the American hotel is not America; but it is American. In some
respects it is as American as the English inn is English. And it is
symbolic of that society in this among other things: that it does tend
too much to uniformity; but that that very uniformity disguises not a
little natural dignity. The old Romans boasted that their republic was a
nation of kings. If we really walked abroad in such a kingdom, we might
very well grow tired of the sight of a crowd of kings, of every man with
a gold crown on his head or an ivory sceptre in his hand. But it is
arguable that we ought not to grow tired of the repetition of crowns and
sceptres, any more than of the repetition of flowers and stars. The
whole imaginative effort of Walt Whitman was really an effort to absorb
and animate these multitudinous modern repetitions; and Walt Whitman
would be quite capable of including in his lyric litany of optimism a
list of the nine hundred and ninety-nine identical bathrooms. I do not
sneer at the generous effort of the giant; though I think, when all is
said, that it is a criticism of modern machinery that the effort should
be gigantic as well as generous.

While there is so much repetition there is little repose. It is the
pattern of a kaleidoscope rather than a wall-paper; a pattern of figures
running and even leaping like the figures in a zoetrope. But even in the
groups where there was no hustle there was often something of
homelessness. I do not mean merely that they were not dining at home;
but rather that they were not at home even when dining, and dining at
their favourite hotel. They would frequently start up and dart from the
room at a summons from the telephone. It may have been fanciful, but I
could not help feeling a breath of home, as from a flap or flutter of
St. George's Cross, when I first sat down in a Canadian hostelry, and
read the announcement that no such telephonic or other summonses were
allowed in the dining-room. It may have been a coincidence, and there
may be American hotels with this merciful proviso and Canadian hotels
without it; but the thing was symbolic even if it was not evidential. I
felt as if I stood indeed upon English soil, in a place where people
liked to have their meals in peace.

The process of the summons is called 'paging,' and consists of sending a
little boy with a large voice through all the halls and corridors of the
building, making them resound with a name. The custom is common, of
course, in clubs and hotels even in England; but in England it is a mere
whisper compared with the wail with which the American page repeats the
formula of 'Calling Mr. So and So.' I remember a particularly crowded
_parterre_ in the somewhat smoky and oppressive atmosphere of Pittsburg,
through which wandered a youth with a voice the like of which I have
never heard in the land of the living, a voice like the cry of a lost
spirit, saying again and again for ever, 'Carling Mr. Anderson.' One
felt that he never would find Mr. Anderson. Perhaps there never had been
any Mr. Anderson to be found. Perhaps he and every one else wandered in
an abyss of bottomless scepticism; and he was but the victim of one out
of numberless nightmares of eternity, as he wandered a shadow with
shadows and wailed by impassable streams. This is not exactly my
philosophy, but I feel sure it was his. And it is a mood that may
frequently visit the mind in the centres of highly active and successful
industrial civilisation.

Such are the first idle impressions of the great American hotel, gained
by sitting for the first time in its gallery and gazing on its drifting
crowds with thoughts equally drifting. The first impression is of
something enormous and rather unnatural, an impression that is gradually
tempered by experience of the kindliness and even the tameness of so
much of that social order. But I should not be recording the sensations
with sincerity, if I did not touch in passing the note of something
unearthly about that vast system to an insular traveller who sees it for
the first time. It is as if he were wandering in another world among the
fixed stars; or worse still, in an ideal Utopia of the future.

Yet I am not certain; and perhaps the best of all news is that nothing
is really new. I sometimes have a fancy that many of these new things in
new countries are but the resurrections of old things which have been
wickedly killed or stupidly stunted in old countries. I have looked over
the sea of little tables in some light and airy open-air café; and my
thoughts have gone back to the plain wooden bench and wooden table that
stands solitary and weather-stained outside so many neglected English
inns. We talk of experimenting in the French café, as of some fresh and
almost impudent innovation. But our fathers had the French café, in the
sense of the free-and-easy table in the sun and air. The only difference
was that French democracy was allowed to develop its café, or multiply
its tables, while English plutocracy prevented any such popular growth.
Perhaps there are other examples of old types and patterns, lost in the
old oligarchy and saved in the new democracies. I am haunted with a hint
that the new structures are not so very new; and that they remind me of
something very old. As I look from the balcony floor the crowds seem to
float away and the colours to soften and grow pale, and I know I am in
one of the simplest and most ancestral of human habitations. I am
looking down from the old wooden gallery upon the courtyard of an inn.
This new architectural model, which I have described, is after all one
of the oldest European models, now neglected in Europe and especially in
England. It was the theatre in which were enacted innumerable picaresque
comedies and romantic plays, with figures ranging from Sancho Panza to
Sam Weller. It served as the apparatus, like some gigantic toy set up in
bricks and timber, for the ancient and perhaps eternal game of tennis.
The very terms of the original game were taken from the inn courtyard,
and the players scored accordingly as they hit the buttery-hatch or the
roof. Singular speculations hover in my mind as the scene darkens and
the quadrangle below begins to empty in the last hours of night. Some
day perhaps this huge structure will be found standing in a solitude
like a skeleton; and it will be the skeleton of the Spotted Dog or the
Blue Boar. It will wither and decay until it is worthy at last to be a
tavern. I do not know whether men will play tennis on its ground floor,
with various scores and prizes for hitting the electric fan, or the
lift, or the head waiter. Perhaps the very words will only remain as
part of some such rustic game. Perhaps the electric fan will no longer
be electric and the elevator will no longer elevate, and the waiter will
only wait to be hit. But at least it is only by the decay of modern
plutocracy, which seems already to have begun, that the secret of the
structure even of this plutocratic palace can stand revealed. And after
long years, when its lights are extinguished and only the long shadows
inhabit its halls and vestibules, there may come a new noise like
thunder; of D'Artagnan knocking at the door.



_A Meditation in Broadway_


When I had looked at the lights of Broadway by night, I made to my
American friends an innocent remark that seemed for some reason to amuse
them. I had looked, not without joy, at that long kaleidoscope of
coloured lights arranged in large letters and sprawling trade-marks,
advertising everything, from pork to pianos, through the agency of the
two most vivid and most mystical of the gifts of God; colour and fire. I
said to them, in my simplicity, 'What a glorious garden of wonders this
would be, to any one who was lucky enough to be unable to read.'

Here it is but a text for a further suggestion. But let us suppose that
there does walk down this flaming avenue a peasant, of the sort called
scornfully an illiterate peasant; by those who think that insisting on
people reading and writing is the best way to keep out the spies who
read in all languages and the forgers who write in all hands. On this
principle indeed, a peasant merely acquainted with things of little
practical use to mankind, such as ploughing, cutting wood, or growing
vegetables, would very probably be excluded; and it is not for us to
criticise from the outside the philosophy of those who would keep out
the farmer and let in the forger. But let us suppose, if only for the
sake of argument, that the peasant is walking under the artificial suns
and stars of this tremendous thoroughfare; that he has escaped to the
land of liberty upon some general rumour and romance of the story of
its liberation, but without being yet able to understand the arbitrary
signs of its alphabet. The soul of such a man would surely soar higher
than the sky-scrapers, and embrace a brotherhood broader than Broadway.
Realising that he had arrived on an evening of exceptional festivity,
worthy to be blazoned with all this burning heraldry, he would please
himself by guessing what great proclamation or principle of the Republic
hung in the sky like a constellation or rippled across the street like a
comet. He would be shrewd enough to guess that the three festoons
fringed with fiery words of somewhat similar pattern stood for
'Government of the People, For the People, By the People'; for it must
obviously be that, unless it were 'Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.' His
shrewdness would perhaps be a little shaken if he knew that the triad
stood for 'Tang Tonic To-day; Tang Tonic To-morrow; Tang Tonic All the
Time.' He will soon identify a restless ribbon of red lettering, red hot
and rebellious, as the saying, 'Give me liberty or give me death.' He
will fail to identify it as the equally famous saying, 'Skyoline Has
Gout Beaten to a Frazzle.' Therefore it was that I desired the peasant
to walk down that grove of fiery trees, under all that golden foliage,
and fruits like monstrous jewels, as innocent as Adam before the Fall.
He would see sights almost as fine as the flaming sword or the purple
and peacock plumage of the seraphim; so long as he did not go near the
Tree of Knowledge.

In other words, if once he went to school it would be all up; and indeed
I fear in any case he would soon discover his error. If he stood wildly
waving his hat for liberty in the middle of the road as Chunk Chutney
picked itself out in ruby stars upon the sky, he would impede the
excellent but extremely rigid traffic system of New York. If he fell on
his knees before a sapphire splendour, and began saying an Ave Maria
under a mistaken association, he would be conducted kindly but firmly by
an Irish policeman to a more authentic shrine. But though the foreign
simplicity might not long survive in New York, it is quite a mistake to
suppose that such foreign simplicity cannot enter New York. He may be
excluded for being illiterate, but he cannot be excluded for being
ignorant, nor for being innocent. Least of all can he be excluded for
being wiser in his innocence than the world in its knowledge. There is
here indeed more than one distinction to be made. New York is a
cosmopolitan city; but it is not a city of cosmopolitans. Most of the
masses in New York have a nation, whether or no it be the nation to
which New York belongs. Those who are Americanised are American, and
very patriotically American. Those who are not thus nationalised are not
in the least internationalised. They simply continue to be themselves;
the Irish are Irish; the Jews are Jewish; and all sorts of other tribes
carry on the traditions of remote European valleys almost untouched. In
short, there is a sort of slender bridge between their old country and
their new, which they either cross or do not cross, but which they
seldom simply occupy. They are exiles or they are citizens; there is no
moment when they are cosmopolitans. But very often the exiles bring with
them not only rooted traditions, but rooted truths.

Indeed it is to a great extent the thought of these strange souls in
crude American garb that gives a meaning to the masquerade of New York.
In the hotel where I stayed the head waiter in one room was a Bohemian;
and I am glad to say that he called himself a Bohemian. I have already
protested sufficiently, before American audiences, against the pedantry
of perpetually talking about Czecho-Slovakia. I suggested to my American
friends that the abandonment of the word Bohemian in its historical
sense might well extend to its literary and figurative sense. We might
be expected to say, 'I'm afraid Henry has got into very Czecho-Slovakian
habits lately,' or 'Don't bother to dress; it's quite a Czecho-Slovakian
affair.' Anyhow my Bohemian would have nothing to do with such nonsense;
he called himself a son of Bohemia, and spoke as such in his criticisms
of America, which were both favourable and unfavourable. He was a squat
man, with a sturdy figure and a steady smile; and his eyes were like
dark pools in the depth of a darker forest, but I do not think he had
ever been deceived by the lights of Broadway.

But I found something like my real innocent abroad, my real peasant
among the sky-signs, in another part of the same establishment. He was a
much leaner man, equally dark, with a hook nose, hungry face, and fierce
black moustaches. He also was a waiter, and was in the costume of a
waiter, which is a smarter edition of the costume of a lecturer. As he
was serving me with clam chowder or some such thing, I fell into speech
with him and he told me he was a Bulgar. I said something like, 'I'm
afraid I don't know as much as I ought to about Bulgaria. I suppose most
of your people are agricultural, aren't they?' He did not stir an inch
from his regular attitude, but he slightly lowered his low voice and
said, 'Yes. From the earth we come and to the earth we return; when
people get away from that they are lost.'

To hear such a thing said by the waiter was alone an epoch in the life
of an unfortunate writer of fantastic novels. To see him clear away the
clam chowder like an automaton, and bring me more iced water like an
automaton or like nothing on earth except an American waiter (for piling
up ice is the cold passion of their lives), and all this after having
uttered something so dark and deep, so starkly incongruous and so
startlingly true, was an indescribable thing, but very like the picture
of the peasant admiring Broadway. So he passed, with his artificial
clothes and manners, lit up with all the ghastly artificial light of the
hotel, and all the ghastly artificial life of the city; and his heart
was like his own remote and rocky valley, where those unchanging words
were carved as on a rock.

I do not profess to discuss here at all adequately the question this
raises about the Americanisation of the Bulgar. It has many aspects, of
some of which most Englishmen and even some Americans are rather
unconscious. For one thing, a man with so rugged a loyalty to land could
not be Americanised in New York; but it is not so certain that he could
not be Americanised in America. We might almost say that a peasantry is
hidden in the heart of America. So far as our impressions go, it is a
secret. It is rather an open secret; covering only some thousand square
miles of open prairie. But for most of our countrymen it is something
invisible, unimagined, and unvisited; the simple truth that where all
those acres are there is agriculture, and where all that agriculture is
there is considerable tendency towards distributive or decently
equalised property, as in a peasantry. On the other hand, there are
those who say that the Bulgar will never be Americanised, that he only
comes to be a waiter in America that he may afford to return to be a
peasant in Bulgaria. I cannot decide this issue, and indeed I did not
introduce it to this end. I was led to it by a certain line of
reflection that runs along the Great White Way, and I will continue to
follow it. The criticism, if we could put it rightly, not only covers
more than New York but more than the whole New World. Any argument
against it is quite as valid against the largest and richest cities of
the Old World, against London or Liverpool or Frankfort or Belfast. But
it is in New York that we see the argument most clearly, because we see
the thing thus towering into its own turrets and breaking into its own
fireworks.

I disagree with the aesthetic condemnation of the modern city with its
sky-scrapers and sky-signs. I mean that which laments the loss of beauty
and its sacrifice to utility. It seems to me the very reverse of the
truth. Years ago, when people used to say the Salvation Army doubtless
had good intentions, but we must all deplore its methods, I pointed out
that the very contrary is the case. Its method, the method of drums and
democratic appeal, is that of the Franciscans or any other march of the
Church Militant. It was precisely its aims that were dubious, with their
dissenting morality and despotic finance. It is somewhat the same with
things like the sky-signs in Broadway. The aesthete must not ask me to
mingle my tears with his, because these things are merely useful and
ugly. For I am not specially inclined to think them ugly; but I am
strongly inclined to think them useless. As a matter of art for art's
sake, they seem to me rather artistic. As a form of practical social
work they seem to me stark stupid waste. If Mr. Bilge is rich enough to
build a tower four hundred feet high and give it a crown of golden
crescents and crimson stars, in order to draw attention to his
manufacture of the Paradise Tooth Paste or The Seventh Heaven Cigar, I
do not feel the least disposition to thank him for any serious form of
social service. I have never tried the Seventh Heaven Cigar; indeed a
premonition moves me towards the belief that I shall go down to the dust
without trying it. I have every reason to doubt whether it does any
particular good to those who smoke it, or any good to anybody except
those who sell it. In short Mr. Bilge's usefulness consists in being
useful to Mr. Bilge, and all the rest is illusion and sentimentalism.
But because I know that Bilge is only Bilge, shall I stoop to the
profanity of saying that fire is only fire? Shall I blaspheme crimson
stars any more than crimson sunsets, or deny that those moons are golden
any more than that this grass is green? If a child saw these coloured
lights, he would dance with as much delight as at any other coloured
toys; and it is the duty of every poet, and even of every critic, to
dance in respectful imitation of the child. Indeed I am in a mood of so
much sympathy with the fairy lights of this pantomime city, that I
should be almost sorry to see social sanity and a sense of proportion
return to extinguish them. I fear the day is breaking, and the broad
daylight of tradition and ancient truth is coming to end all this
delightful nightmare of New York at night. Peasants and priests and all
sorts of practical and sensible people are coming back into power, and
their stern realism may wither all these beautiful, unsubstantial,
useless things. They will not believe in the Seventh Heaven Cigar, even
when they see it shining as with stars in the seventh heaven. They will
not be affected by advertisements, any more than the priests and
peasants of the Middle Ages would have been affected by advertisements.
Only a very soft-headed, sentimental, and rather servile generation of
men could possibly be affected by advertisements at all. People who are
a little more hard-headed, humorous, and intellectually independent, see
the rather simple joke; and are not impressed by this or any other form
of self-praise. Almost any other men in almost any other age would have
seen the joke. If you had said to a man in the Stone Age, 'Ugg says Ugg
makes the best stone hatchets,' he would have perceived a lack of
detachment and disinterestedness about the testimonial. If you had said
to a medieval peasant, 'Robert the Bowyer proclaims, with three blasts
of a horn, that he makes good bows,' the peasant would have said, 'Well,
of course he does,' and thought about something more important. It is
only among people whose minds have been weakened by a sort of mesmerism
that so transparent a trick as that of advertisement could ever have
been tried at all. And if ever we have again, as for other reasons I
cannot but hope we shall, a more democratic distribution of property and
a more agricultural basis of national life, it would seem at first sight
only too likely that all this beautiful superstition will perish, and
the fairyland of Broadway with all its varied rainbows fade away. For
such people the Seventh Heaven Cigar, like the nineteenth-century city,
will have ended in smoke. And even the smoke of it will have vanished.

But the next stage of reflection brings us back to the peasant looking
at the lights of Broadway. It is not true to say in the strict sense
that the peasant has never seen such things before. The truth is that he
has seen them on a much smaller scale, but for a much larger purpose.
Peasants also have their ritual and ornament, but it is to adorn more
real things. Apart from our first fancy about the peasant who could not
read, there is no doubt about what would be apparent to a peasant who
could read, and who could understand. For him also fire is sacred, for
him also colour is symbolic. But where he sets up a candle to light the
little shrine of St. Joseph, he finds it takes twelve hundred candles to
light the Seventh Heaven Cigar. He is used to the colours in church
windows showing red for martyrs or blue for madonnas; but here he can
only conclude that all the colours of the rainbow belong to Mr. Bilge.
Now upon the aesthetic side he might well be impressed; but it is
exactly on the social and even scientific side that he has a right to
criticise. If he were a Chinese peasant, for instance, and came from a
land of fireworks, he would naturally suppose that he had happened to
arrive at a great firework display in celebration of something; perhaps
the Sacred Emperor's birthday, or rather birthnight. It would gradually
dawn on the Chinese philosopher that the Emperor could hardly be born
every night. And when he learnt the truth the philosopher, if he was a
philosopher, would be a little disappointed ... possibly a little
disdainful.

Compare, for instance, these everlasting fireworks with the damp squibs
and dying bonfires of Guy Fawkes Day. That quaint and even queer
national festival has been fading for some time out of English life.
Still, it was a national festival, in the double sense that it
represented some sort of public spirit pursued by some sort of popular
impulse. People spent money on the display of fireworks; they did not
get money by it. And the people who spent money were often those who had
very little money to spend. It had something of the glorious and
fanatical character of making the poor poorer. It did not, like the
advertisements, have only the mean and materialistic character of making
the rich richer. In short, it came from the people and it appealed to
the nation. The historical and religious cause in which it originated is
not mine; and I think it has perished partly through being tied to a
historical theory for which there is no future. I think this is
illustrated in the very fact that the ceremonial is merely negative and
destructive. Negation and destruction are very noble things as far as
they go, and when they go in the right direction; and the popular
expression of them has always something hearty and human about it. I
shall not therefore bring any fine or fastidious criticism, whether
literary or musical, to bear upon the little boys who drag about a
bolster and a paper mask, calling out


     Guy Fawkes Guy
     Hit him in the eye.


But I admit it is a disadvantage that they have not a saint or hero to
crown in effigy as well as a traitor to burn in effigy. I admit that
popular Protestantism has become too purely negative for people to
wreathe in flowers the statue of Mr. Kensit or even of Dr. Clifford. I
do not disguise my preference for popular Catholicism; which still has
statues that can be wreathed in flowers. I wish our national feast of
fireworks revolved round something positive and popular. I wish the
beauty of a Catherine Wheel were displayed to the glory of St.
Catherine. I should not especially complain if Roman candles were really
Roman candles. But this negative character does not destroy the national
character; which began at least in disinterested faith and has ended at
least in disinterested fun. There is nothing disinterested at all about
the new commercial fireworks. There is nothing so dignified as a dingy
guy among the lights of Broadway. In that thoroughfare, indeed, the very
word guy has another and milder significance. An American friend
congratulated me on the impression I produced on a lady interviewer,
observing, 'She says you're a regular guy.' This puzzled me a little at
the time. 'Her description is no doubt correct,' I said, 'but I confess
that it would never have struck me as specially complimentary.' But it
appears that it is one of the most graceful of compliments, in the
original American. A guy in America is a colourless term for a human
being. All men are guys, being endowed by their Creator with certain ...
but I am misled by another association. And a regular guy means, I
presume, a reliable or respectable guy. The point here, however, is that
the guy in the grotesque English sense does represent the dilapidated
remnant of a real human tradition of symbolising real historic ideals by
the sacramental mystery of fire. It is a great fall from the lowest of
these lowly bonfires to the highest of the modern sky-signs. The new
illumination does not stand for any national ideal at all; and what is
yet more to the point, it does not come from any popular enthusiasm at
all. That is where it differs from the narrowest national Protestantism
of the English institution. Mobs have risen in support of No Popery; no
mobs are likely to rise in defence of the New Puffery. Many a poor crazy
Orangeman has died saying, 'To Hell with the Pope'; it is doubtful
whether any man will ever, with his last breath, frame the ecstatic
words, 'Try Hugby's Chewing Gum.' These modern and mercantile legends
are imposed upon us by a mercantile minority, and we are merely passive
to the suggestion. The hypnotist of high finance or big business merely
writes his commands in heaven with a finger of fire. All men really are
guys, in the sense of dummies. We are only the victims of his
pyrotechnic violence; and it is he who hits us in the eye.

This is the real case against that modern society that is symbolised by
such art and architecture. It is not that it is toppling, but that it is
top-heavy. It is not that it is vulgar, but rather that it is not
popular. In other words, the democratic ideal of countries like America,
while it is still generally sincere and sometimes intense, is at issue
with another tendency, an industrial progress which is of all things on
earth the most undemocratic. America is not alone in possessing the
industrialism, but she is alone in emphasising the ideal that strives
with industrialism. Industrial capitalism and ideal democracy are
everywhere in controversy; but perhaps only here are they in conflict.
France has a democratic ideal; but France is not industrial. England and
Germany are industrial; but England and Germany are not really
democratic. Of course when I speak here of industrialism I speak of
great industrial areas; there is, as will be noted later, another side
to all these countries; there is in America itself not only a great deal
of agricultural society, but a great deal of agricultural equality;
just as there are still peasants in Germany and may some day again be
peasants in England. But the point is that the ideal and its enemy the
reality are here crushed very close to each other in the high, narrow
city; and that the sky-scraper is truly named because its top, towering
in such insolence, is scraping the stars off the American sky, the very
heaven of the American spirit.

That seems to me the main outline of the whole problem. In the first
chapter of this book, I have emphasised the fact that equality is still
the ideal though no longer the reality of America. I should like to
conclude this one by emphasising the fact that the reality of modern
capitalism is menacing that ideal with terrors and even splendours that
might well stagger the wavering and impressionable modern spirit. Upon
the issue of that struggle depends the question of whether this new
great civilisation continues to exist, and even whether any one cares if
it exists or not. I have already used the parable of the American flag,
and the stars that stand for a multitudinous equality; I might here take
the opposite symbol of these artificial and terrestrial stars flaming on
the forehead of the commercial city; and note the peril of the last
illusion, which is that the artificial stars may seem to fill the
heavens, and the real stars to have faded from sight. But I am content
for the moment to reaffirm the merely imaginative pleasure of those
dizzy turrets and dancing fires. If those nightmare buildings were
really all built for nothing, how noble they would be! The fact that
they were really built for something need not unduly depress us for a
moment, or drag down our soaring fancies. There is something about these
vertical lines that suggests a sort of rush upwards, as of great
cataracts topsy-turvy. I have spoken of fireworks, but here I should
rather speak of rockets. There is only something underneath the mind
murmuring that nothing remains at last of a flaming rocket except a
falling stick. I have spoken of Babylonian perspectives, and of words
written with a fiery finger, like that huge unhuman finger that wrote on
Belshazzar's wall.... But what did it write on Belshazzar's wall?... I
am content once more to end on a note of doubt and a rather dark
sympathy with those many-coloured solar systems turning so dizzily, far
up in the divine vacuum of the night.

'From the earth we come and to the earth we return; when people get away
from that they are lost.'



_Irish and other Interviewers_


It is often asked what should be the first thing that a man sees when he
lands in a foreign country; but I think it should be the vision of his
own country. At least when I came into New York Harbour, a sort of grey
and green cloud came between me and the towers with multitudinous
windows, white in the winter sunlight; and I saw an old brown house
standing back among the beech-trees at home, the house of only one among
many friends and neighbours, but one somehow so sunken in the very heart
of England as to be unconscious of her imperial or international
position, and out of the sound of her perilous seas. But what made most
clear the vision that revisited me was something else. Before we touched
land the men of my own guild, the journalists and reporters, had already
boarded the ship like pirates. And one of them spoke to me in an accent
that I knew; and thanked me for all I had done for Ireland. And it was
at that moment that I knew most vividly that what I wanted was to do
something for England.

Then, as it chanced, I looked across at the statue of Liberty, and saw
that the great bronze was gleaming green in the morning light. I had
made all the obvious jokes about the statue of Liberty. I found it had a
soothing effect on earnest Prohibitionists on the boat to urge, as a
point of dignity and delicacy, that it ought to be given back to the
French, a vicious race abandoned to the culture of the vine. I proposed
that the last liquors on board should be poured out in a pagan libation
before it. And then I suddenly remembered that this Liberty was still in
some sense enlightening the world, or one part of the world; was a lamp
for one sort of wanderer, a star of one sort of seafarer. To one
persecuted people at least this land had really been an asylum; even if
recent legislation (as I have said) had made them think it a lunatic
asylum. They had made it so much their home that the very colour of the
country seemed to change with the infusion; as the bronze of the great
statue took on a semblance of the wearing of the green.

It is a commonplace that the Englishman has been stupid in his relations
with the Irish; but he has been far more stupid in his relations with
the Americans on the subject of the Irish. His propaganda has been worse
than his practice; and his defence more ill-considered than the most
indefensible things that it was intended to defend. There is in this
matter a curious tangle of cross-purposes, which only a parallel example
can make at all clear. And I will note the point here, because it is
some testimony to its vivid importance that it was really the first I
had to discuss on American soil with an American citizen. In a double
sense I touched Ireland before I came to America. I will take an
imaginary instance from another controversy; in order to show how the
apology can be worse than the action. The best we can say for ourselves
is worse than the worst that we can do.

There was a time when English poets and other publicists could always be
inspired with instantaneous indignation about the persecuted Jews in
Russia. We have heard less about them since we heard more about the
persecuting Jews in Russia. I fear there are a great many middle-class
Englishmen already who wish that Trotsky had been persecuted a little
more. But even in those days Englishmen divided their minds in a curious
fashion; and unconsciously distinguished between the Jews whom they had
never seen, in Warsaw, and the Jews whom they had often seen in
Whitechapel. It seemed to be assumed that, by a curious coincidence,
Russia possessed not only the very worst Anti-Semites but the very best
Semites. A moneylender in London might be like Judas Iscariot; but a
moneylender in Moscow must be like Judas Maccabaeus.

Nevertheless there remained in our common sense an unconscious but
fundamental comprehension of the unity of Israel; a sense that some
things could be said, and some could not be said, about the Jews as a
whole. Suppose that even in those days, to say nothing of these, an
English protest against Russian Anti-Semitism had been answered by the
Russian Anti-Semites, and suppose the answer had been somewhat as
follows:--

'It is all very well for foreigners to complain of our denying civic
rights to our Jewish subjects; but we know the Jews better than they do.
They are a barbarous people, entirely primitive, and very like the
simple savages who cannot count beyond five on their fingers. It is
quite impossible to make them understand ordinary numbers, to say
nothing of simple economics. They do not realise the meaning or the
value of money. No Jew anywhere in the world can get into his stupid
head the notion of a bargain, or of exchanging one thing for another.
Their hopeless incapacity for commerce or finance would retard the
progress of our people, would prevent the spread of any sort of economic
education, would keep the whole country on a level lower than that of
the most prehistoric methods of barter. What Russia needs most is a
mercantile middle class; and it is unjust to ask us to swamp its small
beginnings in thousands of these rude tribesmen, who cannot do a sum of
simple addition, or understand the symbolic character of a threepenny
bit. We might as well be asked to give civic rights to cows and pigs as
to this unhappy, half-witted race who can no more count than the beasts
of the field. In every intellectual exercise they are hopelessly
incompetent; no Jew can play chess; no Jew can learn languages; no Jew
has ever appeared in the smallest part in any theatrical performance; no
Jew can give or take any pleasure connected with any musical instrument.
These people are our subjects; and we understand them. We accept full
responsibility for treating such troglodytes on our own terms.'

It would not be entirely convincing. It would sound a little far-fetched
and unreal. But it would sound exactly like our utterances about the
Irish, as they sound to all Americans, and rather especially to
Anti-Irish Americans. That is exactly the impression we produce on the
people of the United States when we say, as we do say in substance,
something like this: 'We mean no harm to the poor dear Irish, so dreamy,
so irresponsible, so incapable of order or organisation. If we were to
withdraw from their country they would only fight among themselves; they
have no notion of how to rule themselves. There is something charming
about their unpracticability, about their very incapacity for the coarse
business of politics. But for their own sakes it is impossible to leave
these emotional visionaries to ruin themselves in the attempt to rule
themselves. They are like children; but they are our own children, and
we understand them. We accept full responsibility for acting as their
parents and guardians.'

Now the point is not only that this view of the Irish is false, but that
it is the particular view that the Americans know to be false. While we
are saying that the Irish could not organise, the Americans are
complaining, often very bitterly, of the power of Irish organisation.
While we say that the Irishman could not rule himself, the Americans are
saying, more or less humorously, that the Irishman rules them. A highly
intelligent professor said to me in Boston, 'We have solved the Irish
problem here; we have an entirely independent Irish Government.' While
we are complaining, in an almost passionate manner, of the impotence of
mere cliques of idealists and dreamers, they are complaining, often in a
very indignant manner, of the power of great gangs of bosses and
bullies. There are a great many Americans who pity the Irish, very
naturally and very rightly, for the historic martyrdom which their
patriotism has endured. But there are a great many Americans who do not
pity the Irish in the least. They would be much more likely to pity the
English; only this particular way of talking tends rather to make them
despise the English. Thus both the friends of Ireland and the foes of
Ireland tend to be the foes of England. We make one set of enemies by
our action, and another by our apology.

It is a thing that can from time to time be found in history; a
misunderstanding that really has a moral. The English excuse would carry
much more weight if it had more sincerity and more humility. There are
a considerable number of people in the United States who could
sympathise with us, if we would say frankly that we fear the Irish.
Those who thus despise our pity might possibly even respect our fear.
The argument I have often used in other places comes back with
prodigious and redoubled force, after hearing anything of American
opinion; the argument that the only reasonable or reputable excuse for
the English is the excuse of a patriotic sense of peril; and that the
Unionist, if he must be a Unionist, should use that and no other. When
the Unionist has said that he dare not let loose against himself a
captive he has so cruelly wronged, he has said all that he has to say;
all that he has ever had to say; all that he will ever have to say. He
is like a man who has sent a virile and rather vindictive rival unjustly
to penal servitude; and who connives at the continuance of the sentence,
not because he himself is particularly vindictive, but because he is
afraid of what the convict will do when he comes out of prison. This is
not exactly a moral strength, but it is a very human weakness; and that
is the most that can be said for it. All other talk, about Celtic frenzy
or Catholic superstition, is cant invented to deceive himself or to
deceive the world. But the vital point to realise is that it is cant
that cannot possibly deceive the American world. In the matter of the
Irishman the American is not to be deceived. It is not merely true to
say that he knows better. It is equally true to say that he knows worse.
He knows vices and evils in the Irishman that are entirely hidden in the
hazy vision of the Englishman. He knows that our unreal slanders are
inconsistent even with the real sins. To us Ireland is a shadowy Isle of
Sunset, like Atlantis, about which we can make up legends. To him it is
a positive ward or parish in the heart of his huge cities, like
Whitechapel; about which even we cannot make legends but only lies. And,
as I have said, there are some lies we do not tell even about
Whitechapel. We do not say it is inhabited by Jews too stupid to count
or know the value of a coin.

The first thing for any honest Englishman to send across the sea is
this; that the English have not the shadow of a notion of what they are
up against in America. They have never even heard of the batteries of
almost brutal energy, of which I had thus touched a live wire even
before I landed. People talk about the hypocrisy of England in dealing
with a small nationality. What strikes me is the stupidity of England in
supposing that she is dealing with a small nationality; when she is
really dealing with a very large nationality. She is dealing with a
nationality that often threatens, even numerically, to dominate all the
other nationalities of the United States. The Irish are not decaying;
they are not unpractical; they are scarcely even scattered; they are not
even poor. They are the most powerful and practical world-combination
with whom we can decide to be friends or foes; and that is why I thought
first of that still and solid brown house in Buckinghamshire, standing
back in the shadow of the trees.

Among my impressions of America I have deliberately put first the figure
of the Irish-American interviewer, standing on the shore more symbolic
than the statue of Liberty. The Irish interviewer's importance for the
English lay in the fact of his being an Irishman, but there was also
considerable interest in the circumstance of his being an interviewer.
And as certain wild birds sometimes wing their way far out to sea and
are the first signal of the shore, so the first Americans the traveller
meets are often American interviewers; and they are generally birds of a
feather, and they certainly flock together. In this respect, there is a
slight difference in the etiquette of the craft in the two countries,
which I was delighted to discuss with my fellow craftsmen. If I could at
that moment have flown back to Fleet Street I am happy to reflect that
nobody in the world would in the least wish to interview me. I should
attract no more attention than the stone griffin opposite the Law
Courts; both monsters being grotesque but also familiar. But supposing
for the sake of argument that anybody did want to interview me, it is
fairly certain that the fact of one paper publishing such an interview
would rather prevent the other papers from doing so. The repetition of
the same views of the same individual in two places would be considered
rather bad journalism; it would have an air of stolen thunder, not to
say stage thunder.

But in America the fact of my landing and lecturing was evidently
regarded in the same light as a murder or a great fire, or any other
terrible but incurable catastrophe, a matter of interest to all pressmen
concerned with practical events. One of the first questions I was asked
was how I should be disposed to explain the wave of crime in New York.
Naturally I replied that it might possibly be due to the number of
English lecturers who had recently landed. In the mood of the moment it
seemed possible that, if they had all been interviewed, regrettable
incidents might possibly have taken place. But this was only the mood of
the moment, and even as a mood did not last more than a moment. And
since it has reference to a rather common and a rather unjust conception
of American journalism, I think it well to take it first as a fallacy to
be refuted, though the refutation may require a rather longer approach.

I have generally found that the traveller fails to understand a foreign
country, through treating it as a tendency and not as a balance. But if
a thing were always tending in one direction it would soon tend to
destruction. Everything that merely progresses finally perishes. Every
nation, like every family, exists upon a compromise, and commonly a
rather eccentric compromise; using the word 'eccentric' in the sense of
something that is somehow at once crazy and healthy. Now the foreigner
commonly sees some feature that he thinks fantastic without seeing the
feature that balances it. The ordinary examples are obvious enough. An
Englishman dining inside a hotel on the boulevards thinks the French
eccentric in refusing to open a window. But he does not think the
English eccentric in refusing to carry their chairs and tables out on to
the pavement in Ludgate Circus. An Englishman will go poking about in
little Swiss or Italian villages, in wild mountains or in remote
islands, demanding tea; and never reflects that he is like a Chinaman
who should enter all the wayside public-houses in Kent and Sussex and
demand opium. But the point is not merely that he demands what he cannot
expect to enjoy; it is that he ignores even what he does enjoy. He does
not realise the sublime and starry paradox of the phrase, _vin
ordinaire_, which to him should be a glorious jest like the phrase
'common gold' or 'daily diamonds.' These are the simple and self-evident
cases; but there are many more subtle cases of the same thing; of the
tendency to see that the nation fills up its own gap with its own
substitute; or corrects its own extravagance with its own precaution.
The national antidote generally grows wild in the woods side by side
with the national poison. If it did not, all the natives would be dead.
For it is so, as I have said, that nations necessarily die of the
undiluted poison called progress.

It is so in this much-abused and over-abused example of the American
journalist. The American interviewers really have exceedingly good
manners for the purposes of their trade, granted that it is necessary to
pursue their trade. And even what is called their hustling method can
truly be said to cut both ways, or hustle both ways; for if they hustle
in, they also hustle out. It may not at first sight seem the very
warmest compliment to a gentleman to congratulate him on the fact that
he soon goes away. But it really is a tribute to his perfection in a
very delicate social art; and I am quite serious when I say that in this
respect the interviewers are artists. It might be more difficult for an
Englishman to come to the point, particularly the sort of point which
American journalists are supposed, with some exaggeration, to aim at. It
might be more difficult for an Englishman to ask a total stranger on the
spur of the moment for the exact inscription on his mother's grave; but
I really think that if an Englishman once got so far as that he would go
very much farther, and certainly go on very much longer. The Englishman
would approach the churchyard by a rather more wandering woodland path;
but if once he had got to the grave I think he would have much more
disposition, so to speak, to sit down on it. Our own national
temperament would find it decidedly more difficult to disconnect when
connections had really been established. Possibly that is the reason why
our national temperament does not establish them. I suspect that the
real reason that an Englishman does not talk is that he cannot leave off
talking. I suspect that my solitary countrymen, hiding in separate
railway compartments, are not so much retiring as a race of Trappists as
escaping from a race of talkers.

However this may be, there is obviously something of practical advantage
in the ease with which the American butterfly flits from flower to
flower. He may in a sense force his acquaintance on us, but he does not
force himself on us. Even when, to our prejudices, he seems to insist on
knowing us, at least he does not insist on our knowing him. It may be,
to some sensibilities, a bad thing that a total stranger should talk as
if he were a friend, but it might possibly be worse if he insisted on
being a friend before he would talk like one. To a great deal of the
interviewing, indeed much the greater part of it, even this criticism
does not apply; there is nothing which even an Englishman of extreme
sensibility could regard as particularly private; the questions involved
are generally entirely public, and treated with not a little public
spirit. But my only reason for saying here what can be said even for the
worst exceptions is to point out this general and neglected principle;
that the very thing that we complain of in a foreigner generally carries
with it its own foreign cure. American interviewing is generally very
reasonable, and it is always very rapid. And even those to whom talking
to an intelligent fellow creature is as horrible as having a tooth out
may still admit that American interviewing has many of the qualities of
American dentistry.

Another effect that has given rise to this fallacy, this exaggeration of
the vulgarity and curiosity of the press, is the distinction between the
articles and the headlines; or rather the tendency to ignore that
distinction. The few really untrue and unscrupulous things I have seen
in American 'stories' have always been in the headlines. And the
headlines are written by somebody else; some solitary and savage cynic
locked up in the office, hating all mankind, and raging and revenging
himself at random, while the neat, polite, and rational pressman can
safely be let loose to wander about the town.

For instance, I talked to two decidedly thoughtful fellow journalists
immediately on my arrival at a town in which there had been some labour
troubles. I told them my general view of Labour in the very largest and
perhaps the vaguest historical outline; pointing out that the one great
truth to be taught to the middle classes was that Capitalism was itself
a crisis, and a passing crisis; that it was not so much that it was
breaking down as that it had never really stood up. Slaveries could
last, and peasantries could last; but wage-earning communities could
hardly even live, and were already dying.

All this moral and even metaphysical generalisation was most fairly and
most faithfully reproduced by the interviewer, who had actually heard it
casually and idly spoken. But on the top of this column of political
philosophy was the extraordinary announcement in enormous letters,
'Chesterton Takes Sides in Trolley Strike.' This was inaccurate. When I
spoke I not only did not know that there was any trolley strike, but I
did not know what a trolley strike was. I should have had an indistinct
idea that a large number of citizens earned their living by carrying
things about in wheel-barrows, and that they had desisted from the
beneficent activities. Any one who did not happen to be a journalist, or
know a little about journalism, American and English, would have
supposed that the same man who wrote the article had suddenly gone mad
and written the title. But I know that we have here to deal with two
different types of journalists; and the man who writes the headlines I
will not dare to describe; for I have not seen him except in dreams.

Another innocent complication is that the interviewer does sometimes
translate things into his native language. It would not seem odd that a
French interviewer should translate them into French; and it is certain
that the American interviewer sometimes translates them into American.
Those who imagine the two languages to be the same are more innocent
than any interviewer. To take one out of the twenty examples, some of
which I have mentioned elsewhere, suppose an interviewer had said that I
had the reputation of being a nut. I should be flattered but faintly
surprised at such a tribute to my dress and dashing exterior. I should
afterwards be sobered and enlightened by discovering that in America a
nut does not mean a dandy but a defective or imbecile person. And as I
have here to translate their American phrase into English, it may be
very defensible that they should translate my English phrases into
American. Anyhow they often do translate them into American. In answer
to the usual question about Prohibition I had made the usual answer,
obvious to the point of dullness to those who are in daily contact with
it, that it is a law that the rich make knowing they can always break
it. From the printed interview it appeared that I had said,
'Prohibition! All matter of dollar sign.' This is almost avowed
translation, like a French translation. Nobody can suppose that it would
come natural to an Englishman to talk about a dollar, still less about a
dollar sign--whatever that may be. It is exactly as if he had made me
talk about the Skelt and Stevenson Toy Theatre as 'a cent plain, and two
cents coloured' or condemned a parsimonious policy as dime-wise and
dollar-foolish. Another interviewer once asked me who was the greatest
American writer. I have forgotten exactly what I said, but after
mentioning several names, I said that the greatest natural genius and
artistic force was probably Walt Whitman. The printed interview is more
precise; and students of my literary and conversational style will be
interested to know that I said, 'See here, Walt Whitman was your one
real red-blooded man.' Here again I hardly think the translation can
have been quite unconscious; most of my intimates are indeed aware that
I do not talk like that, but I fancy that the same fact would have
dawned on the journalist to whom I had been talking. And even this
trivial point carries with it the two truths which must be, I fear, the
rather monotonous moral of these pages. The first is that America and
England can be far better friends when sharply divided than when
shapelessly amalgamated. These two journalists were false reporters, but
they were true translators. They were not so much interviewers as
interpreters. And the second is that in any such difference it is often
wholesome to look beneath the surface for a superiority. For ability to
translate does imply ability to understand; and many of these
journalists really did understand. I think there are many English
journalists who would be more puzzled by so simple an idea as the
plutocratic foundation of Prohibition. But the American knew at once
that I meant it was a matter of dollar sign; probably because he knew
very well that it is.

Then again there is a curious convention by which American interviewing
makes itself out much worse than it is. The reports are far more rowdy
and insolent than the conversations. This is probably a part of the fact
that a certain vivacity, which to some seems vitality and to some
vulgarity, is not only an ambition but an ideal. It must always be
grasped that this vulgarity is an ideal even more than it is a reality.
It is an ideal when it is not a reality. A very quiet and intelligent
young man, in a soft black hat and tortoise-shell spectacles, will ask
for an interview with unimpeachable politeness, wait for his living
subject with unimpeachable patience, talk to him quite sensibly for
twenty minutes, and go noiselessly away. Then in the newspaper next
morning you will read how he beat the bedroom door in, and pursued his
victim on to the roof or dragged him from under the bed, and tore from
him replies to all sorts of bald and ruthless questions printed in large
black letters. I was often interviewed in the evening, and had no notion
of how atrociously I had been insulted till I saw it in the paper next
morning. I had no notion I had been on the rack of an inquisitor until I
saw it in plain print; and then of course I believed it, with a faith
and docility unknown in any previous epoch of history. An interesting
essay might be written upon points upon which nations affect more vices
than they possess; and it might deal more fully with the American
pressman, who is a harmless clubman in private, and becomes a sort of
highway-robber in print.

I have turned this chapter into something like a defence of
interviewers, because I really think they are made to bear too much of
the burden of the bad developments of modern journalism. But I am very
far from meaning to suggest that those bad developments are not very
bad. So far from wishing to minimise the evil, I would in a real sense
rather magnify it. I would suggest that the evil itself is a much larger
and more fundamental thing; and that to deal with it by abusing poor
journalists, doing their particular and perhaps peculiar duty, is like
dealing with a pestilence by rubbing at one of the spots. What is wrong
with the modern world will not be righted by attributing the whole
disease to each of its symptoms in turn; first to the tavern and then to
the cinema and then to the reporter's room. The evil of journalism is
not in the journalists. It is not in the poor men on the lower level of
the profession, but in the rich men at the top of the profession; or
rather in the rich men who are too much on top of the profession even to
belong to it. The trouble with newspapers is the Newspaper Trust, as the
trouble might be with a Wheat Trust, without involving a vilification of
all the people who grow wheat. It is the American plutocracy and not the
American press. What is the matter with the modern world is not modern
headlines or modern films or modern machinery. What is the matter with
the modern world is the modern world; and the cure will come from
another.



_Some American Cities_


There is one point, almost to be called a paradox, to be noted about New
York; and that is that in one sense it is really new. The term very
seldom has any relevance to the reality. The New Forest is nearly as old
as the Conquest, and the New Theology is nearly as old as the Creed.
Things have been offered to me as the new thought that might more
properly be called the old thoughtlessness; and the thing we call the
New Poor Law is already old enough to know better. But there is a sense
in which New York is always new; in the sense that it is always being
renewed. A stranger might well say that the chief industry of the
citizens consists of destroying their city; but he soon realises that
they always start it all over again with undiminished energy and hope.
At first I had a fancy that they never quite finished putting up a big
building without feeling that it was time to pull it down again; and
that somebody began to dig up the first foundations while somebody else
was putting on the last tiles. This fills the whole of this brilliant
and bewildering place with a quite unique and unparalleled air of rapid
ruin. Ruins spring up so suddenly like mushrooms, which with us are the
growth of age like mosses, that one half expects to see ivy climbing
quickly up the broken walls as in the nightmare of the Time Machine, or
in some incredibly accelerated cinema.

There is no sight in any country that raises my own spirits so much as
a scaffolding. It is a tragedy that they always take the scaffolding
away, and leave us nothing but a mere building. If they would only take
the building away and leave us a beautiful scaffolding, it would in most
cases be a gain to the loveliness of earth. If I could analyse what it
is that lifts the heart about the lightness and clarity of such a white
and wooden skeleton, I could explain what it is that is really charming
about New York; in spite of its suffering from the curse of
cosmopolitanism and even the provincial superstition of progress. It is
partly that all this destruction and reconstruction is an unexhausted
artistic energy; but it is partly also that it is an artistic energy
that does not take itself too seriously. It is first because man is here
a carpenter; and secondly because he is a stage carpenter. Indeed there
is about the whole scene the spirit of scene-shifting. It therefore
touches whatever nerve in us has since childhood thrilled at all
theatrical things. But the picture will be imperfect unless we realise
something which gives it unity and marks its chief difference from the
climate and colours of Western Europe. We may say that the back-scene
remains the same. The sky remained, and in the depths of winter it
seemed to be blue with summer; and so clear that I almost flattered
myself that clouds were English products like primroses. An American
would probably retort on my charge of scene-shifting by saying that at
least he only shifted the towers and domes of the earth; and that in
England it is the heavens that are shifty. And indeed we have changes
from day to day that would seem to him as distinct as different
magic-lantern slides; one view showing the Bay of Naples and the next
the North Pole. I do not mean, of course, that there are no changes in
American weather; but as a matter of proportion it is true that the most
unstable part of our scenery is the most stable part of theirs. Indeed
we might almost be pardoned the boast that Britain alone really
possesses the noble thing called weather; most other countries having to
be content with climate. It must be confessed, however, that they often
are content with it. And the beauty of New York, which is considerable,
is very largely due to the clarity that brings out the colours of varied
buildings against the equal colour of the sky. Strangely enough I found
myself repeating about this vista of the West two vivid lines in which
Mr. W. B. Yeats has called up a vision of the East:--


     And coloured like the eastern birds
     At evening in their rainless skies.


To invoke a somewhat less poetic parallel, even the untravelled
Englishman has probably seen American posters and trade advertisements
of a patchy and gaudy kind, in which a white house or a yellow motor-car
are cut out as in cardboard against a sky like blue marble. I used to
think it was only New Art, but I found that it is really New York.

It is not for nothing that the very nature of local character has gained
the nickname of local colour. Colour runs through all our experience;
and we all know that our childhood found talismanic gems in the very
paints in the paint-box, or even in their very names. And just as the
very name of 'crimson lake' really suggested to me some sanguine and
mysterious mere, dark yet red as blood, so the very name of 'burnt
sienna' became afterwards tangled up in my mind with the notion of
something traditional and tragic; as if some such golden Italian city
had really been darkened by many conflagrations in the wars of mediaeval
democracy. Now if one had the caprice of conceiving some city exactly
contrary to one thus seared and seasoned by fire, its colour might be
called up to a childish fancy by the mere name of 'raw umber'; and such
a city is New York. I used to be puzzled by the name of 'raw umber,'
being unable to imagine the effect of fried umber or stewed umber. But
the colours of New York are exactly in that key; and might be adumbrated
by phrases like raw pink or raw yellow. It is really in a sense like
something uncooked; or something which the satiric would call
half-baked. And yet the effect is not only beautiful, it is even
delicate. I had no name for this nuance; until I saw that somebody had
written of 'the pastel-tinted towers of New York'; and I knew that the
name had been found. There are no paints dry enough to describe all that
dry light; and it is not a box of colours but of crayons. If the
Englishman returning to England is moved at the sight of a block of
white chalk, the American sees rather a bundle of chalks. Nor can I
imagine anything more moving. Fairy tales are told to children about a
country where the trees are like sugar-sticks and the lakes like
treacle, but most children would feel almost as greedy for a fairyland
where the trees were like brushes of green paint and the hills were of
coloured chalks.

But here what accentuates this arid freshness is the fragmentary look of
the continual reconstruction and change. The strong daylight finds
everywhere the broken edges of things, and the sort of hues we see in
newly-turned earth or the white sections of trees. And it is in this
respect that the local colour can literally be taken as local character.
For New York considered in itself is primarily a place of unrest, and
those who sincerely love it, as many do, love it for the romance of its
restlessness. A man almost looks at a building as he passes to wonder
whether it will be there when he comes back from his walk; and the doubt
is part of an indescribable notion, as of a white nightmare of daylight,
which is increased by the very numbering of the streets, with its tangle
of numerals which at first makes an English head reel. The detail is
merely a symbol; and when he is used to it he can see that it is, like
the most humdrum human customs, both worse and better than his own. '271
West 52nd Street' is the easiest of all addresses to find, but the
hardest of all addresses to remember. He who is, like myself, so
constituted as necessarily to lose any piece of paper he has particular
reason to preserve, will find himself wishing the place were called
'Pine Crest' or 'Heather Crag' like any unobtrusive villa in Streatham.
But his sense of some sort of incalculable calculations, as of the
vision of a mad mathematician, is rooted in a more real impression. His
first feeling that his head is turning round is due to something really
dizzy in the movement of a life that turns dizzily like a wheel. If
there be in the modern mind something paradoxical that can find peace in
change, it is here that it has indeed built its habitation or rather is
still building and unbuilding it. One might fancy that it changes in
everything and that nothing endures but its invisible name; and even its
name, as I have said, seems to make a boast of novelty.

That is something like a sincere first impression of the atmosphere of
New York. Those who think that is the atmosphere of America have never
got any farther than New York. We might almost say that they have never
entered America, any more than if they had been detained like
undesirable aliens at Ellis Island. And indeed there are a good many
undesirable aliens detained in Manhattan Island too. But of that I will
not speak, being myself an alien with no particular pretensions to be
desirable. Anyhow, such is New York; but such is not the New World. The
great American Republic contains very considerable varieties, and of
these varieties I necessarily saw far too little to allow me to
generalise. But from the little I did see, I should venture on the
generalisation that the great part of America is singularly and even
strikingly unlike New York. It goes without saying that New York is very
unlike the vast agricultural plains and small agricultural towns of the
Middle West, which I did see. It may be conjectured with some confidence
that it is very unlike what is called the Wild and sometimes the Woolly
West, which I did not see. But I am here comparing New York, not with
the newer states of the prairie or the mountains, but with the other
older cities of the Atlantic coast. And New York, as it seems to me, is
quite vitally different from the other historic cities of America. It is
so different that it shows them all for the moment in a false light, as
a long white searchlight will throw a light that is fantastic and
theatrical upon ancient and quiet villages folded in the everlasting
hills. Philadelphia and Boston and Baltimore are more like those quiet
villages than they are like New York.

If I were to call this book 'The Antiquities of America,' I should give
rise to misunderstanding and possibly to annoyance. And yet the double
sense in such words is an undeserved misfortune for them. We talk of
Plato or the Parthenon or the Greek passion for beauty as parts of the
antique, but hardly of the antiquated. When we call them ancient it is
not because they have perished, but rather because they have survived.
In the same way I heard some New Yorkers refer to Philadelphia or
Baltimore as 'dead towns.' They mean by a dead town a town that has had
the impudence not to die. Such people are astonished to find an ancient
thing alive, just as they are now astonished, and will be increasingly
astonished, to find Poland or the Papacy or the French nation still
alive. And what I mean by Philadelphia and Baltimore being alive is
precisely what these people mean by their being dead; it is continuity;
it is the presence of the life first breathed into them and of the
purpose of their being; it is the benediction of the founders of the
colonies and the fathers of the republic. This tradition is truly to be
called life; for life alone can link the past and the future. It merely
means that as what was done yesterday makes some difference to-day, so
what is done to-day will make some difference to-morrow. In New York it
is difficult to feel that any day will make any difference. These
moderns only die daily without power to rise from the dead. But I can
truly claim that in coming into some of these more stable cities of the
States I felt something quite sincerely of that historic emotion which
is satisfied in the eternal cities of the Mediterranean. I felt in
America what many Americans suppose can only be felt in Europe. I have
seldom had that sentiment stirred more simply and directly than when I
saw from afar off, above the vast grey labyrinth of Philadelphia, great
Penn upon his pinnacle like the graven figure of a god who had fashioned
a new world; and remembered that his body lay buried in a field at the
turning of a lane, a league from my own door.

For this aspect of America is rather neglected in the talk about
electricity and headlines. Needless to say, the modern vulgarity of
avarice and advertisement sprawls all over Philadelphia or Boston; but
so it does over Winchester or Canterbury. But most people know that
there is something else to be found in Canterbury or Winchester; many
people know that it is rather more interesting; and some people know
that Alfred can still walk in Winchester and that St. Thomas at
Canterbury was killed but did not die. It is at least as possible for a
Philadelphian to feel the presence of Penn and Franklin as for an
Englishman to see the ghosts of Alfred and of Becket. Tradition does not
mean a dead town; it does not mean that the living are dead but that the
dead are alive. It means that it still matters what Penn did two hundred
years ago or what Franklin did a hundred years ago; I never could feel
in New York that it mattered what anybody did an hour ago. And these
things did and do matter. Quakerism is not my favourite creed; but on
that day when William Penn stood unarmed upon that spot and made his
treaty with the Red Indians, his creed of humanity did have a triumph
and a triumph that has not turned back. The praise given to him is not a
priggish fiction of our conventional history, though such fictions have
illogically curtailed it. The Nonconformists have been rather unfair to
Penn even in picking their praises; and they generally forget that
toleration cuts both ways and that an open mind is open on all sides.
Those who deify him for consenting to bargain with the savages cannot
forgive him for consenting to bargain with the Stuarts. And the same is
true of the other city, yet more closely connected with the tolerant
experiment of the Stuarts. The state of Maryland was the first
experiment in religious freedom in human history. Lord Baltimore and his
Catholics were a long march ahead of William Penn and his Quakers on
what is now called the path of progress. That the first religious
toleration ever granted in the world was granted by Roman Catholics is
one of those little informing details with which our Victorian histories
did not exactly teem. But when I went into my hotel at Baltimore and
found two priests waiting to see me, I was moved in a new fashion, for I
felt that I touched the end of a living chain. Nor was the impression
accidental; it will always remain with me with a mixture of gratitude
and grief, for they brought a message of welcome from a great American
whose name I had known from childhood and whose career was drawing to
its close; for it was but a few days after I left the city that I
learned that Cardinal Gibbons was dead.

On the top of a hill on one side of the town stood the first monument
raised after the Revolution to Washington. Beyond it was a new monument
saluting in the name of Lafayette the American soldiers who fell
fighting in France in the Great War. Between them were steps and stone
seats, and I sat down on one of them and talked to two children who were
clambering about the bases of the monument. I felt a profound and
radiant peace in the thought that they at any rate were not going to my
lecture. It made me happy that in that talk neither they nor I had any
names. I was full of that indescribable waking vision of the strangeness
of life, and especially of the strangeness of locality; of how we find
places and lose them; and see faces for a moment in a far-off land, and
it is equally mysterious if we remember and mysterious if we forget. I
had even stirring in my head the suggestion of some verses that I shall
never finish--


     If I ever go back to Baltimore
     The city of Maryland.


But the poem would have to contain far too much; for I was thinking of a
thousand things at once; and wondering what the children would be like
twenty years after and whether they would travel in white goods or be
interested in oil, and I was not untouched (it may be said) by the fact
that a neighbouring shop had provided the only sample of the substance
called 'tea' ever found on the American continent; and in front of me
soared up into the sky on wings of stone the column of all those high
hopes of humanity a hundred years ago; and beyond there were lighted
candles in the chapels and prayers in the ante-chambers, where perhaps
already a Prince of the Church was dying. Only on a later page can I
even attempt to comb out such a tangle of contrasts, which is indeed the
tangle of America and this mortal life; but sitting there on that stone
seat under that quiet sky, I had some experience of the thronging
thousands of living thoughts and things, noisy and numberless as birds,
that give its everlasting vivacity and vitality to a dead town.

Two other cities I visited which have this particular type of
traditional character, the one being typical of the North and the other
of the South. At least I may take as convenient anti-types the towns of
Boston and St. Louis; and we might add Nashville as being a shade more
truly southern than St. Louis. To the extreme South, in the sense of
what is called the Black Belt, I never went at all. Now English
travellers expect the South to be somewhat traditional; but they are not
prepared for the aspects of Boston in the North which are even more so.
If we wished only for an antic of antithesis, we might say that on one
side the places are more prosaic than the names and on the other the
names are more prosaic than the places. St. Louis is a fine town, and we
recognise a fine instinct of the imagination that set on the hill
overlooking the river the statue of that holy horseman who has
christened the city. But the city is not as beautiful as its name; it
could not be. Indeed these titles set up a standard to which the most
splendid spires and turrets could not rise, and below which the
commercial chimneys and sky-signs conspicuously sink. We should think it
odd if Belfast had borne the name of Joan of Arc. We should be slightly
shocked if the town of Johannesburg happened to be called Jesus Christ.
But few have noted a blasphemy, or even a somewhat challenging
benediction, to be found in the very name of San Francisco.

But on the other hand a place like Boston is much more beautiful than
its name. And, as I have suggested, an Englishman's general information,
or lack of information, leaves him in some ignorance of the type of
beauty that turns up in that type of place. He has heard so much about
the purely commercial North as against the agricultural and
aristocratic South, and the traditions of Boston and Philadelphia are
rather too tenuous and delicate to be seen from across the Atlantic. But
here also there are traditions and a great deal of traditionalism. The
circle of old families, which still meets with a certain exclusiveness
in Philadelphia, is the sort of thing that we in England should expect
to find rather in New Orleans. The academic aristocracy of Boston, which
Oliver Wendell Holmes called the Brahmins, is still a reality though it
was always a minority and is now a very small minority. An epigram,
invented by Yale at the expense of Harvard, describes it as very small
indeed:--


     Here is to jolly old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod,
     Where Cabots speak only to Lowells, and Lowells speak only to God.


But an aristocracy must be a minority, and it is arguable that the
smaller it is the better. I am bound to say, however, that the
distinguished Dr. Cabot, the present representative of the family, broke
through any taboo that may tie his affections to his Creator and to Miss
Amy Lowell, and broadened his sympathies so indiscriminately as to show
kindness and hospitality to so lost a being as an English lecturer. But
if the thing is hardly a limit it is very living as a memory; and Boston
on this side is very much a place of memories. It would be paying it a
very poor compliment merely to say that parts of it reminded me of
England; for indeed they reminded me of English things that have largely
vanished from England. There are old brown houses in the corners of
squares and streets that are like glimpses of a man's forgotten
childhood; and when I saw the long path with posts where the Autocrat
may be supposed to have walked with the schoolmistress, I felt I had
come to the land where old tales come true.

I pause in this place upon this particular aspect of America because it
is very much missed in a mere contrast with England. I need not say that
if I felt it even about slight figures of fiction, I felt it even more
about solid figures of history. Such ghosts seemed particularly solid in
the Southern States, precisely because of the comparative quietude and
leisure of the atmosphere of the South. It was never more vivid to me
than when coming in, at a quiet hour of the night, into the
comparatively quiet hotel at Nashville in Tennessee, and mounting to a
dim and deserted upper floor where I found myself before a faded
picture; and from the dark canvas looked forth the face of Andrew
Jackson, watchful like a white eagle.

At that moment, perhaps, I was in more than one sense alone. Most
Englishmen know a good deal of American fiction, and nothing whatever of
American history. They know more about the autocrat of the
breakfast-table than about the autocrat of the army and the people, the
one great democratic despot of modern times; the Napoleon of the New
World. The only notion the English public ever got about American
politics they got from a novel, _Uncle Tom's Cabin_; and to say the
least of it, it was no exception to the prevalence of fiction over fact.
Hundreds of us have heard of Tom Sawyer for one who has heard of Charles
Sumner; and it is probable that most of us could pass a more detailed
examination about Toddy and Budge than about Lincoln and Lee. But in
the case of Andrew Jackson it may be that I felt a special sense of
individual isolation; for I believe that there are even fewer among
Englishmen than among Americans who realise that the energy of that
great man was largely directed towards saving us from the chief evil
which destroys the nations to-day. He sought to cut down, as with a
sword of simplicity, the new and nameless enormity of finance; and he
must have known, as by a lightning flash, that the people were behind
him, because all the politicians were against him. The end of that
struggle is not yet; but if the bank is stronger than the sword or the
sceptre of popular sovereignty, the end will be the end of democracy. It
will have to choose between accepting an acknowledged dictator and
accepting dictation which it dare not acknowledge. The process will have
begun by giving power to people and refusing to give them their titles;
and it will have ended by giving the power to people who refuse to give
us their names.

But I have a special reason for ending this chapter on the name of the
great popular dictator who made war on the politicians and the
financiers. This chapter does not profess to touch on one in twenty of
the interesting cities of America, even in this particular aspect of
their relation to the history of America, which is so much neglected in
England. If that were so, there would be a great deal to say even about
the newest of them; Chicago, for instance, is certainly something more
than the mere pork-packing yard that English tradition suggests; and it
has been building a boulevard not unworthy of its splendid position on
its splendid lake. But all these cities are defiled and even diseased
with industrialism. It is due to the Americans to remember that they
have deliberately preserved one of their cities from such defilement and
such disease. And that is the presidential city, which stands in the
American mind for the same ideal as the President; the idea of the
Republic that rises above modern money-getting and endures. There has
really been an effort to keep the White House white. No factories are
allowed in that town; no more than the necessary shops are tolerated. It
is a beautiful city; and really retains something of that classical
serenity of the eighteenth century in which the Fathers of the Republic
moved. With all respect to the colonial place of that name, I do not
suppose that Wellington is particularly like Wellington. But Washington
really is like Washington.

In this, as in so many things, there is no harm in our criticising
foreigners, if only we would also criticise ourselves. In other words,
the world might need even less of its new charity, if it had a little
more of the old humility. When we complain of American individualism, we
forget that we have fostered it by ourselves having far less of this
impersonal ideal of the Republic or commonwealth as a whole. When we
complain, very justly, for instance, of great pictures passing into the
possession of American magnates, we ought to remember that we paved the
way for it by allowing them all to accumulate in the possession of
English magnates. It is bad that a public treasure should be in the
possession of a private man in America, but we took the first step in
lightly letting it disappear into the private collection of a man in
England. I know all about the genuine national tradition which treated
the aristocracy as constituting the state; but these very foreign
purchases go to prove that we ought to have had a state independent of
the aristocracy. It is true that rich Americans do sometimes covet the
monuments of our culture in a fashion that rightly revolts us as vulgar
and irrational. They are said sometimes to want to take whole buildings
away with them; and too many of such buildings are private and for sale.
There were wilder stories of a millionaire wishing to transplant
Glastonbury Abbey and similar buildings as if they were portable shrubs
in pots. It is obvious that it is nonsense as well as vandalism to
separate Glastonbury Abbey from Glastonbury. I can understand a man
venerating it as a ruin; and I can understand a man despising it as a
rubbish-heap. But it is senseless to insult a thing in order to
idolatrise it; it is meaningless to desecrate the shrine in order to
worship the stones. That sort of thing is the bad side of American
appetite and ambition; and we are perfectly right to see it not only as
a deliberate blasphemy but as an unconscious buffoonery. But there is
another side to the American tradition, which is really too much lacking
in our own tradition. And it is illustrated in this idea of preserving
Washington as a sort of paradise of impersonal politics without personal
commerce. Nobody could buy the White House or the Washington Monument;
it may be hinted (as by an inhabitant of Glastonbury) that nobody wants
to; but nobody could if he did want to. There is really a certain air of
serenity and security about the place, lacking in every other American
town. It is increased, of course, by the clear blue skies of that
half-southern province, from which smoke has been banished. The effect
is not so much in the mere buildings, though they are classical and
often beautiful. But whatever else they have built, they have built a
great blue dome, the largest dome in the world. And the place does
express something in the inconsistent idealism of this strange people;
and here at least they have lifted it higher than all the sky-scrapers,
and set it in a stainless sky.



_In the American Country_


The sharpest pleasure of a traveller is in finding the things which he
did not expect, but which he might have expected to expect. I mean the
things that are at once so strange and so obvious that they must have
been noticed, yet somehow they have not been noted. Thus I had heard a
thousand things about Jerusalem before I ever saw it; I had heard
rhapsodies and disparagements of every description. Modern rationalistic
critics, with characteristic consistency, had blamed it for its
accumulated rubbish and its modern restoration, for its antiquated
superstition and its up-to-date vulgarity. But somehow the one
impression that had never pierced through their description was the
simple and single impression of a city on a hill, with walls coming to
the very edge of slopes that were almost as steep as walls; the turreted
city which crowns a cone-shaped hill in so many mediaeval landscapes.
One would suppose that this was at once the plainest and most
picturesque of all the facts; yet somehow, in my reading, I had always
lost it amid a mass of minor facts that were merely details. We know
that a city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid; and yet it would seem
that it is exactly the hill that is hid; though perhaps it is only hid
from the wise and the understanding. I had a similar and simple
impression when I discovered America. I cannot avoid the phrase; for it
would really seem that each man discovers it for himself.

Thus I had heard a great deal, before I saw them, about the tall and
dominant buildings of New York. I agree that they have an instant effect
on the imagination; which I think is increased by the situation in which
they stand, and out of which they arose. They are all the more
impressive because the building, while it is vertically so vast, is
horizontally almost narrow. New York is an island, and has all the
intensive romance of an island. It is a thing of almost infinite height
upon very finite foundations. It is almost like a lofty lighthouse upon
a lonely rock. But this story of the sky-scrapers, which I had often
heard, would by itself give a curiously false impression of the freshest
and most curious characteristic of American architecture. Told only in
terms of these great towers of stone and brick in the big industrial
cities, the story would tend too much to an impression of something cold
and colossal like the monuments of Asia. It would suggest a modern
Babylon altogether too Babylonian. It would imply that a man of the new
world was a sort of new Pharaoh, who built not so much a pyramid as a
pagoda of pyramids. It would suggest houses built by mammoths out of
mountains; the cities reared by elephants in their own elephantine
school of architecture. And New York does recall the most famous of all
sky-scrapers--the tower of Babel. She recalls it none the less because
there is no doubt about the confusion of tongues. But in truth the very
reverse is true of most of the buildings in America. I had no sooner
passed out into the suburbs of New York on the way to Boston than I
began to see something else quite contrary and far more curious. I saw
forests upon forests of small houses stretching away to the horizon as
literal forests do; villages and towns and cities. And they were, in
another sense, literally like forests. They were all made of wood. It
was almost as fantastic to an English eye as if they had been all made
of cardboard. I had long outlived the silly old joke that referred to
Americans as if they all lived in the backwoods. But, in a sense, if
they do not live in the woods, they are not yet out of the wood.

I do not say this in any sense as a criticism. As it happens, I am
particularly fond of wood. Of all the superstitions which our fathers
took lightly enough to love, the most natural seems to me the notion it
is lucky to touch wood. Some of them affect me the less as
superstitions, because I feel them as symbols. If humanity had really
thought Friday unlucky it would have talked about bad Friday instead of
good Friday. And while I feel the thrill of thirteen at a table, I am
not so sure that it is the most miserable of all human fates to fill the
places of the Twelve Apostles. But the idea that there was something
cleansing or wholesome about the touching of wood seems to me one of
those ideas which are truly popular, because they are truly poetic. It
is probable enough that the conception came originally from the healing
of the wood of the Cross; but that only clinches the divine coincidence.
It is like that other divine coincidence that the Victim was a
carpenter, who might almost have made His own cross. Whether we take the
mystical or the mythical explanation, there is obviously a very deep
connection between the human working in wood and such plain and pathetic
mysticism. It gives something like a touch of the holy childishness to
the tale, as if that terrible engine could be a toy. In the same fashion
a child fancies that mysterious and sinister horse, which was the
downfall of Troy, as something plain and staring, and perhaps spotted,
like his own rocking-horse in the nursery.

It might be said symbolically that Americans have a taste for
rocking-horses, as they certainly have a taste for rocking-chairs. A
flippant critic might suggest that they select rocking-chairs so that,
even when they are sitting down, they need not be sitting still.
Something of this restlessness in the race may really be involved in the
matter; but I think the deeper significance of the rocking-chair may
still be found in the deeper symbolism of the rocking-horse. I think
there is behind all this fresh and facile use of wood a certain spirit
that is childish in the good sense of the word; something that is
innocent, and easily pleased. It is not altogether untrue, still less is
it unfriendly, to say that the landscape seems to be dotted with dolls'
houses. It is the true tragedy of every fallen son of Adam that he has
grown too big to live in a doll's house. These things seem somehow to
escape the irony of time by not even challenging it; they are too
temporary even to be merely temporal. These people are not building
tombs; they are not, as in the fine image of Mrs. Meynell's poem, merely
building ruins. It is not easy to imagine the ruins of a doll's house;
and that is why a doll's house is an everlasting habitation. How far it
promises a political permanence is a matter for further discussion; I am
only describing the mood of discovery; in which all these cottages built
of lath, like the palaces of a pantomime, really seemed coloured like
the clouds of morning; which are both fugitive and eternal.

There is also in all this an atmosphere that comes in another sense from
the nursery. We hear much of Americans being educated on English
literature; but I think few Americans realise how much English children
have been educated on American literature. It is true, and it is
inevitable, that they can only be educated on rather old-fashioned
American literature. Mr. Bernard Shaw, in one of his plays, noted truly
the limitations of the young American millionaire, and especially the
staleness of his English culture; but there is necessarily another side
to it. If the American talked more of Macaulay than of Nietzsche, we
should probably talk more of Emerson than of Ezra Pound. Whether this
staleness is necessarily a disadvantage is, of course, a different
question. But, in any case, it is true that the old American books were
often the books of our childhood, even in the literal sense of the books
of our nursery. I know few men in England who have not left their
boyhood to some extent lost and entangled in the forests of _Huckleberry
Finn_. I know few women in England, from the most revolutionary
Suffragette to the most carefully preserved Early Victorian, who will
not confess to having passed a happy childhood with the Little Women of
Miss Alcott. _Helen's Babies_ was the first and by far the best book in
the modern scriptures of baby-worship. And about all this old-fashioned
American literature there was an undefinable savour that satisfied, and
even fed, our growing minds. Perhaps it was the smell of growing things;
but I am far from certain that it was not simply the smell of wood. Now
that all the memory comes back to me, it seems to come back heavy in a
hundred forms with the fragrance and the touch of timber. There was the
perpetual reference to the wood-pile, the perpetual background of the
woods. There was something crude and clean about everything; something
fresh and strange about those far-off houses, to which I could not then
have put a name. Indeed, many things become clear in this wilderness of
wood, which could only be expressed in symbol and even in fantasy. I
will not go so far as to say that it shortened the transition from Log
Cabin to White House; as if the White House were itself made of white
wood (as Oliver Wendell Holmes said), 'that cuts like cheese, but lasts
like iron for things like these.' But I will say that the experience
illuminates some other lines by Holmes himself:--


     Little I ask, my wants are few,
     I only ask a hut of stone.


I should not have known, in England, that he was already asking for a
good deal even in asking for that. In the presence of this wooden world
the very combination of words seems almost a contradiction, like a hut
of marble, or a hovel of gold.

It was therefore with an almost infantile pleasure that I looked at all
this promising expansion of fresh-cut timber and thought of the housing
shortage at home. I know not by what incongruous movement of the mind
there swept across me, at the same moment, the thought of things
ancestral and hoary with the light of ancient dawns. The last war
brought back body-armour; the next war may bring back bows and arrows.
And I suddenly had a memory of old wooden houses in London; and a model
of Shakespeare's town.

It is possible indeed that such Elizabethan memories may receive a check
or a chill when the traveller comes, as he sometimes does, to the
outskirts of one of these strange hamlets of new frame-houses, and is
confronted with a placard inscribed in enormous letters, 'Watch Us
Grow.' He can always imagine that he sees the timbers swelling before
his eyes like pumpkins in some super-tropical summer. But he may have
formed the conviction that no such proclamation could be found outside
Shakespeare's town. And indeed there is a serious criticism here, to any
one who knows history; since the things that grow are not always the
things that remain; and pumpkins of that expansiveness have a tendency
to burst. I was always told that Americans were harsh, hustling, rather
rude and perhaps vulgar; but they were very practical and the future
belonged to them. I confess I felt a fine shade of difference; I liked
the Americans; I thought they were sympathetic, imaginative, and full of
fine enthusiasms; the one thing I could not always feel clear about was
their future. I believe they were happier in their frame-houses than
most people in most houses; having democracy, good education, and a
hobby of work; the one doubt that did float across me was something
like, 'Will all this be here at all in two hundred years?' That was the
first impression produced by the wooden houses that seemed like the
waggons of gipsies; it is a serious impression, but there is an answer
to it. It is an answer that opens on the traveller more and more as he
goes westward, and finds the little towns dotted about the vast central
prairies. And the answer is agriculture. Wooden houses may or may not
last; but farms will last; and farming will always last.

The houses may look like gipsy caravans on a heath or common; but they
are not on a heath or common. They are on the most productive and
prosperous land, perhaps, in the modern world. The houses might fall
down like shanties, but the fields would remain; and whoever tills
those fields will count for a great deal in the affairs of humanity.
They are already counting for a great deal, and possibly for too much,
in the affairs of America. The real criticism of the Middle West is
concerned with two facts, neither of which has been yet adequately
appreciated by the educated class in England. The first is that the turn
of the world has come, and the turn of the agricultural countries with
it. That is the meaning of the resurrection of Ireland; that is the
meaning of the practical surrender of the Bolshevist Jews to the Russian
peasants. The other is that in most places these peasant societies carry
on what may be called the Catholic tradition. The Middle West is perhaps
the one considerable place where they still carry on the Puritan
tradition. But the Puritan tradition was originally a tradition of the
town; and the second truth about the Middle West turns largely on its
moral relation to the town. As I shall suggest presently, there is much
in common between this agricultural society of America and the great
agricultural societies of Europe. It tends, as the agricultural society
nearly always does, to some decent degree of democracy. The agricultural
society tends to the agrarian law. But in Puritan America there is an
additional problem, which I can hardly explain without a periphrasis.

There was a time when the progress of the cities seemed to mock the
decay of the country. It is more and more true, I think, to-day that it
is rather the decay of the cities that seems to poison the progress and
promise of the countryside. The cinema boasts of being a substitute for
the tavern, but I think it a very bad substitute. I think so quite apart
from the question about fermented liquor. Nobody enjoys cinemas more
than I, but to enjoy them a man has only to look and not even to listen,
and in a tavern he has to talk. Occasionally, I admit, he has to fight;
but he need never move at the movies. Thus in the real village inn are
the real village politics, while in the other are only the remote and
unreal metropolitan politics. And those central city politics are not
only cosmopolitan politics but corrupt politics. They corrupt everything
that they reach, and this is the real point about many perplexing
questions.

For instance, so far as I am concerned, it is the whole point about
feminism and the factory. It is very largely the point about feminism
and many other callings, apparently more cultured than the factory, such
as the law court and the political platform. When I see women so wildly
anxious to tie themselves to all this machinery of the modern city my
first feeling is not indignation, but that dark and ominous sort of pity
with which we should see a crowd rushing to embark in a leaking ship
under a lowering storm. When I see wives and mothers going in for
business government I not only regard it as a bad business but as a
bankrupt business. It seems to me very much as if the peasant women,
just before the French Revolution, had insisted on being made duchesses
or (as is quite as logical and likely) on being made dukes.

It is as if those ragged women, instead of crying out for bread, had
cried out for powder and patches. By the time they were wearing them
they would be the only people wearing them. For powder and patches soon
went out of fashion, but bread does not go out of fashion. In the same
way, if women desert the family for the factory, they may find they have
only done it for a deserted factory. It would have been very unwise of
the lower orders to claim all the privileges of the higher orders in the
last days of the French monarchy. It would have been very laborious to
learn the science of heraldry or the tables of precedence when all such
things were at once most complicated and most moribund. It would be
tiresome to be taught all those tricks just when the whole bag of tricks
was coming to an end. A French satirist might have written a fine
apologue about Jacques Bonhomme coming up to Paris in his wooden shoes
and demanding to be made Gold Stick in Waiting in the name of Liberty,
Equality, and Fraternity; but I fear the stick in waiting would be
waiting still.

One of the first topics on which I heard conversation turning in America
was that of a very interesting book called _Main Street_, which involves
many of these questions of the modern industrial and the eternal
feminine. It is simply the story, or perhaps rather the study than the
story, of a young married woman in one of the multitudinous little towns
on the great central plains of America; and of a sort of struggle
between her own more restless culture and the provincial prosperity of
her neighbours. There are a number of true and telling suggestions in
the book, but the one touch which I found tingling in the memory of many
readers was the last sentence, in which the master of the house, with
unshaken simplicity, merely asks for the whereabouts of some domestic
implement; I think it was a screw-driver. It seems to me a harmless
request, but from the way people talked about it one might suppose he
had asked for a screw-driver to screw down the wife in her coffin. And a
great many advanced persons would tell us that wooden house in which
she lived really was like a wooden coffin. But this appears to me to be
taking a somewhat funereal view of the life of humanity.

For, after all, on the face of it at any rate, this is merely the life
of humanity, and even the life which all humanitarians have striven to
give to humanity. Revolutionists have treated it not only as the normal
but even as the ideal. Revolutionary wars have been waged to establish
this; revolutionary heroes have fought, and revolutionary martyrs have
died, only to build such a wooden house for such a worthy family. Men
have taken the sword and perished by the sword in order that the poor
gentleman might have liberty to look for his screw-driver. For there is
here a fact about America that is almost entirely unknown in England.
The English have not in the least realised the real strength of America.
We in England hear a great deal, we hear far too much, about the
economic energy of industrial America, about the money of Mr. Morgan, or
the machinery of Mr. Edison. We never realise that while we in England
suffer from the same sort of successes in capitalism and clockwork, we
have not got what the Americans have got; something at least to balance
it in the way of a free agriculture, a vast field of free farms dotted
with small freeholders. For the reason I shall mention in a moment, they
are not perhaps in the fullest and finest sense a peasantry. But they
are in the practical and political sense a pure peasantry, in that their
comparative equality is a true counterweight to the toppling injustice
of the towns.

And, even in places like that described as Main Street, that comparative
equality can immediately be felt. The men may be provincials, but they
are certainly citizens; they consult on a common basis. And I repeat
that in this, after all, they do achieve what many prophets and
righteous men have died to achieve. This plain village, fairly
prosperous, fairly equal, untaxed by tyrants and untroubled by wars, is
after all the place which reformers have regarded as their aim; whenever
reformers have used their wits sufficiently to have any aim. The march
to Utopia, the march to the Earthly Paradise, the march to the New
Jerusalem, has been very largely the march to Main Street. And the
latest modern sensation is a book written to show how wretched it is to
live there.

All this is true, and I think the lady might be more contented in her
coffin, which is more comfortably furnished than most of the coffins
where her fellow creatures live. Nevertheless, there is an answer to
this, or at least a modification of it. There is a case for the lady and
a case against the gentleman and the screw-driver. And when we have
noted what it really is, we have noted the real disadvantage in a
situation like that of modern America, and especially the Middle West.
And with that we come back to the truth with which I started this
speculation; the truth that few have yet realised, but of which I, for
one, am more and more convinced--that industrialism is spreading because
it is decaying; that only the dust and ashes of its dissolution are
choking up the growth of natural things everywhere and turning the green
world grey.

In this relative agricultural equality the Americans of the Middle West
are far in advance of the English of the twentieth century. It is not
their fault if they are still some centuries behind the English of the
twelfth century. But the defect by which they fall short of being a true
peasantry is that they do not produce their own spiritual food, in the
same sense as their own material food. They do not, like some
peasantries, create other kinds of culture besides the kind called
agriculture. Their culture comes from the great cities; and that is
where all the evil comes from.

If a man had gone across England in the Middle Ages, or even across
Europe in more recent times, he would have found a culture which showed
its vitality by its variety. We know the adventures of the three
brothers in the old fairy tales who passed across the endless plain from
city to city, and found one kingdom ruled by a wizard and another wasted
by a dragon, one people living in castles of crystal and another sitting
by fountains of wine. These are but legendary enlargements of the real
adventures of a traveller passing from one patch of peasantry to
another, and finding women wearing strange head-dresses and men singing
new songs.

A traveller in America would be somewhat surprised if he found the
people in the city of St. Louis all wearing crowns and crusading armour
in honour of their patron saint. He might even feel some faint surprise
if he found all the citizens of Philadelphia clad in a composite
costume, combining that of a Quaker with that of a Red Indian, in honour
of the noble treaty of William Penn. Yet these are the sort of local and
traditional things that would really be found giving variety to the
valleys of mediaeval Europe. I myself felt a perfectly genuine and
generous exhilaration of freedom and fresh enterprise in new places like
Oklahoma. But you would hardly find in Oklahoma what was found in
Oberammergau. What goes to Oklahoma is not the peasant play, but the
cinema. And the objection to the cinema is not so much that it goes to
Oklahoma as that it does not come from Oklahoma. In other words, these
people have on the economic side a much closer approach than we have to
economic freedom. It is not for us, who have allowed our land to be
stolen by squires and then vulgarised by sham squires, to sneer at such
colonists as merely crude and prosaic. They at least have really kept
something of the simplicity and, therefore, the dignity of democracy;
and that democracy may yet save their country even from the calamities
of wealth and science.

But, while these farmers do not need to become industrial in order to
become industrious, they do tend to become industrial in so far as they
become intellectual. Their culture, and to some great extent their
creed, do come along the railroads from the great modern urban centres,
and bring with them a blast of death and a reek of rotting things. It is
that influence that alone prevents the Middle West from progressing
towards the Middle Ages.

For, after all, linked up in a hundred legends of the Middle Ages, may
be found a symbolic pattern of hammers and nails and saws; and there is
no reason why they should not have also sanctified screw-drivers. There
is no reason why the screw-driver that seemed such a trifle to the
author should not have been borne in triumph down Main Street like a
sword of state, in some pageant of the Guild of St. Joseph of the
Carpenters or St. Dunstan of the Smiths. It was the Catholic poetry and
piety that filled common life with something that is lacking in the
worthy and virile democracy of the West. Nor are Americans of
intelligence so ignorant of this as some may suppose. There is an
admirable society called the Mediaevalists in Chicago; whose name and
address will strike many as suggesting a certain struggle of the soul
against the environment. With the national heartiness they blazon their
note-paper with heraldry and the hues of Gothic windows; with the
national high spirits they assume the fancy dress of friars; but any one
who should essay to laugh at them instead of with them would find out
his mistake. For many of them do really know a great deal about
mediaevalism; much more than I do, or most other men brought up on an
island that is crowded with its cathedrals. Something of the same spirit
may be seen in the beautiful new plans and buildings of Yale,
deliberately modelled not on classical harmony but on Gothic
irregularity and surprise. The grace and energy of the mediaeval
architecture resurrected by a man like Mr. R. A. Cram of Boston has
behind it not merely artistic but historical and ethical enthusiasm; an
enthusiasm for the Catholic creed which made mediaeval civilisation.
Even on the huge Puritan plains of the Middle West the influence strays
in the strangest fashion. And it is notable that among the pessimistic
epitaphs of the Spoon River Anthology, in that churchyard compared with
which most churchyards are cheery, among the suicides and secret
drinkers and monomaniacs and hideous hypocrites of that happy village,
almost the only record of respect and a recognition of wider hopes is
dedicated to the Catholic priest.

But Main Street is Main Street in the main. Main Street is Modern Street
in its multiplicity of mildly half-educated people; and all these
historic things are a thousand miles from them. They have not heard the
ancient noise either of arts or arms; the building of the cathedral or
the marching of the crusade. But at least they have not deliberately
slandered the crusade and defaced the cathedral. And if they have not
produced the peasant arts, they can still produce the peasant crafts.
They can sow and plough and reap and live by these everlasting things;
nor shall the foundations of their state be moved. And the memory of
those colossal fields, of those fruitful deserts, came back the more
readily into my mind because I finished these reflections in the very
heart of a modern industrial city, if it can be said to have a heart. It
was in fact an English industrial city, but it struck me that it might
very well be an American one. And it also struck me that we yield rather
too easily to America the dusty palm of industrial enterprise, and feel
far too little apprehension about greener and fresher vegetables. There
is a story of an American who carefully studied all the sights of London
or Rome or Paris, and came to the conclusion that 'it had nothing on
Minneapolis.' It seems to me that Minneapolis has nothing on Manchester.
There were the same grey vistas of shops full of rubber tyres and
metallic appliances; a man felt that he might walk a day without seeing
a blade of grass; the whole horizon was so infinite with efficiency. The
factory chimneys might have been Pittsburg; the sky-signs might have
been New York. One looked up in a sort of despair at the sky, not for a
sky-sign but in a sense for a sign, for some sentence of significance
and judgment; by the instinct that makes any man in such a scene seek
for the only thing that has not been made by men. But even that was
illogical, for it was night, and I could only expect to see the stars,
which might have reminded me of Old Glory; but that was not the sign
that oppressed me. All the ground was a wilderness of stone and all the
buildings a forest of brick; I was far in the interior of a labyrinth of
lifeless things. Only, looking up, between two black chimneys and a
telegraph pole, I saw vast and far and faint, as the first men saw it,
the silver pattern of the Plough.



_The American Business Man_


It is a commonplace that men are all agreed in using symbols, and all
differ about the meaning of the symbols. It is obvious that a Russian
republican might come to identify the eagle as a bird of empire and
therefore a bird of prey. But when he ultimately escaped to the land of
the free, he might find the same bird on the American coinage figuring
as a bird of freedom. Doubtless, he might find many other things to
surprise him in the land of the free, and many calculated to make him
think that the bird, if not imperial, was at least rather imperious. But
I am not discussing those exceptional details here. It is equally
obvious that a Russian reactionary might cross the world with a vow of
vengeance against the red flag. But that authoritarian might have some
difficulties with the authorities, if he shot a man for using the red
flag on the railway between Willesden and Clapham Junction.

But, of course, the difficulty about symbols is generally much more
subtle than in these simple cases. I have remarked elsewhere that the
first thing which a traveller should write about is the thing which he
has not read about. It may be a small or secondary thing, but it is a
thing that he has seen and not merely expected to see.

I gave the example of the great multitude of wooden houses in America;
we might say of wooden towns and wooden cities. But after he has seen
such things, his next duty is to see the meaning of them; and here a
great deal of complication and controversy is possible. The thing
probably does not mean what he first supposes it to mean on the face of
it; but even on the face of it, it might mean many different and even
opposite things.

For instance, a wooden house might suggest an almost savage solitude; a
rude shanty put together by a pioneer in a forest; or it might mean a
very recent and rapid solution of the housing problem, conducted cheaply
and therefore on a very large scale. A wooden house might suggest the
very newest thing in America or one of the very oldest things in
England. It might mean a grey ruin at Stratford or a white exhibition at
Earl's Court.

It is when we come to this interpretation of international symbols that
we make most of the international mistakes. Without the smallest error
of detail, I will promise to prove that Oriental women are independent
because they wear trousers, or Oriental men subject because they wear
skirts. Merely to apply it to this case, I will take the example of two
very commonplace and trivial objects of modern life--a walking stick and
a fur coat.

As it happened, I travelled about America with two sticks, like a
Japanese nobleman with his two swords. I fear the simile is too stately.
I bore more resemblance to a cripple with two crutches or a highly
ineffectual version of the devil on two sticks. I carried them both
because I valued them both, and did not wish to risk losing either of
them in my erratic travels. One is a very plain grey stick from the
woods of Buckinghamshire, but as I took it with me to Palestine it
partakes of the character of a pilgrim's staff. When I can say that I
have taken the same stick to Jerusalem and to Chicago, I think the stick
and I may both have a rest. The other, which I value even more, was
given me by the Knights of Columbus at Yale, and I wish I could think
that their chivalric title allowed me to regard it as a sword.

Now, I do not know whether the Americans I met, struck by the fastidious
foppery of my dress and appearance, concluded that it is the custom of
elegant English dandies to carry two walking sticks. But I do know that
it is much less common among Americans than among Englishmen to carry
even one. The point, however, is not merely that more sticks are carried
by Englishmen than by Americans; it is that the sticks which are carried
by Americans stand for something entirely different.

In America a stick is commonly called a cane, and it has about it
something of the atmosphere which the poet described as the nice conduct
of the clouded cane. It would be an exaggeration to say that when the
citizens of the United States see a man carrying a light stick, they
deduce that if he does that he does nothing else. But there is about it
a faint flavour of luxury and lounging, and most of the energetic
citizens of this energetic society avoid it by instinct.

Now, in an Englishman like myself, carrying a stick may imply lounging,
but it does not imply luxury, and I can say with some firmness that it
does not imply dandyism. In a great many Englishmen it means the very
opposite even of lounging. By one of those fantastic paradoxes which
are the mystery of nationality, a walking stick often actually means
walking. It frequently suggests the very reverse of the beau with his
clouded cane; it does not suggest a town type, but rather specially a
country type. It rather implies the kind of Englishman who tramps about
in lanes and meadows and knocks the tops off thistles. It suggests the
sort of man who has carried the stick through his native woods, and
perhaps even cut it in his native woods.

There are plenty of these vigorous loungers, no doubt, in the rural
parts of America, but the idea of a walking stick would not especially
suggest them to Americans; it would not call up such figures like a
fairy wand. It would be easy to trace back the difference to many
English origins, possibly to aristocratic origins, to the idea of the
old squire, a man vigorous and even rustic, but trained to hold a
useless staff rather than a useful tool. It might be suggested that
American citizens do at least so far love freedom as to like to have
their hands free. It might be suggested, on the other hand, that they
keep their hands for the handles of many machines. And that the hand on
a handle is less free than the hand on a stick or even a tool. But these
again are controversial questions and I am only noting a fact.

If an Englishman wished to imagine more or less exactly what the
impression is, and how misleading it is, he could find something like a
parallel in what he himself feels about a fur coat. When I first found
myself among the crowds on the main floor of a New York hotel, my rather
exaggerated impression of the luxury of the place was largely produced
by the number of men in fur coats, and what we should consider rather
ostentatious fur coats, with all the fur outside.

Now an Englishman has a number of atmospheric but largely accidental
associations in connection with a fur coat. I will not say that he
thinks a man in a fur coat must be a wealthy and wicked man; but I do
say that in his own ideal and perfect vision a wealthy and wicked man
would wear a fur coat. Thus I had the sensation of standing in a surging
mob of American millionaires, or even African millionaires; for the
millionaires of Chicago must be like the Knights of the Round Table
compared with the millionaires of Johannesburg.

But, as a matter of fact, the man in the fur coat was not even an
American millionaire, but simply an American. It did not signify luxury,
but rather necessity, and even a harsh and almost heroic necessity.
Orson probably wore a fur coat; and he was brought up by bears, but not
the bears of Wall Street. Eskimos are generally represented as a furry
folk; but they are not necessarily engaged in delicate financial
operations, even in the typical and appropriate occupation called
freezing out. And if the American is not exactly an arctic traveller
rushing from pole to pole, at least he is often literally fleeing from
ice to ice. He has to make a very extreme distinction between outdoor
and indoor clothing. He has to live in an icehouse outside and a
hothouse inside; so hot that he may be said to construct an icehouse
inside that. He turns himself into an icehouse and warms himself against
the cold until he is warm enough to eat ices. But the point is that the
same coat of fur which in England would indicate the sybarite life may
here very well indicate the strenuous life; just as the same walking
stick which would here suggest a lounger would in England suggest a
plodder and almost a pilgrim.

And these two trifles are types which I should like to put, by way of
proviso and apology, at the very beginning of any attempt at a record of
any impressions of a foreign society. They serve merely to illustrate
the most important impression of all, the impression of how false all
impressions may be. I suspect that most of the very false impressions
have come from the careful record of very true facts. They have come
from the fatal power of observing the facts without being able to
observe the truth. They came from seeing the symbol with the most vivid
clarity and being blind to all that it symbolises. It is as if a man who
knew no Greek should imagine that he could read a Greek inscription
because he took the Greek R for an English P or the Greek long E for an
English H. I do not mention this merely as a criticism on other people's
impressions of America, but as a criticism on my own. I wish it to be
understood that I am well aware that all my views are subject to this
sort of potential criticism, and that even when I am certain of the
facts I do not profess to be certain of the deductions.

In this chapter I hope to point out how a misunderstanding of this kind
affects the common impression, not altogether unfounded, that the
Americans talk about dollars. But for the moment I am merely anxious to
avoid a similar misunderstanding when I talk about Americans. About the
dogmas of democracy, about the right of a people to its own symbols,
whether they be coins or customs, I am convinced, and no longer to be
shaken. But about the meaning of those symbols, in silver or other
substances, I am always open to correction. That error is the price we
pay for the great glory of nationality. And in this sense I am quite
ready, at the start, to warn my own readers against my own opinions.

The fact without the truth is futile; indeed the fact without the truth
is false. I have already noted that this is especially true touching our
observations of a strange country; and it is certainly true touching one
small fact which has swelled into a large fable. I mean the fable about
America commonly summed up in the phrase about the Almighty Dollar. I do
not think the dollar is almighty in America; I fancy many things are
mightier, including many ideals and some rather insane ideals. But I
think it might be maintained that the dollar has another of the
attributes of deity. If it is not omnipotent it is in a sense
omnipresent. Whatever Americans think about dollars, it is, I think,
relatively true that they talk about dollars. If a mere mechanical
record could be taken by the modern machinery of dictaphones and
stenography, I do not think it probable that the mere word 'dollars'
would occur more often in any given number of American conversations
than the mere word 'pounds' or 'shillings' in a similar number of
English conversations. And these statistics, like nearly all statistics,
would be utterly useless and even fundamentally false. It is as if we
should calculate that the word 'elephant' had been mentioned a certain
number of times in a particular London street, or so many times more
often than the word 'thunderbolt' had been used in Stoke Poges.
Doubtless there are statisticians capable of carefully collecting those
statistics also; and doubtless there are scientific social reformers
capable of legislating on the basis of them. They would probably argue
from the elephantine imagery of the London street that such and such a
percentage of the householders were megalomaniacs and required medical
care and police coercion. And doubtless their calculations, like nearly
all such calculations, would leave out the only important point; as that
the street was in the immediate neighbourhood of the Zoo, or was yet
more happily situated under the benignant shadow of the Elephant and
Castle. And in the same way the mechanical calculation about the mention
of dollars is entirely useless unless we have some moral understanding
of why they are mentioned. It certainly does not mean merely a love of
money; and if it did, a love of money may mean a great many very
different and even contrary things. The love of money is very different
in a peasant or in a pirate, in a miser or in a gambler, in a great
financier or in a man doing some practical and productive work. Now this
difference in the conversation of American and English business men
arises, I think, from certain much deeper things in the American which
are generally not understood by the Englishman. It also arises from much
deeper things in the Englishman, of which the Englishman is even more
ignorant.

To begin with, I fancy that the American, quite apart from any love of
money, has a great love of measurement. He will mention the exact size
or weight of things, in a way which appears to us as irrelevant. It is
as if we were to say that a man came to see us carrying three feet of
walking stick and four inches of cigar. It is so in cases that have no
possible connection with any avarice or greed for gain. An American will
praise the prodigal generosity of some other man in giving up his own
estate for the good of the poor. But he will generally say that the
philanthropist gave them a 200-acre park, where an Englishman would
think it quite sufficient to say that he gave them a park. There is
something about this precision which seems suitable to the American
atmosphere; to the hard sunlight, and the cloudless skies, and the
glittering detail of the architecture and the landscape; just as the
vaguer English version is consonant to our mistier and more
impressionist scenery. It is also connected perhaps with something more
boyish about the younger civilisation; and corresponds to the passionate
particularity with which a boy will distinguish the uniforms of
regiments, the rigs of ships, or even the colours of tram tickets. It is
a certain godlike appetite for things, as distinct from thoughts.

But there is also, of course, a much deeper cause of the difference; and
it can easily be deduced by noting the real nature of the difference
itself. When two business men in a train are talking about dollars I am
not so foolish as to expect them to be talking about the philosophy of
St. Thomas Aquinas. But if they were two English business men I should
not expect them to be talking about business. Probably it would be about
some sport; and most probably some sport in which they themselves never
dreamed of indulging. The approximate difference is that the American
talks about his work and the Englishman about his holidays. His ideal is
not labour but leisure. Like every other national characteristic, this
is not primarily a point for praise or blame; in essence it involves
neither and in effect it involves both. It is certainly connected with
that snobbishness which is the great sin of English society. The
Englishman does love to conceive himself as a sort of country gentleman;
and his castles in the air are all castles in Scotland rather than in
Spain. For, as an ideal, a Scotch castle is as English as a Welsh
rarebit or an Irish stew. And if he talks less about money I fear it is
sometimes because in one sense he thinks more of it. Money is a mystery
in the old and literal sense of something too sacred for speech. Gold is
a god; and like the god of some agnostics has no name and is worshipped
only in his works. It is true in a sense that the English gentleman
wishes to have enough money to be able to forget it. But it may be
questioned whether he does entirely forget it. As against this weakness
the American has succeeded, at the price of a great deal of crudity and
clatter, in making general a very real respect for work. He has partly
disenchanted the dangerous glamour of the gentleman, and in that sense
has achieved some degree of democracy; which is the most difficult
achievement in the world.

On the other hand, there is a good side to the Englishman's day-dream of
leisure, and one which the American spirit tends to miss. It may be
expressed in the word 'holiday' or still better in the word 'hobby.' The
Englishman, in his character of Robin Hood, really has got two strings
to his bow. Indeed the Englishman really is well represented by Robin
Hood; for there is always something about him that may literally be
called outlawed, in the sense of being extra-legal or outside the rules.
A Frenchman said of Browning that his centre was not in the middle; and
it may be said of many an Englishman that his heart is not where his
treasure is. Browning expressed a very English sentiment when he said:--


     I like to know a butcher paints,
     A baker rhymes for his pursuit,
     Candlestick-maker much acquaints
     His soul with song, or haply mute
     Blows out his brains upon the flute.


Stevenson touched on the same insular sentiment when he said that many
men he knew, who were meat-salesmen to the outward eye, might in the
life of contemplation sit with the saints. Now the extraordinary
achievement of the American meat-salesman is that his poetic enthusiasm
can really be for meat sales; not for money but for meat. An American
commercial traveller asked me, with a religious fire in his eyes,
whether I did not think that salesmanship could be an art. In England
there are many salesmen who are sincerely fond of art; but seldom of the
art of salesmanship. Art is with them a hobby; a thing of leisure and
liberty. That is why the English traveller talks, if not of art, then of
sport. That is why the two city men in the London train, if they are not
talking about golf, may be talking about gardening. If they are not
talking about dollars, or the equivalent of dollars, the reason lies
much deeper than any superficial praise or blame touching the desire for
wealth. In the English case, at least, it lies very deep in the English
spirit. Many of the greatest English things have had this lighter and
looser character of a hobby or a holiday experiment. Even a masterpiece
has often been a by-product. The works of Shakespeare come out so
casually that they can be attributed to the most improbable people; even
to Bacon. The sonnets of Shakespeare are picked up afterwards as if out
of a wastepaper basket. The immortality of Dr. Johnson does not rest on
the written leaves he collected, but entirely on the words he wasted,
the words he scattered to the winds. So great a thing as Pickwick is
almost a kind of accident; it began as something secondary and grew into
something primary and pre-eminent. It began with mere words written to
illustrate somebody else's pictures; and swelled like an epic expanded
from an epigram. It might almost be said that in the case of Pickwick
the author began as the servant of the artist. But, as in the same story
of Pickwick, the servant became greater than the master. This
incalculable and accidental quality, like all national qualities, has
its strength and weakness; but it does represent a certain reserve fund
of interests in the Englishman's life; and distinguishes him from the
other extreme type, of the millionaire who works till he drops, or who
drops because he stops working. It is the great achievement of American
civilisation that in that country it really is not cant to talk about
the dignity of labour. There is something that might almost be called
the sanctity of labour; but it is subject to the profound law that when
anything less than the highest becomes a sanctity, it tends also to
become a superstition. When the candlestick-maker does not blow out his
brains upon the flute there is always a danger that he may blow them out
somewhere else, owing to depressed conditions in the candlestick market.

Now certainly one of the first impressions of America, or at any rate
of New York, which is by no means the same thing as America, is that of
a sort of mob of business men, behaving in many ways in a fashion very
different from that of the swarms of London city men who go up every day
to the city. They sit about in groups with Red-Indian gravity, as if
passing the pipe of peace; though, in fact, most of them are smoking
cigars and some of them are eating cigars. The latter strikes me as one
of the most peculiar of transatlantic tastes, more peculiar than that of
chewing gum. A man will sit for hours consuming a cigar as if it were a
sugar-stick; but I should imagine it to be a very disagreeable
sugar-stick. Why he attempts to enjoy a cigar without lighting it I do
not know; whether it is a more economical way of carrying a mere symbol
of commercial conversation; or whether something of the same queer
outlandish morality that draws such a distinction between beer and
ginger beer draws an equally ethical distinction between touching
tobacco and lighting it. For the rest, it would be easy to make a merely
external sketch full of things equally strange; for this can always be
done in a strange country. I allow for the fact of all foreigners
looking alike; but I fancy that all those hard-featured faces, with
spectacles and shaven jaws, do look rather alike, because they all like
to make their faces hard. And with the mention of their mental attitude
we realise the futility of any such external sketch. Unless we can see
that these are something more than men smoking cigars and talking about
dollars we had much better not see them at all.

It is customary to condemn the American as a materialist because of his
worship of success. But indeed this very worship, like any worship,
even devil-worship, proves him rather a mystic than a materialist. The
Frenchman who retires from business when he has money enough to drink
his wine and eat his omelette in peace might much more plausibly be
called a materialist by those who do not prefer to call him a man of
sense. But Americans do worship success in the abstract, as a sort of
ideal vision. They follow success rather than money; they follow money
rather than meat and drink. If their national life in one sense is a
perpetual game of poker, they are playing excitedly for chips or
counters as well as for coins. And by the ultimate test of material
enjoyment, like the enjoyment of an omelette, even a coin is itself a
counter. The Yankee cannot eat chips as the Frenchman can eat chipped
potatoes; but neither can he swallow red cents as the Frenchman swallows
red wine. Thus when people say of a Yankee that he worships the dollar,
they pay a compliment to his fine spirituality more true and delicate
than they imagine. The dollar is an idol because it is an image; but it
is an image of success and not of enjoyment.

That this romance is also a religion is shown in the fact that there is
a queer sort of morality attached to it. The nearest parallel to it is
something like the sense of honour in the old duelling days. There is
not a material but a distinctly moral savour about the implied
obligation to collect dollars or to collect chips. We hear too much in
England of the phrase about 'making good'; for no sensible Englishman
favours the needless interlarding of English with scraps of foreign
languages. But though it means nothing in English, it means something
very particular in American. There is a fine shade of distinction
between succeeding and making good, precisely because there must always
be a sort of ethical echo in the word good. America does vaguely feel a
man making good as something analogous to a man being good or a man
doing good. It is connected with his serious self-respect and his sense
of being worthy of those he loves. Nor is this curious crude idealism
wholly insincere even when it drives him to what some of us would call
stealing; any more than the duellist's honour was insincere when it
drove him to what some would call murder. A very clever American play
which I once saw acted contained a complete working model of this
morality. A girl was loyal to, but distressed by, her engagement to a
young man on whom there was a sort of cloud of humiliation. The
atmosphere was exactly what it would have been in England if he had been
accused of cowardice or card-sharping. And there was nothing whatever
the matter with the poor young man except that some rotten mine or other
in Arizona had not 'made good.' Now in England we should either be below
or above that ideal of good. If we were snobs, we should be content to
know that he was a gentleman of good connections, perhaps too much
accustomed to private means to be expected to be businesslike. If we
were somewhat larger-minded people, we should know that he might be as
wise as Socrates and as splendid as Bayard and yet be unfitted, perhaps
one should say therefore be unfitted, for the dismal and dirty gambling
of modern commerce. But whether we were snobbish enough to admire him
for being an idler, or chivalrous enough to admire him for being an
outlaw, in neither case should we ever really and in our hearts despise
him for being a failure. For it is this inner verdict of instinctive
idealism that is the point at issue. Of course there is nothing new, or
peculiar to the new world, about a man's engagement practically failing
through his financial failure. An English girl might easily drop a man
because he was poor, or she might stick to him faithfully and defiantly
although he was poor. The point is that this girl was faithful but she
was not defiant; that is, she was not proud. The whole psychology of the
situation was that she shared the weird worldly idealism of her family,
and it was wounded as her patriotism would have been wounded if he had
betrayed his country. To do them justice, there was nothing to show that
they would have had any real respect for a royal duke who had inherited
millions; what the simple barbarians wanted was a man who could 'make
good.' That the process of making good would probably drag him through
the mire of everything bad, that he would make good by bluffing, lying,
swindling, and grinding the faces of the poor, did not seem to trouble
them in the least. Against this fanaticism there is this shadow of truth
even in the fiction of aristocracy; that a gentleman may at least be
allowed to be good without being bothered to make it.

Another objection to the phrase about the almighty dollar is that it is
an almighty phrase, and therefore an almighty nuisance. I mean that it
is made to explain everything, and to explain everything much too well;
that is, much too easily. It does not really help people to understand a
foreign country; but it gives them the fatal illusion that they do
understand it. Dollars stood for America as frogs stood for France;
because it was necessary to connect particular foreigners with
something, or it would be so easy to confuse a Moor with a Montenegrin
or a Russian with a Red Indian. The only cure for this sort of satisfied
familiarity is the shock of something really unfamiliar. When people can
see nothing at all in American democracy except a Yankee running after a
dollar, then the only thing to do is to trip them up as they run after
the Yankee, or run away with their notion of the Yankee, by the obstacle
of certain odd and obstinate facts that have no relation to that notion.
And, as a matter of fact, there are a number of such obstacles to any
such generalisation; a number of notable facts that have to be
reconciled somehow to our previous notions. It does not matter for this
purpose whether the facts are favourable or unfavourable, or whether the
qualities are merits or defects; especially as we do not even understand
them sufficiently to say which they are. The point is that we are
brought to a pause, and compelled to attempt to understand them rather
better than we do. We have found the one thing that we did not expect;
and therefore the one thing that we cannot explain. And we are moved to
an effort, probably an unsuccessful effort, to explain it.

For instance, Americans are very unpunctual. That is the last thing that
a critic expects who comes to condemn them for hustling and haggling and
vulgar ambition. But it is almost the first fact that strikes the
spectator on the spot. The chief difference between the humdrum English
business man and the hustling American business man is that the hustling
American business man is always late. Of course there is a great deal of
difference between coming late and coming too late. But I noticed the
fashion first in connection with my own lectures; touching which I
could heartily recommend the habit of coming too late. I could easily
understand a crowd of commercial Americans not coming to my lectures at
all; but there was something odd about their coming in a crowd, and the
crowd being expected to turn up some time after the appointed hour. The
managers of these lectures (I continue to call them lectures out of
courtesy to myself) often explained to me that it was quite useless to
begin properly until about half an hour after time. Often people were
still coming in three-quarters of an hour or even an hour after time.
Not that I objected to that, as some lecturers are said to do; it seemed
to me an agreeable break in the monotony; but as a characteristic of a
people mostly engaged in practical business, it struck me as curious and
interesting. I have grown accustomed to being the most unbusinesslike
person in any given company; and it gave me a sort of dizzy exaltation
to find I was not the most unpunctual person in that company. I was
afterwards told by many Americans that my impression was quite correct;
that American unpunctuality was really very prevalent, and extended to
much more important things. But at least I was not content to lump this
along with all sorts of contrary things that I did not happen to like,
and call it America. I am not sure of what it really means, but I rather
fancy that though it may seem the very reverse of the hustling, it has
the same origin as the hustling. The American is not punctual because he
is not punctilious. He is impulsive, and has an impulse to stay as well
as an impulse to go. For, after all, punctuality belongs to the same
order of ideas as punctuation; and there is no punctuation in
telegrams. The order of clocks and set hours which English business has
always observed is a good thing in its own way; indeed I think that in a
larger sense it is better than the other way. But it is better because
it is a protection against hustling, not a promotion of it. In other
words, it is better because it is more civilised; as a great Venetian
merchant prince clad in cloth of gold was more civilised; or an old
English merchant drinking port in an oak-panelled room was more
civilised; or a little French shopkeeper shutting up his shop to play
dominoes is more civilised. And the reason is that the American has the
romance of business and is monomaniac, while the Frenchman has the
romance of life and is sane. But the romance of business really is a
romance, and the Americans are really romantic about it. And that
romance, though it revolves round pork or petrol, is really like a
love-affair in this; that it involves not only rushing but also
lingering.

The American is too busy to have business habits. He is also too much in
earnest to have business rules. If we wish to understand him, we must
compare him not with the French shopkeeper when he plays dominoes, but
with the same French shopkeeper when he works the guns or mans the
trenches as a conscript soldier. Everybody used to the punctilious
Prussian standard of uniform and parade has noticed the roughness and
apparent laxity of the French soldier, the looseness of his clothes, the
unsightliness of his heavy knapsack, in short his inferiority in every
detail of the business of war except fighting. There he is much too
swift to be smart. He is much too practical to be precise. By a strange
illusion which can lift pork-packing almost to the level of patriotism,
the American has the same free rhythm in his romance of business. He
varies his conduct not to suit the clock but to suit the case. He gives
more time to more important and less time to less important things; and
he makes up his time-table as he goes along. Suppose he has three
appointments; the first, let us say, is some mere trifle of erecting a
tower twenty storeys high and exhibiting a sky-sign on the top of it;
the second is a business discussion about the possibility of printing
advertisements of soft drinks on the table-napkins at a restaurant; the
third is attending a conference to decide how the populace can be
prevented from using chewing-gum and the manufacturers can still manage
to sell it. He will be content merely to glance at the sky-sign as he
goes by in a trolley-car or an automobile; he will then settle down to
the discussion with his partner about the table-napkins, each speaker
indulging in long monologues in turn; a peculiarity of much American
conversation. Now if in the middle of one of these monologues, he
suddenly thinks that the vacant space of the waiter's shirt-front might
also be utilised to advertise the Gee Whiz Ginger Champagne, he will
instantly follow up the new idea in all its aspects and possibilities,
in an even longer monologue; and will never think of looking at his
watch while he is rapturously looking at his waiter. The consequence is
that he will come late into the great social movement against
chewing-gum, where an Englishman would probably have arrived at the
proper hour. But though the Englishman's conduct is more proper, it need
not be in all respects more practical. The Englishman's rules are better
for the business of life, but not necessarily for the life of business.
And it is true that for many of these Americans business is the
business of life. It is really also, as I have said, the romance of
life. We shall admire or deplore this spirit, accordingly as we are glad
to see trade irradiated with so much poetry, or sorry to see so much
poetry wasted on trade. But it does make many people happy, like any
other hobby; and one is disposed to add that it does fill their
imaginations like any other delusion. For the true criticism of all this
commercial romance would involve a criticism of this historic phase of
commerce. These people are building on the sand, though it shines like
gold, and for them like fairy gold; but the world will remember the
legend about fairy gold. Half the financial operations they follow deal
with things that do not even exist; for in that sense all finance is a
fairy tale. Many of them are buying and selling things that do nothing
but harm; but it does them good to buy and sell them. The claim of the
romantic salesman is better justified than he realises. Business really
is romance; for it is not reality.

There is one real advantage that America has over England, largely due
to its livelier and more impressionable ideal. America does not think
that stupidity is practical. It does not think that ideas are merely
destructive things. It does not think that a genius is only a person to
be told to go away and blow his brains out; rather it would open all its
machinery to the genius and beg him to blow his brains in. It might
attempt to use a natural force like Blake or Shelley for very ignoble
purposes; it would be quite capable of asking Blake to take his tiger
and his golden lions round as a sort of Barnum's Show, or Shelley to
hang his stars and haloed clouds among the lights of Broadway. But it
would not assume that a natural force is useless, any more than that
Niagara is useless. And there is a very definite distinction here
touching the intelligence of the trader, whatever we may think of either
course touching the intelligence of the artist. It is one thing that
Apollo should be employed by Admetus, although he is a god. It is quite
another thing that Apollo should always be sacked by Admetus, because he
is a god. Now in England, largely owing to the accident of a rivalry and
therefore a comparison with France, there arose about the end of the
eighteenth century an extraordinary notion that there was some sort of
connection between dullness and success. What the Americans call a
bonehead became what the English call a hard-headed man. The merchants
of London evinced their contempt for the fantastic logicians of Paris by
living in a permanent state of terror lest somebody should set the
Thames on fire. In this as in much else it is much easier to understand
the Americans if we connect them with the French who were their allies
than with the English who were their enemies. There are a great many
Franco-American resemblances which the practical Anglo-Saxons are of
course too hard-headed (or boneheaded) to see. American history is
haunted with the shadow of the Plebiscitary President; they have a
tradition of classical architecture for public buildings. Their cities
are planned upon the squares of Paris and not upon the labyrinth of
London. They call their cities Corinth and Syracuse, as the French
called their citizens Epaminondas and Timoleon. Their soldiers wore the
French kepi; and they make coffee admirably, and do not make tea at all.
But of all the French elements in America the most French is this real
practicality. They know that at certain times the most businesslike of
all qualities is 'l'audace, et encore de l'audace, et toujours de
l'audace.' The publisher may induce the poet to do a pot-boiler; but the
publisher would cheerfully allow the poet to set the Mississippi on
fire, if it would boil his particular pot. It is not so much that
Englishmen are stupid as that they are afraid of being clever; and it is
not so much that Americans are clever as that they do not try to be any
stupider than they are. The fire of French logic has burnt that out of
America as it has burnt it out of Europe, and of almost every place
except England. This is one of the few points on which English
insularity really is a disadvantage. It is the fatal notion that the
only sort of commonsense is to be found in compromise, and that the only
sort of compromise is to be found in confusion. This must be clearly
distinguished from the commonplace about the utilitarian world not
rising to the invisible values of genius. Under this philosophy the
utilitarian does not see the utility of genius, even when it is quite
visible. He does not see it, not because he is a utilitarian, but
because he is an idealist whose ideal is dullness. For some time the
English aspired to be stupid, prayed and hoped with soaring spiritual
ambition to be stupid. But with all their worship of success, they did
not succeed in being stupid. The natural talents of a great and
traditional nation were always breaking out in spite of them. In spite
of the merchants of London, Turner did set the Thames on fire. In spite
of our repeatedly explained preference for realism to romance, Europe
persisted in resounding with the name of Byron. And just when we had
made it perfectly clear to the French that we despised all their
flamboyant tricks, that we were a plain prosaic people and there was no
fantastic glory or chivalry about us, the very shaft we sent against
them shone with the name of Nelson, a shooting and a falling star.



_Presidents and Problems_


All good Americans wish to fight the representatives they have chosen.
All good Englishmen wish to forget the representatives they have chosen.
This difference, deep and perhaps ineradicable in the temperaments of
the two peoples, explains a thousand things in their literature and
their laws. The American national poet praised his people for their
readiness 'to _rise_ against the never-ending audacity of elected
persons.' The English national anthem is content to say heartily, but
almost hastily, 'Confound their politics,' and then more cheerfully, as
if changing the subject, 'God Save the King.' For this is especially the
secret of the monarch or chief magistrate in the two countries. They arm
the President with the powers of a King, that he may be a nuisance in
politics. We deprive the King even of the powers of a President, lest he
should remind us of a politician. We desire to forget the never-ending
audacity of elected persons; and with us therefore it really never does
end. That is the practical objection to our own habit of changing the
subject, instead of changing the ministry. The King, as the Irish wit
observed, is not a subject; but in that sense the English crowned head
is not a King. He is a popular figure intended to remind us of the
England that politicians do not remember; the England of horses and
ships and gardens and good fellowship. The Americans have no such
purely social symbol; and it is rather the root than the result of this
that their social luxury, and especially their sport, are a little
lacking in humanity and humour. It is the American, much more than the
Englishman, who takes his pleasures sadly, not to say savagely.

The genuine popularity of constitutional monarchs, in parliamentary
countries, can be explained by any practical example. Let us suppose
that great social reform, The Compulsory Haircutting Act, has just begun
to be enforced. The Compulsory Haircutting Act, as every good citizen
knows, is a statute which permits any person to grow his hair to any
length, in any wild or wonderful shape, so long as he is registered with
a hairdresser who charges a shilling. But it imposes a universal
close-shave (like that which is found so hygienic during a curative
detention at Dartmoor) on all who are registered only with a barber who
charges threepence. Thus, while the ornamental classes can continue to
ornament the street with Piccadilly weepers or chin-beards if they
choose, the working classes demonstrate the care with which the State
protects them by going about in a fresher, cooler, and cleaner
condition; a condition which has the further advantage of revealing at a
glance that outline of the criminal skull, which is so common among
them. The Compulsory Haircutting Act is thus in every way a compact and
convenient example of all our current laws about education, sport,
liquor and liberty in general. Well, the law has passed and the masses,
insensible to its scientific value, are still murmuring against it. The
ignorant peasant maiden is averse to so extreme a fashion of bobbing her
hair; and does not see how she can even be a flapper with nothing to
flap. Her father, his mind already poisoned by Bolshevists, begins to
wonder who the devil does these things, and why. In proportion as he
knows the world of to-day, he guesses that the real origin may be quite
obscure, or the real motive quite corrupt. The pressure may have come
from anybody who has gained power or money anyhow. It may come from the
foreign millionaire who owns all the expensive hairdressing saloons; it
may come from some swindler in the cutlery trade who has contracted to
sell a million bad razors. Hence the poor man looks about him with
suspicion in the street; knowing that the lowest sneak or the loudest
snob he sees may be directing the government of his country. Anybody may
have to do with politics; and this sort of thing is politics. Suddenly
he catches sight of a crowd, stops, and begins wildly to cheer a
carriage that is passing. The carriage contains the one person who has
certainly not originated any great scientific reform. He is the only
person in the commonwealth who is not allowed to cut off other people's
hair, or to take away other people's liberties. He at least is kept out
of politics; and men hold him up as they did an unspotted victim to
appease the wrath of the gods. He is their King, and the only man they
know is not their ruler. We need not be surprised that he is popular,
knowing how they are ruled.

The popularity of a President in America is exactly the opposite. The
American Republic is the last mediaeval monarchy. It is intended that
the President shall rule, and take all the risks of ruling. If the hair
is cut he is the haircutter, the magistrate that bears not the razor in
vain. All the popular Presidents, Jackson and Lincoln and Roosevelt,
have acted as democratic despots, but emphatically not as
constitutional monarchs. In short, the names have become curiously
interchanged; and as a historical reality it is the President who ought
to be called a King.

But it is not only true that the President could correctly be called a
King. It is also true that the King might correctly be called a
President. We could hardly find a more exact description of him than to
call him a President. What is expected in modern times of a modern
constitutional monarch is emphatically that he should preside. We expect
him to take the throne exactly as if he were taking the chair. The
chairman does not move the motion or resolution, far less vote it; he is
not supposed even to favour it. He is expected to please everybody by
favouring nobody. The primary essentials of a President or Chairman are
that he should be treated with ceremonial respect, that he should be
popular in his personality and yet impersonal in his opinions, and that
he should actually be a link between all the other persons by being
different from all of them. This is exactly what is demanded of the
constitutional monarch in modern times. It is exactly the opposite to
the American position; in which the President does not preside at all.
He moves; and the thing he moves may truly be called a motion; for the
national idea is perpetual motion. Technically it is called a message;
and might often actually be called a menace. Thus we may truly say that
the King presides and the President reigns. Some would prefer to say
that the President rules; and some Senators and members of Congress
would prefer to say that he rebels. But there is no doubt that he moves;
he does not take the chair or even the stool, but rather the stump.

Some people seem to suppose that the fall of President Wilson was a
denial of this almost despotic ideal in America. As a matter of fact it
was the strongest possible assertion of it. The idea is that the
President shall take responsibility and risk; and responsibility means
being blamed, and risk means the risk of being blamed. The theory is
that things are done by the President; and if things go wrong, or are
alleged to go wrong, it is the fault of the President. This does not
invalidate, but rather ratifies the comparison with true monarchs such
as the mediaeval monarchs. Constitutional princes are seldom deposed;
but despots were often deposed. In the simpler races of sunnier lands,
such as Turkey, they were commonly assassinated. Even in our own history
a King often received the same respectful tribute to the responsibility
and reality of his office. But King John was attacked because he was
strong, not because he was weak. Richard the Second lost the crown
because the crown was a trophy, not because it was a trifle. And
President Wilson was deposed because he had used a power which is such,
in its nature, that a man must use it at the risk of deposition. As a
matter of fact, of course, it is easy to exaggerate Mr. Wilson's real
unpopularity, and still more easy to exaggerate Mr. Wilson's real
failure. There are a great many people in America who justify and
applaud him; and what is yet more interesting, who justify him not on
pacifist and idealistic, but on patriotic and even military grounds. It
is especially insisted by some that his demonstration, which seemed
futile as a threat against Mexico, was a very far-sighted preparation
for the threat against Prussia. But in so far as the democracy did
disagree with him, it was but the occasional and inevitable result of
the theory by which the despot has to anticipate the democracy.

Thus the American King and the English President are the very opposite
of each other; yet they are both the varied and very national
indications of the same contemporary truth. It is the great weariness
and contempt that have fallen upon common politics in both countries. It
may be answered, with some show of truth, that the new American
President represents a return to common politics; and that in that sense
he marks a real rebuke to the last President and his more uncommon
politics. And it is true that many who put Mr. Harding in power regard
him as the symbol of something which they call normalcy; which may
roughly be translated into English by the word normality. And by this
they do mean, more or less, the return to the vague capitalist
conservatism of the nineteenth century. They might call Mr. Harding a
Victorian if they had ever lived under Victoria. Perhaps these people do
entertain the extraordinary notion that the nineteenth century was
normal. But there are very few who think so, and even they will not
think so long. The blunder is the beginning of nearly all our present
troubles. The nineteenth century was the very reverse of normal. It
suffered a most unnatural strain in the combination of political
equality in theory with extreme economic inequality in practice.
Capitalism was not a normalcy but an abnormalcy. Property is normal, and
is more normal in proportion as it is universal. Slavery may be normal
and even natural, in the sense that a bad habit may be second nature.
But Capitalism was never anything so human as a habit; we may say it was
never anything so good as a bad habit. It was never a custom; for men
never grew accustomed to it. It was never even conservative; for before
it was even created wise men had realised that it could not be
conserved. It was from the first a problem; and those who will not even
admit the Capitalist problem deserve to get the Bolshevist solution. All
things considered, I cannot say anything worse of them than that.

The recent Presidential election preserved some trace of the old Party
System of America; but its tradition has very nearly faded like that of
the Party System of England. It is easy for an Englishman to confess
that he never quite understood the American Party System. It would
perhaps be more courageous in him, and more informing, to confess that
he never really understood the British Party System. The planks in the
two American platforms may easily be exhibited as very disconnected and
ramshackle; but our own party was as much of a patchwork, and indeed I
think even more so. Everybody knows that the two American factions were
called 'Democrat' and 'Republican.' It does not at all cover the case to
identify the former with Liberals and the latter with Conservatives. The
Democrats are the party of the South and have some true tradition from
the Southern aristocracy and the defence of Secession and State Rights.
The Republicans rose in the North as the party of Lincoln, largely
condemning slavery. But the Republicans are also the party of Tariffs,
and are at least accused of being the party of Trusts. The Democrats are
the party of Free Trade; and in the great movement of twenty years ago
the party of Free Silver. The Democrats are also the party of the Irish;
and the stones they throw at Trusts are retorted by stones thrown at
Tammany. It is easy to see all these things as curiously sporadic and
bewildering; but I am inclined to think that they are as a whole more
coherent and rational than our own old division of Liberals and
Conservatives. There is even more doubt nowadays about what is the
connecting link between the different items in the old British party
programmes. I have never been able to understand why being in favour of
Protection should have anything to do with being opposed to Home Rule;
especially as most of the people who were to receive Home Rule were
themselves in favour of Protection. I could never see what giving people
cheap bread had to do with forbidding them cheap beer; or why the party
which sympathises with Ireland cannot sympathise with Poland. I cannot
see why Liberals did not liberate public-houses or Conservatives
conserve crofters. I do not understand the principle upon which the
causes were selected on both sides; and I incline to think that it was
with the impartial object of distributing nonsense equally on both
sides. Heaven knows there is enough nonsense in American politics too;
towering and tropical nonsense like a cyclone or an earthquake. But when
all is said, I incline to think that there was more spiritual and
atmospheric cohesion in the different parts of the American party than
in those of the English party; and I think this unity was all the more
real because it was more difficult to define. The Republican party
originally stood for the triumph of the North, and the North stood for
the nineteenth century; that is for the characteristic commercial
expansion of the nineteenth century; for a firm faith in the profit and
progress of its great and growing cities, its division of labour, its
industrial science, and its evolutionary reform. The Democratic party
stood more loosely for all the elements that doubted whether this
development was democratic or was desirable; all that looked back to
Jeffersonian idealism and the serene abstractions of the eighteenth
century, or forward to Bryanite idealism and some simplified Utopia
founded on grain rather than gold. Along with this went, not at all
unnaturally, the last and lingering sentiment of the Southern squires,
who remembered a more rural civilisation that seemed by comparison
romantic. Along with this went, quite logically, the passions and the
pathos of the Irish, themselves a rural civilisation, whose basis is a
religion or what the nineteenth century tended to call a superstition.
Above all, it was perfectly natural that this tone of thought should
favour local liberties, and even a revolt on behalf of local liberties,
and should distrust the huge machine of centralised power called the
Union. In short, something very near the truth was said by a suicidally
silly Republican orator, who was running Blaine for the Presidency, when
he denounced the Democratic party as supported by 'Rome, rum, and
rebellion.' They seem to me to be three excellent things in their place;
and that is why I suspect that I should have belonged to the Democratic
party, if I had been born in America when there was a Democratic party.
But I fancy that by this time even this general distinction has become
very dim. If I had been an American twenty years ago, in the time of the
great Free Silver campaign, I should certainly never have hesitated for
an instant about my sympathies or my side. My feelings would have been
exactly those that are nobly expressed by Mr. Vachell Lindsay, in a poem
bearing the characteristic title of 'Bryan, Bryan, Bryan, Bryan.' And,
by the way, nobody can begin to sympathise with America whose soul does
not to some extent begin to swing and dance to the drums and gongs of
Mr. Vachell Lindsay's great orchestra; which has the note of his whole
nation in this: that a refined person can revile it a hundred times over
as violent and brazen and barbarous and absurd, but not as insincere;
there is something in it, and that something is the soul of many million
men. But the poet himself, in the political poem referred to, speaks of
Bryan's fall over Free Silver as 'defeat of my boyhood, defeat of my
dream'; and it is only too probable that the cause has fallen as well as
the candidate. The William Jennings Bryan of later years is not the man
whom I should have seen in my youth, with the visionary eyes of Mr.
Vachell Lindsay. He has become a commonplace Pacifist, which is in its
nature the very opposite of a revolutionist; for if men will fight
rather than sacrifice humanity on a golden cross, it cannot be wrong for
them to resist its being sacrificed to an iron cross. I came into very
indirect contact with Mr. Bryan when I was in America, in a fashion that
made me realise how hard it has become to recover the illusions of a
Bryanite. I believe that my lecture agent was anxious to arrange a
debate, and I threw out a sort of loose challenge to the effect that
woman's suffrage had weakened the position of woman; and while I was
away in the wilds of Oklahoma my lecture agent (a man of blood-curdling
courage and enterprise) asked Mr. Bryan to debate with me. Now Mr. Bryan
is one of the greatest orators of modern history, and there is no
conceivable reason why he should trouble to debate with a wandering
lecturer. But as a matter of fact he expressed himself in the most
magnanimous and courteous terms about my personal position, but said (as
I understood) that it would be improper to debate on female suffrage as
it was already a part of the political system. And when I heard that, I
could not help a sigh; for I recognised something that I knew only too
well on the front benches of my own beloved land. The great and glorious
demagogue had degenerated into a statesman. I had never expected for a
moment that the great orator could be bothered to debate with me at all;
but it had never occurred to me, as a general moral principle, that two
educated men were for ever forbidden to talk sense about a particular
topic, because a lot of other people had already voted on it. What is
the matter with that attitude is the loss of the freedom of the mind.
There can be no liberty of thought unless it is ready to unsettle what
has recently been settled, as well as what has long been settled. We are
perpetually being told in the papers that what is wanted is a strong man
who will do things. What is wanted is a strong man who will undo things;
and that will be a real test of strength.

Anyhow, we could have believed, in the time of the Free Silver fight,
that the Democratic party was democratic with a small d. In Mr. Wilson
it was transfigured, his friends would say into a higher and his foes
into a hazier thing. And the Republican reaction against him, even where
it has been healthy, has also been hazy. In fact, it has been not so
much the victory of a political party as a relapse into repose after
certain political passions; and in that sense there is a truth in the
strange phrase about normalcy; in the sense that there is nothing more
normal than going to sleep. But an even larger truth is this; it is most
likely that America is no longer concentrated on these faction fights at
all, but is considering certain large problems upon which those factions
hardly troubled to take sides. They are too large even to be classified
as foreign policy distinct from domestic policy. They are so large as to
be inside as well as outside the state. From an English standpoint the
most obvious example is the Irish; for the Irish problem is not a
British problem, but also an American problem. And this is true even of
the great external enigma of Japan. The Japanese question may be a part
of foreign policy for America, but it is a part of domestic policy for
California. And the same is true of that other intense and intelligent
Eastern people, the genius and limitations of which have troubled the
world so much longer. What the Japs are in California, the Jews are in
America. That is, they are a piece of foreign policy that has become
imbedded in domestic policy; something which is found inside but still
has to be regarded from the outside. On these great international
matters I doubt if Americans got much guidance from their party system;
especially as most of these questions have grown very recently and
rapidly to enormous size. Men are left free to judge of them with fresh
minds. And that is the truth in the statement that the Washington
Conference has opened the gates of a new world.

On the relations to England and Ireland I will not attempt to dwell
adequately here. I have already noted that my first interview was with
an Irishman, and my first impression from that interview a vivid sense
of the importance of Ireland in Anglo-American relations; and I have
said something of the Irish problem, prematurely and out of its proper
order, under the stress of that sense of urgency. Here I will only add
two remarks about the two countries respectively. A great many British
journalists have recently imagined that they were pouring oil upon the
troubled waters, when they were rather pouring out oil to smooth the
downward path; and to turn the broad road to destruction into a
butter-slide. They seem to have no notion of what to do, except to say
what they imagine the very stupidest of their readers would be pleased
to hear, and conceal whatever the most intelligent of their readers
would probably like to know. They therefore informed the public that
'the majority of Americans' had abandoned all sympathy with Ireland,
because of its alleged sympathy with Germany; and that this majority of
Americans was now ardently in sympathy with its English brothers across
the sea. Now to begin with, such critics have no notion of what they are
saying when they talk about the majority of Americans. To anybody who
has happened to look in, let us say, on the city of Omaha, Nebraska, the
remark will have something enormous and overwhelming about it. It is
like saying that the majority of the inhabitants of China would agree
with the Chinese Ambassador in a preference for dining at the Savoy
rather than the Ritz. There are millions and millions of people living
in those great central plains of the North American Continent of whom
it would be nearer the truth to say that they have never heard of
England, or of Ireland either, than to say that their first emotional
movement is a desire to come to the rescue of either of them. It is
perfectly true that the more monomaniac sort of Sinn Feiner might
sometimes irritate this innocent and isolated American spirit by being
pro-Irish. It is equally true that a traditional Bostonian or Virginian
might irritate it by being pro-English. The only difference is that
large numbers of pure Irishmen are scattered in those far places, and
large numbers of pure Englishmen are not. But it is truest of all to say
that neither England nor Ireland so much as crosses the mind of most of
them once in six months. Painting up large notices of 'Watch Us Grow,'
making money by farming with machinery, together with an occasional
hold-up with six-shooters and photographs of a beautiful murderess or
divorcée, fill up the round of their good and happy lives, and fleet the
time carelessly as in the golden age.

But putting aside all this vast and distant democracy, which is the real
'majority of Americans,' and confining ourselves to that older culture
on the eastern coast which the critics probably had in mind, we shall
find the case more comforting but not to be covered with cheap and false
comfort. Now it is perfectly true that any Englishman coming to this
eastern coast, as I did, finds himself not only most warmly welcomed as
a guest, but most cordially complimented as an Englishman. Men recall
with pride the branches of their family that belong to England or the
English counties where they were rooted; and there are enthusiasms for
English literature and history which are as spontaneous as patriotism
itself. Something of this may be put down to a certain promptitude and
flexibility in all American kindness, which is never sufficiently stodgy
to be called good nature. The Englishman does sometimes wonder whether
if he had been a Russian, his hosts would not have remembered remote
Russian aunts and uncles and disinterred a Muscovite great-grandmother;
or whether if he had come from Iceland, they would not have known as
much about Icelandic sagas and been as sympathetic about the absence of
Icelandic snakes. But with a fair review of the proportions of the case
he will dismiss this conjecture, and come to the conclusion that a
number of educated Americans are very warmly and sincerely sympathetic
with England.

What I began to feel, with a certain creeping chill, was that they were
only too sympathetic with England. The word sympathetic has sometimes
rather a double sense. The impression I received was that all these
chivalrous Southerners and men mellow with Bostonian memories were
_rallying_ to England. They were on the defensive; and it was poor old
England that they were defending. Their attitude implied that somebody
or something was leaving her undefended, or finding her indefensible.
The burden of that hearty chorus was that England was not so black as
she was painted; it seemed clear that somewhere or other she was being
painted pretty black. But there was something else that made me
uncomfortable; it was not only the sense of being somewhat boisterously
forgiven; it was also something involving questions of power as well as
morality. Then it seemed to me that a new sensation turned me hot and
cold; and I felt something I have never before felt in a foreign land.
Never had my father or my grandfather known that sensation; never during
the great and complex and perhaps perilous expansion of our power and
commerce in the last hundred years had an Englishman heard exactly that
note in a human voice. England was being _pitied_. I, as an Englishman,
was not only being pardoned but pitied. My country was beginning to be
an object of compassion, like Poland or Spain. My first emotion, full of
the mood and movement of a hundred years, was one of furious anger. But
the anger has given place to anxiety; and the anxiety is not yet at an
end.

It is not my business here to expound my view of English politics, still
less of European politics or the politics of the world; but to put down
a few impressions of American travel. On many points of European
politics the impression will be purely negative; I am sure that most
Americans have no notion of the position of France or the position of
Poland. But if English readers want the truth, I am sure this is the
truth about their notion of the position of England. They are wondering,
or those who are watching are wondering, whether the term of her success
is come and she is going down the dark road after Prussia. Many are
sorry if this is so; some are glad if it is so; but all are seriously
considering the probability of its being so. And herein lay especially
the horrible folly of our Black-and-Tan terrorism over the Irish people.
I have noted that the newspapers told us that America had been chilled
in its Irish sympathies by Irish detachment during the war. It is the
painful truth that any advantage we might have had from this we
ourselves immediately proceeded to destroy. Ireland _might_ have put
herself wrong with America by her attitude about Belgium, if England had
not instantly proceeded to put herself more wrong by her attitude
towards Ireland. It is quite true that two blacks do not make a white;
but you cannot send a black to reproach people with tolerating
blackness; and this is quite as true when one is a Black Brunswicker and
the other a Black-and-Tan. It is true that since then England has made
surprisingly sweeping concessions; concessions so large as to increase
the amazement that the refusal should have been so long. But
unfortunately the combination of the two rather clinches the conception
of our decline. If the concession had come before the terror, it would
have looked like an attempt to emancipate, and would probably have
succeeded. Coming so abruptly after the terror, it looked only like an
attempt to tyrannise, and an attempt that failed. It was partly an
inheritance from a stupid tradition, which tried to combine what it
called firmness with what it called conciliation; as if when we made up
our minds to soothe a man with a five-pound note, we always took care to
undo our own action by giving him a kick as well. The English politician
has often done that; though there is nothing to be said of such a fool,
except that he has wasted a fiver. But in this case he gave the kick
first, received a kicking in return, and _then_ gave up the money; and
it was hard for the bystanders to say anything except that he had been
badly beaten. The combination and sequence of events seems almost as if
it were arranged to suggest the dark and ominous parallel. The first
action looked only too like the invasion of Belgium, and the second like
the evacuation of Belgium. So that vast and silent crowd in the West
looked at the British Empire, as men look at a great tower that has
begun to lean. Thus it was that while I found real pleasure, I could not
find unrelieved consolation in the sincere compliments paid to my
country by so many cultivated Americans; their memories of homely
corners of historic counties from which their fathers came, of the
cathedral that dwarfs the town, or the inn at the turning of the road.
There was something in their voices and the look in their eyes which
from the first disturbed me. So I have heard good Englishmen, who died
afterwards the death of soldiers, cry aloud in 1914, 'It seems
impossible, of those jolly Bavarians!' or, 'I will never believe it,
when I think of the time I had at Heidelberg!'

But there are other things besides the parallel of Prussia or the
problem of Ireland. The American press is much freer than our own; the
American public is much more familiar with the discussion of corruption
than our own; and it is much more conscious of the corruption of our
politics than we are. Almost any man in America may speak of the Marconi
Case; many a man in England does not even know what it means. Many
imagine that it had something to do with the propriety of politicians
speculating on the Stock Exchange. So that it means a great deal to
Americans to say that one figure in that drama is ruling India and
another is ruling Palestine. And this brings me to another problem,
which is also dealt with much more openly in America than in England. I
mention it here only because it is a perfect model of the
misunderstandings in the modern world. If any one asks for an example
of exactly how the important part of every story is left out, and even
the part that is reported is not understood, he could hardly have a
stronger case than the story of Henry Ford of Detroit.

When I was in Detroit I had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Ford, and it
really was a pleasure. He is a man quite capable of views which I think
silly to the point of insanity; but he is not the vulgar benevolent
boss. It must be admitted that he is a millionaire; but he cannot really
be convicted of being a philanthropist. He is not a man who merely wants
to run people; it is rather his views that run him, and perhaps run away
with him. He has a distinguished and sensitive face; he really invented
things himself, unlike most men who profit by inventions; he is
something of an artist and not a little of a fighter. A man of that type
is always capable of being wildly wrong, especially in the sectarian
atmosphere of America; and Mr. Ford has been wrong before and may be
wrong now. He is chiefly known in England for a project which I think
very preposterous; that of the Peace Ship, which came to Europe during
the war. But he is not known in England at all in connection with a much
more important campaign, which he has conducted much more recently and
with much more success; a campaign against the Jews like one of the
Anti-Semitic campaigns of the Continent. Now any one who knows anything
of America knows exactly what the Peace Ship would be like. It was a
national combination of imagination and ignorance, which has at least
some of the beauty of innocence. Men living in those huge, hedgeless
inland plains know nothing about frontiers or the tragedy of a fight for
freedom; they know nothing of alarum and armaments or the peril of a
high civilisation poised like a precious statue within reach of a mailed
fist. They are accustomed to a cosmopolitan citizenship, in which men of
all bloods mingle and in which men of all creeds are counted equal.
Their highest moral boast is humanitarianism; their highest mental boast
is enlightenment. In a word, they are the very last men in the world who
would seem likely to pride themselves on a prejudice against the Jews.
They have no religion in particular, except a sincere sentiment which
they would call 'true Christianity,' and which specially forbids an
attack on the Jews. They have a patriotism which prides itself on
assimilating all types, including the Jews. Mr. Ford is a pure product
of this pacific world, as was sufficiently proved by his pacifism. If a
man of that sort has discovered that there is a Jewish problem, it is
because there is a Jewish problem. It is certainly not because there is
an Anti-Jewish prejudice. For if there had been any amount of such
racial and religious prejudice, he would have been about the very last
sort of man to have it. His particular part of the world would have been
the very last place to produce it. We may well laugh at the Peace Ship,
and its wild course and inevitable shipwreck; but remember that its very
wildness was an attempt to sail as far as possible from the castle of
Front-de-Boeuf. Everything that made him Anti-War should have
prevented him from being Anti-Semite. We may mock him for being mad on
peace; but we cannot say that he was so mad on peace that he made war on
Israel.

It happened that, when I was in America, I had just published some
studies on Palestine; and I was besieged by Rabbis lamenting my
'prejudice.' I pointed out that they would have got hold of the wrong
word, even if they had not got hold of the wrong man. As a point of
personal autobiography, I do not happen to be a man who dislikes Jews;
though I believe that some men do. I have had Jews among my most
intimate and faithful friends since my boyhood, and I hope to have them
till I die. But even if I did have a dislike of Jews, it would be
illogical to call that dislike a prejudice. Prejudice is a very lucid
Latin word meaning the bias which a man has before he considers a case.
I might be said to be prejudiced against a Hairy Ainu because of his
name, for I have never been on terms of such intimacy with him as to
correct my preconceptions. But if after moving about in the modern world
and meeting Jews, knowing Jews, doing business with Jews, and reading
and hearing about Jews, I came to the conclusion that I did not like
Jews, my conclusion certainly would not be a prejudice. It would simply
be an opinion; and one I should be perfectly entitled to hold; though as
a matter of fact I do not hold it. No extravagance of hatred merely
following on _experience_ of Jews can properly be called a prejudice.

Now the point is that this new American Anti-Semitism springs from
experience and nothing but experience. There is no prejudice for it to
spring from. Or rather the prejudice is all the other way. All the
traditions of that democracy, and very creditable traditions too, are in
favour of toleration and a sort of idealistic indifference. The
sympathies in which these nineteenth-century people were reared were all
against Front-de-Boeuf and in favour of Rebecca. They inherited a
prejudice against Anti-Semitism; a prejudice of Anti-Anti-Semitism.
These people of the plains have found the Jewish problem exactly as they
might have struck oil; because it is _there_, and not even because they
were looking for it. Their view of the problem, like their use of the
oil, is not always satisfactory; and with parts of it I entirely
disagree. But the point is that the thing which I call a problem, and
others call a prejudice, has now appeared in broad daylight in a new
country where there is no priestcraft, no feudalism, no ancient
superstition to explain it. It has appeared because it _is_ a problem;
and those are the best friends of the Jews, including many of the Jews
themselves, who are trying to find a solution. That is the meaning of
the incident of Mr. Henry Ford of Detroit; and you will hardly hear an
intelligible word about it in England.

The talk of prejudice against the Japs is not unlike the talk of
prejudice against the Jews. Only in this case our indifference has
really the excuse of ignorance. We used to lecture the Russians for
oppressing the Jews, before we heard the word Bolshevist and began to
lecture them for being oppressed by the Jews. In the same way we have
long lectured the Californians for oppressing the Japs, without allowing
for the possibility of their foreseeing that the oppression may soon be
the other way. As in the other case, it may be a persecution but it is
not a prejudice. The Californians know more about the Japanese than we
do; and our own colonists when they are placed in the same position
generally say the same thing. I will not attempt to deal adequately here
with the vast international and diplomatic problems which arise with the
name of the new power in the Far East. It is possible that Japan, having
imitated European militarism, may imitate European pacifism. I cannot
honestly pretend to know what the Japanese mean by the one any more than
by the other. But when Englishmen, especially English Liberals like
myself, take a superior and censorious attitude towards Americans and
especially Californians, I am moved to make a final remark. When a
considerable number of Englishmen talk of the grave contending claims of
our friendship with Japan and our friendship with America, when they
finally tend in a sort of summing up to dwell on the superior virtues of
Japan, I may be permitted to make a single comment.

We are perpetually boring the world and each other with talk about the
bonds that bind us to America. We are perpetually crying aloud that
England and America are very much alike, especially England. We are
always insisting that the two are identical in all the things in which
they most obviously differ. We are always saying that both stand for
democracy, when we should not consent to stand their democracy for half
a day. We are always saying that at least we are all Anglo-Saxons, when
we are descended from Romans and Normans and Britons and Danes, and they
are descended from Irishmen and Italians and Slavs and Germans. We tell
a people whose very existence is a revolt against the British Crown that
they are passionately devoted to the British Constitution. We tell a
nation whose whole policy has been isolation and independence that with
us she can bear safely the White Man's Burden of universal empire. We
tell a continent crowded with Irishmen to thank God that the Saxon can
always rule the Celt. We tell a populace whose very virtues are lawless
that together we uphold the Reign of Law. We recognise our own
law-abiding character in people who make laws that neither they nor
anybody else can abide. We congratulate them on clinging to all they
have cast away, and on imitating everything which they came into
existence to insult. And when we have established all these nonsensical
analogies with a nonexistent nation, we wait until there is a crisis in
which we really are at one with America, and then we falter and threaten
to fail her. In a battle where we really are of one blood, the blood of
the great white race throughout the world, when we really have one
language, the fundamental alphabet of Cadmus and the script of Rome,
when we really do represent the same reign of law, the common conscience
of Christendom and the morals of men baptized, when we really have an
implicit faith and honour and type of freedom to summon up our souls as
with trumpets--_then_ many of us begin to weaken and waver and wonder
whether there is not something very nice about little yellow men, whose
heroic stories revolve round polygamy and suicide, and whose heroes wore
two swords and worshipped the ancestors of the Mikado.



_Prohibition in Fact and Fancy_


I went to America with some notion of not discussing Prohibition. But I
soon found that well-to-do Americans were only too delighted to discuss
it over the nuts and wine. They were even willing, if necessary, to
dispense with the nuts. I am far from sneering at this; having a general
philosophy which need not here be expounded, but which may be symbolised
by saying that monkeys can enjoy nuts but only men can enjoy wine. But
if I am to deal with Prohibition, there is no doubt of the first thing
to be said about it. The first thing to be said about it is that it does
not exist. It is to some extent enforced among the poor; at any rate it
was intended to be enforced among the poor; though even among them I
fancy it is much evaded. It is certainly not enforced among the rich;
and I doubt whether it was intended to be. I suspect that this has
always happened whenever this negative notion has taken hold of some
particular province or tribe. Prohibition never prohibits. It never has
in history; not even in Moslem history; and it never will. Mahomet at
least had the argument of a climate and not the interest of a class. But
if a test is needed, consider what part of Moslem culture has passed
permanently into our own modern culture. You will find the one Moslem
poem that has really pierced is a Moslem poem in praise of wine. The
crown of all the victories of the Crescent is that nobody reads the
Koran and everybody reads the Rubaiyat.

Most of us remember with satisfaction an old picture in _Punch_,
representing a festive old gentleman in a state of collapse on the
pavement, and a philanthropic old lady anxiously calling the attention
of a cabman to the calamity. The old lady says, 'I'm sure this poor
gentleman is ill,' and the cabman replies with fervour, 'Ill! I wish I
'ad 'alf 'is complaint.'

We talk about unconscious humour; but there is such a thing as
unconscious seriousness. Flippancy is a flower whose roots are often
underground in the subconsciousness. Many a man talks sense when he
thinks he is talking nonsense; touches on a conflict of ideas as if it
were only a contradiction of language, or really makes a parallel when
he means only to make a pun. Some of the _Punch_ jokes of the best
period are examples of this; and that quoted above is a very strong
example of it. The cabman meant what he said; but he said a great deal
more than he meant. His utterance contained fine philosophical doctrines
and distinctions of which he was not perhaps entirely conscious. The
spirit of the English language, the tragedy and comedy of the condition
of the English people, spoke through him as the god spoke through a
teraph-head or brazen mask of oracle. And the oracle is an omen; and in
some sense an omen of doom.

Observe, to begin with, the sobriety of the cabman. Note his measure,
his moderation; or to use the yet truer term, his temperance. He only
wishes to have half the old gentleman's complaint. The old gentleman is
welcome to the other half, along with all the other pomps and luxuries
of his superior social station. There is nothing Bolshevist or even
Communist about the temperance cabman. He might almost be called
Distributist, in the sense that he wishes to distribute the old
gentleman's complaint more equally between the old gentleman and
himself. And, of course, the social relations there represented are very
much truer to life than it is fashionable to suggest. By the realism of
this picture Mr. Punch made amends for some more snobbish pictures, with
the opposite social moral. It will remain eternally among his real
glories that he exhibited a picture in which the cabman was sober and
the gentleman was drunk. Despite many ideas to the contrary, it was
emphatically a picture of real life. The truth is subject to the
simplest of all possible tests. If the cabman were really and truly
drunk he would not be a cabman, for he could not drive a cab. If he had
the whole of the old gentleman's complaint, he would be sitting happily
on the pavement beside the old gentleman; a symbol of social equality
found at last, and the levelling of all classes of mankind. I do not say
that there has never been such a monster known as a drunken cabman; I do
not say that the driver may not sometimes have approximated imprudently
to three-quarters of the complaint, instead of adhering to his severe
but wise conception of half of it. But I do say that most men of the
world, if they spoke sincerely, could testify to more examples of
helplessly drunken gentlemen put inside cabs than of helplessly drunken
drivers on top of them. Philanthropists and officials, who never look at
people but only at papers, probably have a mass of social statistics to
the contrary; founded on the simple fact that cabmen can be
cross-examined about their habits and gentlemen cannot. Social workers
probably have the whole thing worked out in sections and compartments,
showing how the extreme intoxication of cabmen compares with the
parallel intoxication of costermongers; or measuring the drunkenness of
a dustman against the drunkenness of a crossing-sweeper. But there is
more practical experience embodied in the practical speech of the
English; and in the proverb that says 'as drunk as a lord.'

Now Prohibition, whether as a proposal in England or a pretence in
America, simply means that the man who has drunk less shall have no
drink, and the man who has drunk more shall have all the drink. It means
that the old gentleman shall be carried home in the cab drunker than
ever; but that, in order to make it quite safe for him to drink to
excess, the man who drives him shall be forbidden to drink even in
moderation. That is what it means; that is all it means; that is all it
ever will mean. It tends to that in Moslem countries; where the
luxurious and advanced drink champagne, while the poor and fanatical
drink water. It means that in modern America; where the wealthy are all
at this moment sipping their cocktails, and discussing how much harder
labourers can be made to work if only they can be kept from festivity.
This is what it means and all it means; and men are divided about it
according to whether they believe in a certain transcendental concept
called 'justice,' expressed in a more mystical paradox as the equality
of men. So long as you do not believe in justice, and so long as you are
rich and really confident of remaining so, you can have Prohibition and
be as drunk as you choose.

I see that some remarks by the Rev. R. J. Campbell, dealing with social
conditions in America, are reported in the press. They include some
observations about Sinn Fein in which, as in most of Mr. Campbell's
allusions to Ireland, it is not difficult to detect his dismal origin,
or the acrid smell of the smoke of Belfast. But the remarks about
America are valuable in the objective sense, over and above their
philosophy. He believes that Prohibition will survive and be a success,
nor does he seem himself to regard the prospect with any special
disfavour. But he frankly and freely testifies to the truth I have
asserted; that Prohibition does not prohibit, so far as the wealthy are
concerned. He testifies to constantly seeing wine on the table, as will
any other grateful guest of the generous hospitality of America; and he
implies humorously that he asked no questions about the story told him
of the old stocks in the cellars. So there is no dispute about the
facts; and we come back as before to the principles. Is Mr. Campbell
content with a Prohibition which is another name for Privilege? If so,
he has simply absorbed along with his new theology a new morality which
is different from mine. But he does state both sides of the inequality
with equal logic and clearness; and in these days of intellectual fog
that alone is like a ray of sunshine.

Now my primary objection to Prohibition is not based on any arguments
against it, but on the one argument for it. I need nothing more for its
condemnation than the only thing that is said in its defence. It is said
by capitalists all over America; and it is very clearly and correctly
reported by Mr. Campbell himself. The argument is that employees work
harder, and therefore employers get richer. That this idea should be
taken calmly, by itself, as the test of a problem of liberty, is in
itself a final testimony to the presence of slavery. It shows that
people have completely forgotten that there is any other test except the
servile test. Employers are willing that workmen should have exercise,
as it may help them to do more work. They are even willing that workmen
should have leisure; for the more intelligent capitalists can see that
this also really means that they can do more work. But they are not in
any way willing that workmen should have fun; for fun only increases the
happiness and not the utility of the worker. Fun is freedom; and in that
sense is an end in itself. It concerns the man not as a worker but as a
citizen, or even as a soul; and the soul in that sense is an end in
itself. That a man shall have a reasonable amount of comedy and poetry
and even fantasy in his life is part of his spiritual health, which is
for the service of God; and not merely for his mechanical health, which
is now bound to the service of man. The very test adopted has all the
servile implication; the test of what we can get out of him, instead of
the test of what he can get out of life.

Mr. Campbell is reported to have suggested, doubtless rather as a
conjecture than a prophecy, that England may find it necessary to become
teetotal in order to compete commercially with the efficiency and
economy of teetotal America. Well, in the eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries there was in America one of the most economical and
efficient of all forms of labour. It did not happen to be feasible for
the English to compete with it by copying it. There were so many
humanitarian prejudices about in those days. But economically there
seems to be no reason why a man should not have prophesied that England
would be forced to adopt American Slavery then, as she is urged to adopt
American Prohibition now. Perhaps such a prophet would have prophesied
rightly. Certainly it is not impossible that universal Slavery might
have been the vision of Calhoun as universal Prohibition seems to be the
vision of Campbell. The old England of 1830 would have said that such a
plea for slavery was monstrous; but what would it have said of a plea
for enforced water-drinking? Nevertheless, the nobler Servile State of
Calhoun collapsed before it could spread to Europe. And there is always
the hope that the same may happen to the far more materialistic Utopia
of Mr. Campbell and Soft Drinks.

Abstract morality is very important; and it may well clear the mind to
consider what would be the effect of Prohibition in America, if it were
introduced there. It would, of course, be a decisive departure from the
tradition of the Declaration of Independence. Those who deny that are
hardly serious enough to demand attention. It is enough to say that they
are reduced to minimising that document in defence of Prohibition,
exactly as the slave-owners were reduced to minimising it in defence of
Slavery. They are reduced to saying that the Fathers of the Republic
meant no more than that they would not be ruled by a king. And they are
obviously open to the reply which Lincoln gave to Douglas on the slavery
question; that if that great charter was limited to certain events in
the eighteenth century, it was hardly worth making such a fuss about in
the nineteenth--or in the twentieth. But they are also open to another
reply which is even more to the point, when they pretend that
Jefferson's famous preamble only means to say that monarchy is wrong.
They are maintaining that Jefferson only meant to say something that he
does not say at all. The great preamble does not say that all
monarchical government must be wrong; on the contrary, it rather implies
that most government is right. It speaks of human governments in general
as justified by the necessity of defending certain personal rights. I
see no reason whatever to suppose that it would not include any royal
government that does defend those rights. Still less do I doubt what it
would say of a republican government that does destroy those rights.

But what are those rights? Sophists can always debate about their
degree; but even sophists cannot debate about their direction. Nobody in
his five wits will deny that Jeffersonian democracy wished to give the
law a general control in more public things, but the citizens a more
general liberty in private things. Wherever we draw the line, liberty
can only be personal liberty; and the most personal liberties must at
least be the last liberties we lose. But to-day they are the first
liberties we lose. It is not a question of drawing the line in the right
place, but of beginning at the wrong end. What are the rights of man, if
they do not include the normal right to regulate his own health, in
relation to the normal risks of diet and daily life? Nobody can pretend
that beer is a poison as prussic acid is a poison; that all the millions
of civilised men who drank it all fell down dead when they had touched
it. Its use and abuse is obviously a matter of judgment; and there can
be no personal liberty, if it is not a matter of private judgment. It
is not in the least a question of drawing the line between liberty and
licence. If this is licence, there is no such thing as liberty. It is
plainly impossible to find any right more individual or intimate. To say
that a man has a right to a vote, but not a right to a voice about the
choice of his dinner, is like saying that he has a right to his hat but
not a right to his head.

Prohibition, therefore, plainly violates the rights of man, if there are
any rights of man. What its supporters really mean is that there are
none. And in suggesting this, they have all the advantages that every
sceptic has when he supports a negation. That sort of ultimate
scepticism can only be retorted upon itself, and we can point out to
them that they can no more prove the right of the city to be oppressive
than we can prove the right of the citizen to be free. In the primary
metaphysics of such a claim, it would surely be easier to make it out
for a single conscious soul than for an artificial social combination.
If there are no rights of men, what are the rights of nations? Perhaps a
nation has no claim to self-government. Perhaps it has no claim to good
government. Perhaps it has no claim to any sort of government or any
sort of independence. Perhaps they will say _that_ is not implied in the
Declaration of Independence. But without going deep into my reasons for
believing in natural rights, or rather in supernatural rights (and
Jefferson certainly states them as supernatural), I am content here to
note that a man's treatment of his own body, in relation to traditional
and ordinary opportunities for bodily excess, is as near to his
self-respect as social coercion can possibly go; and that when that is
gone there is nothing left. If coercion applies to that, it applies to
everything; and in the future of this controversy it obviously will
apply to everything. When I was in America, people were already applying
it to tobacco. I never can see why they should not apply it to talking.
Talking often goes with tobacco as it goes with beer; and what is more
relevant, talking may often lead both to beer and tobacco. Talking often
drives a man to drink, both negatively in the form of nagging and
positively in the form of bad company. If the American Puritan is so
anxious to be a _censor morum_, he should obviously put a stop to the
evil communications that really corrupt good manners. He should
reintroduce the Scold's Bridle among the other Blue Laws for a land of
blue devils. He should gag all gay deceivers and plausible cynics; he
should cut off all flattering lips and the tongue that speaketh proud
things. Nobody can doubt that nine-tenths of the harm in the world is
done simply by talking. Jefferson and the old democrats allowed people
to talk, not because they were unaware of this fact, but because they
were fettered by this old fancy of theirs about freedom and the rights
of man. But since we have already abandoned that doctrine in a final
fashion, I cannot see why the new principle should not be applied
intelligently; and in that case it would be applied to the control of
conversation. The State would provide us with forms already filled up
with the subjects suitable for us to discuss at breakfast; perhaps
allowing us a limited number of epigrams each. Perhaps we should have to
make a formal application in writing, to be allowed to make a joke that
had just occurred to us in conversation. And the committee would
consider it in due course. Perhaps it would be effected in a more
practical fashion, and the private citizens would be shut up as the
public-houses were shut up. Perhaps they would all wear gags, which the
policeman would remove at stated hours; and their mouths would be opened
from one to three, as now in England even the public-houses are from
time to time accessible to the public. To some this will sound
fantastic; but not so fantastic as Jefferson would have thought
Prohibition. But there is one sense in which it is indeed fantastic, for
by hypothesis it leaves out the favouritism that is the fundamental of
the whole matter. The only sense in which we can say that logic will
never go so far as this is that logic will never go the length of
equality. It is perfectly possible that the same forces that have
forbidden beer may go on to forbid tobacco. But they will in a special
and limited sense forbid tobacco--but not cigars. Or at any rate not
expensive cigars. In America, where large numbers of ordinary men smoke
rather ordinary cigars, there would be doubtless a good opportunity of
penalising a very ordinary pleasure. But the Havanas of the millionaire
will be all right. So it will be if ever the Puritans bring back the
Scold's Bridle and the statutory silence of the populace. It will only
be the populace that is silent. The politicians will go on talking.

These I believe to be the broad facts of the problem of Prohibition; but
it would not be fair to leave it without mentioning two other causes
which, if not defences, are at least excuses. The first is that
Prohibition was largely passed in a sort of fervour or fever of
self-sacrifice, which was a part of the passionate patriotism of America
in the war. As I have remarked elsewhere, those who have any notion of
what that national unanimity was like will smile when they see America
made a model of mere international idealism. Prohibition was partly a
sort of patriotic renunciation; for the popular instinct, like every
poetic instinct, always tends at great crises to great gestures of
renunciation. But this very fact, while it makes the inhumanity far more
human, makes it far less final and convincing. Men cannot remain
standing stiffly in such symbolical attitudes; nor can a permanent
policy be founded on something analogous to flinging a gauntlet or
uttering a battle-cry. We might as well expect all the Yale students to
remain through life with their mouths open, exactly as they were when
they uttered the college yell. It would be as reasonable as to expect
them to remain through life with their mouths shut, while the wine-cup
which has been the sacrament of all poets and lovers passed round among
all the youth of the world. This point appeared very plainly in a
discussion I had with a very thoughtful and sympathetic American critic,
a clergyman writing in an Anglo-Catholic magazine. He put the sentiment
of these healthier Prohibitionists, which had so much to do with the
passing of Prohibition, by asking, 'May not a man who is asked to give
up his blood for his country be asked to give up his beer for his
country?' And this phrase clearly illuminates all the limitations of the
case. I have never denied, in principle, that it might in some abnormal
crisis be lawful for a government to lock up the beer, or to lock up the
bread. In that sense I am quite prepared to treat the sacrifice of beer
in the same way as the sacrifice of blood. But is my American critic
really ready to treat the sacrifice of blood in the same way as the
sacrifice of beer? Is bloodshed to be as prolonged and protracted as
Prohibition? Is the normal noncombatant to shed his gore as often as he
misses his drink? I can imagine people submitting to a special
regulation, as I can imagine them serving in a particular war. I do
indeed despise the political knavery that deliberately passes drink
regulations as war measures and then preserves them as peace measures.
But that is not a question of whether drink and drunkenness are wrong,
but of whether lying and swindling are wrong. But I never denied that
there might need to be exceptional sacrifices for exceptional occasions;
and war is in its nature an exception. Only, if war is the exception,
why should Prohibition be the rule? If the surrender of beer is worthy
to be compared to the shedding of blood, why then blood ought to be
flowing for ever like a fountain in the public squares of Philadelphia
and New York. If my critic wants to complete his parallel, he must draw
up rather a remarkable programme for the daily life of the ordinary
citizens. He must suppose that, through all their lives, they are
paraded every day at lunch time and prodded with bayonets to show that
they will shed their blood for their country. He must suppose that every
evening, after a light repast of poison gas and shrapnel, they are made
to go to sleep in a trench under a permanent drizzle of shell-fire. It
is surely obvious that if this were the normal life of the citizen, the
citizen would have no normal life. The common sense of the thing is that
sacrifices of this sort are admirable but abnormal. It is not normal for
the State to be perpetually regulating our days with the discipline of a
fighting regiment; and it is not normal for the State to be perpetually
regulating our diet with the discipline of a famine. To say that every
citizen must be subject to control in such bodily things is like saying
that every Christian ought to tear himself with red-hot pincers because
the Christian martyrs did their duty in time of persecution. A man has a
right to control his body, though in a time of martyrdom he may give his
body to be burned; and a man has a right to control his bodily health,
though in a state of siege he may give his body to be starved. Thus,
though the patriotic defence was a sincere defence, it is a defence that
comes back on the defenders like a boomerang. For it proves only that
Prohibition ought to be ephemeral, unless war ought to be eternal.

The other excuse is much less romantic and much more realistic. I have
already said enough of the cause which is really realistic. The real
power behind Prohibition is simply the plutocratic power of the pushing
employers who wish to get the last inch of work out of their workmen.
But before the progress of modern plutocracy had reached this stage,
there was a predetermining cause for which there was a much better case.
The whole business began with the problem of black labour. I have not
attempted in this book to deal adequately with the question of the
negro. I have refrained for a reason that may seem somewhat sensational;
that I do not think I have anything particularly valuable to say or
suggest. I do not profess to understand this singularly dark and
intricate matter; and I see no use in men who have no solution filling
up the gap with sentimentalism. The chief thing that struck me about the
coloured people I saw was their charming and astonishing cheerfulness.
My sense of pathos was appealed to much more by the Red Indians; and
indeed I wish I had more space here to do justice to the Red Indians.
They did heroic service in the war; and more than justified their
glorious place in the day-dreams and nightmares of our boyhood. But the
negro problem certainly demands more study than a sight-seer could give
it; and this book is controversial enough about things that I have
really considered, without permitting it to exhibit me as a sight-seer
who shoots at sight. But I believe that it was always common ground to
people of common sense that the enslavement and importation of negroes
had been the crime and catastrophe of American history. The only
difference was originally that one side thought that, the crime once
committed, the only reparation was their freedom; while the other
thought that, the crime once committed, the only safety was their
slavery. It was only comparatively lately, by a process I shall have to
indicate elsewhere, that anything like a positive case for slavery
became possible. Now among the many problems of the presence of an alien
and at least recently barbaric figure among the citizens, there was a
very real problem of drink. Drink certainly has a very exceptionally
destructive effect upon negroes in their native countries; and it was
alleged to have a peculiarly demoralising effect upon negroes in the
United States; to call up the passions that are the particular
temptation of the race and to lead to appalling outrages that are
followed by appalling popular vengeance. However this may be, many of
the states of the American Union, which first forbade liquor to
citizens, meant simply to forbid it to negroes. But they had not the
moral courage to deny that negroes are citizens. About all their
political expedients necessarily hung the load that hangs so heavy on
modern politics; hypocrisy. The superior race had to rule by a sort of
secret society organised against the inferior. The American politicians
dared not disfranchise the negroes; so they coerced everybody in theory
and only the negroes in practice. The drinking of the white men became
as much a conspiracy as the shooting by the white horsemen of the
Ku-Klux Klan. And in that connection, it may be remarked in passing that
the comparison illustrates the idiocy of supposing that the moral sense
of mankind will ever support the prohibition of drinking as if it were
something like the prohibition of shooting. Shooting in America is
liable to take a free form, and sometimes a very horrible form; as when
private bravos were hired to kill workmen in the capitalistic interests
of that pure patron of disarmament, Carnegie. But when some of the rich
Americans gravely tell us that their drinking cannot be interfered with,
because they are only using up their existing stocks of wine, we may
well be disposed to smile. When I was there, at any rate, they were
using them up very fast; and with no apparent fears about the supply.
But if the Ku-Klux Klan had started suddenly shooting everybody they
didn't like in broad daylight, and had blandly explained that they were
only using up the stocks of their ammunition, left over from the Civil
War, it seems probable that there would at least have been a little
curiosity about how much they had left. There might at least have been
occasional inquiries about how long it was likely to go on. It is even
conceivable that some steps might have been taken to stop it.

No steps are taken to stop the drinking of the rich, chiefly because
the rich now make all the rules and therefore all the exceptions, but
partly because nobody ever could feel the full moral seriousness of this
particular rule. And the truth is, as I have indicated, that it was
originally established as an exception and not as a rule. The
emancipated negro was an exception in the community, and a certain plan
was, rightly or wrongly, adopted to meet his case. A law was made
professedly for everybody and practically only for him. Prohibition is
only important as marking the transition by which the trick, tried
successfully on black labour, could be extended to all labour. We in
England have no right to be Pharisaic at the expense of the Americans in
this matter; for we have tried the same trick in a hundred forms. The
true philosophical defence of the modern oppression of the poor would be
to say frankly that we have ruled them so badly that they are unfit to
rule themselves. But no modern oligarch is enough of a man to say this.
For like all virile cynicism it would have an element of humility; which
would not mix with the necessary element of hypocrisy. So we proceed,
just as the Americans do, to make a law for everybody and then evade it
for ourselves. We have not the honesty to say that the rich may bet
because they can afford it; so we forbid any man to bet in any place;
and then say that a place is not a place. It is exactly as if there were
an American law allowing a negro to be murdered because he is not a man
within the meaning of the Act. We have not the honesty to drive the poor
to school because they are ignorant; so we pretend to drive everybody;
and then send inspectors to the slums but not to the smart streets. We
apply the same ingenuous principle; and are quite as undemocratic as
Western democracy. Nevertheless there is an element in the American case
which cannot be present in ours; and this chapter may well conclude upon
so important a change.

America can now say with pride that she has abolished the colour bar. In
this matter the white labourer and the black labourer have at last been
put upon an equal social footing. White labour is every bit as much
enslaved as black labour; and is actually enslaved by a method and a
model only intended for black labour. We might think it rather odd if
the exact regulations about flogging negroes were reproduced as a plan
for punishing strikers; or if industrial arbitration issued its reports
in the precise terminology of the Fugitive Slave Law. But this is in
essentials what has happened; and one could almost fancy some negro orgy
of triumph, with the beating of gongs and all the secret violence of
Voodoo, crying aloud to some ancestral Mumbo Jumbo that the Poor White
Trash was being treated according to its name.



_Fads and Public Opinion_


A foreigner is a man who laughs at everything except jokes. He is
perfectly entitled to laugh at anything, so long as he realises, in a
reverent and religious spirit, that he himself is laughable. I was a
foreigner in America; and I can truly claim that the sense of my own
laughable position never left me. But when the native and the foreigner
have finished with seeing the fun of each other in things that are meant
to be serious, they both approach the far more delicate and dangerous
ground of things that are meant to be funny. The sense of humour is
generally very national; perhaps that is why the internationalists are
so careful to purge themselves of it. I had occasion during the war to
consider the rights and wrongs of certain differences alleged to have
arisen between the English and American soldiers at the front. And,
rightly or wrongly, I came to the conclusion that they arose from the
failure to understand when a foreigner is serious and when he is
humorous. And it is in the very nature of the best sort of joke to be
the worst sort of insult if it is not taken as a joke.

The English and the American types of humour are in one way directly
contrary. The most American sort of fun involves a soaring imagination,
piling one house on another in a tower like that of a sky-scraper. The
most English humour consists of a sort of bathos, of a man returning to
the earth his mother in a homely fashion; as when he sits down suddenly
on a butter-slide. English farce describes a man as being in a hole.
American fantasy, in its more aspiring spirit, describes a man as being
up a tree. The former is to be found in the cockney comic songs that
concern themselves with hanging out the washing or coming home with the
milk. The latter is to be found in those fantastic yarns about machines
that turn live pigs into pig-skin purses or burning cities that serve to
hatch an egg. But it will be inevitable, when the two come first into
contact, that the bathos will sound like vulgarity and the extravagance
will sound like boasting.

Suppose an American soldier said to an English soldier in the trenches,
'The Kaiser may want a place in the sun; I reckon he won't have a place
in the solar system when we begin to hustle.' The English soldier will
very probably form the impression that this is arrogance; an impression
based on the extraordinary assumption that the American means what he
says. The American has merely indulged in a little art for art's sake,
and abstract adventure of the imagination; he has told an American short
story. But the Englishman, not understanding this, will think the other
man is boasting, and reflecting on the insufficiency of the English
effort. The English soldier is very likely to say something like, 'Oh,
you'll be wanting to get home to your old woman before that, and asking
for a kipper with your tea.' And it is quite likely that the American
will be offended in his turn at having his arabesque of abstract beauty
answered in so personal a fashion. Being an American, he will probably
have a fine and chivalrous respect for his wife; and may object to her
being called an old woman. Possibly he in turn may be under the
extraordinary delusion that talking of the old woman really means that
the woman is old. Possibly he thinks the mysterious demand for a kipper
carries with it some charge of ill-treating his wife; which his national
sense of honour swiftly resents. But the real cross-purposes come from
the contrary direction of the two exaggerations, the American making
life more wild and impossible than it is, and the Englishman making it
more flat and farcical than it is; the one escaping from the house of
life by a skylight and the other by a trap-door.

This difficulty of different humours is a very practical one for
practical people. Most of those who profess to remove all international
differences are not practical people. Most of the phrases offered for
the reconciliation of severally patriotic peoples are entirely serious
and even solemn phrases. But human conversation is not conducted in
those phrases. The normal man on nine occasions out of ten is rather a
flippant man. And the normal man is almost always the national man.
Patriotism is the most popular of all the virtues. The drier sort of
democrats who despise it have the democracy against them in every
country in the world. Hence their international efforts seldom go any
farther than to effect an international reconciliation of all
internationalists. But we have not solved the normal and popular problem
until we have an international reconciliation of all nationalists.

It is very difficult to see how humour can be translated at all. When
Sam Weller is in the Fleet Prison and Mrs. Weller and Mr. Stiggins sit
on each side of the fireplace and weep and groan with sympathy, old Mr.
Weller observes, 'Vell, Sammy, I hope you find your spirits rose by this
'ere lively visit.' I have never looked up this passage in the popular
and successful French version of _Pickwick_; but I confess I am curious
as to what French past-participle conveys the precise effect of the word
'rose.' A translator has not only to give the right translation of the
right word but the right translation of the wrong word. And in the same
way I am quite prepared to suspect that there are English jokes which an
Englishman must enjoy in his own rich and romantic solitude, without
asking for the sympathy of an American. But Englishmen are generally
only too prone to claim this fine perception, without seeing that the
fine edge of it cuts both ways. I have begun this chapter on the note of
national humour because I wish to make it quite clear that I realise how
easily a foreigner may take something seriously that is not serious.
When I think something in America is really foolish, it may be I that am
made a fool of. It is the first duty of a traveller to allow for this;
but it seems to be the very last thing that occurs to some travellers.
But when I seek to say something of what may be called the fantastic
side of America, I allow beforehand that some of it may be meant to be
fantastic. And indeed it is very difficult to believe that some of it is
meant to be serious. But whether or no there is a joke, there is
certainly an inconsistency; and it is an inconsistency in the moral
make-up of America which both puzzles and amuses me.

The danger of democracy is not anarchy but convention. There is even a
sort of double meaning in the word 'convention'; for it is also used for
the most informal and popular sort of parliament; a parliament not
summoned by any king. The Americans come together very easily without
any king; but their coming together is in every sense a convention, and
even a very conventional convention. In a democracy riot is rather the
exception and respectability certainly the rule. And though a
superficial sight-seer should hesitate about all such generalisations,
and certainly should allow for enormous exceptions to them, he does
receive a general impression of unity verging on uniformity. Thus
Americans all dress well; one might almost say that American women all
look well; but they do not, as compared with Europeans, look very
different. They are in the fashion; too much in the fashion even to be
conspicuously fashionable. Of course there are patches, both Bohemian
and Babylonian, of which this is not true, but I am talking of the
general tone of a whole democracy. I have said there is more
respectability than riot; but indeed in a deeper sense the same spirit
is behind both riot and respectability. It is the same social force that
makes it possible for the respectable to boycott a man and for the
riotous to lynch him. I do not object to it being called 'the herd
instinct,' so long as we realise that it is a metaphor and not an
explanation.

Public opinion can be a prairie fire. It eats up everything that opposes
it; and there is the grandeur as well as the grave disadvantages of a
natural catastrophe in that national unity. Pacifists who complained in
England of the intolerance of patriotism have no notion of what
patriotism can be like. If they had been in America, after America had
entered the war, they would have seen something which they have always
perhaps subconsciously dreaded, and would then have beyond all their
worst dreams detested; and the name of it is democracy. They would have
found that there are disadvantages in birds of a feather flocking
together; and that one of them follows on a too complacent display of
the white feather. The truth is that a certain flexible sympathy with
eccentrics of this kind is rather one of the advantages of an
aristocratic tradition. The imprisonment of Mr. Debs, the American
Pacifist, which really was prolonged and oppressive, would probably have
been shortened in England where his opinions were shared by aristocrats
like Mr. Bertrand Russell and Mr. Ponsonby. A man like Lord Hugh Cecil
could be moved to the defence of conscientious objectors, partly by a
true instinct of chivalry; but partly also by the general feeling that a
gentleman may very probably have aunts and uncles who are quite as mad.
He takes the matter personally, in the sense of being able to imagine
the psychology of the persons. But democracy is no respecter of persons.
It is no respecter of them, either in the bad and servile or in the good
and sympathetic sense. And Debs was nothing to democracy. He was but one
of the millions. This is a real problem, or question in the balance,
touching different forms of government; which is, of course, quite
neglected by the idealists who merely repeat long words. There was
during the war a society called the Union of Democratic Control, which
would have been instantly destroyed anywhere where democracy had any
control, or where there was any union. And in this sense the United
States have most emphatically got a union. Nevertheless I think there is
something rather more subtle than this simple popular solidity behind
the assimilation of American citizens to each other. There is something
even in the individual ideals that drives towards this social sympathy.
And it is here that we have to remember that biological fancies like the
herd instinct are only figures of speech, and cannot really cover
anything human. For the Americans are in some ways a very self-conscious
people. To compare their social enthusiasm to a stampede of cattle is to
ask us to believe in a bull writing a diary or a cow looking in a
looking-glass. Intensely sensitive by their very vitality, they are
certainly conscious of criticism and not merely of a blind and brutal
appetite. But the peculiar point about them is that it is this very
vividness in the self that often produces the similarity. It may be that
when they are unconscious they are like bulls and cows. But it is when
they are self-conscious that they are like each other.

Individualism is the death of individuality. It is so, if only because
it is an 'ism.' Many Americans become almost impersonal in their worship
of personality. Where their natural selves might differ, their ideal
selves tend to be the same. Anybody can see what I mean in those strong
self-conscious photographs of American business men that can be seen in
any American magazine. Each may conceive himself to be a solitary
Napoleon brooding at St. Helena; but the result is a multitude of
Napoleons brooding all over the place. Each of them must have the eyes
of a mesmerist; but the most weak-minded person cannot be mesmerised by
more than one millionaire at a time. Each of the millionaires must
thrust forward his jaw, offering (if I may say so) to fight the world
with the same weapon as Samson. Each of them must accentuate the length
of his chin, especially, of course, by always being completely
clean-shaven. It would be obviously inconsistent with Personality to
prefer to wear a beard. These are of course fantastic examples on the
fringe of American life; but they do stand for a certain assimilation,
not through brute gregariousness, but rather through isolated dreaming.
And though it is not always carried so far as this, I do think it is
carried too far. There is not quite enough unconsciousness to produce
real individuality. There is a sort of worship of will-power in the
abstract, so that people are actually thinking about how they can will,
more than about what they want. To this I do think a certain corrective
could be found in the nature of English eccentricity. Every man in his
humour is most interesting when he is unconscious of his humour; or at
least when he is in an intermediate stage between humour in the old
sense of oddity and in the new sense of irony. Much is said in these
days against negative morality; and certainly most Americans would show
a positive preference for positive morality. The virtues they venerate
collectively are very active virtues; cheerfulness and courage and vim,
otherwise zip, also pep and similar things. But it is sometimes
forgotten that negative morality is freer than positive morality.
Negative morality is a net of a larger and more open pattern, of which
the lines or cords constrict at longer intervals. A man like Dr. Johnson
could grow in his own way to his own stature in the net of the Ten
Commandments; precisely because he was convinced there were only ten of
them. He was not compressed into the mould of positive beauty, like
that of the Apollo Belvedere or the American citizen.

This criticism is sometimes true even of the American woman, who is
certainly a much more delightful person than the mesmeric millionaire
with his shaven jaw. Interviewers in the United States perpetually asked
me what I thought of American women, and I confessed a distaste for such
generalisations which I have not managed to lose. The Americans, who are
the most chivalrous people in the world, may perhaps understand me; but
I can never help feeling that there is something polygamous about
talking of women in the plural at all; something unworthy of any
American except a Mormon. Nevertheless, I think the exaggeration I
suggest does extend in a less degree to American women, fascinating as
they are. I think they too tend too much to this cult of impersonal
personality. It is a description easy to exaggerate even by the faintest
emphasis; for all these things are subtle and subject to striking
individual exceptions. To complain of people for being brave and bright
and kind and intelligent may not unreasonably appear unreasonable. And
yet there is something in the background that can only be expressed by a
symbol, something that is not shallowness but a neglect of the
subconsciousness and the vaguer and slower impulses; something that can
be missed amid all that laughter and light, under those starry
candelabra of the ideals of the happy virtues. Sometimes it came over
me, in a wordless wave, that I should like to see a sulky woman. How she
would walk in beauty like the night, and reveal more silent spaces full
of older stars! These things cannot be conveyed in their delicate
proportion even in the most detached description. But the same thing
was in the mind of a white-bearded old man I met in New York, an Irish
exile and a wonderful talker, who stared up at the tower of gilded
galleries of the great hotel, and said with that spontaneous movement of
style which is hardly heard except from Irish talkers: 'And I have been
in a village in the mountains where the people could hardly read or
write; but all the men were like soldiers, and all the women had pride.'

It sounds like a poem about an Earthly Paradise to say that in this land
the old women can be more beautiful than the young. Indeed, I think Walt
Whitman, the national poet, has a line somewhere almost precisely to
that effect. It sounds like a parody upon Utopia, and the image of the
lion lying down with the lamb, to say it is a place where a man might
almost fall in love with his mother-in-law. But there is nothing in
which the finer side of American gravity and good feeling does more
honourably exhibit itself than in a certain atmosphere around the older
women. It is not a cant phrase to say that they grow old gracefully; for
they do really grow old. In this the national optimism really has in it
the national courage. The old women do not dress like young women; they
only dress better. There is another side to this feminine dignity in the
old, sometimes a little lost in the young, with which I shall deal
presently. The point for the moment is that even Whitman's truly poetic
vision of the beautiful old women suffers a little from that bewildering
multiplicity and recurrence that is indeed the whole theme of Whitman.
It is like the green eternity of Leaves of Grass. When I think of the
eccentric spinsters and incorrigible grandmothers of my own country, I
cannot imagine that any one of them could possibly be mistaken for
another, even at a glance. And in comparison I feel as if I had been
travelling in an Earthly Paradise of more decorative harmonies; and I
remember only a vast cloud of grey and pink as of the plumage of
cherubim in an old picture. But on second thoughts, I think this may be
only the inevitable effect of visiting any country in a swift and
superficial fashion; and that the grey and pink cloud is probably an
illusion, like the spinning prairies scattered by the wheel of the
train.

Anyhow there is enough of this equality, and of a certain social unity
favourable to sanity, to make the next point about America very much of
a puzzle. It seems to me a very real problem, to which I have never seen
an answer even such as I shall attempt here, why a democracy should
produce fads; and why, where there is so genuine a sense of human
dignity, there should be so much of an impossible petty tyranny. I am
not referring solely or even specially to Prohibition, which I discuss
elsewhere. Prohibition is at least a superstition, and therefore next
door to a religion; it has some imaginable connection with moral
questions, as have slavery or human sacrifice. But those who ask us to
model ourselves on the States which punish the sin of drink forget that
there are States which punish the equally shameless sin of smoking a
cigarette in the open air. The same American atmosphere that permits
Prohibition permits of people being punished for kissing each other. In
other words, there are States psychologically capable of making a man a
convict for wearing a blue neck-tie or having a green front-door, or
anything else that anybody chooses to fancy. There is an American
atmosphere in which people may some day be shot for shaking hands, or
hanged for writing a post-card.

As for the sort of thing to which I refer, the American newspapers are
full of it and there is no name for it but mere madness. Indeed it is
not only mad, but it calls itself mad. To mention but one example out of
many, it was actually boasted that some lunatics were teaching children
to take care of their health. And it was proudly added that the children
were 'health-mad.' That it is not exactly the object of all mental
hygiene to make people mad did not occur to them; and they may still be
engaged in their earnest labours to teach babies to be valetudinarians
and hypochondriacs in order to make them healthy. In such cases, we may
say that the modern world is too ridiculous to be ridiculed. You cannot
caricature a caricature. Imagine what a satirist of saner days would
have made of the daily life of a child of six, who was actually admitted
to be mad on the subject of his own health. These are not days in which
that great extravaganza could be written; but I dimly see some of its
episodes like uncompleted dreams. I see the child pausing in the middle
of a cart-wheel, or when he has performed three-quarters of a
cart-wheel, and consulting a little note-book about the amount of
exercise per diem. I see him pausing half-way up a tree, or when he has
climbed exactly one-third of a tree; and then producing a clinical
thermometer to take his own temperature. But what would be the good of
imaginative logic to prove the madness of such people, when they
themselves praise it for being mad?

There is also the cult of the Infant Phenomenon, of which Dickens made
fun and of which educationalists make fusses. When I was in America
another newspaper produced a marvellous child of six who had the
intellect of a child of twelve. The only test given, and apparently one
on which the experiment turned, was that she could be made to understand
and even to employ the word 'annihilate.' When asked to say something
proving this, the happy infant offered the polished aphorism, 'When
common sense comes in, superstition is annihilated.' In reply to which,
by way of showing that I also am as intelligent as a child of twelve,
and there is no arrested development about me, I will say in the same
elegant diction, 'When psychological education comes in, common sense is
annihilated.' Everybody seems to be sitting round this child in an
adoring fashion. It did not seem to occur to anybody that we do not
particularly want even a child of twelve to talk about annihilating
superstition; that we do not want a child of six to talk like a child of
twelve, or a child of twelve to talk like a man of fifty, or even a man
of fifty to talk like a fool. And on the principle of hoping that a
little girl of six will have a massive and mature brain, there is every
reason for hoping that a little boy of six will grow a magnificent and
bushy beard.

Now there is any amount of this nonsense cropping up among American
cranks. Anybody may propose to establish coercive Eugenics; or enforce
psychoanalysis--that is, enforce confession without absolution. And I
confess I cannot connect this feature with the genuine democratic spirit
of the mass. I can only suggest, in concluding this chapter, two
possible causes rather peculiar to America, which may have made this
great democracy so unlike all other democracies, and in this so
manifestly hostile to the whole democratic idea.

The first historical cause is Puritanism; but not Puritanism merely in
the sense of Prohibitionism. The truth is that prohibitions might have
done far less harm as prohibitions, if a vague association had not
arisen, on some dark day of human unreason, between prohibition and
progress. And it was the progress that did the harm, not the
prohibition. Men can enjoy life under considerable limitations, if they
can be sure of their limited enjoyments; but under Progressive
Puritanism we can never be sure of anything. The curse of it is not
limitation; it is unlimited limitation. The evil is not in the
restriction; but in the fact that nothing can ever restrict the
restriction. The prohibitions are bound to progress point by point; more
and more human rights and pleasures must of necessity be taken away; for
it is of the nature of this futurism that the latest fad is the faith of
the future, and the most fantastic fad inevitably makes the pace. Thus
the worst thing in the seventeenth-century aberration was not so much
Puritanism as sectarianism. It searched for truth not by synthesis but
by subdivision. It not only broke religion into small pieces, but it was
bound to choose the smallest piece. There is in America, I believe, a
large religious body that has felt it right to separate itself from
Christendom because it cannot believe in the morality of wearing
buttons. I do not know how the schism arose; but it is easy to suppose,
for the sake of argument, that there had originally existed some Puritan
body which condemned the frivolity of ribbons though not of buttons. I
was going to say of badges but not buttons; but on reflection I cannot
bring myself to believe that any American, however insane, would object
to wearing badges. But the point is that as the holy spirit of
progressive prophesy rested on the first sect because it had invented a
new objection to ribbons, so that holy spirit would then pass from it to
the new sect who invented a further objection to buttons. And from them
it must inevitably pass to any rebel among them who shall choose to rise
and say that he disapproves of trousers because of the existence of
trouser-buttons. Each secession in turn must be right because it is
recent, and progress must progress by growing smaller and smaller. That
is the progressive theory, the legacy of seventeenth-century
sectarianism, the dogma implied in much modern politics, and the evident
enemy of democracy. Democracy is reproached with saying that the
majority is always right. But progress says that the minority is always
right. Progressives are prophets; and fortunately not all the people are
prophets. Thus in the atmosphere of this slowly dying sectarianism
anybody who chooses to prophesy and prohibit can tyrannise over the
people. If he chooses to say that drinking is always wrong, or that
kissing is always wrong, or that wearing buttons is always wrong, people
are afraid to contradict him for fear they should be contradicting their
own great-grandchild. For their superstition is an inversion of the
ancestor-worship of China; and instead of vainly appealing to something
that is dead, they appeal to something that may never be born.

There is another cause of this strange servile disease in American
democracy. It is to be found in American feminism, and feminist America
is an entirely different thing from feminine America. I should say that
the overwhelming majority of American girls laugh at their female
politicians at least as much as the majority of American men despise
their male politicians. But though the aggressive feminists are a
minority, they are in this atmosphere which I have tried to analyse; the
atmosphere in which there is a sort of sanctity about the minority. And
it is this superstition of seriousness that constitutes the most solid
obstacle and exception to the general and almost conventional pressure
of public opinion. When a fad is frankly felt to be anti-national, as
was Abolitionism before the Civil War, or Pro-Germanism in the Great
War, or the suggestion of racial admixture in the South at all times,
then the fad meets far less mercy than anywhere else in the world; it is
snowed under and swept away. But when it does not thus directly
challenge patriotism or popular ideas, a curious halo of hopeful
solemnity surrounds it, merely because it is a fad, but above all if it
is a feminine fad. The earnest lady-reformer who really utters a warning
against the social evil of beer or buttons is seen to be walking clothed
in light, like a prophetess. Perhaps it is something of the holy aureole
which the East sees shining around an idiot.

But I think there is another explanation, feminine rather than feminist,
and proceeding from normal women and not from abnormal idiots. It is
something that involves an old controversy, but one upon which I have
not, like so many politicians, changed my opinion. It concerns the
particular fashion in which women tend to regard, or rather to
disregard, the formal and legal rights of the citizen. In so far as this
is a bias, it is a bias in the directly opposite direction from that now
lightly alleged. There is a sort of underbred history going about,
according to which women in the past have always been in the position of
slaves. It is much more to the point to note that women have always been
in the position of despots. They have been despotic because they ruled
in an area where they had too much common sense to attempt to be
constitutional. You cannot grant a constitution to a nursery; nor can
babies assemble like barons and extort a Great Charter. Tommy cannot
plead a Habeas Corpus against going to bed; and an infant cannot be
tried by twelve other infants before he is put in the corner. And as
there can be no laws or liberties in a nursery, the extension of
feminism means that there shall be no more laws or liberties in a state
than there are in a nursery. The woman does not really regard men as
citizens but as children. She may, if she is a humanitarian, love all
mankind; but she does not respect it. Still less does she respect its
votes. Now a man must be very blind nowadays not to see that there is a
danger of a sort of amateur science or pseudo-science being made the
excuse for every trick of tyranny and interference. Anybody who is not
an anarchist agrees with having a policeman at the corner of the street;
but the danger at present is that of finding the policeman half-way down
the chimney or even under the bed. In other words, it is a danger of
turning the policeman into a sort of benevolent burglar. Against this
protests are already being made, and will increasingly be made, if men
retain any instinct of independence or dignity at all. But to complain
of the woman interfering in the home will always sound like complaining
of the oyster intruding into the oyster-shell. To object that she has
too much power over education will seem like objecting to a hen having
too much to do with eggs. She has already been given an almost
irresponsible power over a limited region in these things; and if that
power is made infinite it will be even more irresponsible. If she adds
to her own power in the family all these alien fads external to the
family, her power will not only be irresponsible but insane. She will be
something which may well be called a nightmare of the nursery; a mad
mother. But the point is that she will be mad about other nurseries as
well as her own, or possibly instead of her own. The results will be
interesting; but at least it is certain that under this softening
influence government of the people, by the people, for the people, will
most assuredly perish from the earth.

But there is always another possibility. Hints of it may be noted here
and there like muffled gongs of doom. The other day some people
preaching some low trick or other, for running away from the glory of
motherhood, were suddenly silenced in New York; by a voice of deep and
democratic volume. The prigs who potter about the great plains are
pygmies dancing round a sleeping giant. That which sleeps, so far as
they are concerned, is the huge power of human unanimity and intolerance
in the soul of America. At present the masses in the Middle West are
indifferent to such fancies or faintly attracted by them, as fashions of
culture from the great cities. But any day it may not be so; some
lunatic may cut across their economic rights or their strange and buried
religion; and then he will see something. He will find himself running
like a nigger who has wronged a white woman or a man who has set the
prairie on fire. He will see something which the politicians fan in its
sleep and flatter with the name of the people, which many reactionaries
have cursed with the name of the mob, but which in any case has had
under its feet the crowns of many kings. It was said that the voice of
the people is the voice of God; and this at least is certain, that it
can be the voice of God to the wicked. And the last antics of their
arrogance shall stiffen before something enormous, such as towers in the
last words that Job heard out of the whirlwind; and a voice they never
knew shall tell them that his name is Leviathan, and he is lord over all
the children of pride.



_The Extraordinary American_


When I was in America I had the feeling that it was far more foreign
than France or even than Ireland. And by foreign I mean fascinating
rather than repulsive. I mean that element of strangeness which marks
the frontier of any fairyland, or gives to the traveller himself the
almost eerie title of the stranger. And I saw there more clearly than in
countries counted as more remote from us, in race or religion, a paradox
that is one of the great truths of travel.

We have never even begun to understand a people until we have found
something that we do not understand. So long as we find the character
easy to read, we are reading into it our own character. If when we see
an event we can promptly provide an explanation, we may be pretty
certain that we had ourselves prepared the explanation before we saw the
event. It follows from this that the best picture of a foreign people
can probably be found in a puzzle picture. If we can find an event of
which the meaning is really dark to us, it will probably throw some
light on the truth. I will therefore take from my American experiences
one isolated incident, which certainly could not have happened in any
other country I have ever clapped eyes on. I have really no notion of
what it meant. I have heard even from Americans about five different
conjectures about its meaning. But though I do not understand it, I do
sincerely believe that if I did understand it, I should understand
America.

It happened in the city of Oklahoma, which would require a book to
itself, even considered as a background. The State of Oklahoma is a
district in the south-west recently reclaimed from the Red Indian
territory. What many, quite incorrectly, imagine about all America is
really true of Oklahoma. It is proud of having no history. It is glowing
with the sense of having a great future--and nothing else. People are
just as likely to boast of an old building in Nashville as in Norwich;
people are just as proud of old families in Boston as in Bath. But in
Oklahoma the citizens do point out a colossal structure, arrogantly
affirming that it wasn't there last week. It was against the colours of
this crude stage scenery, as of a pantomime city of pasteboard, that the
fantastic figure appeared which still haunts me like a walking note of
interrogation. I was strolling down the main street of the city, and
looking in at a paper-stall vivid with the news of crime, when a
stranger addressed me; and asked me, quite politely but with a curious
air of having authority to put the question, what I was doing in that
city.

He was a lean brown man, having rather the look of a shabby tropical
traveller, with a grey moustache and a lively and alert eye. But the
most singular thing about him was that the front of his coat was covered
with a multitude of shining metallic emblems made in the shape of stars
and crescents. I was well accustomed by this time to Americans adorning
the lapels of their coats with little symbols of various societies; it
is a part of the American passion for the ritual of comradeship. There
is nothing that an American likes so much as to have a secret society
and to make no secret of it. But in this case, if I may put it so, the
rash of symbolism seemed to have broken out all over the man, in a
fashion that indicated that the fever was far advanced. Of this minor
mystery, however, his first few sentences offered a provisional
explanation. In answer to his question, touching my business in
Oklahoma, I replied with restraint that I was lecturing. To which he
replied without restraint, but rather with an expansive and radiant
pride, 'I also am lecturing. I am lecturing on astronomy.'

So far a certain wild rationality seemed to light up the affair. I knew
it was unusual, in my own country, for the Astronomer Royal to walk down
the Strand with his coat plastered all over with the Solar System.
Indeed, it was unusual for any English astronomical lecturer to
advertise the subject of his lectures in this fashion. But though it
would be unusual, it would not necessarily be unreasonable. In fact, I
think it might add to the colour and variety of life, if specialists did
adopt this sort of scientific heraldry. I should like to be able to
recognise an entomologist at sight by the decorative spiders and
cockroaches crawling all over his coat and waistcoat. I should like to
see a conchologist in a simple costume of shells. An osteopath, I
suppose, would be agreeably painted so as to resemble a skeleton, while
a botanist would enliven the street with the appearance of a
Jack-in-the-Green. So while I regarded the astronomical lecturer in the
astronomical coat as a figure distinguishable, by a high degree of
differentiation, from the artless astronomers of my island home (enough
their simple loveliness for me) I saw in him nothing illogical, but
rather an imaginative extreme of logic. And then came another turn of
the wheel of topsy-turvydom, and all the logic was scattered to the
wind.

Expanding his starry bosom and standing astraddle, with the air of one
who owned the street, the strange being continued, 'Yes, I am lecturing
on astronomy, anthropology, archaeology, palaeontology, embryology,
eschatology,' and so on in a thunderous roll of theoretical sciences
apparently beyond the scope of any single university, let alone any
single professor. Having thus introduced himself, however, he got to
business. He apologised with true American courtesy for having
questioned me at all, and excused it on the ground of his own exacting
responsibilities. I imagined him to mean the responsibility of
simultaneously occupying the chairs of all the faculties already
mentioned. But these apparently were trifles to him, and something far
more serious was clouding his brow.

'I feel it to be my duty,' he said, 'to acquaint myself with any
stranger visiting this city; and it is an additional pleasure to welcome
here a member of the Upper Ten.' I assured him earnestly that I knew
nothing about the Upper Ten, except that I did not belong to them; I
felt, not without alarm, that the Upper Ten might be another secret
society. He waved my abnegation aside and continued, 'I have a great
responsibility in watching over this city. My friend the mayor and I
have a great responsibility.' And then an extraordinary thing happened.
Suddenly diving his hand into his breast-pocket, he flashed something
before my eyes like a hand-mirror; something which disappeared again
almost as soon as it appeared. In that flash I could only see that it
was some sort of polished metal plate, with some letters engraved on it
like a monogram. But the reward of a studious and virtuous life, which
has been spent chiefly in the reading of American detective stories,
shone forth for me in that hour of trial; I received at last the prize
of a profound scholarship in the matter of imaginary murders in
tenth-rate magazines. I remembered who it was who in the Yankee
detective yarn flashes before the eyes of Slim Jim or the Lone Hand
Crook a badge of metal sometimes called a shield. Assuming all the
desperate composure of Slim Jim himself, I replied, 'You mean you are
connected with the police authorities here, don't you? Well, if I commit
a murder here, I'll let you know.' Whereupon that astonishing man waved
a hand in deprecation, bowed in farewell with the grace of a dancing
master; and said, 'Oh, those are not things we expect from members of
the Upper Ten.'

Then that moving constellation moved away, disappearing in the dark
tides of humanity, as the vision passed away down the dark tides from
Sir Galahad and, starlike, mingled with the stars.

That is the problem I would put to all Americans, and to all who claim
to understand America. Who and what was that man? Was he an astronomer?
Was he a detective? Was he a wandering lunatic? If he was a lunatic who
thought he was an astronomer, why did he have a badge to prove he was a
detective? If he was a detective pretending to be an astronomer, why did
he tell a total stranger that he was a detective two minutes after
saying he was an astronomer? If he wished to watch over the city in a
quiet and unobtrusive fashion, why did he blazon himself all over with
all the stars of the sky, and profess to give public lectures on all the
subjects of the world? Every wise and well-conducted student of murder
stories is acquainted with the notion of a policeman in plain clothes.
But nobody could possibly say that this gentleman was in plain clothes.
Why not wear his uniform, if he was resolved to show every stranger in
the street his badge? Perhaps after all he had no uniform; for these
lands were but recently a wild frontier rudely ruled by vigilance
committees. Some Americans suggested to me that he was the Sheriff; the
regular hard-riding, free-shooting Sheriff of Bret Harte and my
boyhood's dreams. Others suggested that he was an agent of the Ku-Klux
Klan, that great nameless revolution of the revival of which there were
rumours at the time; and that the symbol he exhibited was theirs. But
whether he was a sheriff acting for the law, or a conspirator against
the law, or a lunatic entirely outside the law, I agree with the former
conjectures upon one point. I am perfectly certain he had something else
in his pocket besides a badge. And I am perfectly certain that under
certain circumstances he would have handled it instantly, and shot me
dead between the gay bookstall and the crowded trams. And that is the
last touch to the complexity; for though in that country it often seems
that the law is made by a lunatic, you never know when the lunatic may
not shoot you for keeping it. Only in the presence of that citizen of
Oklahoma I feel I am confronted with the fullness and depth of the
mystery of America. Because I understand nothing, I recognise the thing
that we call a nation; and I salute the flag.

But even in connection with this mysterious figure there is a moral
which affords another reason for mentioning him. Whether he was a
sheriff or an outlaw, there was certainly something about him that
suggested the adventurous violence of the old border life of America;
and whether he was connected with the police or no, there was certainly
violence enough in his environment to satisfy the most ardent policeman.
The posters in the paper-shop were placarded with the verdict in the
Hamon trial; a _cause célèbre_ which reached its crisis in Oklahoma
while I was there. Senator Hamon had been shot by a girl whom he had
wronged, and his widow demanded justice, or what might fairly be called
vengeance. There was very great excitement culminating in the girl's
acquittal. Nor did the Hamon case appear to be entirely exceptional in
that breezy borderland. The moment the town had received the news that
Clara Smith was free, newsboys rushed down the street shouting, 'Double
stabbing outrage near Oklahoma,' or 'Banker's throat cut on Main
Street,' or otherwise resuming their regular mode of life. It seemed as
much as to say, 'Do not imagine that our local energies are exhausted in
shooting a Senator,' or 'Come, now, the world is young, even if Clara
Smith is acquitted, and the enthusiasm of Oklahoma is not yet cold.'

But my particular reason for mentioning the matter is this. Despite my
friend's mystical remarks about the Upper Ten, he lived in an atmosphere
of something that was at least the very reverse of a respect for
persons. Indeed, there was something in the very crudity of his social
compliment that smacked, strangely enough, of that egalitarian soil. In
a vaguely aristocratic country like England, people would never dream
of telling a total stranger that he was a member of the Upper Ten. For
one thing, they would be afraid that he might be. Real snobbishness is
never vulgar; for it is intended to please the refined. Nobody licks the
boots of a duke, if only because the duke does not like his boots
cleaned in that way. Nobody embraces the knees of a marquis, because it
would embarrass that nobleman. And nobody tells him he is a member of
the Upper Ten, because everybody is expected to know it. But there is a
much more subtle kind of snobbishness pervading the atmosphere of any
society trial in England. And the first thing that struck me was the
total absence of that atmosphere in the trial at Oklahoma. Mr. Hamon was
presumably a member of the Upper Ten, if there is such a thing. He was a
member of the Senate or Upper House in the American Parliament; he was a
millionaire and a pillar of the Republican party, which might be called
the respectable party; he is said to have been mentioned as a possible
President. And the speeches of Clara Smith's counsel, who was known by
the delightfully Oklahomite title of Wild Bill McLean, were wild enough
in all conscience; but they left very little of my friend's illusion
that members of the Upper Ten could not be accused of crimes. Nero and
Borgia were quite presentable people compared with Senator Hamon when
Wild Bill McLean had done with him. But the difference was deeper, and
even in a sense more delicate than this. There is a certain tone about
English trials, which does at least begin with a certain scepticism
about people prominent in public life being abominable in private life.
People do vaguely doubt the criminality of 'a man in that position';
that is, the position of the Marquise de Brinvilliers or the Marquis de
Sade. _Prima facie_, it would be an advantage to the Marquis de Sade
that he was a marquis. But it was certainly against Hamon that he was a
millionaire. Wild Bill did not minimise him as a bankrupt or an
adventurer; he insisted on the solidity and size of his fortune, he made
mountains out of the 'Hamon millions,' as if they made the matter much
worse; as indeed I think they do. But that is because I happen to share
a certain political philosophy with Wild Bill and other wild buffaloes
of the prairies. In other words, there is really present here a
democratic instinct against the domination of wealth. It does not
prevent wealth from dominating; but it does prevent the domination from
being regarded with any affection or loyalty. Despite the man in the
starry coat, the Americans have not really any illusions about the Upper
Ten. McLean was appealing to an implicit public opinion when he pelted
the Senator with his gold.

But something more is involved. I became conscious, as I have been
conscious in reading the crime novels of America, that the millionaire
was taken as a type and not an individual. This is the great difference;
that America recognises rich crooks as a _class_. Any Englishman might
recognise them as individuals. Any English romance may turn on a crime
in high life; in which the baronet is found to have poisoned his wife,
or the elusive burglar turns out to be the bishop. But the English are
not always saying, either in romance or reality, 'What's to be done, if
our food is being poisoned by all these baronets?' They do not murmur in
indignation, 'If bishops will go on burgling like this, something must
be done.' The whole point of the English romance is the exceptional
character of a crime in high life. That is not the tone of American
novels or American newspapers or American trials like the trial in
Oklahoma. Americans may be excited when a millionaire crook is caught,
as when any other crook is caught; but it is at his being caught, not at
his being discovered. To put the matter shortly, England recognises a
criminal class at the bottom of the social scale. America also
recognises a criminal class at the top of the social scale. In both, for
various reasons, it may be difficult for the criminals to be convicted;
but in America the upper class of criminals is recognised. In both
America and England, of course, it exists.

This is an assumption at the back of the American mind which makes a
great difference in many ways; and in my opinion a difference for the
better. I wrote merely fancifully just now about bishops being burglars;
but there is a story in New York, illustrating this, which really does
in a sense attribute a burglary to a bishop. The story was that an
Anglican Lord Spiritual, of the pompous and now rather antiquated
school, was pushing open the door of a poor American tenement with all
the placid patronage of the squire and rector visiting the cottagers,
when a gigantic Irish policeman came round the corner and hit him a
crack over the head with a truncheon on the assumption that he was a
house-breaker. I hope that those who laugh at the story see that the
laugh is not altogether against the policeman; and that it is not only
the policeman, but rather the bishop, who had failed to recognise some
fine logical distinctions. The bishop, being a learned man, might well
be called upon (when he had sufficiently recovered from the knock on
the head) to define what is the exact difference between a house-breaker
and a home-visitor; and why the home-visitor should not be regarded as a
house-breaker when he will not behave as a guest. An impartial
intelligence will be much less shocked at the policeman's disrespect for
the home-visitor than by the home-visitor's disrespect for the home.

But that story smacks of the western soil, precisely because of the
element of brutality there is in it. In England snobbishness and social
oppression are much subtler and softer; the manifestations of them at
least are more mellow and humane. In comparison there is indeed
something which people call ruthless about the air of America,
especially the American cities. The bishop may push open the door
without an apology, but he would not break open the door with a
truncheon; but the Irish policeman's truncheon hits both ways. It may be
brutal to the tenement dweller as well as to the bishop; but the
difference and distinction is that it might really be brutal to the
bishop. It is because there is after all, at the back of all that
barbarism, a sort of a negative belief in the brotherhood of men, a dark
democratic sense that men are really men and nothing more, that the
coarse and even corrupt bureaucracy is not resented exactly as
oligarchic bureaucracies are resented. There is a sense in which
corruption is not so narrow as nepotism. It is upon this queer cynical
charity, and even humility, that it has been possible to rear so high
and uphold so long that tower of brass, Tammany Hall. The modern police
system is in spirit the most inhuman in history, and its evil belongs
to an age and not to a nation. But some American police methods are evil
past all parallel; and the detective can be more crooked than a hundred
crooks. But in the States it is not only possible that the policeman is
worse than the convict, it is by no means certain that he thinks that he
is any better. In the popular stories of O. Henry there are light
allusions to tramps being kicked out of hotels which will make any
Christian seek relief in strong language and a trust in heaven--not to
say in hell. And yet books even more popular than O. Henry's are those
of the 'sob-sisterhood' who swim in lachrymose lakes after love-lorn
spinsters, who pass their lives in reclaiming and consoling such tramps.
There are in this people two strains of brutality and sentimentalism
which I do not understand, especially where they mingle; but I am fairly
sure they both work back to the dim democratic origin. The Irish
policeman does not confine himself fastidiously to bludgeoning bishops;
his truncheon finds plenty of poor people's heads to hit; and yet I
believe on my soul he has a sort of sympathy with poor people not to be
found in the police of more aristocratic states. I believe he also reads
and weeps over the stories of the spinsters and the reclaimed tramps; in
fact, there is much of such pathos in an American magazine (my sole
companion on many happy railway journeys) which is not only devoted to
detective stories, but apparently edited by detectives. In these stories
also there is the honest, popular astonishment at the Upper Ten
expressed by the astronomical detective, if indeed he was a detective
and not a demon from the dark Red-Indian forests that faded to the
horizon behind him. But I have set him as the head and text of this
chapter because with these elements of the Third Degree of devilry and
the Seventh Heaven of sentimentalism I touch on elements that I do not
understand; and when I do not understand, I say so.



_The Republican in the Ruins_


The heathen in his blindness bows down to wood and stone; especially to
a wood-cut or a lithographic stone. Modern people put their trust in
pictures, especially scientific pictures, as much as the most
superstitious ever put it in religious pictures. They publish a portrait
of the Missing Link as if he were the Missing Man, for whom the police
are always advertising; for all the world as if the anthropoid had been
photographed before he absconded. The scientific diagram may be a
hypothesis; it may be a fancy; it may be a forgery. But it is always an
idol in the true sense of an image; and an image in the true sense of a
thing mastering the imagination and not the reason. The power of these
talismanic pictures is almost hypnotic to modern humanity. We can never
forget that we have seen a portrait of the Missing Link; though we
should instantly detect the lapse of logic into superstition, if we were
told that the old Greek agnostics had made a statue of the Unknown God.
But there is a still stranger fashion in which we fall victims to the
same trick of fancy. We accept in a blind and literal spirit, not only
images of speculation, but even figures of speech. The nineteenth
century prided itself on having lost its faith in myths, and proceeded
to put all its faith in metaphors. It dismissed the old doctrines about
the way of life and the light of the world; and then it proceeded to
talk as if the light of truth were really and literally a light, that
could be absorbed by merely opening our eyes; or as if the path of
progress were really and truly a path, to be found by merely following
our noses. Thus the purpose of God is an idea, true or false; but the
purpose of Nature is merely a metaphor; for obviously if there is no God
there is no purpose. Yet while men, by an imaginative instinct, spoke of
the purpose of God with a grand agnosticism, as something too large to
be seen, something reaching out to worlds and to eternities, they speak
of the purpose of Nature in particular and practical problems of curing
babies or cutting up rabbits. This power of the modern metaphor must be
understood, by way of an introduction, if we are to understand one of
the chief errors, at once evasive and pervasive, which perplex the
problem of America.

America is always spoken of as a young nation; and whether or no this be
a valuable and suggestive metaphor, very few people notice that it is a
metaphor at all. If somebody said that a certain deserving charity had
just gone into trousers, we should recognise that it was a figure of
speech, and perhaps a rather surprising figure of speech. If somebody
said that a daily paper had recently put its hair up, we should know it
could only be a metaphor, and possibly a rather strained metaphor. Yet
these phrases would mean the only thing that can possibly be meant by
calling a corporate association of all sorts of people 'young'; that is,
that a certain institution has only existed for a certain time. I am not
now denying that such a corporate nationality may happen to have a
psychology comparatively analogous to the psychology of youth. I am not
even denying that America has it. I am only pointing out, to begin with,
that we must free ourselves from the talismanic tyranny of a metaphor
which we do not recognise as a metaphor. Men realised that the old
mystical doctrines were mystical; they do not realise that the new
metaphors are metaphorical. They have some sort of hazy notion that
American society must be growing, must be promising, must have the
virtues of hope or the faults of ignorance, merely _because_ it has only
had a separate existence since the eighteenth century. And that is
exactly like saying that a new chapel must be growing taller, or that a
limited liability company will soon have its second teeth.

Now in truth this particular conception of American hopefulness would be
anything but hopeful for America. If the argument really were, as it is
still vaguely supposed to be, that America must have a long life before
it, because it only started in the eighteenth century, we should find a
very fatal answer by looking at the other political systems that did
start in the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century was called the
Age of Reason; and there is a very real sense in which the other systems
were indeed started in a spirit of reason. But starting from reason has
not saved them from ruin. If we survey the Europe of to-day with real
clarity and historic comprehension, we shall see that it is precisely
the most recent and the most rationalistic creations that have been
ruined. The two great States which did most definitely and emphatically
deserve to be called modern states were Prussia and Russia. There was no
real Prussia before Frederick the Great; no real Russian Empire before
Peter the Great. Both those innovators recognised themselves as
rationalists bringing a new reason and order into an indeterminate
barbarism; and doing for the barbarians what the barbarians could not do
for themselves. They did not, like the kings of England or France or
Spain or Scotland, inherit a sceptre that was the symbol of a historic
and patriotic people. In this sense there was no Russia but only an
Emperor of Russia. In this sense Prussia was a kingdom before it was a
nation; if it ever was a nation. But anyhow both men were particularly
modern in their whole mood and mind. They were modern to the extent of
being not only anti-traditional, but almost anti-patriotic. Peter forced
the science of the West on Russia to the regret of many Russians.
Frederick talked the French of Voltaire and not the German of Luther.
The two experiments were entirely in the spirit of Voltairean
rationalism; they were built in broad daylight by men who believed in
nothing but the light of common day; and already their day is done.

If then the promise of America were in the fact that she is one of the
latest births of progress, we should point out that it is exactly the
latest born that were the first to die. If in this sense she is praised
as young, it may be answered that the young have died young, and have
not lived to be old. And if this be confused with the argument that she
came in an age of clarity and scepticism, uncontaminated by old
superstitions, it could still be retorted that the works of superstition
have survived the works of scepticism. But the truth is, of course, that
the real quality of America is much more subtle and complex than this;
and is mixed not only of good and bad, and rational and mystical, but
also of old and new. That is what makes the task of tracing the true
proportions of American life so interesting and so impossible.

To begin with, such a metaphor is always as distracting as a mixed
metaphor. It is a double-edged tool that cuts both ways; and
consequently opposite ways. We use the same word 'young' to mean two
opposite extremes. We mean something at an early stage of growth, and
also something having the latest fruits of growth. We might call a
commonwealth young if it conducted all its daily conversation by
wireless telegraphy; meaning that it was progressive. But we might also
call it young if it conducted all its industry with chipped flints;
meaning that it was primitive. These two meanings of youth are
hopelessly mixed up when the word is applied to America. But what is
more curious, the two elements really are wildly entangled in America.
America is in some ways what is called in advance of the times, and in
some ways what is called behind the times; but it seems a little
confusing to convey both notions by the same word.

On the one hand, Americans often are successful in the last inventions.
And for that very reason they are often neglectful of the last but one.
It is true of men in general, dealing with things in general, that while
they are progressing in one thing, such as science, they are going back
in another thing, such as art. What is less fully realised is that this
is true even as between different methods of science. The perfection of
wireless telegraphy might well be followed by the gross imperfection of
wires. The very enthusiasm of American science brings this out very
vividly. The telephone in New York works miracles all day long. Replies
from remote places come as promptly as in a private talk; nobody cuts
anybody off; nobody says, 'Sorry you've been troubled.' But then the
postal service of New York does not work at all. At least I could never
discover it working. Letters lingered in it for days and days, as in
some wild village of the Pyrenees. When I asked a taxi-driver to drive
me to a post-office, a look of far-off vision and adventure came into
his eyes, and he said he had once heard of a post-office somewhere near
West Ninety-Seventh Street. Men are not efficient in everything, but
only in the fashionable thing. This may be a mark of the march of
science; it does certainly in one sense deserve the description of
youth. We can imagine a very young person forgetting the old toy in the
excitement of a new one.

But on the other hand, American manners contain much that is called
young in the contrary sense; in the sense of an earlier stage of
history. There are whole patches and particular aspects that seem to me
quite Early Victorian. I cannot help having this sensation, for
instance, about the arrangement for smoking in the railway carriages.
There are no smoking carriages, as a rule; but a corner of each of the
great cars is curtained off mysteriously, that a man may go behind the
curtain and smoke. Nobody thinks of a woman doing so. It is regarded as
a dark, bohemian, and almost brutally masculine indulgence; exactly as
it was regarded by the dowagers in Thackeray's novels. Indeed, this is
one of the many such cases in which extremes meet; the extremes of
stuffy antiquity and cranky modernity. The American dowager is sorry
that tobacco was ever introduced; and the American suffragette and
social reformer is considering whether tobacco ought not to be
abolished. The tone of American society suggests some sort of
compromise, by which women will be allowed to smoke, but men forbidden
to do so.

In one respect, however, America is very old indeed. In one respect
America is more historic than England; I might almost say more
archaeological than England. The record of one period of the past,
morally remote and probably irrevocable, is there preserved in a more
perfect form as a pagan city is preserved at Pompeii. In a more general
sense, of course, it is easy to exaggerate the contrast as a mere
contrast between the old world and the new. There is a superficial
satire about the millionaire's daughter who has recently become the wife
of an aristocrat; but there is a rather more subtle satire in the
question of how long the aristocrat has been aristocratic. There is
often much misplaced mockery of a marriage between an upstart's daughter
and a decayed relic of feudalism; when it is really a marriage between
an upstart's daughter and an upstart's grandson. The sentimental
socialist often seems to admit the blue blood of the nobleman, even when
he wants to shed it; just as he seems to admit the marvellous brains of
the millionaire, even when he wants to blow them out. Unfortunately (in
the interests of social science, of course) the sentimental socialist
never does go so far as bloodshed or blowing out brains; otherwise the
colour and quality of both blood and brains would probably be a
disappointment to him. There are certainly more American families that
really came over in the _Mayflower_ than English families that really
came over with the Conqueror; and an English county family clearly
dating from the time of the _Mayflower_ would be considered a very
traditional and historic house. Nevertheless, there are ancient things
in England, though the aristocracy is hardly one of them. There are
buildings, there are institutions, there are even ideas in England which
do preserve, as in a perfect pattern, some particular epoch of the past,
and even of the remote past. A man could study the Middle Ages in
Lincoln as well as in Rouen; in Canterbury as well as in Cologne. Even
of the Renaissance the same is true, at least on the literary side; if
Shakespeare was later he was also greater than Ronsard. But the point is
that the spirit and philosophy of the periods were present in fullness
and in freedom. The guildsmen were as Christian in England as they were
anywhere; the poets were as pagan in England as they were anywhere.
Personally I do not admit that the men who served patrons were freer
than those who served patron saints. But each fashion had its own kind
of freedom; and the point is that the English, in each case, had the
fullness of that kind of freedom. But there was another ideal of freedom
which the English never had at all; or, anyhow, never expressed at all.
There was another ideal, the soul of another epoch, round which we built
no monuments and wrote no masterpieces. You will find no traces of it in
England; but you will find them in America.

The thing I mean was the real religion of the eighteenth century. Its
religion, in the more defined sense, was generally Deism, as in
Robespierre or Jefferson. In the more general way of morals and
atmosphere it was rather Stoicism, as in the suicide of Wolfe Tone. It
had certain very noble and, as some would say, impossible ideals; as
that a politician should be poor, and should be proud of being poor. It
knew Latin; and therefore insisted on the strange fancy that the
Republic should be a public thing. Its Republican simplicity was
anything but a silly pose; unless all martyrdom is a silly pose. Even of
the prigs and fanatics of the American and French Revolutions we can
often say, as Stevenson said of an American, that 'thrift and courage
glowed in him.' And its virtue and value for us is that it did remember
the things we now most tend to forget; from the dignity of liberty to
the danger of luxury. It did really believe in self-determination, in
the self-determination of the self, as well as of the state. And its
determination was really determined. In short, it believed in
self-respect; and it is strictly true even of its rebels and regicides
that they desired chiefly to be respectable. But there were in it the
marks of religion as well as respectability; it had a creed; it had a
crusade. Men died singing its songs; men starved rather than write
against its principles. And its principles were liberty, equality, and
fraternity, or the dogmas of the Declaration of Independence. This was
the idea that redeemed the dreary negations of the eighteenth century;
and there are still corners of Philadelphia or Boston or Baltimore where
we can feel so suddenly in the silence its plain garb and formal
manners, that the walking ghost of Jefferson would hardly surprise us.

There is not the ghost of such a thing in England. In England the real
religion of the eighteenth century never found freedom or scope. It
never cleared a space in which to build that cold and classic building
called the Capitol. It never made elbow-room for that free if sometimes
frigid figure called the Citizen.

In eighteenth-century England he was crowded out, partly perhaps by the
relics of better things of the past, but largely at least by the
presence of much worse things in the present. The worst things kept out
the best things of the eighteenth century. The ground was occupied by
legal fictions; by a godless Erastian church and a powerless Hanoverian
king. Its realities were an aristocracy of Regency dandies, in costumes
made to match Brighton Pavilion; a paganism not frigid but florid. It
was a touch of this aristocratic waste in Fox that prevented that great
man from being a glorious exception. It is therefore well for us to
realise that there is something in history which we did not experience;
and therefore probably something in Americans that we do not understand.
There was this idealism at the very beginning of their individualism.
There was a note of heroic publicity and honourable poverty which
lingers in the very name of Cincinnati.

But I have another and special reason for noting this historical fact;
the fact that we English never made anything upon the model of a
capitol, while we can match anybody with the model of a cathedral. It is
far from improbable that the latter model may again be a working model.
For I have myself felt, naturally and for a long time, a warm sympathy
with both those past ideals, which seem to some so incompatible. I have
felt the attraction of the red cap as well as the red cross, of the
Marseillaise as well as the Magnificat. And even when they were in
furious conflict I have never altogether lost my sympathy for either.
But in the conflict between the Republic[1] and the Church, the point
often made against the Church seems to me much more of a point against
the Republic. It is emphatically the Republic and not the Church that I
venerate as something beautiful but belonging to the past. In fact I
feel exactly the same sort of sad respect for the republican ideal that
many mid-Victorian free-thinkers felt for the religious ideal. The most
sincere poets of that period were largely divided between those who
insisted, like Arnold and Clough, that Christianity might be a ruin, but
after all it must be treated as a picturesque ruin; and those, like
Swinburne, who insisted that it might be a picturesque ruin, but after
all it must be treated as a ruin. But surely their own pagan temple of
political liberty is now much more of a ruin than the other; and I fancy
I am one of the few who still take off their hats in that ruined temple.
That is why I went about looking for the fading traces of that lost
cause, in the old-world atmosphere of the new world.

But I do not, as a fact, feel that the cathedral is a ruin; I doubt if I
should feel it even if I wished to lay it in ruins. I doubt if Mr.
M'Cabe really thinks that Catholicism is dying, though he might deceive
himself into saying so. Nobody could be naturally moved to say that the
crowded cathedral of St. Patrick in New York was a ruin, or even that
the unfinished Anglo-Catholic cathedral at Washington was a ruin, though
it is not yet a church; or that there is anything lost or lingering
about the splendid and spirited Gothic churches springing up under the
inspiration of Mr. Cram of Boston. As a matter of feeling, as a matter
of fact, as a matter quite apart from theory or opinion, it is not in
the religious centres that we now have the feeling of something
beautiful but receding, of something loved but lost. It is exactly in
the spaces cleared and levelled by America for the large and sober
religion of the eighteenth century; it is where an old house in
Philadelphia contains an old picture of Franklin, or where the men of
Maryland raised above their city the first monument of Washington. It is
there that I feel like one who treads alone some banquet hall deserted,
whose lights are fled, whose garlands dead, and all save he departed. It
is then that I feel as if I were the last Republican.

But when I say that the Republic of the Age of Reason is now a ruin, I
should rather say that at its best it is a ruin. At its worst it has
collapsed into a death-trap or is rotting like a dunghill. What is the
real Republic of our day as distinct from the ideal Republic of our
fathers, but a heap of corrupt capitalism crawling with worms; with
those parasites, the professional politicians? I was re-reading
Swinburne's bitter but not ignoble poem, 'Before a Crucifix,' in which
he bids Christ, or the ecclesiastical image of Christ, stand out of the
way of the onward march of a political idealism represented by United
Italy or the French Republic. I was struck by the strange and ironic
exactitude with which every taunt he flings at the degradation of the
old divine ideal would now fit the degradation of his own human ideal.
The time has already come when we can ask his Goddess of Liberty, as
represented by the actual Liberals, 'Have _you_ filled full men's
starved-out souls; have _you_ brought freedom on the earth?' For every
engine in which these old free-thinkers firmly and confidently trusted
has itself become an engine of oppression and even of class oppression.
Its free parliament has become an oligarchy. Its free press has become a
monopoly. If the pure Church has been corrupted in the course of two
thousand years, what about the pure Republic that has rotted into a
filthy plutocracy in less than a hundred?


     O, hidden face of man, whereover
     The years have woven a viewless veil,
     If thou wert verily man's lover
     What did thy love or blood avail?
     Thy blood the priests make poison of;
     And in gold shekels coin thy love.


Which has most to do with shekels to-day, the priests or the
politicians? Can we say in any special sense nowadays that clergymen, as
such, make a poison out of the blood of the martyrs? Can we say it in
anything like the real sense, in which we do say that yellow journalists
make a poison out of the blood of the soldiers?

But I understand how Swinburne felt when confronted by the image of the
carven Christ, and, perplexed by the contrast between its claims and its
consequences, he said his strange farewell to it, hastily indeed, but
not without regret, not even really without respect. I felt the same
myself when I looked for the last time on the Statue of Liberty.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] In the conclusion of this chapter I mean by the Republic
not merely the American Republic, but the whole modern representative
system, as in France or even in England.



_Is the Atlantic Narrowing?_


A certain kind of question is asked very earnestly in our time. Because
of a certain logical quality in it, connected with premises and data, it
is very difficult to answer. Thus people will ask what is the hidden
weakness in the Celtic race that makes them everywhere fail or fade
away; or how the Germans contrived to bring all their organisation into
a state of such perfect efficiency; and what was the significance of the
recent victory of Prussia. Or they will ask by what stages the modern
world has abandoned all belief in miracles; and the modern newspapers
ceased to print any news of murders. They will ask why English politics
are free from corruption; or by what mental and moral training certain
millionaires were enabled to succeed by sheer force of character; in
short, they will ask why plutocrats govern well and how it is that pigs
fly, spreading their pink pinions to the breeze or delighting us as they
twitter and flutter from tree to tree. The logical difficulty of
answering these questions is connected with an old story about Charles
the Second and a bowl of goldfish, and with another anecdote about a
gentleman who was asked, 'When did you leave off beating your wife?' But
there is something analogous to it in the present discussions about the
forces drawing England and America together. It seems as if the
reasoners hardly went far enough back in their argument, or took
trouble enough to disentangle their assumptions. They are still moving
with the momentum of the peculiar nineteenth-century notion of progress;
of certain very simple tendencies perpetually increasing and needing no
special analysis. It is so with the international _rapprochement_ I have
to consider here.

In other places I have ventured to express a doubt about whether nations
can be drawn together by an ancient rumour about races; by a sort of
prehistoric chit-chat or the gossip of the Stone Age. I have ventured
farther; and even expressed a doubt about whether they ought to be drawn
together, or rather dragged together, by the brute violence of the
engines of science and speed. But there is yet another horrible doubt
haunting my morbid mind, which it will be better for my constitution to
confess frankly. And that is the doubt about whether they are being
drawn together at all.

It has long been a conversational commonplace among the enlightened that
all countries are coming closer and closer to each other. It was a
conversational commonplace among the enlightened, somewhere about the
year 1913, that all wars were receding farther and farther into a
barbaric past. There is something about these sayings that seems simple
and familiar and entirely satisfactory when we say them; they are of
that consoling sort which we can say without any of the mental pain of
thinking what we are saying. But if we turn our attention from the
phrases we use to the facts that we talk about, we shall realise at
least that there are a good many facts on the other side and examples
pointing the other way. For instance, it does happen occasionally, from
time to time, that people talk about Ireland. He would be a very
hilarious humanitarian who should maintain that Ireland and England have
been more and more assimilated during the last hundred years. The very
name of Sinn Fein is an answer to it, and the very language in which
that phrase is spoken. Curran and Sheil would no more have dreamed of
uttering the watchword of 'Repeal' in Gaelic than of uttering it in
Zulu. Grattan could hardly have brought himself to believe that the real
repeal of the Union would actually be signed in London in the strange
script as remote as the snaky ornament of the Celtic crosses. It would
have seemed like Washington signing the Declaration of Independence in
the picture-writing of the Red Indians. Ireland has clearly grown away
from England; and her language, literature, and type of patriotism are
far less English than they were. On the other hand, no one will pretend
that the mass of modern Englishmen are much nearer to talking Gaelic or
decorating Celtic crosses. A hundred years ago it was perfectly natural
that Byron and Moore should walk down the street arm in arm. Even the
sight of Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Mr. W. B. Yeats walking down the street
arm in arm would now arouse some remark.

I could give any number of other examples of the same new estrangement
of nations. I could cite the obvious facts that Norway and Sweden parted
company not very long ago, that Austria and Hungary have again become
separate states. I could point to the mob of new nations that have
started up after the war; to the fact that the great empires are now
nearly all broken up; that the Russian Empire no longer directs Poland,
that the Austrian Empire no longer directs Bohemia, that the Turkish
Empire no longer directs Palestine. Sinn Fein is the separatism of the
Irish. Zionism is the separatism of the Jews. But there is one simple
and sufficing example, which is here more to my purpose, and is at least
equally sufficient for it. And that is the deepening national difference
between the Americans and the English.

Let me test it first by my individual experience in the matter of
literature. When I was a boy I read a book like _The Autocrat of the
Breakfast-Table_ exactly as I read another book like _The Book of
Snobs_. I did not think of it as an American book, but simply as a book.
Its wit and idiom were like those of the English literary tradition; and
its few touches of local colour seemed merely accidental, like those of
an Englishman who happened to be living in Switzerland or Sweden. My
father and my father's friends were rightly enthusiastic for the book;
so that it seemed to come to me by inheritance like _Gulliver's Travels_
or _Tristram Shandy_. Its language was as English as Ruskin, and a great
deal more English than Carlyle. Well, I have seen in later years an
almost equally wide and well-merited popularity of the stories of O.
Henry. But never for one moment could I or any one else reading them
forget that they were stories by an American about America. The very
first fact about them is that they are told with an American accent,
that is, in the unmistakable tones of a brilliant and fascinating
foreigner. And the same is true of every other recent work of which the
fame has managed to cross the Atlantic. We did not say that _The Spoon
River Anthology_ was a new book, but that it was a new book from
America. It was exactly as if a remarkable realistic novel was reported
from Russia or Italy. We were in no danger of confusing it with the
'Elegy in a Country Churchyard.' People in England who heard of Main
Street were not likely to identify it with a High Street; with the
principal thoroughfare in any little town in Berkshire or
Buckinghamshire. But when I was a boy I practically identified the
boarding-house of the Autocrat with any boarding-house I happened to
know in Brompton or Brighton. No doubt there were differences; but the
point is that the differences did not pierce the consciousness or prick
the illusion. I said to myself, 'People are like this in
boarding-houses,' not 'People are like this in Boston.'

This can be seen even in the simple matter of language, especially in
the sense of slang. Take, for instance, the delightful sketch in the
causerie of Oliver Wendell Holmes; the character of the young man called
John. He is the very modern type in every modern country who does
specialise in slang. He is the young fellow who is something in the
City; the everyday young man of the Gilbertian song, with a stick and a
pipe and a half-bred black-and-tan. In every country he is at once witty
and commonplace. In every country, therefore, he tends both to the
vivacity and the vulgarity of slang. But when he appeared in Holmes's
book, his language was not very different from what it would have been
in a Brighton instead of a Boston boarding-house; or, in short, if the
young man called John had more commonly been called 'Arry. If he had
appeared in a modern American book, his language would have been almost
literally unintelligible. At the least an Englishman would have had to
read some of the best sentences twice, as he sometimes has to read the
dizzy and involved metaphors of O. Henry. Nor is it an answer that this
depended on the personalities of the particular writers. A comparison
between the real journalism of the time of Holmes and the real
journalism of the time of Henry reveals the same thing. It is the
expansion of a slight difference of style into a luxuriant difference of
idiom; and the process continued indefinitely would certainly produce a
totally different language. After a few centuries the signatures of
American ambassadors would look as fantastic as Gaelic, and the very
name of the Republic be as strange as Sinn Fein.

It is true that there has been on the surface a certain amount of give
and take; or at least, as far as the English are concerned, of take
rather than give. But it is true that it was once all the other way; and
indeed the one thing is something like a just nemesis of the other.
Indeed, the story of the reversal is somewhat singular, when we come to
think of it. It began in a certain atmosphere and spirit of certain
well-meaning people who talked about the English-speaking race; and were
apparently indifferent to how the English was spoken, whether in the
accent of a Jamaican negro or a convict from Botany Bay. It was their
logical tendency to say that Dante was a Dago. It was their logical
punishment to say that Disraeli was an Englishman. Now there may have
been a period when this Anglo-American amalgamation included more or
less equal elements from England and America. It never included the
larger elements, or the more valuable elements of either. But, on the
whole, I think it true to say that it was not an allotment but an
interchange of parts; and that things first went all one way and then
all the other. People began by telling the Americans that they owed all
their past triumphs to England; which was false. They ended up by
telling the English that they would owe all their future triumphs to
America; which is if possible still more false. Because we chose to
forget that New York had been New Amsterdam, we are now in danger of
forgetting that London is not New York. Because we insisted that Chicago
was only a pious imitation of Chiswick, we may yet see Chiswick an
inferior imitation of Chicago. Our Anglo-Saxon historians attempted that
conquest in which Howe and Burgoyne had failed, and with infinitely less
justification on their side. They attempted the great crime of the
Anglicisation of America. They have called down the punishment of the
Americanisation of England. We must not murmur; but it is a heavy
punishment.

It may lift a little of its load, however, if we look at it more
closely; we shall then find that though it is very much on top of us, it
is only on top. In that sense such Americanisation as there is is very
superficial. For instance, there is a certain amount of American slang
picked up at random; it appears in certain pushing types of journalism
and drama. But we may easily dwell too much on this tragedy; of people
who have never spoken English beginning to speak American. I am far from
suggesting that American, like any other foreign language, may not
frequently contribute to the common culture of the world phrases for
which there is no substitute; there are French phrases so used in
England and English phrases in France. The word 'high-brow,' for
instance, is a real discovery and revelation, a new and necessary name
for something that walked nameless but enormous in the modern world, a
shaft of light and a stroke of lightning. That comes from America and
belongs to the world, as much as 'The Raven' or _The Scarlet Letter_ or
the novels of Henry James belong to the world. In fact, I can imagine
Henry James originating it in the throes of self-expression, and
bringing out a word like 'high-browed,' with a sort of gentle jerk, at
the end of searching sentences which groped sensitively until they found
the phrase. But most of the American slang that is borrowed seems to be
borrowed for no particular reason. It either has no point or the point
is lost by translation into another context and culture. It is either
something which does not need any grotesque and exaggerative
description, or of which there already exists a grotesque and
exaggerative description more native to our tongue and soil. For
instance, I cannot see that the strong and simple expression 'Now it is
for you to pull the police magistrate's nose' is in any way strengthened
by saying, 'Now it is up to you to pull the police magistrate's nose.'
When Tennyson says of the men of the Light Brigade 'Theirs but to do and
die,' the expression seems to me perfectly lucid. 'Up to them to do and
die' would alter the metre without especially clarifying the meaning.
This is an example of ordinary language being quite adequate; but there
is a further difficulty that even wild slang comes to sound like
ordinary language. Very often the English have already as humorous and
fanciful idiom of their own, only that through habit it has lost its
humour. When Keats wrote the line, 'What pipes and timbrels, what wild
ecstasy!' I am willing to believe that the American humorist would have
expressed the same sentiment by beginning the sentence with 'Some
pipe!' When that was first said, somewhere in the wilds of Colorado, it
was really funny; involving a powerful understatement and the suggestion
of a mere sample. If a spinster has informed us that she keeps a bird,
and we find it is an ostrich, there will be considerable point in the
Colorado satirist saying inquiringly, 'Some bird?' as if he were
offering us a small slice of a small plover. But if we go back to this
root and rationale of a joke, the English language already contains
quite as good a joke. It is not necessary to say, 'Some bird'; there is
a far finer irony in the old expression, 'Something like a bird.' It
suggests that the speaker sees something faintly and strangely birdlike
about a bird; that it remotely and almost irrationally reminds him of a
bird; and that there is about ostrich plumes a yard long something like
the faint and delicate traces of a feather. It has every quality of
imaginative irony, except that nobody even imagines it to be ironical.
All that happens is that people get tired of that turn of phrase, take
up a foreign phrase and get tired of that, without realising the point
of either. All that happens is that a number of weary people who used to
say, 'Something like a bird,' now say, 'Some bird,' with undiminished
weariness. But they might just as well use dull and decent English; for
in both cases they are only using jocular language without seeing the
joke.

There is indeed a considerable trade in the transplantation of these
American jokes to England just now. They generally pine and die in our
climate, or they are dead before their arrival; but we cannot be certain
that they were never alive. There is a sort of unending frieze or
scroll of decorative designs unrolled ceaselessly before the British
public, about a hen-pecked husband, which is indistinguishable to the
eye from an actual self-repeating pattern like that of the Greek Key,
but which is imported as if it were as precious and irreplaceable as the
Elgin Marbles. Advertisement and syndication make mountains out of the
most funny little mole-hills; but no doubt the mole-hills are
picturesque enough in their own landscape. In any case there is nothing
so national as humour; and many things, like many people, can be
humorous enough when they are at home. But these American jokes are
boomed as solemnly as American religions; and their supporters gravely
testify that they are funny, without seeing the fun of it for a moment.
This is partly perhaps the spirit of spontaneous institutionalism in
American democracy, breaking out in the wrong place. They make humour an
institution; and a man will be set to tell an anecdote as if to play the
violin. But when the story is told in America it really is amusing; and
when these jokes are reprinted in England they are often not even
intelligible. With all the stupidity of the millionaire and the
monopolist, the enterprising proprietor prints jokes in England which
are necessarily unintelligible to nearly every English person; jokes
referring to domestic and local conditions quite peculiar to America. I
saw one of these narrative caricatures the other day in which the whole
of the joke (what there was of it) turned on the astonishment of a
housewife at the absurd notion of not having an ice-box. It is perfectly
true that nearly every ordinary American housewife possesses an ice-box.
An ordinary English housewife would no more expect to possess an
ice-box than to possess an iceberg. And it would be about as sensible to
tow an iceberg to an English port all the way from the North Pole, as to
trail that one pale and frigid joke to Fleet Street all the way from the
New York papers. It is the same with a hundred other advertisements and
adaptations. I have already confessed that I took a considerable delight
in the dancing illuminations of Broadway--in Broadway. Everything there
is suitable to them, the vast interminable thoroughfare, the toppling
houses, the dizzy and restless spirit of the whole city. It is a city of
dissolving views, and one may almost say a city in everlasting
dissolution. But I do not especially admire a burning fragment of
Broadway stuck up opposite the old Georgian curve of Regent Street. I
would as soon express sympathy with the Republic of Switzerland by
erecting a small Alp, with imitation snow, in the middle of St. James's
Park.

But all this commercial copying is very superficial; and above all, it
never copies anything that is really worth copying. Nations never
_learn_ anything from each other in this way. We have many things to
learn from America; but we only listen to those Americans who have still
to learn them. Thus, for instance, we do not import the small farm but
only the big shop. In other words, we hear nothing of the democracy of
the Middle West, but everything of the plutocracy of the middleman, who
is probably as unpopular in the Middle West as the miller in the Middle
Ages. If Mr. Elihu K. Pike could be transplanted bodily from the
neighbourhood of his home town of Marathon, Neb., with his farm and his
frame-house and all its fittings, and they could be set down exactly in
the spot now occupied by Selfridge's (which could be easily cleared away
for the purpose), I think we could really get a great deal of good by
watching him, even if the watching were inevitably a little too like
watching a wild beast in a cage or an insect under a glass case. Urban
crowds could collect every day behind a barrier or railing, and gaze at
Mr. Pike pottering about all day in his ancient and autochthonous
occupations. We could see him growing Indian corn with all the gravity
of an Indian; though it is impossible to imagine Mrs. Pike blessing the
cornfield in the manner of Minnehaha. As I have said, there is a certain
lack of humane myth and mysticism about this Puritan peasantry. But we
could see him transforming the maize into pop-corn, which is a very
pleasant domestic ritual and pastime, and is the American equivalent of
the glory of roasting chestnuts. Above all, many of us would learn for
the first time that a man can really live and walk about upon something
more productive than a pavement; and that when he does so he can really
be a free man, and have no lord but the law. Instead of that, America
can give nothing to London but those multiple modern shops, of which it
has too many already. I know that many people entertain the innocent
illusion that big shops are more efficient than small ones; but that is
only because the big combinations have the monopoly of advertisement as
well as trade. The big shop is not in the least remarkable for
efficiency; it is only too big to be blamed for its inefficiency. It is
secure in its reputation for always sacking the wrong man. A big shop,
considered as a place to shop in, is simply a village of small shops
roofed in to keep out the light and air; and one in which none of the
shopkeepers is really responsible for his shop. If any one has any
doubts on this matter, since I have mentioned it, let him consider this
fact: that in practice we never do apply this method of commercial
combination to anything that matters very much. We do not go to the
surgical department of the Stores to have a portion of our brain removed
by a delicate operation; and then pass on to the advocacy department to
employ one or any of its barristers, when we are in temporary danger of
being hanged. We go to men who own their own tools and are responsible
for the use of their own talents. And the same truth applies to that
other modern method of advertisement, which has also so largely fallen
across us like the gigantic shadow of America. Nations do not arm
themselves for a mortal struggle by remembering which sort of submarine
they have seen most often on the hoardings. They can do it about
something like soap, precisely because a nation will not perish by
having a second-rate sort of soap, as it might by having a second-rate
sort of submarine. A nation may indeed perish slowly by having a
second-rate sort of food or drink or medicine; but that is another and
much longer story, and the story is not ended yet. But nobody wins a
great battle at a great crisis because somebody has told him that
Cadgerboy's Cavalry Is the Best. It may be that commercial enterprise
will eventually cover these fields also, and advertisement-agents will
provide the instruments of the surgeon and the weapons of the soldier.
When that happens, the armies will be defeated and the patients will
die. But though we modern people are indeed patients, in the sense of
being merely receptive and accepting things with astonishing patience,
we are not dead yet; and we have lingering gleams of sanity.

For the best things do not travel. As I appear here as a traveller, I
may say with all modesty that the best people do not travel either. Both
in England and America the normal people are the national people; and I
repeat that I think they are growing more and more national. I do not
think the abyss is being bridged by cosmopolitan theories; and I am sure
I do not want it bridged by all this slang journalism and blatant
advertisement. I have called all that commercial publicity the gigantic
shadow of America. It may be the shadow of America, but it is not the
light of America. The light lies far beyond, a level light upon the
lands of sunset, where it shines upon wide places full of a very simple
and a very happy people; and those who would see it must seek for it.



_Lincoln and Lost Causes_


It has already been remarked here that the English know a great deal
about past American literature, but nothing about past American history.
They do not know either, of course, as well as they know the present
American advertising, which is the least important of the three. But it
is worth noting once more how little they know of the history, and how
illogically that little is chosen. They have heard, no doubt, of the
fame and the greatness of Henry Clay. He is a cigar. But it would be
unwise to cross-examine any Englishman, who may be consuming that luxury
at the moment, about the Missouri Compromise or the controversies with
Andrew Jackson. And just as the statesman of Kentucky is a cigar, so the
state of Virginia is a cigarette. But there is perhaps one exception, or
half-exception, to this simple plan. It would perhaps be an exaggeration
to say that Plymouth Rock is a chicken. Any English person keeping
chickens, and chiefly interested in Plymouth Rocks considered as
chickens, would nevertheless have a hazy sensation of having seen the
word somewhere before. He would feel subconsciously that the Plymouth
Rock had not always been a chicken. Indeed, the name connotes something
not only solid but antiquated; and is not therefore a very tactful name
for a chicken. There would rise up before him something memorable in
the haze that he calls his history; and he would see the history books
of his boyhood and old engravings of men in steeple-crowned hats
struggling with sea-waves or Red Indians. The whole thing would suddenly
become clear to him if (by a simple reform) the chickens were called
Pilgrim Fathers.

Then he would remember all about it. The Pilgrim Fathers were champions
of religious liberty; and they discovered America. It is true that he
has also heard of a man called Christopher Columbus; but that was in
connection with an egg. He has also heard of somebody known as Sir
Walter Raleigh; and though his principal possession was a cloak, it is
also true that he had a potato, not to mention a pipe of tobacco. Can it
be possible that he brought it from Virginia, where the cigarettes come
from? Gradually the memories will come back and fit themselves together
for the average hen-wife who learnt history at the English elementary
schools, and who has now something better to do. Even when the narrative
becomes consecutive, it will not necessarily become correct. It is not
strictly true to say that the Pilgrim Fathers discovered America. But it
is quite as true as saying that they were champions of religious
liberty. If we said that they were martyrs who would have died
heroically in torments rather than tolerate any religious liberty, we
should be talking something like sense about them, and telling the real
truth that is their due. The whole Puritan movement, from the Solemn
League and Covenant to the last stand of the last Stuarts, was a
struggle _against_ religious toleration, or what they would have called
religious indifference. The first religious equality on earth was
established by a Catholic cavalier in Maryland. Now there is nothing in
this to diminish any dignity that belongs to any real virtues and
virilities in the Pilgrim Fathers; on the contrary, it is rather to the
credit of their consistency and conviction. But there is no doubt that
the note of their whole experiment in New England was intolerance, and
even inquisition. And there is no doubt that New England was then only
the newest and not the oldest of these colonial experiments. At least
two Cavaliers had been in the field before any Puritans. And they had
carried with them much more of the atmosphere and nature of the normal
Englishman than any Puritan could possibly carry. They had established
it especially in Virginia, which had been founded by a great Elizabethan
and named after the great Elizabeth. Before there was any New England in
the North, there was something very like Old England in the South.
Relatively speaking, there is still.

Whenever the anniversary of the _Mayflower_ comes round, there is a
chorus of Anglo-American congratulation and comradeship, as if this at
least were a matter on which all can agree. But I knew enough about
America, even before I went there, to know that there are a good many
people there at any rate who do not agree with it. Long ago I wrote a
protest in which I asked why Englishmen had forgotten the great state of
Virginia, the first in foundation and long the first in leadership; and
why a few crabbed Nonconformists should have the right to erase a record
that begins with Raleigh and ends with Lee, and incidentally includes
Washington. The great state of Virginia was the backbone of America
until it was broken in the Civil War. From Virginia came the first great
Presidents and most of the Fathers of the Republic. Its adherence to
the Southern side in the war made it a great war, and for a long time a
doubtful war. And in the leader of the Southern armies it produced what
is perhaps the one modern figure that may come to shine like St. Louis
in the lost battle, or Hector dying before holy Troy.

Again, it is characteristic that while the modern English know nothing
about Lee they do know something about Lincoln; and nearly all that they
know is wrong. They know nothing of his Southern connections, nothing of
his considerable Southern sympathy, nothing of the meaning of his
moderation in face of the problem of slavery, now lightly treated as
self-evident. Above all, they know nothing about the respect in which
Lincoln was quite un-English, was indeed the very reverse of English;
and can be understood better if we think of him as a Frenchman, since it
seems so hard for some of us to believe that he was an American. I mean
his lust for logic for its own sake, and the way he kept mathematical
truths in his mind like the fixed stars. He was so far from being a
merely practical man, impatient of academic abstractions, that he
reviewed and revelled in academic abstractions, even while he could not
apply them to practical life. He loved to repeat that slavery was
intolerable while he tolerated it, and to prove that something ought to
be done while it was impossible to do it. This was probably very
bewildering to his brother-politicians; for politicians always whitewash
what they do not destroy. But for all that this inconsistent consistency
beat the politicians at their own game, and this abstracted logic proved
the most practical of all. For when the chance did come to do something,
there was no doubt about the thing to be done. The thunderbolt fell
from the clear heights of heaven; it had not been tossed about and lost
like a common missile in the market-place. The matter is worth
mentioning, because it has a moral for a much larger modern question. A
wise man's attitude towards industrial capitalism will be very like
Lincoln's attitude towards slavery. That is, he will manage to endure
capitalism; but he will not endure a defence of capitalism. He will
recognise the value, not only of knowing what he is doing, but of
knowing what he would like to do. He will recognise the importance of
having a thing clearly labelled in his own mind as bad, long before the
opportunity comes to abolish it. He may recognise the risk of even worse
things in immediate abolition, as Lincoln did in abolitionism. He will
not call all business men brutes, any more than Lincoln would call all
planters demons; because he knows they are not. He will regard many
alternatives to capitalism as crude and inhuman, as Lincoln regarded
John Brown's raid; because they are. But he will clear his _mind_ from
cant about capitalism; he will have no doubt of what is the truth about
Trusts and Trade Combines and the concentration of capital; and it is
the truth that they endure under one of the ironic silences of heaven,
over the pageants and the passing triumphs of hell.

But the name of Lincoln has a more immediate reference to the
international matters I am considering here. His name has been much
invoked by English politicians and journalists in connection with the
quarrel with Ireland. And if we study the matter, we shall hardly admire
the tact and sagacity of those journalists and politicians.

History is an eternal tangle of cross-purposes; and we could not take a
clearer case, or rather a more complicated case, of such a tangle, than
the facts lying behind a political parallel recently mentioned by many
politicians. I mean the parallel between the movement for Irish
independence and the attempted secession of the Southern Confederacy in
America. Superficially any one might say that the comparison is natural
enough; and that there is much in common between the quarrel of the
North and South in Ireland and the quarrel of the North and South in
America. In both cases the South was on the whole agricultural, the
North on the whole industrial. True, the parallel exaggerates the
position of Belfast; to complete it we must suppose the whole Federal
system to have consisted of Pittsburg. In both the side that was more
successful was felt by many to be less attractive. In both the same
political terms were used, such as the term 'Union' and 'Unionism.' An
ordinary Englishman comes to America, knowing these main lines of
American history, and knowing that the American knows the similar main
lines of Irish history. He knows that there are strong champions of
Ireland in America; possibly he also knows that there are very genuine
champions of England in America. By every possible historical analogy,
he would naturally expect to find the pro-Irish in the South and the
pro-English in the North. As a matter of fact, he finds almost exactly
the opposite. He finds Boston governed by Irishmen, and Nashville
containing people more pro-English than Englishmen. He finds Virginians
not only of British blood, like George Washington, but of British
opinions almost worthy of George the Third.

But I do not say this, as will be seen in a moment, as a criticism of
the comparative Toryism of the South. I say it as a criticism of the
superlative stupidity of English propaganda. On another page I remark on
the need for a new sort of English propaganda; a propaganda that should
be really English and have some remote reference to England. Now if it
were a matter of making foreigners feel the real humours and humanities
of England, there are no Americans so able or willing to do it as the
Americans of the Southern States. As I have already hinted, some of them
are so loyal to the English humanities, that they think it their duty to
defend even the English inhumanities. New England is turning into New
Ireland. But Old England can still be faintly traced in Old Dixie. It
contains some of the best things that England herself has had, and
therefore (of course) the things that England herself has lost, or is
trying to lose. But above all, as I have said, there are people in these
places whose historic memories and family traditions really hold them to
us, not by alliance but by affection. Indeed, they have the affection in
spite of the alliance. They love us in spite of our compliments and
courtesies and hands across the sea; all our ambassadorial salutations
and speeches cannot kill their love. They manage even to respect us in
spite of the shady Jew stockbrokers we send them as English envoys, or
the 'efficient' men, who are sent out to be tactful with foreigners
because they have been too tactless with trades unionists. This type of
traditional American, North or South, really has some traditions
connecting him with England; and though he is now in a very small
minority, I cannot imagine why England should wish to make it smaller.
England once sympathised with the South. The South still sympathises
with England. It would seem that the South, or some elements in the
South, had rather the advantage of us in political firmness and
fidelity; but it does not follow that that fidelity will stand every
shock. And at this moment, and in this matter, of all things in the
world, our political propagandists must try to bolster British
Imperialism up, by kicking Southern Secession when it is down. The
English politicians eagerly point out that we shall be justified in
crushing Ireland exactly as Sumner and Stevens crushed the most English
part of America. It does not seem to occur to them that this comparison
between the Unionist triumph in America and a Unionist triumph in
Britain is rather hard upon our particular sympathisers, who did not
triumph. When England exults in Lincoln's victory over his foes, she is
exulting in his victory over her own friends. If her diplomacy continues
as delicate and chivalrous as it is at present, they may soon be her
only friends. England will be defending herself at the expense of her
only defenders. But however this may be, it is as well to bear witness
to some of the elements of my own experience; and I can answer for it,
at least, that there are some people in the South who will not be
pleased at being swept into the rubbish heap of history as rebels and
ruffians; and who will not, I regret to say, by any means enjoy even
being classed with Fenians and Sinn Feiners.

Now touching the actual comparison between the conquest of the
Confederacy and the conquest of Ireland, there are, of course, a good
many things to be said which politicians cannot be expected to
understand. Strange to say, it is not certain that a lost cause was
never worth winning; and it would be easy to argue that the world lost
very much indeed when that particular cause was lost. These are not days
in which it is exactly obvious that an agricultural society was more
dangerous than an industrial one. And even Southern slavery had this one
moral merit, that it was decadent; it has this one historic advantage,
that it is dead. The Northern slavery, industrial slavery, or what is
called wage slavery, is not decaying but increasing; and the end of it
is not yet. But in any case, it would be well for us to realise that the
reproach of resembling the Confederacy does not ring in all ears as an
unanswerable condemnation. It is scarcely a self-evident or sufficient
argument, to some hearers, even to prove that the English are as
delicate and philanthropic as Sherman, still less that the Irish are as
criminal and lawless as Lee. Nor will it soothe every single soul on the
American continent to say that the English victory in Ireland will be
followed by a reconstruction, like the reconstruction exhibited in the
film called 'The Birth of a Nation.' And, indeed, there is a further
inference from that fine panorama of the exploits of the Ku-Klux Klan.
It would be easy, as I say, to turn the argument entirely in favour of
the Confederacy. It would be easy to draw the moral, not that the
Southern Irish are as wrong as the Southern States, but that the
Southern States were as right as the Southern Irish. But upon the whole,
I do not incline to accept the parallel in that sense any more than in
the opposite sense. For reasons I have already given elsewhere, I do
believe that in the main Abraham Lincoln was right. But right in what?

If Lincoln was right, he was right in guessing that there was not
really a Northern nation and a Southern nation, but only one American
nation. And if he has been proved right, he has been proved right by the
fact that men in the South, as well as the North, do now feel a
patriotism for that American nation. His wisdom, if it really was
wisdom, was justified not by his opponents being conquered, but by their
being converted. Now, if the English politicians must insist on this
parallel, they ought to see that the parallel is fatal to themselves.
The very test which proved Lincoln right has proved them wrong. The very
judgment which may have justified him quite unquestionably condemns
them. We have again and again conquered Ireland, and have never come an
inch nearer to converting Ireland. We have had not one Gettysburg, but
twenty Gettysburgs; but we have had no Union. And that is where, as I
have remarked, it is relevant to remember that flying fantastic vision
on the films that told so many people what no histories have told them.
I heard when I was in America rumours of the local reappearance of the
Ku-Klux Klan; but the smallness and mildness of the manifestation, as
compared with the old Southern or the new Irish case, is alone a
sufficient example of the exception that proves the rule. To approximate
to any resemblance to recent Irish events, we must imagine the Ku-Klux
Klan riding again in more than the terrors of that vision, wild as the
wind, white as the moon, terrible as an army with banners. If there were
really such a revival of the Southern action, there would equally be a
revival of the Southern argument. It would be clear that Lee was right
and Lincoln was wrong; that the Southern States were national and were
as indestructible as nations. If the South were as rebellious as
Ireland, the North would be as wrong as England.

But I desire a new English diplomacy that will exhibit, not the things
in which England is wrong but the things in which England is right. And
England is right in England, just as she is wrong in Ireland; and it is
exactly that rightness of a real nation in itself that it is at once
most difficult and most desirable to explain to foreigners. Now the
Irishman, and to some extent the American, has remained alien to
England, largely because he does not truly realise that the Englishman
loves England, still less can he really imagine why the Englishman loves
England. That is why I insist on the stupidity of ignoring and insulting
the opinions of those few Virginians and other Southerners who really
have some inherited notion of why Englishmen love England; and even love
it in something of the same fashion themselves. Politicians who do not
know the English spirit when they see it at home, cannot of course be
expected to recognise it abroad. Publicists are eloquently praising
Abraham Lincoln, for all the wrong reasons; but fundamentally for that
worst and vilest of all reasons--that he succeeded. None of them seems
to have the least notion of how to look for England in England; and they
would see something fantastic in the figure of a traveller who found it
elsewhere, or anywhere but in New England. And it is well, perhaps, that
they have not yet found England where it is hidden in England; for if
they found it, they would kill it.

All I am concerned to consider here is the inevitable failure of this
sort of Anglo-American propaganda to create a friendship. To praise
Lincoln as an Englishman is about as appropriate as if we were praising
Lincoln as an English town. We are talking about something totally
different. And indeed the whole conversation is rather like some such
cross-purposes about some such word as 'Lincoln'; in which one party
should be talking about the President and the other about the cathedral.
It is like some wild bewilderment in a farce, with one man wondering how
a President could have a church-spire, and the other wondering how a
church could have a chin-beard. And the moral is the moral on which I
would insist everywhere in this book; that the remedy is to be found in
disentangling the two and not in entangling them further. You could not
produce a democrat of the logical type of Lincoln merely out of the
moral materials that now make up an English cathedral town, like that on
which Old Tom of Lincoln looks down. But on the other hand, it is quite
certain that a hundred Abraham Lincolns, working for a hundred years,
could not build Lincoln Cathedral. And the farcical allegory of an
attempt to make Old Tom and Old Abe embrace to the glory of the
illogical Anglo-Saxon language is but a symbol of something that is
always being attempted, and always attempted in vain. It is not by
mutual imitation that the understanding can come. It is not by erecting
New York sky-scrapers in London that New York can learn the sacred
significance of the towers of Lincoln. It is not by English dukes
importing the daughters of American millionaires that England can get
any glimpse of the democratic dignity of American men. I have the best
of all reasons for knowing that a stranger can be welcomed in America;
and just as he is courteously treated in the country as a stranger, so
he should always be careful to treat it as a strange land. That sort of
imaginative respect, as for something different and even distant, is the
only beginning of any attachment between patriotic peoples. The English
traveller may carry with him at least one word of his own great language
and literature; and whenever he is inclined to say of anything 'This is
passing strange,' he may remember that it was no inconsiderable
Englishman who appended to it the answer, 'And therefore as a stranger
give it welcome.'



_Wells and the World State_


There was recently a highly distinguished gathering to celebrate the
past, present, and especially future triumphs of aviation. Some of the
most brilliant men of the age, such as Mr. H. G. Wells and Mr. J. L.
Garvin, made interesting and important speeches, and many scientific
aviators luminously discussed the new science. Among their graceful
felicitations and grave and quiet analyses a word was said, or a note
was struck, which I myself can never hear, even in the most harmless
after-dinner speech, without an impulse to leap up and yell, and smash
the decanters and wreck the dinner-table.

Long ago, when I was a boy, I heard it with fury; and never since have I
been able to understand any free man hearing it without fury. I heard it
when Bloch, and the old prophets of pacifism by panic, preached that war
would become too horrible for patriots to endure. It sounded to me like
saying that an instrument of torture was being prepared by my dentist,
that would finally cure me of loving my dog. And I felt it again when
all these wise and well-meaning persons began to talk about the
inevitable effect of aviation in bridging the Atlantic, and establishing
alliance and affection between England and America.

I resent the suggestion that a machine can make me bad. But I resent
quite equally the suggestion that a machine can make me good. It might
be the unfortunate fact that a coolness had arisen between myself and
Mr. Fitzarlington Blenkinsop, inhabiting the suburban villa and garden
next to mine; and I might even be largely to blame for it. But if
somebody told me that a new kind of lawn-mower had just been invented,
of so cunning a structure that I should be forced to become a
bosom-friend of Mr. Blenkinsop whether I liked it or not, I should be
very much annoyed. I should be moved to say that if that was the only
way of cutting my grass I would not cut my grass, but continue to cut my
neighbour. Or suppose the difference were even less defensible; suppose
a man had suffered from a trifling shindy with his wife. And suppose
somebody told him that the introduction of an entirely new
vacuum-cleaner would compel him to a reluctant reconciliation with his
wife. It would be found, I fancy, that human nature abhors that vacuum.
Reasonably spirited human beings will not be ordered about by bicycles
and sewing-machines; and a sane man will not be made good, let alone
bad, by the things he has himself made. I have occasionally dictated to
a typewriter, but I will not be dictated to by a typewriter, even of the
newest and most complicated mechanism; nor have I ever met a typewriter,
however complex, that attempted such a tyranny.

Yet this and nothing else is what is implied in all such talk of the
aeroplane annihilating distinctions as well as distances; and an
international aviation abolishing nationalities. This and nothing else
was really implied in one speaker's prediction that such aviation will
almost necessitate an Anglo-American friendship. Incidentally, I may
remark, it is not a true suggestion even in the practical and
materialistic sense; and the speaker's phrase refuted the speaker's
argument. He said that international relations must be more friendly
when men can get from England to America in a day. Well, men can already
get from England to Germany in a day; and the result was a mutual
invitation of which the formalities lasted for five years. Men could get
from the coast of England to the coast of France very quickly, through
nearly all the ages during which those two coasts were bristling with
arms against each other. They could get there very quickly when Nelson
went down by that Burford Inn to embark for Trafalgar; they could get
there very quickly when Napoleon sat in his tent in that camp at
Boulogne that filled England with alarums of invasion. Are these the
amiable and pacific relations which will unite England and America, when
Englishmen can get to America in a day? The shortening of the distance
seems quite as likely, so far as that argument goes, to facilitate that
endless guerilla warfare which raged across the narrow seas in the
Middle Ages; when French invaders carried away the bells of Rye, and the
men of those flats of East Sussex gloriously pursued and recovered them.
I do not know whether American privateers, landing at Liverpool, would
carry away a few of the more elegant factory chimneys as a substitute
for the superstitious symbols of the past. I know not if the English, on
ripe reflection, would essay with any enthusiasm to get them back. But
anyhow it is anything but self-evident that people cannot fight each
other because they are near to each other; and if it were true, there
would never have been any such thing as border warfare in the world. As
a fact, border warfare has often been the one sort of warfare which it
was most difficult to bring under control. And our own traditional
position in face of this new logic is somewhat disconcerting. We have
always supposed ourselves safer because we were insular and therefore
isolated. We have been congratulating ourselves for centuries on having
enjoyed peace because we were cut off from our neighbours. And now they
are telling us that we shall only enjoy peace when we are joined up with
our neighbours. We have pitied the poor nations with frontiers, because
a frontier only produces fighting; and now we are trusting to a frontier
as the only thing that will produce friendship. But, as a matter of
fact, and for a far deeper and more spiritual reason, a frontier will
not produce friendship. Only friendliness produces friendship. And we
must look far deeper into the soul of man for the thing that produces
friendliness.

But apart from this fallacy about the facts, I feel, as I say, a strong
abstract anger against the idea, or what some would call the ideal. If
it were true that men could be taught and tamed by machines, even if
they were taught wisdom or tamed to amiability, I should think it the
most tragic truth in the world. A man so improved would be, in an
exceedingly ugly sense, losing his soul to save it. But in truth he
cannot be so completely coerced into good; and in so far as he is
incompletely coerced, he is quite as likely to be coerced into evil. Of
the financial characters who figure as philanthropists and philosophers
in such cases, it is strictly true to say that their good is evil. The
light in their bodies is darkness, and the highest objects of such men
are the lowest objects of ordinary men. Their peace is mere safety,
their friendship is mere trade; their international friendship is mere
international trade. The best we can say of that school of capitalism is
that it will be unsuccessful. It has every other vice, but it is not
practical. It has at least the impossibility of idealism; and so far as
remoteness can carry it, that Inferno is indeed a Utopia. All the
visible manifestations of these men are materialistic; but at least
their visions will not materialise. The worst we suffer; but the best we
shall at any rate escape. We may continue to endure the realities of
cosmopolitan capitalism; but we shall be spared its ideals.

But I am not primarily interested in the plutocrats whose vision takes
so vulgar a form. I am interested in the same thing when it takes a far
more subtle form, in men of genius and genuine social enthusiasm like
Mr. H. G. Wells. It would be very unfair to a man like Mr. Wells to
suggest that in his vision the Englishman and the American are to
embrace only in the sense of clinging to each other in terror. He is a
man who understands what friendship is, and who knows how to enjoy the
motley humours of humanity. But the political reconstruction which he
proposes is too much determined by this old nightmare of
necessitarianism. He tells us that our national dignities and
differences must be melted into the huge mould of a World State, or else
(and I think these are almost his own words) we shall be destroyed by
the instruments and machinery we have ourselves made. In effect, men
must abandon patriotism or they will be murdered by science. After this,
surely no one can accuse Mr. Wells of an undue tenderness for scientific
over other types of training. Greek may be a good thing or no; but
nobody says that if Greek scholarship is carried past a certain point,
everybody will be torn in pieces like Orpheus, or burned up like Semele,
or poisoned like Socrates. Philosophy, theology and logic may or may not
be idle academic studies; but nobody supposes that the study of
philosophy, or even of theology, ultimately forces its students to
manufacture racks and thumb-screws against their will; or that even
logicians need be so alarmingly logical as all that. Science seems to be
the only branch of study in which people have to be waved back from
perfection as from a pestilence. But my business is not with the
scientific dangers which alarm Mr. Wells, but with the remedy he
proposes for them; or rather with the relation of that remedy to the
foundation and the future of America. Now it is not too much to say that
Mr. Wells finds his model in America. The World State is to be the
United States of the World. He answers almost all objections to the
practicability of such a peace among states, by pointing out that the
American States have such a peace, and by adding, truly enough, that
another turn of history might easily have seen them broken up by war.
The pattern of the World State is to be found in the New World.

Oddly enough, as it seems to me, he proposes almost cosmic conquests for
the American Constitution, while leaving out the most successful thing
in that Constitution. The point appeared in answer to a question which
many, like myself, must have put in this matter; the question of
despotism and democracy. I cannot understand any democrat not seeing the
danger of so distant and indirect a system of government. It is hard
enough anywhere to get representatives to represent. It is hard enough
to get a little town council to fulfil the wishes of a little town,
even when the townsmen meet the town councillors every day in the
street, and could kick them down the street if they liked. What the same
town councillors would be like if they were ruling all their
fellow-creatures from the North Pole or the New Jerusalem, is a vision
of Oriental despotism beyond the towering fancies of Tamberlane. This
difficulty in all representative government is felt everywhere, and not
least in America. But I think that if there is one truth apparent in
such a choice of evils, it is that monarchy is at least better than
oligarchy; and that where we have to act on a large scale, the most
genuine popularity can gather round a particular person like a Pope or a
President of the United States, or even a dictator like Caesar or
Napoleon, rather than round a more or less corrupt committee which can
only be defined as an obscure oligarchy. And in that sense any oligarchy
is obscure. For people to continue to trust twenty-seven men it is
necessary, as a preliminary formality, that people should have heard of
them. And there are no twenty-seven men of whom everybody has heard as
everybody in France had heard of Napoleon, as all Catholics have heard
of the Pope or all Americans have heard of the President. I think the
mass of ordinary Americans do really elect their President; and even
where they cannot control him at least they watch him, and in the long
run they judge him. I think, therefore, that the American Constitution
has a real popular institution in the Presidency. But Mr. Wells would
appear to want the American Constitution without the Presidency. If I
understand his words rightly, he seems to want the great democracy
without its popular institution. Alluding to this danger, that the
World State might be a world tyranny, he seems to take tyranny entirely
in the sense of autocracy. He asks whether the President of the World
State would not be rather too tremendous a person, and seems to suggest
in answer that there need not even be any such person. He seems to imply
that the committee controlling the planet could meet almost without any
one in the chair, certainly without any one on the throne. I cannot
imagine anything more manifestly made to be a tyranny than such an
acephalous aristocracy. But while Mr. Wells's decision seems to me
strange, his reason for it seems to me still more extraordinary.

He suggests that no such dictator will be needed in his World State
because 'there will be no wars and no diplomacy.' A World State ought
doubtless to go round the world; and going round the world seems to be a
good training for arguing in a circle. Obviously there will be no wars
and no war-diplomacy if something has the power to prevent them; and we
cannot deduce that the something will not want any power. It is rather
as if somebody, urging that the Germans could only be defeated by
uniting the Allied commands under Marshal Foch, had said that after all
it need not offend the British Generals because the French supremacy
need only be a fiction, the Germans being defeated. We should naturally
say that the German defeat would only be a reality because the Allied
command was not a fiction. So the universal peace would only be a
reality if the World State were not a fiction. And it could not be even
a state if it were not a government. This argument amounts to saying,
first that the World State will be needed because it is strong, and
then that it may safely be weak because it will not be needed.

Internationalism is in any case hostile to democracy. I do not say it is
incompatible with it; but any combination of the two will be a
compromise between the two. The only purely popular government is local,
and founded on local knowledge. The citizens can rule the city because
they know the city; but it will always be an exceptional sort of citizen
who has or claims the right to rule over ten cities, and these remote
and altogether alien cities. All Irishmen may know roughly the same sort
of things about Ireland; but it is absurd to say they all know the same
things about Iceland, when they may include a scholar steeped in
Icelandic sagas or a sailor who has been to Iceland. To make all
politics cosmopolitan is to create an aristocracy of globe-trotters. If
your political outlook really takes in the Cannibal Islands, you depend
of necessity upon a superior and picked minority of the people who have
been to the Cannibal Islands; or rather of the still smaller and more
select minority who have come back.

Given this difficulty about quite direct democracy over large areas, I
think the nearest thing to democracy is despotism. At any rate I think
it is some sort of more or less independent monarchy, such as Andrew
Jackson created in America. And I believe it is true to say that the two
men whom the modern world really and almost reluctantly regards with
impersonal respect, as clothed by their office with something historic
and honourable, are the Pope and the President of the United States.

But to admire the United States as the United States is one thing. To
admire them as the World State is quite another. The attempt of Mr.
Wells to make America a sort of model for the federation of all the free
nations of the earth, though it is international in intention, is really
as narrowly national, in the bad sense, as the desire of Mr. Kipling to
cover the world with British Imperialism, or of Professor Treitschke to
cover it with Prussian Pan-Germanism. Not being schoolboys, we no longer
believe that everything can be settled by painting the map red. Nor do I
believe it can be done by painting it blue with white spots, even if
they are called stars. The insufficiency of British Imperialism does not
lie in the fact that it has always been applied by force of arms. As a
matter of fact, it has not. It has been effected largely by commerce, by
colonisation of comparatively empty places, by geographical discovery
and diplomatic bargain. Whether it be regarded as praise or blame, it is
certainly the truth that among all the things that have called
themselves empires, the British has been perhaps the least purely
military, and has least both of the special guilt and the special glory
that goes with militarism. The insufficiency of British Imperialism is
not that it is imperial, let alone military. The insufficiency of
British Imperialism is that it is British; when it is not merely Jewish.
It is that just as a man is no more than a man, so a nation is no more
than a nation; and any nation is inadequate as an international model.
Any state looks small when it occupies the whole earth. Any polity is
narrow as soon as it is as wide as the world. It would be just the same
if Ireland began to paint the map green or Montenegro were to paint it
black. The objection to spreading anything all over the world is that,
among other things, you have to spread it very thin.

But America, which Mr. Wells takes as a model, is in another sense
rather a warning. Mr. Wells says very truly that there was a moment in
history when America might well have broken up into independent states
like those of Europe. He seems to take it for granted that it was in all
respects an advantage that this was avoided. Yet there is surely a case,
however mildly we put it, for a certain importance in the world still
attaching to Europe. There are some who find France as interesting as
Florida; and who think they can learn as much about history and humanity
in the marble cities of the Mediterranean as in the wooden towns of the
Middle West. Europe may have been divided, but it was certainly not
destroyed; nor has its peculiar position in the culture of the world
been destroyed. Nothing has yet appeared capable of completely eclipsing
it, either in its extension in America or its imitation in Japan. But
the immediate point here is perhaps a more important one. There is now
no creed accepted as embodying the common sense of all Europe, as the
Catholic creed was accepted as embodying it in mediaeval times. There is
no culture broadly superior to all others, as the Mediterranean culture
was superior to that of the barbarians in Roman times. If Europe were
united in modern times, it would probably be by the victory of one of
its types over others, possibly over all the others. And when America
was united finally in the nineteenth century, it _was_ by the victory of
one of its types over others. It is not yet certain that this victory
was a good thing. It is not yet certain that the world will be better
for the triumph of the North over the Southern traditions of America.
It may yet turn out to be as unfortunate as a triumph of the North
Germans over the Southern traditions of Germany and of Europe.

The men who will not face this fact are men whose minds are not free.
They are more crushed by Progress than any pietists by Providence. They
are not allowed to question that whatever has recently happened was all
for the best. Now Progress is Providence without God. That is, it is a
theory that everything has always perpetually gone right by accident. It
is a sort of atheistic optimism, based on an everlasting coincidence far
more miraculous than a miracle. If there be no purpose, or if the
purpose permits of human free will, then in either case it is almost
insanely unlikely that there should be in history a period of steady and
uninterrupted progress; or in other words a period in which poor
bewildered humanity moves amid a chaos of complications, without making
a single mistake. What has to be hammered into the heads of most normal
newspaper-readers to-day is that Man has made a great many mistakes.
Modern Man has made a great many mistakes. Indeed, in the case of that
progressive and pioneering character, one is sometimes tempted to say
that he has made nothing but mistakes. Calvinism was a mistake, and
Capitalism was a mistake, and Teutonism and the flattery of the Northern
tribes were mistakes. In the French the persecution of Catholicism by
the politicians was a mistake, as they found out in the Great War; when
the memory gave Irish or Italian Catholics an excuse for hanging back.
In England the loss of agriculture and therefore of food-supply in war,
and the power to stand a siege, was a mistake. And in America the
introduction of the negroes was a mistake; but it may yet be found that
the sacrifice of the Southern white man to them was even more of a
mistake.

The reason of this doubt is in one word. We have not yet seen the end of
the whole industrial experiment; and there are already signs of it
coming to a bad end. It may end in Bolshevism. It is more likely to end
in the Servile State. Indeed, the two things are not so different as
some suppose, and they grow less different every day. The Bolshevists
have already called in Capitalists to help them to crush the free
peasants. The Capitalists are quite likely to call in Labour Leaders to
whitewash their compromise as social reform or even Socialism. The
cosmopolitan Jews who are the Communists in the East will not find it so
very hard to make a bargain with the cosmopolitan Jews who are
Capitalists in the West. The Western Jews would be willing to admit a
nominal Socialism. The Eastern Jews have already admitted that their
Socialism is nominal. It was the Bolshevist leader himself who said,
'Russia is again a Capitalist country.' But whoever makes the bargain,
and whatever is its precise character, the substance of it will be
servile. It will be servile in the only rational and reliable sense;
that is, an arrangement by which a mass of men are ensured shelter and
livelihood, in return for being subjected to a law which obliges them to
continue to labour. Of course it will not be called the Servile State;
it is very probable that it will be called the Socialist State. But
nobody seems to realise how very near all the industrial countries are
to it. At any moment it may appear in the simple form of compulsory
arbitration; for compulsory arbitration dealing with private employers
is by definition slavery. When workmen receive unemployment pay, and at
the same time arouse more and more irritation by going on strike, it may
seem very natural to give them the unemployment pay for good and forbid
them the strike for good; and the combination of those two things is by
definition slavery. And Trotsky can beat any Trust magnate as a
strike-breaker; for he does not even pretend that his compulsory labour
is a free bargain. If Trotsky and the Trust magnate come to a working
compromise, that compromise will be a Servile State. But it will also be
the supreme and by far the most constructive and conclusive result of
the industrial movement in history; of the power of machinery or money;
of the huge populations of the modern cities; of scientific inventions
and resources; of all the things before which the agricultural society
of the Southern Confederacy went down. But even those who cannot see
that commercialism may end in the triumph of slavery can see that the
Northern victory has to a great extent ended in the triumph of
commercialism. And the point at the moment is that this did definitely
mean, even at the time, the triumph of one American type over another
American type; just as much as any European war might mean the triumph
of one European type over another. A victory of England over France
would be a victory of merchants over peasants; and the victory of
Northerners over Southerners was a victory of merchants over squires. So
that that very unity, which Mr. Wells contrasts so favourably with war,
was not only itself due to a war, but to a war which had one of the most
questionable and even perilous of the results of war. That result was a
change in the balance of power, the predominance of a particular
partner, the exaltation of a particular example, the eclipse of
excellent traditions when the defeated lost their international
influence. In short, it made exactly the same sort of difference of
which we speak when we say that 1870 was a disaster to Europe, or that
it was necessary to fight Prussia lest she should Prussianise the whole
world. America would have been very different if the leadership had
remained with Virginia. The world would have been very different if
America had been very different. It is quite reasonable to rejoice that
the issue went as it did; indeed, as I have explained elsewhere, for
other reasons I do on the whole rejoice in it. But it is certainly not
self-evident that it is a matter for rejoicing. One type of American
state conquered and subjugated another type of American state; and the
virtues and value of the latter were very largely lost to the world. So
if Mr. Wells insists on the parallel of a United States of Europe, he
must accept the parallel of a Civil War of Europe. He must suppose that
the peasant countries crush the industrial countries or vice versa; and
that one or other of them becomes the European tradition to the neglect
of the other. The situation which seems to satisfy him so completely in
America is, after all, the situation which would result in Europe if the
Germanic Empires, let us say, had entirely arrested the special
development of the Slavs; or if the influence of France had really
broken off short under a blow from Britain. The Old South had qualities
of humane civilisation which have not sufficiently survived; or at any
rate have not sufficiently spread. It is true that the decline of the
agricultural South has been considerably balanced by the growth of the
agricultural West. It is true, as I have occasion to emphasise in
another place, that the West does give the New America something that is
nearly a normal peasantry, as a pendant to the industrial towns. But
this is not an answer; it is rather an augmentation of the argument. In
so far as America is saved it is saved by being patchy; and would be
ruined if the Western patch had the same fate as the Southern patch.
When all is said, therefore, the advantages of American unification are
not so certain that we can apply them to a world unification. The doubt
could be expressed in a great many ways and by a great many examples.
For that matter, it is already being felt that the supremacy of the
Middle West in politics is inflicting upon other localities exactly the
sort of local injustice that turns provinces into nations struggling to
be free. It has already inflicted what amounts to religious persecution,
or the imposition of an alien morality, on the wine-growing civilisation
of California. In a word, the American system is a good one as
governments go; but it is too large, and the world will not be improved
by making it larger. And for this reason alone I should reject this
second method of uniting England and America; which is not only
Americanising England, but Americanising everything else.

But the essential reason is that a type of culture came out on top in
America and England in the nineteenth century, which cannot and would
not be tolerated on top of the world. To unite all the systems at the
top, without improving and simplifying their social organisation below,
would be to tie all the tops of the trees together where they rise
above a dense and poisonous jungle, and make the jungle darker than
before. To create such a cosmopolitan political platform would be to
build a roof above our own heads to shut out the sunlight, on which only
usurers and conspirators clad in gold could walk about in the sun. This
is no moment when industrial intellectualism can inflict such an
artificial oppression upon the world. Industrialism itself is coming to
see dark days, and its future is very doubtful. It is split from end to
end with strikes and struggles for economic life, in which the poor not
only plead that they are starving, but even the rich can only plead that
they are bankrupt. The peasantries are growing not only more prosperous
but more politically effective; the Russian moujik has held up the
Bolshevist Government of Moscow and Petersburg; a huge concession has
been made by England to Ireland; the League of Nations has decided for
Poland against Prussia. It is not certain that industrialism will not
wither even in its own field; it is certain that its intellectual ideas
will not be allowed to cover every field; and this sort of cosmopolitan
culture is one of its ideas. Industrialism itself may perish; or on the
other hand industrialism itself may survive, by some searching and
scientific reform that will really guarantee economic security to all.
It may really purge itself of the accidental maladies of anarchy and
famine; and continue as a machine, but at least as a comparatively clean
and humanely shielded machine; at any rate no longer as a man-eating
machine. Capitalism may clear itself of its worst corruptions by such
reform as is open to it; by creating humane and healthy conditions for
labour, and setting the labouring classes to work under a lucid and
recognised law. It may make Pittsburg one vast model factory for all who
will model themselves upon factories; and may give to all men and women
in its employment a clear social status in which they can be contented
and secure. And on the day when that social security is established for
the masses, when industrial capitalism has achieved this larger and more
logical organisation and found peace at last, a strange and shadowy and
ironic triumph, like an abstract apology, will surely hover over all
those graves in the Wilderness where lay the bones of so many gallant
gentlemen; men who had also from their youth known and upheld such a
social stratification, who had the courage to call a spade a spade and a
slave a slave.



_A New Martin Chuzzlewit_


The aim of this book, if it has one, is to suggest this thesis; that the
very worst way of helping Anglo-American friendship is to be an
Anglo-American. There is only one thing lower, of course, which is being
an Anglo-Saxon. It is lower, because at least Englishmen do exist and
Americans do exist; and it may be possible, though repulsive, to imagine
an American and an Englishman in some way blended together. But if
Angles and Saxons ever did exist, they are all fortunately dead now; and
the wildest imagination cannot form the weakest idea of what sort of
monster would be made by mixing one with the other. But my thesis is
that the whole hope, and the only hope, lies not in mixing two things
together, but rather in cutting them very sharply asunder. That is the
only way in which two things can succeed sufficiently in getting outside
each other to appreciate and admire each other. So long as they are
different and yet supposed to be the same, there can be nothing but a
divided mind and a staggering balance. It may be that in the first
twilight of time man and woman walked about as one quadruped. But if
they did, I am sure it was a quadruped that reared and bucked and kicked
up its heels. Then the flaming sword of some angel divided them, and
they fell in love with each other.

Should the reader require an example a little more within historical
range, or a little more subject to critical tests, than the above
prehistoric anecdote (which I need not say was revealed to me in a
vision) it would be easy enough to supply them both in a hypothetical
and a historical form. It is obvious enough in a general way that if we
begin to subject diverse countries to an identical test, there will not
only be rivalry, but what is far more deadly and disastrous,
superiority. If we institute a competition between Holland and
Switzerland as to the relative grace and agility of their mountain
guides, it will be clear that the decision is disproportionately easy;
it will also be clear that certain facts about the configuration of
Holland have escaped our international eye. If we establish a comparison
between them in skill and industry in the art of building dykes against
the sea, it will be equally clear that the injustice falls the other
way; it will also be clear that the situation of Switzerland on the map
has received insufficient study. In both cases there will not only be
rivalry but very unbalanced and unjust rivalry; in both cases,
therefore, there will not only be enmity but very bitter or insolent
enmity. But so long as the two are sharply divided there can be no
enmity because there can be no rivalry. Nobody can argue about whether
the Swiss climb mountains better than the Dutch build dykes; just as
nobody can argue about whether a triangle is more triangular than a
circle is round.

This fancy example is alphabetically and indeed artificially simple;
but, having used it for convenience, I could easily give similar
examples not of fancy but of fact. I had occasion recently to attend the
Christmas festivity of a club in London for the exiles of one of the
Scandinavian nations. When I entered the room the first thing that
struck my eye, and greatly raised my spirits, was that the room was
dotted with the colours of peasant costumes and the specimens of peasant
craftsmanship. There were, of course, other costumes and other crafts in
evidence; there were men dressed like myself (only better) in the garb
of the modern middle classes; there was furniture like the furniture of
any other room in London. Now, according to the ideal formula of the
ordinary internationalist, these things that we had in common ought to
have moved me to a sense of the kinship of all civilisation. I ought to
have felt that as the Scandinavian gentleman wore a collar and tie, and
I also wore a collar and tie, we were brothers and nothing could come
between us. I ought to have felt that we were standing for the same
principles of truth because we were wearing the same pair of trousers;
or rather, to speak with more precision, similar pairs of trousers.
Anyhow, the pair of trousers, that cloven pennon, ought to have floated
in fancy over my head as the banner of Europe or the League of Nations.
I am constrained to confess that no such rush of emotions overcame me;
and the topic of trousers did not float across my mind at all. So far as
those things were concerned, I might have remained in a mood of mortal
enmity, and cheerfully shot or stabbed the best dressed gentleman in the
room. Precisely what did warm my heart with an abrupt affection for that
northern nation was the very thing that is utterly and indeed lamentably
lacking in my own nation. It was something corresponding to the one
great gap in English history, corresponding to the one great blot on
English civilisation. It was the spiritual presence of a peasantry,
dressed according to its own dignity, and expressing itself by its own
creations.

The sketch of America left by Charles Dickens is generally regarded as
something which is either to be used as a taunt or covered with an
apology. Doubtless it was unduly critical, even of the America of that
day; yet curiously enough it may well be the text for a true
reconciliation at the present day. It is true that in this, as in other
things, the Dickensian exaggeration is itself exaggerated. It is also
true that, while it is over-emphasised, it is not allowed for. Dickens
tended too much to describe the United States as a vast lunatic asylum;
but partly because he had a natural inspiration and imagination suited
to the description of lunatic asylums. As it was his finest poetic fancy
that created a lunatic over the garden wall, so it was his fancy that
created a lunatic over the western sea. To read some of the complaints,
one would fancy that Dickens had deliberately invented a low and
farcical America to be a contrast to his high and exalted England. It is
suggested that he showed America as full of rowdy bullies like Hannibal
Chollop, or ridiculous wind-bags like Elijah Pogram, while England was
full of refined and sincere spirits like Jonas Chuzzlewit, Chevy Slime,
Montague Tigg, and Mr. Pecksniff. If _Martin Chuzzlewit_ makes America a
lunatic asylum, what in the world does it make England? We can only say
a criminal lunatic asylum. The truth is, of course, that Dickens so
described them because he had a genius for that sort of description; for
the making of almost maniacal grotesques of the same type as Quilp or
Fagin. He made these Americans absurd because he was an artist in
absurdity; and no artist can help finding hints everywhere for his own
peculiar art. In a word, he created a laughable Pogram for the same
reason that he created a laughable Pecksniff; and that was only because
no other creature could have created them.

It is often said that we learn to love the characters in romances as if
they were characters in real life. I wish we could sometimes love the
characters in real life as we love the characters in romances. There are
a great many human souls whom we should accept more kindly, and even
appreciate more clearly, if we simply thought of them as people in a
story. _Martin Chuzzlewit_ is itself indeed an unsatisfactory and even
unfortunate example; for it is, among its author's other works, a rather
unusually harsh and hostile story. I do not suggest that we should feel
towards an American friend that exact shade or tint of tenderness that
we feel towards Mr. Hannibal Chollop. Our enjoyment of the foreigner
should rather resemble our enjoyment of Pickwick than our enjoyment of
Pecksniff. But there is this amount of appropriateness even in the
particular example; that Dickens did show in both countries how men can
be made amusing to each other. So far the point is not that he made fun
of America, but that he got fun out of America. And, as I have already
pointed out, he applied exactly the same method of selection and
exaggeration to England. In the other English stories, written in a more
amiable mood, he applied it in a more amiable manner; but he could apply
it to an American too, when he was writing in that mood and manner. We
can see it in the witty and withering criticism delivered by the Yankee
traveller in the musty refreshment room of Mugby Junction; a genuine
example of a genuinely American fun and freedom satirising a genuinely
British stuffiness and snobbery. Nobody expects the American traveller
to admire the refreshments at Mugby Junction; but he might admire the
refreshment at one of the Pickwickian inns, especially if it contained
Pickwick. Nobody expects Pickwick to like Pogram; but he might like the
American who made fun of Mugby Junction. But the point is that, while he
supported him in making fun, he would also think him funny. The two
comic characters could admire each other, but they would also be amused
at each other. And the American would think the Englishman funny because
he was English; and a very good reason too. The Englishman would think
the American amusing because he was American; nor can I imagine a better
ground for his amusement.

Now many will debate on the psychological possibility of such a
friendship founded on reciprocal ridicule, or rather on a comedy of
comparisons. But I will say of this harmony of humours what Mr. H. G.
Wells says of his harmony of states in the unity of his World State. If
it be truly impossible to have such a peace, then there is nothing
possible except war. If we cannot have friends in this fashion, then we
shall sooner or later have enemies in some other fashion. There is no
hope in the pompous impersonalities of internationalism.

And this brings us to the real and relevant mistake of Dickens. It was
not in thinking his Americans funny, but in thinking them foolish
because they were funny. In this sense it will be noticed that Dickens's
American sketches are almost avowedly superficial; they are descriptions
of public life and not private life. Mr. Jefferson Brick had no private
life. But Mr. Jonas Chuzzlewit undoubtedly had a private life; and even
kept some parts of it exceeding private. Mr. Pecksniff was also a
domestic character; so was Mr. Quilp. Mr. Pecksniff and Mr. Quilp had
slightly different ways of surprising their families; Mr. Pecksniff by
playfully observing 'Boh!' when he came home; Mr. Quilp by coming home
at all. But we can form no picture of how Mr. Hannibal Chollop playfully
surprised his family; possibly by shooting at them; possibly by not
shooting at them. We can only say that he would rather surprise us by
having a family at all. We do not know how the Mother of the Modern
Gracchi managed the Modern Gracchi; for her maternity was rather a
public than a private office. We have no romantic moonlit scenes of the
love-making of Elijah Pogram, to balance against the love story of Seth
Pecksniff. These figures are all in a special sense theatrical; all
facing one way and lit up by a public limelight. Their ridiculous
characters are detachable from their real characters, if they have any
real characters. And the author might perfectly well be right about what
is ridiculous, and wrong about what is real. He might be as right in
smiling at the Pograms and the Bricks as in smiling at the Pickwicks and
the Boffins. And he might still be as wrong in seeing Mr. Pogram as a
hypocrite as the great Buzfuz was wrong in seeing Mr. Pickwick as a
monster of revolting heartlessness and systematic villainy. He might
still be as wrong in thinking Jefferson Brick a charlatan and a cheat as
was that great disciple of Lavater, Mrs. Wilfer, in tracing every
wrinkle of evil cunning in the face of Mrs. Boffin. For Mr. Pickwick's
spectacles and gaiters and Mrs. Boffin's bonnets and boudoir are after
all superficial jokes; and might be equally well seen whatever we saw
beneath them. A man may smile and smile and be a villain; but a man may
also make us smile and not be a villain. He may make us smile and not
even be a fool. He may make us roar with laughter and be an exceedingly
wise man.

Now that is the paradox of America which Dickens never discovered.
Elijah Pogram was far more fantastic than his satirist thought; and the
most grotesque feature of Brick and Chollop was hidden from him. The
really strange thing was that Pogram probably did say, 'Rough he may be.
So air our bars. Wild he may be. So air our buffalers,' and yet was a
perfectly intelligent and public-spirited citizen while he said it. The
extraordinary thing is that Jefferson Brick may really have said, 'The
libation of freedom must sometimes be quaffed in blood,' and yet
Jefferson Brick may have served freedom, resisting unto blood. There
really has been a florid school of rhetoric in the United States which
has made it quite possible for serious and sensible men to say such
things. It is amusing simply as a difference of idiom or costume is
always amusing; just as English idiom and English costume are amusing to
Americans. But about this kind of difference there can be no kind of
doubt. So sturdy not to say stuffy a materialist as Ingersoll could say
of so shoddy not to say shady a financial politician as Blaine, 'Like an
arméd warrior, like a pluméd knight, James G. Blaine strode down the
hall of Congress, and flung his spear full and true at the shield of
every enemy of his country and every traducer of his fair name.'
Compared with that, the passage about bears and buffaloes, which Mr.
Pogram delivered in defence of the defaulting post-master, is really a
very reasonable and appropriate statement. For bears and buffaloes are
wild and rough and in that sense free; while pluméd knights do not throw
their lances about like the assegais of Zulus. And the defaulting
post-master was at least as good a person to praise in such a fashion as
James G. Blaine of the Little Rock Railway. But anybody who had treated
Ingersoll or Blaine merely as a fool and a figure of fun would have very
rapidly found out his mistake. But Dickens did not know Brick or Chollop
long enough to find out his mistake. It need not be denied that, even
after a full understanding, he might still have found things to smile at
or to criticise. I do not insist on his admitting that Hannibal Chollop
was as great a hero as Hannibal, or that Elijah Pogram was as true a
prophet as Elijah. But I do say very seriously that they had something
about their atmosphere and situation that made possible a sort of
heroism and even a sort of prophecy that were really less natural at
that period in that Merry England whose comedy and common sense we sum
up under the name of Dickens. When we joke about the name of Hannibal
Chollop, we might remember of what nation was the general who dismissed
his defeated soldiers at Appomatox with words which the historian has
justly declared to be worthy of Hannibal: 'We have fought through this
war together. I have done my best for you.' It is not fair to forget
Jefferson, or even Jefferson Davis, entirely in favour of Jefferson
Brick.

For all these three things, good, bad, and indifferent, go together to
form something that Dickens missed, merely because the England of his
time most disastrously missed it. In this case, as in every case, the
only way to measure justly the excess of a foreign country is to measure
the defect of our own country. For in this matter the human mind is the
victim of a curious little unconscious trick, the cause of nearly all
international dislikes. A man treats his own faults as original sin and
supposes them scattered everywhere with the seed of Adam. He supposes
that men have then added their own foreign vices to the solid and simple
foundation of his own private vices. It would astound him to realise
that they have actually, by their strange erratic path, avoided his
vices as well as his virtues. His own faults are things with which he is
so much at home that he at once forgets and assumes them abroad. He is
so faintly conscious of them in himself that he is not even conscious of
the absence of them in other people. He assumes that they are there so
that he does not see that they are not there. The Englishman takes it
for granted that a Frenchman will have all the English faults. Then he
goes on to be seriously angry with the Frenchman for having dared to
complicate them by the French faults. The notion that the Frenchman has
the French faults and _not_ the English faults is a paradox too wild to
cross his mind.

He is like an old Chinaman who should laugh at Europeans for wearing
ludicrous top-hats and curling up their pig-tails inside them; because
obviously all men have pig-tails, as all monkeys have tails. Or he is
like an old Chinese lady who should justly deride the high-heeled shoes
of the West, considering them a needless addition to the sufficiently
tight and secure bandaging of the foot; for, of course, all women bind
up their feet, as all women bind up their hair. What these Celestial
thinkers would not think of, or allow for, is the wild possibility that
we do not have pig-tails although we do have top-hats, or that our
ladies are not silly enough to have Chinese feet, though they are silly
enough to have high-heeled shoes. Nor should we necessarily have come an
inch nearer to the Chinese extravagances even if the chimney-pot hat
rose higher than a factory chimney or the high heels had evolved into a
sort of stilts. By the same fallacy the Englishman will not only curse
the French peasant as a miser, but will also try to tip him as a beggar.
That is, he will first complain of the man having the surliness of an
independent man, and then accuse him of having the servility of a
dependent one. Just as the hypothetical Chinaman cannot believe that we
have top-hats but not pig-tails, so the Englishman cannot believe that
peasants are not snobs even when they are savages. Or he sees that a
Paris paper is violent and sensational; and then supposes that some
millionaire owns twenty such papers and runs them as a newspaper trust.
Surely the Yellow Press is present everywhere to paint the map yellow,
as the British Empire to paint it red. It never occurs to such a critic
that the French paper is violent because it is personal, and personal
because it belongs to a real and responsible person, and not to a ring
of nameless millionaires. It is a pamphlet, and not an anonymous
pamphlet. In a hundred other cases the same truth could be illustrated;
the situation in which the black man first assumes that all mankind is
black, and then accuses the rest of the artificial vice of painting
their faces red and yellow, or the hypocrisy of white-washing
themselves after the fashion of whited sepulchres. The particular case
of it now before us is that of the English misunderstanding of America;
and it is based, as in all these cases, on the English misunderstanding
of England.

For the truth is that England has suffered of late from not having
enough of the free shooting of Hannibal Chollop; from not understanding
enough that the libation of freedom must sometimes be quaffed in blood.
The prosperous Englishman will not admit this; but then the prosperous
Englishman will not admit that he has suffered from anything. That is
what he is suffering from. Until lately at least he refused to realise
that many of his modern habits had been bad habits, the worst of them
being contentment. For all the real virtue in contentment evaporates,
when the contentment is only satisfaction and the satisfaction is only
self-satisfaction. Now it is perfectly true that America and not England
has seen the most obvious and outrageous official denials of liberty.
But it is equally true that it has seen the most obvious flouting of
such official nonsense, far more obvious than any similar evasions in
England. And nobody who knows the subconscious violence of the American
character would ever be surprised if the weapons of Chollop began to be
used in that most lawful lawlessness. It is perfectly true that the
libation of freedom must sometimes be drunk in blood, and never more
(one would think) than when mad millionaires forbid it to be drunk in
beer. But America, as compared with England, is the country where one
can still fancy men obtaining the libation of beer by the libation of
blood. Vulgar plutocracy is almost omnipotent in both countries; but I
think there is now more kick of reaction against it in America than in
England. The Americans may go mad when they make laws; but they recover
their reason when they disobey them. I wish I could believe that there
was as much of that destructive repentance in England; as indeed there
certainly was when Cobbett wrote. It faded gradually like a dying fire
through the Victorian era; and it was one of the very few realities that
Dickens did not understand. But any one who does understand it will know
that the days of Cobbett saw the last lost fight for English democracy;
and that if he had stood at that turning of the historic road, he would
have wished a better fate to the frame-breakers and the fury against the
first machinery, and luck to the Luddite fires.

Anyhow, what is wanted is a new Martin Chuzzlewit, told by a wiser Mark
Tapley. It is typical of something sombre and occasionally stale in the
mood of Dickens when he wrote that book, that the comic servant is not
really very comic. Mark Tapley is a very thin shadow of Sam Weller. But
if Dickens had written it in a happier mood, there might have been a
truer meaning in Mark Tapley's happiness. For it is true that this
illogical good humour amid unreason and disorder is one of the real
virtues of the English people. It is the real advantage they have in
that adventure all over the world, which they were recently and
reluctantly induced to call an Empire. That receptive ridicule remains
with them as a secret pleasure when they are colonists--or convicts.
Dickens might have written another version of the great romance, and one
in which America was really seen gaily by Mark instead of gloomily by
Martin. Mark Tapley might really have made the best of America. Then
America would have lived and danced before us like Pickwick's England, a
fairyland of happy lunatics and lovable monsters, and we might still
have sympathised as much with the rhetoric of Lafayette Kettle as with
the rhetoric of Wilkins Micawber, or with the violence of Chollop as
with the violence of Boythorn. That new Martin Chuzzlewit will never be
written; and the loss of it is more tragic than the loss of _Edwin
Drood_. But every man who has travelled in America has seen glimpses and
episodes in that untold tale; and far away on the Red-Indian frontiers
or in the hamlets in the hills of Pennsylvania, there are people whom I
met for a few hours or for a few moments, whom I none the less sincerely
like and respect because I cannot but smile as I think of them. But the
converse is also true; they have probably forgotten me; but if they
remember they laugh.



_The Spirit of America_


I suggest that diplomatists of the internationalist school should spend
some of their money on staging farces and comedies of cross-purposes,
founded on the curious and prevalent idea that England and America have
the same language. I know, of course, that we both inherit the glorious
tongue of Shakespeare, not to mention the tune of the musical glasses;
but there have been moments when I thought that if we spoke Greek and
they spoke Latin we might understand each other better. For Greek and
Latin are at least fixed, while American at least is still very fluid. I
do not know the American language, and therefore I do not claim to
distinguish between the American language and the American slang. But I
know that highly theatrical developments might follow on taking the
words as part of the English slang or the English language. I have
already given the example of calling a person 'a regular guy,' which in
the States is a graceful expression of respect and esteem, but which on
the stage, properly handled, might surely lead the way towards a divorce
or duel or something lively. Sometimes coincidence merely clinches a
mistake, as it so often clinches a misprint. Every proof-reader knows
that the worst misprint is not that which makes nonsense but that which
makes sense; not that which is obviously wrong but that which is
hideously right. He who has essayed to write 'he got the book,' and has
found it rendered mysteriously as 'he got the boob' is pensively
resigned. It is when it is rendered quite lucidly as 'he got the boot'
that he is moved to a more passionate mood of regret. I have had
conversations in which this sort of accident would have wholly misled
me, if another accident had not come to the rescue. An American friend
of mine was telling me of his adventures as a cinema-producer down in
the south-west where real Red Indians were procurable. He said that
certain Indians were 'very bad actors.' It passed for me as a very
ordinary remark on a very ordinary or natural deficiency. It would
hardly seem a crushing criticism to say that some wild Arab chieftain
was not very good at imitating a farmyard; or that the Grand Llama of
Thibet was rather clumsy at making paper boats. But the remark might be
natural in a man travelling in paper boats, or touring with an invisible
farmyard for his menagerie. As my friend was a cinema-producer, I
supposed he meant that the Indians were bad cinema actors. But the
phrase has really a high and austere moral meaning, which my levity had
wholly missed. A bad actor means a man whose actions are bad or morally
reprehensible. So that I might have embraced a Red Indian who was
dripping with gore, or covered with atrocious crimes, imagining there
was nothing the matter with him beyond a mistaken choice of the
theatrical profession. Surely there are here the elements of a play, not
to mention a cinema play. Surely a New England village maiden might find
herself among the wigwams in the power of the formidable and fiendish
'Little Blue Bison,' merely through her mistaken sympathy with his
financial failure as a Film Star. The notion gives me glimpses of all
sorts of dissolving views of primeval forests and flamboyant theatres;
but this impulse of irrelevant theatrical production must be curbed.
There is one example, however, of this complication of language actually
used in contrary senses, about which the same figure can be used to
illustrate a more serious fact.

Suppose that, in such an international interlude, an English girl and an
American girl are talking about the fiancé of the former, who is coming
to call. The English girl will be haughty and aristocratic (on the
stage), the American girl will of course have short hair and skirts and
will be cynical; Americans being more completely free from cynicism than
any people in the world. It is the great glory of Americans that they
are not cynical; for that matter, English aristocrats are hardly ever
haughty; they understand the game much better than that. But on the
stage, anyhow, the American girl may say, referring to her friend's
fiancé, with a cynical wave of the cigarette, 'I suppose he's bound to
come and see you.' And at this the blue blood of the Vere de Veres will
boil over; the English lady will be deeply wounded and insulted at the
suggestion that her lover only comes to see her because he is forced to
do so. A staggering stage quarrel will then ensue, and things will go
from bad to worse; until the arrival of an Interpreter who can talk both
English and American. He stands between the two ladies waving two pocket
dictionaries, and explains the error on which the quarrel turns. It is
very simple; like the seed of all tragedies. In English 'he is bound to
come and see you' means that he is obliged or constrained to come and
see you. In American it does not. In American it means that he is bent
on coming to see you, that he is irrevocably resolved to do so, and will
surmount any obstacle to do it. The two young ladies will then embrace
as the curtain falls.

Now when I was lecturing in America I was often told, in a radiant and
congratulatory manner, that such and such a person was bound to come and
hear me lecture. It seemed a very cruel form of conscription, and I
could not understand what authority could have made it compulsory. In
the course of discovering my error, however, I thought I began to
understand certain American ideas and instincts that lie behind this
American idiom. For as I have urged before, and shall often urge again,
the road to international friendship is through really understanding
jokes. It is in a sense through taking jokes seriously. It is quite
legitimate to laugh at a man who walks down the street in three white
hats and a green dressing gown, because it is unfamiliar; but after all
the man has _some_ reason for what he does; and until we know the reason
we do not understand the story, or even understand the joke. So the
outlander will always seem outlandish in custom or costume; but serious
relations depend on our getting beyond the fact of difference to the
things wherein it differs. A good symbolical figure for all this may be
found among the people who say, perhaps with a self-revealing
simplicity, that they are bound to go to a lecture.

If I were asked for a single symbolic figure summing up the whole of
what seems eccentric and interesting about America to an Englishman, I
should be satisfied to select that one lady who complained of Mrs.
Asquith's lecture and wanted her money back. I do not mean that she was
typically American in complaining; far from it. I, for one, have a great
and guilty knowledge of all that amiable American audiences will endure
without complaint. I do not mean that she was typically American in
wanting her money; quite the contrary. That sort of American spends
money rather than hoards it; and when we convict them of vulgarity we
acquit them of avarice. Where she was typically American, summing up a
truth individual and indescribable in any other way, is that she used
these words: 'I've risen from a sick-bed to come and hear her, and I
want my money back.'

The element in that which really amuses an Englishman is precisely the
element which, properly analysed, ought to make him admire an American.
But my point is that only by going through the amusement can he reach
the admiration. The amusement is in the vision of a tragic sacrifice for
what is avowedly a rather trivial object. Mrs. Asquith is a candid lady
of considerable humour; and I feel sure she does not regard the
experience of hearing her read her diary as an ecstasy for which the
sick should thus suffer martyrdom. She also is English; and had no other
claim but to amuse Americans and possibly to be amused by them. This
being so, it is rather as if somebody said, 'I have risked my life in
fire and pestilence to find my way to the music hall,' or, 'I have
fasted forty days in the wilderness sustained by the hope of seeing
Totty Toddles do her new dance.' And there is something rather more
subtle involved here. There is something in an Englishman which would
make him feel faintly ashamed of saying that he had fasted to hear
Totty Toddles, or risen from a sick-bed to hear Mrs. Asquith. He would
feel that it was undignified to confess that he had wanted mere
amusement so much; and perhaps that he had wanted anything so much. He
would not like, so to speak, to be seen rushing down the street after
Totty Toddles, or after Mrs. Asquith, or perhaps after anybody. But
there is something in it distinct from a mere embarrassment at admitting
enthusiasm. He might admit the enthusiasm if the object seemed to
justify it; he might perfectly well be serious about a serious thing.
But he cannot understand a person being proud of serious sacrifices for
what is not a serious thing. He does not like to admit that a little
thing can excite him; that he can lose his breath in running, or lose
his balance in reaching, after something that might be called silly.

Now that is where the American is fundamentally different. To him the
enthusiasm itself is meritorious. To him the excitement itself is
dignified. He counts it a part of his manhood to fast or fight or rise
from a bed of sickness for something, or possibly for anything. His
ideal is not to be a lock that only a worthy key can open, but a 'live
wire' that anything can touch or anybody can use. In a word, there is a
difference in the very definition of virility and therefore of virtue. A
live wire is not only active, it is also sensitive. Thus sensibility
becomes actually a part of virility. Something more is involved than the
vulgar simplification of the American as the irresistible force and the
Englishman as the immovable post. As a fact, those who speak of such
things nowadays generally mean by something irresistible something
simply immovable, or at least something unalterable, motionless even in
motion, like a cannon ball; for a cannon ball is as dead as a cannon.
Prussian militarism was praised in that way--until it met a French force
of about half its size on the banks of the Marne. But that is not what
an American means by energy; that sort of Prussian energy is only
monotony without repose. American energy is not a soulless machine; for
it is the whole point that he puts his soul into it. It is a very small
box for so big a thing; but it is not an empty box. But the point is
that he is not only proud of his energy, he is proud of his excitement.
He is not ashamed of his emotion, of the fire or even the tear in his
manly eye, when he tells you that the great wheel of his machine breaks
four billion butterflies an hour.

That is the point about American sport; that it is not in the least
sportive. It is because it is not very sportive that we sometimes say it
is not very sporting. It has the vices of a religion. It has all the
paradox of original sin in the service of aboriginal faith. It is
sometimes untruthful because it is sincere. It is sometimes treacherous
because it is loyal. Men lie and cheat for it as they lied for their
lords in a feudal conspiracy, or cheated for their chieftains in a
Highland feud. We may say that the vassal readily committed treason; but
it is equally true that he readily endured torture. So does the American
athlete endure torture. Not only the self-sacrifice but the solemnity of
the American athlete is like that of the American Indian. The athletes
in the States have the attitude of the athletes among the Spartans, the
great historical nation without a sense of humour. They suffer an
ascetic régime not to be matched in any monasticism and hardly in any
militarism. If any tradition of these things remains in a saner age,
they will probably be remembered as a mysterious religious order of
fakirs or dancing dervishes, who shaved their heads and fasted in honour
of Hercules or Castor and Pollux. And that is really the spiritual
atmosphere though the gods have vanished; and the religion is
subconscious and therefore irrational. For the problem of the modern
world is that it has continued to be religious when it has ceased to be
rational. Americans really would starve to win a cocoa-nut shy. They
would fast or bleed to win a race of paper boats on a pond. They would
rise from a sick-bed to listen to Mrs. Asquith.

But it is the real reason that interests me here. It is certainly not
that Americans are so stupid as not to know that cocoa-nuts are only
cocoa-nuts and paper boats only made of paper. Americans are, on an
average, rather more intelligent than Englishmen; and they are well
aware that Hercules is a myth and that Mrs. Asquith is something of a
mythologist. It is not that they do not know that the object is small in
itself; it is that they do really believe that the enthusiasm is great
in itself. They admire people for being impressionable. They admire
people for being excited. An American so struggling for some
disproportionate trifle (like one of my lectures) really feels in a
mystical way that he is right, because it is his whole morality to be
keen. So long as he wants something very much, whatever it is, he feels
he has his conscience behind him, and the common sentiment of society
behind him, and God and the whole universe behind him. Wedged on one leg
in a hot crowd at a trivial lecture, he has self-respect; his dignity
is at rest. That is what he means when he says he is bound to come to
the lecture.

Now the Englishman is fond of occasional larks. But these things are not
larks; nor are they occasional. It is the essential of the Englishman's
lark that he should think it a lark; that he should laugh at it even
when he does it. Being English myself, I like it; but being English
myself, I know it is connected with weaknesses as well as merits. In its
irony there is condescension and therefore embarrassment. This patronage
is allied to the patron, and the patron is allied to the aristocratic
tradition of society. The larks are a variant of laziness because of
leisure; and the leisure is a variant of the security and even supremacy
of the gentleman. When an undergraduate at Oxford smashes half a hundred
windows he is well aware that the incident is merely a trifle. He can be
trusted to explain to his parents and guardians that it was merely a
trifle. He does not say, even in the American sense, that he was bound
to smash the windows. He does not say that he had risen from a sick-bed
to smash the windows. He does not especially think he has risen at all;
he knows he has descended (though with delight, like one diving or
sliding down the banisters) to something flat and farcical and full of
the English taste for the bathos. He has collapsed into something
entirely commonplace; though the owners of the windows may possibly not
think so. This rather indescribable element runs through a hundred
English things, as in the love of bathos shown even in the sound of
proper names; so that even the yearning lover in a lyric yearns for
somebody named Sally rather than Salome, and for a place called Wapping
rather than a place called Westermain. Even in the relapse into
rowdiness there is a sort of relapse into comfort. There is also what is
so large a part of comfort; carelessness. The undergraduate breaks
windows because he does not care about windows, not because he does care
about more fresh air like a hygienist, or about more light like a German
poet. Still less does he heroically smash a hundred windows because they
come between him and the voice of Mrs. Asquith. But least of all does he
do it because he seriously prides himself on the energy apart from its
aim, and on the will-power that carries it through. He is not 'bound' to
smash the windows, even in the sense of being bent upon it. He is not
bound at all but rather relaxed; and his violence is not only a
relaxation but a laxity. Finally, this is shown in the fact that he only
smashes windows when he is in the mood to smash windows; when some
fortunate conjunction of stars and all the tints and nuances of nature
whisper to him that it would be well to smash windows. But the American
is always ready, at any moment, to waste his energies on the wilder and
more suicidal course of going to lectures. And this is because to him
such excitement is not a mood but a moral ideal. As I note in another
connection, much of the English mystery would be clear to Americans if
they understood the word 'mood.' Englishmen are very moody, especially
when they smash windows. But I doubt if many Americans understand
exactly what we mean by the mood; especially the passive mood.

It is only by trying to get some notion of all this that an Englishman
can enjoy the final crown and fruit of all international friendship;
which is really liking an American to be American. If we only think that
parts of him are excellent because parts of him are English, it would be
far more sensible to stop at home and possibly enjoy the society of a
whole complete Englishman. But anybody who does understand this can take
the same pleasure in an American being American that he does in a
thunderbolt being swift and a barometer being sensitive. He can see that
a vivid sensibility and vigilance really radiate outwards through all
the ramifications of machinery and even of materialism. He can see that
the American uses his great practical powers upon very small
provocation; but he can also see that there is a kind of sense of
honour, like that of a duellist, in his readiness to be provoked.
Indeed, there is some parallel between the American man of action,
however vulgar his aims, and the old feudal idea of the gentleman with a
sword at his side. The gentleman may have been proud of being strong or
sturdy; he may too often have been proud of being thick-headed; but he
was not proud of being thick-skinned. On the contrary, he was proud of
being thin-skinned. He also seriously thought that sensitiveness was a
part of masculinity. It may be very absurd to read of two Irish
gentlemen trying to kill each other for trifles, or of two
Irish-American millionaires trying to ruin each other for trash. But the
very pettiness of the pretext and even the purpose illustrates the same
conception; which may be called the virtue of excitability. And it is
really this, and not any rubbish about iron will-power and masterful
mentality, that redeems with romance their clockwork cosmos and its
industrial ideals. Being a live wire does not mean that the nerves
should be like wires; but rather that the very wires should be like
nerves.

Another approximation to the truth would be to say that an American is
really not ashamed of curiosity. It is not so simple as it looks. Men
will carry off curiosity with various kinds of laughter and bravado,
just as they will carry off drunkenness or bankruptcy. But very few
people are really proud of lying on a door-step, and very few people are
really proud of longing to look through a key-hole. I do not speak of
looking through it, which involves questions of honour and self-control;
but few people feel that even the desire is dignified. Now I fancy the
American, at least by comparison with the Englishman, does feel that his
curiosity is consistent with his dignity, because dignity is consistent
with vivacity. He feels it is not merely the curiosity of Paul Pry, but
the curiosity of Christopher Columbus. He is not a spy but an explorer;
and he feels his greatness rather grow with his refusal to turn back, as
a traveller might feel taller and taller as he neared the source of the
Nile or the North-West Passage. Many an Englishman has had that feeling
about discoveries in dark continents; but he does not often have it
about discoveries in daily life. The one type does believe in the
indignity and the other in the dignity of the detective. It has nothing
to do with ethics in the merely external sense. It involves no
particular comparison in practical morals and manners. It is something
in the whole poise and posture of the self; of the way a man carries
himself. For men are not only affected by what they are; but still more,
when they are fools, by what they think they are; and when they are
wise, by what they wish to be.

There are truths that have almost become untrue by becoming untruthful.
There are statements so often stale and insincere that one hesitates to
use them, even when they stand for something more subtle. This point
about curiosity is not the conventional complaint against the American
interviewer. It is not the ordinary joke against the American child. And
in the same way I feel the danger of it being identified with the cant
about 'a young nation' if I say that it has some of the attractions, not
of American childhood, but of real childhood. There is some truth in the
tradition that the children of wealthy Americans tend to be too
precocious and luxurious. But there is a sense in which we can really
say that if the children are like adults, the adults are like children.
And that sense is in the very best sense of childhood. It is something
which the modern world does not understand. It is something that modern
Americans do not understand, even when they possess it; but I think they
do possess it.

The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose; and the text of Scripture
which he now most commonly quotes is, 'The kingdom of heaven is within
you.' That text has been the stay and support of more Pharisees and
prigs and self-righteous spiritual bullies than all the dogmas in
creation; it has served to identify self-satisfaction with the peace
that passes all understanding. And the text to be quoted in answer to it
is that which declares that no man can receive the kingdom except as a
little child. What we are to have inside is the childlike spirit; but
the childlike spirit is not entirely concerned about what is inside. It
is the first mark of possessing it that one is interested in what is
outside. The most childlike thing about a child is his curiosity and his
appetite and his power of wonder at the world. We might almost say that
the whole advantage of having the kingdom within is that we look for it
somewhere else.



_The Spirit of England_


Nine times out of ten a man's broad-mindedness is necessarily the
narrowest thing about him. This is not particularly paradoxical; it is,
when we come to think of it, quite inevitable. His vision of his own
village may really be full of varieties; and even his vision of his own
nation may have a rough resemblance to the reality. But his vision of
the world is probably smaller than the world. His vision of the universe
is certainly much smaller than the universe. Hence he is never so
inadequate as when he is universal; he is never so limited as when he
generalises. This is the fallacy in the many modern attempts at a
creedless creed, at something variously described as essential
Christianity or undenominational religion or a world faith to embrace
all the faiths in the world. It is that every sectarian is more
sectarian in his unsectarianism than he is in his sect. The emancipation
of a Baptist is a very Baptist emancipation. The charity of a Buddhist
is a very Buddhist charity, and very different from Christian charity.
When a philosophy embraces everything it generally squeezes everything,
and squeezes it out of shape; when it digests it necessarily
assimilates. When a theosophist absorbs Christianity it is rather as a
cannibal absorbs Christian missionaries. In this sense it is even
possible for the larger thing to be swallowed by the smaller; and for
men to move about not only in a Clapham sect but in a Clapham cosmos
under Clapham moon and stars.

But if this danger exists for all men, it exists especially for the
Englishman. The Englishman is never so insular as when he is imperial;
except indeed when he is international. In private life he is a good
friend and in practical politics generally a good ally. But theoretical
politics are more practical than practical politics. And in theoretical
politics the Englishman is the worst ally the world ever saw. This is
all the more curious because he has passed so much of his historical
life in the character of an ally. He has been in twenty great alliances
and never understood one of them. He has never been farther away from
European politics than when he was fighting heroically in the thick of
them. I myself think that this splendid isolation is sometimes really
splendid; so long as it is isolation and does not imagine itself to be
imperialism or internationalism. With the idea of being international,
with the idea of being imperial, comes the frantic and farcical idea of
being impartial. Generally speaking, men are never so mean and false and
hypocritical as when they are occupied in being impartial. They are
performing the first and most typical of all the actions of the devil;
they are claiming the throne of God. Even when it is not hypocrisy but
only mental confusion, it is always a confusion worse and worse
confounded. We see it in the impartial historians of the Victorian Age,
who now seem far more Victorian than the partial historians. Hallam
wrote about the Middle Ages; but Hallam was far less mediaeval than
Macaulay; for Macaulay was at least a fighter. Huxley had more mediaeval
sympathies than Herbert Spencer for the same reason; that Huxley was a
fighter. They both fought in many ways for the limitations of their own
rationalistic epoch; but they were nearer the truth than the men who
simply assumed those limitations as rational. The war of the
controversionalists was a wider thing than the peace of the arbiters.
And in the same way the Englishman never cuts a less convincing figure
before other nations than when he tries to arbitrate between them.

I have by this time heard a great deal about the necessity of saving
Anglo-American friendship, a necessity which I myself feel rather too
strongly to be satisfied with the ambassadorial and editorial style of
achieving it. I have already said that the worst style of all is to be
Anglo-American; or, as the more illiterate would express, to be
Anglo-Saxon. I am more and more convinced that the way for the
Englishman to do it is to be English; but to know that he is English and
not everything else as well. Thus the only sincere answer to Irish
nationalism is English nationalism, which is a reality; and not English
imperialism, which is a reactionary fiction, or English
internationalism, which is a revolutionary one.

For the English are reviled for their imperialism because they are not
imperialistic. They dislike it, which is the real reason why they do it
badly; and they do it badly, which is the real reason why they are
disliked when they do it. Nobody calls France imperialistic because she
has absorbed Brittany. But everybody calls England imperialistic because
she has not absorbed Ireland. The Englishman is fixed and frozen for
ever in the attitude of a ruthless conqueror; not because he has
conquered such people, but because he has not conquered them; but he is
always trying to conquer them with a heroism worthy of a better cause.
For the really native and vigorous part of what is unfortunately called
the British Empire is not an empire at all, and does not consist of
these conquered provinces at all. It is not an empire but an adventure;
which is probably a much finer thing. It was not the power of making
strange countries similar to our own, but simply the pleasure of seeing
strange countries because they were different from our own. The
adventurer did indeed, like the third son, set out to seek his fortune,
but not primarily to alter other people's fortunes; he wished to trade
with people rather than to rule them. But as the other people remained
different from him, so did he remain different from them. The adventurer
saw a thousand strange things and remained a stranger. He was the
Robinson Crusoe on a hundred desert islands; and on each he remained as
insular as on his own island.

What is wanted for the cause of England to-day is an Englishman with
enough imagination to love his country from the outside as well as the
inside. That is, we need somebody who will do for the English what has
never been done for them, but what is done for any outlandish peasantry
or even any savage tribe. We want people who can make England
attractive; quite apart from disputes about whether England is strong or
weak. We want somebody to explain, not that England is everywhere, but
what England is anywhere; not that England is or is not really dying,
but why we do not want her to die. For this purpose the official and
conventional compliments or claims can never get any farther than
pompous abstractions about Law and Justice and Truth; the ideals which
England accepts as every civilised state accepts them, and violates as
every civilised state violates them. That is not the way in which the
picture of any people has ever been painted on the sympathetic
imagination of the world. Enthusiasts for old Japan did not tell us that
the Japs recognised the existence of abstract morality; but that they
lived in paper houses or wrote letters with paint-brushes. Men who
wished to interest us in Arabs did not confine themselves to saying that
they are monotheists or moralists; they filled our romances with the
rush of Arab steeds or the colours of strange tents or carpets. What we
want is somebody who will do for the Englishman with his front garden
what was done for the Jap and his paper house; who shall understand the
Englishman with his dog as well as the Arab with his horse. In a word,
what nobody has really tried to do is the one thing that really wants
doing. It is to make England attractive as a nationality, and even as a
small nationality.

For it is a wild folly to suppose that nations will love each other
because they are alike. They will never really do that unless they are
really alike; and then they will not be nations. Nations can love each
other as men and women love each other, not because they are alike but
because they are different. It can easily be shown, I fancy, that in
every case where a real public sympathy was aroused for some unfortunate
foreign people, it has always been accompanied with a particular and
positive interest in their most foreign customs and their most foreign
externals. The man who made a romance of the Scotch High-lander made a
romance of his kilt and even of his dirk; the friend of the Red Indians
was interested in picture writing and had some tendency to be
interested in scalping. To take a more serious example, such nations as
Serbia had been largely commended to international consideration by the
study of Serbian epics, or Serbian songs. The epoch of negro
emancipation was also the epoch of negro melodies. Those who wept over
Uncle Tom also laughed over Uncle Remus. And just as the admiration for
the Redskin almost became an apology for scalping, the mysterious
fascination of the African has sometimes almost led us into the fringes
of the black forest of Voodoo. But the sort of interest that is felt
even in the scalp-hunter and the cannibal, the torturer and the
devil-worshipper, that sort of interest has never been felt in the
Englishman.

And this is the more extraordinary because the Englishman is really very
interesting. He is interesting in a special degree in this special
manner; he is interesting because he is individual. No man in the world
is more misrepresented by everything official or even in the ordinary
sense national. A description of English life must be a description of
private life. In that sense there is no public life. In that sense there
is no public opinion. There have never been those prairie fires of
public opinion in England which often sweep over America. At any rate,
there have never been any such popular revolutions since the popular
revolutions of the Middle Ages. The English are a nation of amateurs;
they are even a nation of eccentrics. An Englishman is never more
English than when he is considered a lunatic by the other Englishmen.
This can be clearly seen in a figure like Dr. Johnson, who has become
national not by being normal but by being extraordinary. To express this
mysterious people, to explain or suggest why they like tall hedges and
heavy breakfasts and crooked roads and small gardens with large fences,
and why they alone among Christians have kept quite consistently the
great Christian glory of the open fireplace, here would be a strange and
stimulating opportunity for any of the artists in words, who study the
souls of strange peoples. That would be the true way to create a
friendship between England and America, or between England and anything
else; yes, even between England and Ireland. For this justice at least
has already been done to Ireland; and as an indignant patriot I demand a
more equal treatment for the two nations.

I have already noted the commonplace that in order to teach
internationalism we must talk nationalism. We must make the nations as
nations less odious or mysterious to each other. We do not make men love
each other by describing a monster with a million arms and legs, but by
describing the men as men, with their separate and even solitary
emotions. As this has a particular application to the emotions of the
Englishman, I will return to the topic once more. Now Americans have a
power that is the soul and success of democracy, the power of
spontaneous social organisation. Their high spirits, their humane ideals
are really creative, they abound in unofficial institutions; we might
almost say in unofficial officialism. Nobody who has felt the presence
of all the leagues and guilds and college clubs will deny that Whitman
was national when he said he would build states and cities out of the
love of comrades. When all this communal enthusiasm collides with the
Englishman, it too often seems literally to leave him cold. They say he
is reserved; they possibly think he is rude. And the Englishman, having
been taught his own history all wrong, is only too likely to take the
criticism as a compliment. He admits that he is reserved because he is
stern and strong; or even that he is rude because he is shrewd and
candid. But as a fact he is not rude and not especially reserved; at
least reserve is not the meaning of his reluctance. The real difference
lies, I think, in the fact that American high spirits are not only high
but level; that the hilarious American spirit is like a plateau, and the
humorous English spirit like a ragged mountain range.

The Englishman is moody; which does not in the least mean that the
Englishman is morose. Dickens, as we all feel in reading his books, was
boisterously English. Dickens was moody when he wrote _Oliver Twist_;
but he was also moody when he wrote _Pickwick_. That is, he was in
another and much healthier mood. The mood was normal to him in the sense
that nine times out of ten he felt and wrote in that humorous and
hilarious mood. But he was, if ever there was one, a man of moods; and
all the more of a typical Englishman for being a man of moods. But it
was because of this, almost entirely, that he had a misunderstanding
with America.

In America there are no moods, or there is only one mood. It is the same
whether it is called hustle or uplift; whether we regard it as the
heroic love of comrades or the last hysteria of the herd instinct. It
has been said of the typical English aristocrats of the Government
offices that they resemble certain ornamental fountains and play from
ten till four; and it is true that an Englishman, even an English
aristocrat, is not always inclined to play any more than to work. But
American sociability is not like the Trafalgar fountains. It is like
Niagara. It never stops, under the silent stars or the rolling storms.
There seems always to be the same human heat and pressure behind it; it
is like the central heating of hotels as explained in the advertisements
and announcements. The temperature can be regulated; but it is not. And
it is always rather overpowering for an Englishman, whose mood changes
like his own mutable and shifting sky. The English mood is very like the
English weather; it is a nuisance and a national necessity.

If any one wishes to understand the quarrel between Dickens and the
Americans, let him turn to that chapter in _Martin Chuzzlewit_, in which
young Martin has to receive endless defiles and deputations of total
strangers each announced by name and demanding formal salutation. There
are several things to be noticed about this incident. To begin with, it
did not happen to Martin Chuzzlewit; but it did happen to Charles
Dickens. Dickens is incorporating almost without alteration a passage
from a diary in the middle of a story; as he did when he included the
admirable account of the prison petition of John Dickens as the prison
petition of Wilkins Micawber. There is no particular reason why even the
gregarious Americans should so throng the portals of a perfectly obscure
steerage passenger like young Chuzzlewit. There was every reason why
they should throng the portals of the author of _Pickwick_ and _Oliver
Twist_. And no doubt they did. If I may be permitted the aleatory image,
you bet they did. Similar troops of sociable human beings have visited
much more insignificant English travellers in America, with some of whom
I am myself acquainted. I myself have the luck to be a little more
stodgy and less sensitive than many of my countrymen; and certainly less
sensitive than Dickens. But I know what it was that annoyed him about
that unending and unchanging stream of American visitors; it was the
unending and unchanging stream of American sociability and high spirits.
A people living on such a lofty but level tableland do not understand
the ups and downs of the English temperament; the temper of a nation of
eccentrics or (as they used to be called) of humorists. There is
something very national in the very name of the old play of _Every Man
in His Humour_. But the play more often acted in real life is 'Every Man
Out of His Humour.' It is true, as Matthew Arnold said, that an
Englishman wants to do as he likes; but it is not always true even that
he likes what he likes. An Englishman can be friendly and yet not feel
friendly. Or he can be friendly and yet not feel hospitable. Or he can
feel hospitable and yet not welcome those whom he really loves. He can
think, almost with tears of tenderness, about people at a distance who
would be bores if they came in at the door.

American sociability sweeps away any such subtlety. It cannot be
expected to understand the paradox or perversity of the Englishman, who
thus can feel friendly and avoid friends. That is the truth in the
suggestion that Dickens was sentimental. It means that he probably felt
most sociable when he was solitary. In all these attempts to describe
the indescribable, to indicate the real but unconscious differences
between the two peoples, I have tried to balance my words without the
irrelevant bias of praise and blame. Both characteristics always cut
both ways. On one side this comradeship makes possible a certain
communal courage, a democratic derision of rich men in high places,
that is not easy in our smaller and more stratified society. On the
other hand the Englishman has certainly more liberty, if less equality
and fraternity. But the richest compensation of the Englishman is not
even in the word 'liberty,' but rather in the word 'poetry.' That humour
of escape or seclusion, that genial isolation, that healing of wounded
friendship by what Christian Science would call absent treatment, that
is the best atmosphere of all for the creation of great poetry; and out
of that came 'bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang' and
'Thou wast not made for death, immortal bird.' In this sense it is
indeed true that poetry is emotion remembered in tranquillity; which may
be extended to mean affection remembered in loneliness. There is in it a
spirit not only of detachment but even of distance; a spirit which does
desire, as in the old English rhyme, to be not only over the hills but
also far away. In other words, in so far as it is true that the
Englishman is an exception to the great truth of Aristotle, it is
because he is not so near to Aristotle as he is to Homer. In so far as
he is not by nature a political animal, it is because he is a poetical
animal. We see it in his relations to the other animals; his quaint and
almost illogical love of dogs and horses and dependants whose political
rights cannot possibly be defined in logic. Many forms of hunting or
fishing are but an excuse for the same thing which the shameless
literary man does without any excuse. Sport is speechless poetry. It
would be easy for a foreigner, by taking a few liberties with the facts,
to make a satire about the sort of silent Shelley who decides ultimately
to shoot the skylark. It would be easy to answer these poetic
suggestions by saying that he himself might be responsible for ruining
the choirs where late the sweet birds sang, or that the immortal bird
was likely to be mortal when he was out with his gun. But these
international satires are never just; and the real relations of an
Englishman and an English bird are far more delicate. It would be
equally easy and equally unjust to suggest a similar satire against
American democracy; and represent Americans merely as birds of a feather
who can do nothing but flock together. But this would leave out the fact
that at least it is not the white feather; that democracy is capable of
defiance and of death for an idea. Touching the souls of great nations,
these criticisms are generally false because they are critical.

But when we are quite sure that we rejoice in a nation's strength, then
and not before we are justified in judging its weakness. I am quite sure
that I rejoice in any democratic success without _arrière pensée_; and
nobody who knows me will credit me with a covert sneer at civic
equality. And this being granted, I do think there is a danger in the
gregariousness of American society. The danger of democracy is not
anarchy; on the contrary, it is monotony. And it is touching this that
all my experience has increased my conviction that a great deal that is
called female emancipation has merely been the increase of female
convention. Now the males of every community are far too conventional;
it was the females who were individual and criticised the conventions of
the tribe. If the females become conventional also, there is a danger of
individuality being lost. This indeed is not peculiar to America; it is
common to the whole modern industrial world, and to everything which
substitutes the impersonal atmosphere of the State for the personal
atmosphere of the home. But it is emphasised in America by the curious
contradiction that Americans do in theory value and even venerate the
individual. But individualism is still the foe of individuality. Where
men are trying to compete with each other they are trying to copy each
other. They become featureless by 'featuring' the same part.
Personality, in becoming a conscious ideal, becomes a common ideal. In
this respect perhaps there is really something to be learnt from the
Englishman with his turn or twist in the direction of private life.
Those who have travelled in such a fashion as to see all the American
hotels and none of the American houses are sometimes driven to the
excess of saying that the Americans have no private life. But even if
the exaggeration has a hint of truth, we must balance it with the
corresponding truth; that the English have no public life. They on their
side have still to learn the meaning of the public thing, the republic;
and how great are the dangers of cowardice and corruption when the very
State itself has become a State secret.

The English are patriotic; but patriotism is the unconscious form of
nationalism. It is being national without understanding the meaning of a
nation. The Americans are on the whole too self-conscious, kept moving
too much in the pace of public life, with all its temptations to
superficiality and fashion; too much aware of outside opinion and with
too much appetite for outside criticism. But the English are much too
unconscious; and would be the better for an increase in many forms of
consciousness, including consciousness of sin. But even their sin is
ignorance of their real virtue. The most admirable English things are
not the things that are most admired by the English, or for which the
English admire themselves. They are things now blindly neglected and in
daily danger of being destroyed. It is all the worse that they should be
destroyed, because there is really nothing like them in the world. That
is why I have suggested a note of nationalism rather than patriotism for
the English; the power of seeing their nation as a nation and not as the
nature of things. We say of some ballad from the Balkans or some peasant
costume in the Netherlands that it is unique; but the good things of
England really are unique. Our very isolation from continental wars and
revolutionary reconstructions have kept them unique. The particular kind
of beauty there is in an English village, the particular kind of humour
there is in an English public-house, are things that cannot be found in
lands where the village is far more simply and equally governed, or
where the vine is far more honourably served and praised. Yet we shall
not save them by merely sinking into them with the conservative sort of
contentment, even if the commercial rapacity of our plutocratic reforms
would allow us to do so. We must in a sense get far away from England in
order to behold her; we must rise above patriotism in order to be
practically patriotic; we must have some sense of more varied and remote
things before these vanishing virtues can be seen suddenly for what they
are; almost as one might fancy that a man would have to rise to the
dizziest heights of the divine understanding before he saw, as from a
peak far above a whirlpool, how precious is his perishing soul.



_The Future of Democracy_


The title of this final chapter requires an apology. I do not need to be
reminded, alas, that the whole book requires an apology. It is written
in accordance with a ritual or custom in which I could see no particular
harm, and which gives me a very interesting subject, but a custom which
it would be not altogether easy to justify in logic. Everybody who goes
to America for a short time is expected to write a book; and nearly
everybody does. A man who takes a holiday at Trouville or Dieppe is not
confronted on his return with the question, 'When is your book on France
going to appear?' A man who betakes himself to Switzerland for the
winter sports is not instantly pinned by the statement, 'I suppose your
History of the Helvetian Republic is coming out this spring?' Lecturing,
at least my kind of lecturing, is not much more serious or meritorious
than ski-ing or sea-bathing; and it happens to afford the holiday-maker
far less opportunity of seeing the daily life of the people. Of all this
I am only too well aware; and my only defence is that I am at least
sincere in my enjoyment and appreciation of America, and equally sincere
in my interest in its most serious problem, which I think a very serious
problem indeed; the problem of democracy in the modern world. Democracy
may be a very obvious and facile affair for plutocrats and politicians
who only have to use it as a rhetorical term. But democracy is a very
serious problem for democrats. I certainly do not apologise for the word
democracy; but I do apologise for the word future. I am no Futurist; and
any conjectures I make must be taken with the grain of salt which is
indeed the salt of the earth; the decent and moderate humility which
comes from a belief in free will. That faith is in itself a divine
doubt. I do not believe in any of the scientific predictions about
mankind; I notice that they always fail to predict any of the purely
human developments of men; I also notice that even their successes prove
the same truth as their failures; for their successful predictions are
not about men but about machines. But there are two things which a man
may reasonably do, in stating the probabilities of a problem, which do
not involve any claim to be a prophet. The first is to tell the truth,
and especially the neglected truth, about the tendencies that have
already accumulated in human history; any miscalculation about which
must at least mislead us in any case. We cannot be certain of being
right about the future; but we can be almost certain of being wrong
about the future, if we are wrong about the past. The other thing that
he can do is to note what ideas necessarily go together by their own
nature; what ideas will triumph together or fall together. Hence it
follows that this final chapter must consist of two things. The first is
a summary of what has really happened to the idea of democracy in recent
times; the second a suggestion of the fundamental doctrine which is
necessary for its triumph at any time.

The last hundred years has seen a general decline in the democratic
idea. If there be anybody left to whom this historical truth appears a
paradox, it is only because during that period nobody has been taught
history, least of all the history of ideas. If a sort of intellectual
inquisition had been established, for the definition and differentiation
of heresies, it would have been found that the original republican
orthodoxy had suffered more and more from secessions, schisms, and
backslidings. The highest point of democratic idealism and conviction
was towards the end of the eighteenth century, when the American
Republic was 'dedicated to the proposition that all men are equal.' It
was then that the largest number of men had the most serious sort of
conviction that the political problem could be solved by the vote of
peoples instead of the arbitrary power of princes and privileged orders.
These men encountered various difficulties and made various compromises
in relation to the practical politics of their time; in England they
preserved aristocracy; in America they preserved slavery. But though
they had more difficulties, they had less doubts. Since their time
democracy has been steadily disintegrated by doubts; and these political
doubts have been contemporary with and often identical with religious
doubts. This fact could be followed over almost the whole field of the
modern world; in this place it will be more appropriate to take the
great American example of slavery. I have found traces in all sorts of
intelligent quarters of an extraordinary idea that all the Fathers of
the Republic owned black men like beasts of burden because they knew no
better, until the light of liberty was revealed to them by John Brown
and Mrs. Beecher Stowe. One of the best weekly papers in England said
recently that even those who drew up the Declaration of Independence did
not include negroes in its generalisation about humanity. This is quite
consistent with the current convention, in which we were all brought up;
the theory that the heart of humanity broadens in ever larger circles of
brotherhood, till we pass from embracing a black man to adoring a black
beetle. Unfortunately it is quite inconsistent with the facts of
American history. The facts show that, in this problem of the Old South,
the eighteenth century was _more_ liberal than the nineteenth century.
There was _more_ sympathy for the negro in the school of Jefferson than
in the school of Jefferson Davis. Jefferson, in the dark estate of his
simple Deism, said the sight of slavery in his country made him tremble,
remembering that God is just. His fellow Southerners, after a century of
the world's advance, said that slavery in itself was good, when they did
not go farther and say that negroes in themselves were bad. And they
were supported in this by the great and growing modern suspicion that
nature is unjust. Difficulties seemed inevitably to delay justice, to
the mind of Jefferson; but so they did to the mind of Lincoln. But that
the slave was human and the servitude inhuman--that was, if anything,
clearer to Jefferson than to Lincoln. The fact is that the utter
separation and subordination of the black like a beast was a _progress_;
it was a growth of nineteenth-century enlightenment and experiment; a
triumph of science over superstition. It was 'the way the world was
going,' as Matthew Arnold reverentially remarked in some connection;
perhaps as part of a definition of God. Anyhow, it was not Jefferson's
definition of God. He fancied, in his far-off patriarchal way, a Father
who had made all men brothers; and brutally unbrotherly as was the
practice, such democratical Deists never dreamed of denying the theory.
It was not until the scientific sophistries began that brotherhood was
really disputed. Gobineau, who began most of the modern talk about the
superiority and inferiority of racial stocks, was seized upon eagerly by
the less generous of the slave-owners and trumpeted as a new truth of
science and a new defence of slavery. It was not really until the dawn
of Darwinism, when all our social relations began to smell of the
monkey-house, that men thought of the barbarian as only a first and the
baboon as a second cousin. The full servile philosophy has been a modern
and even a recent thing; made in an age whose invisible deity was the
Missing Link. The Missing Link was a true metaphor in more ways than
one; and most of all in its suggestion of a chain.

By a symbolic coincidence, indeed, slavery grew more brazen and brutal
under the encouragement of more than one movement of the progressive
sort. Its youth was renewed for it by the industrial prosperity of
Lancashire; and under that influence it became a commercial and
competitive instead of a patriarchal and customary thing. We may say
with no exaggerative irony that the unconscious patrons of slavery were
Huxley and Cobden. The machines of Manchester were manufacturing a great
many more things than the manufacturers knew or wanted to know; but they
were certainly manufacturing the fetters of the slave, doubtless out of
the best quality of steel and iron. But this is a minor illustration of
the modern tendency, as compared with the main stream of scepticism
which was destroying democracy. Evolution became more and more a vision
of the break-up of our brotherhood, till by the end of the nineteenth
century the genius of its greatest scientific romancer saw it end in the
anthropophagous antics of the Time Machine. So far from evolution
lifting us above the idea of enslaving men, it was providing us at least
with a logical and potential argument for eating them. In the case of
the American negroes, it may be remarked, it does at any rate permit the
preliminary course of roasting them. All this materialistic hardening,
which replaced the remorse of Jefferson, was part of the growing
evolutionary suspicion that savages were not a part of the human race,
or rather that there was really no such thing as the human race. The
South had begun by agreeing reluctantly to the enslavement of men. The
South ended by agreeing equally reluctantly to the emancipation of
monkeys.

That is what had happened to the democratic ideal in a hundred years.
Anybody can test it by comparing the final phase, I will not say with
the ideal of Jefferson, but with the ideal of Johnson. There was far
more horror of slavery in an eighteenth-century Tory like Dr. Johnson
than in a nineteenth-century Democrat like Stephen Douglas. Stephen
Douglas may be mentioned because he is a very representative type of the
age of evolution and expansion; a man thinking in continents, like Cecil
Rhodes, human and hopeful in a truly American fashion, and as a
consequence cold and careless rather than hostile in the matter of the
old mystical doctrines of equality. He 'did not care whether slavery was
voted up or voted down.' His great opponent Lincoln did indeed care
very much. But it was an intense individual conviction with Lincoln
exactly as it was with Johnson. I doubt if the spirit of the age was not
much more behind Douglas and his westward expansion of the white race. I
am sure that more and more men were coming to be in the particular
mental condition of Douglas; men in whom the old moral and mystical
ideals had been undermined by doubt but only with a negative effect of
indifference. Their positive convictions were all concerned with what
some called progress and some imperialism. It is true that there was a
sincere sectional enthusiasm against slavery in the North; and that the
slaves were actually emancipated in the nineteenth century. But I doubt
whether the Abolitionists would ever have secured Abolition. Abolition
was a by-product of the Civil War; which was fought for quite other
reasons. Anyhow, if slavery had somehow survived to the age of Rhodes
and Roosevelt and evolutionary imperialism, I doubt if the slaves would
ever have been emancipated at all. Certainly if it had survived till the
modern movement for the Servile State, they would never have been
emancipated at all. Why should the world take the chains off the black
man when it was just putting them on the white? And in so far as we owe
the change to Lincoln, we owe it to Jefferson. Exactly what gives its
real dignity to the figure of Lincoln is that he stands invoking a
primitive first principle of the age of innocence, and holding up the
tables of an ancient law, _against_ the trend of the nineteenth century;
repeating, 'We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are
created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, etc.,' to a
generation that was more and more disposed to say something like this:
'We hold these truths to be probable enough for pragmatists; that all
things looking like men were evolved somehow, being endowed by heredity
and environment with no equal rights, but very unequal wrongs,' and so
on. I do not believe that creed, left to itself, would ever have founded
a state; and I am pretty certain that, left to itself, it would never
have overthrown a slave state. What it did do, as I have said, was to
produce some very wonderful literary and artistic flights of sceptical
imagination. The world did have new visions, if they were visions of
monsters in the moon and Martians striding about like spiders as tall as
the sky, and the workmen and capitalists becoming two separate species,
so that one could devour the other as gaily and greedily as a cat
devours a bird. No one has done justice to the meaning of Mr. Wells and
his original departure in fantastic fiction; to these nightmares that
were the last apocalypse of the nineteenth century. They meant that the
bottom had fallen out of the mind at last, that the bridge of
brotherhood had broken down in the modern brain, letting up from the
chasms this infernal light like a dawn. All had grown dizzy with degree
and relativity; so that there would not be so very much difference
between eating dog and eating darkie, or between eating darkie and
eating dago. There were different sorts of apes; but there was no doubt
that we were the superior sort.

Against all this irresistible force stood one immovable post. Against
all this dance of doubt and degree stood something that can best be
symbolised by a simple example. An ape cannot be a priest, but a negro
can be a priest. The dogmatic type of Christianity, especially the
Catholic type of Christianity, had riveted itself irrevocably to the
manhood of all men. Where its faith was fixed by creeds and councils it
could not save itself even by surrender. It could not gradually dilute
democracy, as could a merely sceptical or secular democrat. There stood,
in fact or in possibility, the solid and smiling figure of a black
bishop. And he was either a man claiming the most towering spiritual
privileges of a man, or he was the mere buffoonery and blasphemy of a
monkey in a mitre. That is the point about Christian and Catholic
democracy; it is not that it is necessarily at any moment more
democratic, it is that its indestructible minimum of democracy really is
indestructible. And by the nature of things that mystical democracy was
destined to survive, when every other sort of democracy was free to
destroy itself. And whenever democracy destroying itself is suddenly
moved to save itself, it always grasps at rag or tag of that old
tradition that alone is sure of itself. Hundreds have heard the story
about the mediaeval demagogue who went about repeating the rhyme


     When Adam delved and Eve span,
     Who was then the gentleman?


Many have doubtless offered the obvious answer to the question, 'The
Serpent.' But few seem to have noticed what would be the more modern
answer to the question, if that innocent agitator went about propounding
it. 'Adam never delved and Eve never span, for the simple reason that
they never existed. They are fragments of a Chaldeo-Babylonian mythos,
and Adam is only a slight variation of Tag-Tug, pronounced Uttu. For the
real beginning of humanity we refer you to Darwin's _Origin of
Species_.' And then the modern man would go on to justify plutocracy to
the mediaeval man by talking about the Struggle for Life and the
Survival of the Fittest; and how the strongest man seized authority by
means of anarchy, and proved himself a gentleman by behaving like a cad.
Now I do not base my beliefs on the theology of John Ball, or on the
literal and materialistic reading of the text of Genesis; though I think
the story of Adam and Eve infinitely less absurd and unlikely than that
of the prehistoric 'strongest man' who could fight a hundred men. But I
do note the fact that the idealism of the leveller could be put in the
form of an appeal to Scripture, and could not be put in the form of an
appeal to Science. And I do note also that democrats were still driven
to make the same appeal even in the very century of Science. Tennyson
was, if ever there was one, an evolutionist in his vision and an
aristocrat in his sympathies. He was always boasting that John Bull was
evolutionary and not revolutionary, even as these Frenchmen. He did not
pretend to have any creed beyond faintly trusting the larger hope. But
when human dignity is really in danger, John Bull has to use the same
old argument as John Ball. He tells Lady Clara Vere de Vere that 'the
gardener Adam and his wife smile at the claim of long descent'; their
own descent being by no means long. Lady Clara might surely have scored
off him pretty smartly by quoting from 'Maud' and 'In Memoriam' about
evolution and the eft that was lord of valley and hill. But Tennyson has
evidently forgotten all about Darwin and the long descent of man. If
this was true of an evolutionist like Tennyson, it was naturally ten
times truer of a revolutionist like Jefferson. The Declaration of
Independence dogmatically bases all rights on the fact that God created
all men equal; and it is right; for if they were not created equal, they
were certainly evolved unequal.

There is no basis for democracy except in a dogma about the divine
origin of man. That is a perfectly simple fact which the modern world
will find out more and more to be a fact. Every other basis is a sort of
sentimental confusion, full of merely verbal echoes of the older creeds.
Those verbal associations are always vain for the vital purpose of
constraining the tyrant. An idealist may say to a capitalist, 'Don't you
sometimes feel in the rich twilight, when the lights twinkle from the
distant hamlet in the hills, that all humanity is a holy family?' But it
is equally possible for the capitalist to reply with brevity and
decision, 'No, I don't,' and there is no more disputing about it further
than about the beauty of a fading cloud. And the modern world of moods
is a world of clouds, even if some of them are thunderclouds.

For I have only taken here, as a convenient working model, the case of
negro slavery; because it was long peculiar to America and is popularly
associated with it. It is more and more obvious that the line is no
longer running between black and white but between rich and poor. As I
have already noted in the case of Prohibition, the very same arguments
of the inevitable suicide of the ignorant, of the impossibility of
freedom for the unfit, which were once applied to barbarians brought
from Africa are now applied to citizens born in America. It is argued
even by industrialists that industrialism has produced a class submerged
below the status of emancipated mankind. They imply that the Missing
Link is no longer missing, even from England or the Northern States, and
that the factories have manufactured their own monkeys. Scientific
hypotheses about the feeble-minded and the criminal type will supply the
masters of the modern world with more and more excuses for denying the
dogma of equality in the case of white labour as well as black. And any
man who knows the world knows perfectly well that to tell the
millionaires, or their servants, that they are disappointing the
sentiments of Thomas Jefferson, or disregarding a creed composed in the
eighteenth century, will be about as effective as telling them that they
are not observing the creed of St. Athanasius or keeping the rule of St.
Benedict.

The world cannot keep its own ideals. The secular order cannot make
secure any one of its own noble and natural conceptions of secular
perfection. That will be found, as time goes on, the ultimate argument
for a Church independent of the world and the secular order. What has
become of all those ideal figures from the Wise Man of the Stoics to the
democratic Deist of the eighteenth century? What has become of all that
purely human hierarchy of chivalry, with its punctilious pattern of the
good knight, its ardent ambition in the young squire? The very name of
knight has come to represent the petty triumph of a profiteer, and the
very word squire the petty tyranny of a landlord. What has become of all
that golden liberality of the Humanists, who found on the high
tablelands of the culture of Hellas the very balance of repose in beauty
that is most lacking in the modern world? The very Greek language that
they loved has become a mere label for snuffy and snobbish dons, and a
mere cock-shy for cheap and half-educated utilitarians, who make it a
symbol of superstition and reaction. We have lived to see a time when
the heroic legend of the Republic and the Citizen, which seemed to
Jefferson the eternal youth of the world, has begun to grow old in its
turn. We cannot recover the earthly estate of knighthood, to which all
the colours and complications of heraldry seemed as fresh and natural as
flowers. We cannot re-enact the intellectual experiences of the
Humanists, for whom the Greek grammar was like the song of a bird in
spring. The more the matter is considered the clearer it will seem that
these old experiences are now only alive, where they have found a
lodgment in the Catholic tradition of Christendom, and made themselves
friends for ever. St. Francis is the only surviving troubadour. St.
Thomas More is the only surviving Humanist. St. Louis is the only
surviving knight.

It would be the worst sort of insincerity, therefore, to conclude even
so hazy an outline of so great and majestic a matter as the American
democratic experiment, without testifying my belief that to this also
the same ultimate test will come. So far as that democracy becomes or
remains Catholic and Christian, that democracy will remain democratic.
In so far as it does not, it will become wildly and wickedly
undemocratic. Its rich will riot with a brutal indifference far beyond
the feeble feudalism which retains some shadow of responsibility or at
least of patronage. Its wage-slaves will either sink into heathen
slavery, or seek relief in theories that are destructive not merely in
method but in aim; since they are but the negations of the human
appetites of property and personality. Eighteenth-century ideals,
formulated in eighteenth-century language, have no longer in themselves
the power to hold all those pagan passions back. Even those documents
depended upon Deism; their real strength will survive in men who are
still Deists; and the men who are still Deists are more than Deists. Men
will more and more realise that there is no meaning in democracy if
there is no meaning in anything; and that there is no meaning in
anything if the universe has not a centre of significance and an
authority that is the author of our rights. There is truth in every
ancient fable, and there is here even something of it in the fancy that
finds the symbol of the Republic in the bird that bore the bolts of
Jove. Owls and bats may wander where they will in darkness, and for them
as for the sceptics the universe may have no centre; kites and vultures
may linger as they like over carrion, and for them as for the plutocrats
existence may have no origin and no end; but it was far back in the land
of legends, where instincts find their true images, that the cry went
forth that freedom is an eagle, whose glory is gazing at the sun.





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