Ronald A. Bosco and Joel Myerson (eds), The Later Lectures of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1843–1871, Vol. 1: 1843–1854
pg 190"England"5 December 1848(1848–1852)——————————————————————————————
Emerson ﬁrst delivered "England" under the title "Why England is England" on 5 December 1848 before the Concord Lyceum in Concord, Massachusetts. Two days later, on 7 December 1848, he delivered the lecture as "England" before the Newport Lyceum in Newport, Rhode Island, and received $20. He repeated "England" on 25 December 1848 before the New Bedford Lyceum in New Bedford, Massachusetts, receiving $20; on 27 December 1848 as the ﬁrst of two lectures before the Mercantile Library Association at Tremont Temple in Boston ($100 for the two lectures); on 20 February 1849 as the ﬁrst of two lectures in Framingham, Massachusetts ($25 for the two lectures); on 7 March 1849 before the Cambridge Lyceum in Cambridge, Massachusetts ($15); on 22 January 1850 as the ﬁrst of two lectures before the Mercantile Library Association at Clinton Hall in New York City ($100 for the two lectures); on 26 March 1850 as the ﬁfth in a series of seven lectures at the Hope Chapel in New York City ($390 for the series); on 29 March 1850 as the third in a series of three private lectures at Female Academy Hall in Brooklyn, New York ($116 for the three lectures); on 3 April 1850 as the ﬁrst in a series of six private lectures in Philadelphia ($180.46 for the series); again, because of inclement weather on 3 April, on 11 April 1850 as the sixth and ﬁnal lecture in Philadelphia; on 16 May 1850 before the Library Association in Cleveland, Ohio; on 27 May 1850 as the fourth in a series of eight lectures at the Universalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio ($471.71 for the series); on 6 February 1851 before the Atheneum and Mechanics' Association in Rochester, New York; on 10 February 1851 before the Young Men's Association in Buffalo, New York ($75); on 20 March 1851 as the ﬁrst in a series of six lectures on the Conduct of Life before the Young Men's Mercantile Library Association in Pittsburgh ($240 for the series); and on 19 April 1852 as the ﬁrst in a series of six lectures on the Conduct of Life before the Mercantile Library Association at Bonsecours Hall in Montreal ($120 for the series; lecture fees are from the "Account Books").
On 23 January 1849 Amos Adams, president of the East Lexington Lyceum in East Lexington, Massachusetts, wrote to Emerson speciﬁcally requesting "England" (see Letters, 8:206); although Emerson did not record his topic, he undoubtedly delivered "England" on 28 February 1849 when he appeared before the East Lexington Lyceum, for which he received $10 ("Account Books").
Emerson ceased using "England" as a title for this lecture after delivering it on 19 April 1852 in Montreal. However, he continued to rely on "England" for lectures he delivered under various titles between 1854 and 1856. On 12 December 1854 Emerson spoke on "English Character and Inﬂuence" before the Concord Lyceum in Concord, Massa-pg 191chusetts. He lectured under the title "English Civilization" on 21 November 1854 before the Mechanics' Institute in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for which he received $30; on 2 March 1855 in Hudson, New York ($25); on 13 March 1855 at the Salem Lyceum in Salem, Massachusetts; and on 27 March 1856 as the ﬁrst in a series of six private lectures at Freeman Place Chapel in Boston ($772.36 for the series; lecture fees are from the "Account Books").
On 19 December 1854 Emerson delivered "Characteristics of the English" in Littleton, Massachusetts, for which he received $11 (Charvat titles this lecture "Characteristics of the English People"); he again spoke under this title on 26 December 1854 before the East Boston Library Association in Boston, for which he received $20. Returning to the title that he ﬁrst used on 17 January 1849 when delivering "England" before the Salem Lyceum in Salem, Massachusetts, for which he received $20, Emerson delivered "England and the English" on 1 January 1856 before the Young Men's Library Association at the Baptist Church in Rock Island, Illinois. Finally, on 3 January 1854 Emerson combined "English Inﬂuence on Modern Civilization" and "The Norseman" as the ﬁrst in a series of six private lectures on the Topics of Modern Times in Philadelphia ($1,166.34 for the series; lecture fees are from the "Account Books").
Although it has never been published, "England" ranks among Emerson's most important and popular lectures. Emerson ﬁrst visited England in 1833, and he visited it a third and ﬁnal time in 1872–73, but his multiply titled versions of "England," as well as his lectures on "London" and "The Anglo-Saxon," have their origin in his lecture tour of the United Kingdom during his second visit in 1847–48 (Emerson's lecture "London" is printed in this edition; for "The Anglo-Saxon," see the headnote to "The Anglo-American"). During that tour, Emerson delivered sixty-four lectures between 2 November 1847 and 24 February 1848 in twenty-ﬁve cities and towns in England and Scotland and a series of six lectures on the Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century between 6 and 17 June 1848 at the Literary and Scientiﬁc Institution in Portman Square in London (see Townsend Scudder, "Emerson's British Lecture Tour, 1847–1848, Part I," American Literature 7 [March 1935]: 16–36, and "Emerson's British Lecture Tour, 1847–1848, Part II," American Literature 7 [May 1935]: 166–80; "A Chronological List of Emerson's Lectures on His British Lecture Tour of 1847–1848," PMLA 51 [March 1936]: 242–48; and "Emerson in London and the London Lectures," American Literature 8 [March 1936]: 22–36; for additional details on Emerson's lectures before the Literary and Scientiﬁc Institution in Portman Square, see the headnote to the Mind and Manners of the Nineteenth Century series).
The importance of Emerson's 1847–48 British lecture tour to his national and international reputation as a lecturer, to the shaping of his ideas on English history, manners, and character, and to the fullest expression of his thoughts on England and the English in English Traits, published in 1856, has been recounted in many forms. Principal among these are Alexander Ireland's In Memoriam. Ralph Waldo Emerson: Recollections of His Visits to England in 1833, 1847–8, 1872–3, and Extracts from Unpublished Letters (London: Simpkin, Marshall, 1882) and his Ralph Waldo Emerson: His Life, Genius, and Writings (1882); James Elliot Cabot's treatment of Emerson's "Second Visit to England" in A Memoir (2:501–62); the annotations by Ralph L. Rusk and Eleanor M. Tilton to pg 192the letters Emerson wrote from England (see Letters, 3, 4, and 8); the letters themselves, especially those Emerson regularly wrote to Lidian during his trip, many of which he later mined for descriptions of persons, events, and the English landscape, which he recast in his lectures on "England" and "London"; and Emerson's journals and notebooks on England, some of which he kept during and some of which he developed after his tour, which have been edited and fully annotated by Merton M. Sealts Jr. (see JMN, 10). A number of signiﬁcant scholarly studies and biographies of Emerson have relied on these primary sources and extended their application. These include Ralph L. Rusk, The Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1949), 331–37, 340–46, 351–57; William J. Sowder, Emerson's Impact on the British Isles and Canada (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1966), 1–68; Nicoloff, Emerson on Race and History: An Examination of "English Traits"; Gay Wilson Allen, Waldo Emerson: A Biography (New York: Viking Press, 1981), 491–518; McAleer, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Days of Encounter, 430–55, 462–65; Larry J. Reynolds, European Revolutions and the American Literary Renaissance (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988), 25–43, 179–82; and Richardson, Emerson: The Mind on Fire, 441–56. The Harvard University Press edition of English Traits (CW, 5) supersedes Edward Waldo Emerson's edition of that volume (W, 5); published in 1994 with an historical introduction by Philip Nicoloff, extensive annotations by Robert E. Burkholder, and texts established and introduced by Douglas Emory Wilson, the Harvard edition provides an authoritative account of the relation between Emerson's visits to England and the development of his ideas on England in the lectures he began to deliver on his return home in 1848.
Reports of Emerson's multiply titled versions of "England" are on the whole quite positive. Indeed, reporters tended to register their approval of the lecture by ignoring features of Emerson's platform style that they typically criticized, although in a few instances they chided him for being too partial to English culture. For instance, after Emerson introduced the lecture as "England" before the Newport Lyceum in December 1848, the Boston Daily Evening Transcript printed this dispatch: "We had last night the pleasure of hearing Mr Ralph Waldo Emerson lecture on the subject of England; in praise of which he could not say too much. He laid it on pretty thick, I assure you" (11 December 1848, quoted in Letters, 4:125n). A one-column report in the Boston Post of Emerson's delivery of "England" before the Mercantile Library Association at Tremont Temple in December 1848 concentrated entirely on the discourse, not on Emerson's manner ("Mercantile Library Association," 29 December 1848, 1). Possibly this was the original of the report of "England" that Carlyle received from Joseph Neuberg in a reprint from the New-York Tribune, which Carlyle, in turn, sent off to two English newspapers: "Your beautiful curious little discourse (report of a discourse) was sent to me by Neuberg; I thought it, in my private heart, one of the best words (for hidden genius lodged in it) . . . so sent it to the Examiner, from which it went to the Times and all the other Papers: an excellent sly little word" (Carlyle to Emerson, 19 April 1849, CEC, 451–54; the report appeared in the London Examiner on 10 March 1849 and as "An American's Opinion of England" in the Times of London on 14 March).
Nathaniel Parker Willis published a witty and positive report of "England" as deliv-pg 193ered in January 1850 before the Mercantile Library Association in New York City in which he concluded that, for his "Titanic," "prophetic metaphor of England's power," "Victoria should name one of her annual babies Emerson" ("Emerson," in Hurry-Graphs, reprinted in Emerson Among His Contemporaries, 70). In a detailed account of the same delivery printed in the New-York Daily Tribune, the reporter found Emerson's lecture "deeply interesting and instructive on England," and he concluded by stating, "Mr. E. accompanied his descriptions with a great variety of striking illustrations, which can no more be reported than the colors of the sunset" ("Mercantile Library Lectures," 23 January 1850, 2). A reporter for the New York Herald was similarly impressed, opening his long report by describing Emerson's "high reputation for . . . originality, boldness, and as some have said, the transcendentalism of his style and ideas. . . . His appearance is pleasing and prepossessing, being modest, simple, and unostentatious; having in his countenance the marks of intellect and benevolence, and in his manners the evidence of quiet gentility and good breeding" ("Lecture on England, at the Mercantile Library," 23 January 1850, 1). When Emerson again delivered "England" three months later in New York City, the New-York Daily Tribune advertised it as "a delightful and discriminating survey mainly of the more inviting aspects of British Character and Manners, and richly worth listening to" ("City Items," 26 March 1850, 2). In May 1850, when Emerson found himself stranded in Cleveland after the steamer on which he had been traveling caught ﬁre, an invitation was quickly extended to him by the Library Association, which offered "England," "the most popular and applauded" of Emerson's lectures, free to the public ("Ralph Waldo Emerson," 16 May 1850, Cleveland Daily Plain Dealer, 2). A report in the Cleveland Daily True Democrat noted that "rarely [had Cleveland] heard any lecturer more captivating" than Emerson, who "delighted a crowded hall—collected together at a few hours notice—with his brilliant discourse" (18 May 1850, quoted in Mead, Yankee Eloquence in the Middle West, 27).
When Emerson delivered "England" in April 1852 as the ﬁrst lecture in his series on the Conduct of Life in Montreal, the Montreal Courier included it in reports of the series. Calling the series "eloquent," the Courier stated that it "had never known anything of the kind to be so popular in Montreal" (Letters, 4:291n). As he continued to lecture about England over the next four years, public response to the topic seems not to have diminished at all—and Emerson apparently knew it. For instance, when he wrote to William Henry Furness on 17 October 1853 about his plan to open his series on the Topics of Modern Times in Philadelphia on 3 January 1854 with a text then vaguely titled "Genius of the Northmen, still operative," Emerson, who undoubtedly knew that he would also be reading portions of "England" on that occasion, could conﬁdently state, "I ﬂatter myself that my abstractions will be interesting, & my details signiﬁcant. . . . But your good will is so large, that I need not draw on it by bragging" (Letters, 4:391). Two years after the Philadelphia series, when he delivered "England and the English" on 1 January 1856 in Rock Island, Illinois, Emerson was evidently pleased to ﬁnd himself advertised in advance of the lecture as "the celebrated Metaphysician" (JMN, 14:26); in her study of Emerson's lectures in Rock Island in 1856, Eleanor Bryce Scott remarks that Emerson's lecturing left his audience there "breathless" ("Emerson Wins the Nine Hundred Dollars," American Literature 17 [March 1945]: 78–85).
pg 194The traveller on arriving in England is struck at once with the cultivation. On every side, he sees the triumph of labor. Man has subdued and made everything. The country is a garden. Under that ash-coloured sky, the ﬁelds are so combed and rolled, that it seems as if they had been ﬁnished with a pencil instead of a plough.1 The structures that compose the towns, have been piled by the wealth and skill of ages. Nothing is left as it was made. Rivers, hills, valleys, the sea all feel the hand of a master. The long habitation of a powerful and ingenious race has turned every rood of land to its best use, has found all the capabilities, all the short cuts, all the arable soil, all the quarriable rock, all the navigable waters; and the new arts of intercourse meet you everywhere, so that England itself is a huge mill, or hotel, or palais-royale, where all that man wants is provided within the precinct. Cushioned and comforted in every manner, the traveller rides everywhere, as on a cannon-ball, high and low, over rivers and towns, and through mountains, in tunnels of three miles and more, at twice the speed, and with half the shaking, of our trains, and reads quietly the Times newspaper, which, again, by its wonderful system of correspondence and reporting, seems to have machinized the world for his occasion.
If one remembers here Mr. Landor's exclamation, "Who would live in a new country, that can live in an old?"—especially, he recalls, in the old cities, where the question would ﬁnd a more unanimous afﬁrmative—no familiarity or long residence can exhaust the advantages of London, because the past as well as the present are always ﬁlling the basket faster than any diligence can empty it. Every age since Julius Caesar has left some trace of itself in the building of old King Lud's town, and a certain civility and conservative instinct has kept all in repair.2 The railway excavations, within this very year, have laid bare a Roman pavement. Fragments of the London wall of that age are still to be found near Ludgate Hill; and so down: Saxon arches, Norman windows, mediæval towers; Westminster Abbey; palaces of Inigo Jones; Saint Paul's Cathedral and ﬁfty-four churches of Christopher Wren; old colleges, immemorial hospitals, immense accommodations which modern commerce has provided for itself, and all the facilities which the wealth of all the monarchs of Europe could not buy, but which are yielded for his small subscription of a few pence or shillings to the private citizen of an old town; facilities that belong to the living on the spot where the great agencies centre and where the ruling men in every kind are found; whence all ships, expresses, roads, and telegraphs radiate for all parts of the world, and where every service you require is rendered by the ﬁrst masters in that kind. Rothschild or pg 195the Barings are your bankers; Stephenson and Brunel your engineers; Pugin and Barry build; Chadwick makes the aqueduct, Wheatstone the telegraph, Reid ventilates; the military arrangements (and, in April last, they were serious,) are made by the Duke of Wellington; the mighty debate in Parliament by Peel, Russell, Cobden, Brougham, and Stanley; Faraday, and Richard Owen, Sedgwick, and Buckland, are the lecturers in science; Herschel, Airy, and Adams, in the observatory; the great heirs of fame are living and talking in society: Turner and Landseer paint; Wordsworth, Landor, Hallam, Tennyson, Dickens, write; and for your entertainment, Rachel plays, and Macready; Lablache, Grisi, and Jenny Lind sing, Taglioni dances, and Soyer cooks.3
Happy is the man who lives where the best is cheap! Life is here in extremes; the traveller goes from show to show; he can be pampered to the highest point; he sits in a cloud of pictures; he eats from off porcelain and plate; his rug is the skin of a lion. Science will quiddle for him: if he will, his light is polarised, his water distilled, he sleeps with a puff of chloroform on water-bed, and all his implements, garments, and trinkets are the work of artists, whose names have been familiar to him for years as the best makers.
But, more than all, the riches of a cultivated population one cannot exaggerate. Every day you may meet a new man who is the centre of a new circle of thought and practice, which, but for what seems an accident, you should never have heard of, in this mob of gifted and educated men. The inequalities of power have their consolation here,—that they are superﬁcial. Everyone can do something. When I see the power that every human being possesses to make himself valued and beloved by making himself useful and necessary to those with whom he ﬁnds himself,—I pity him no longer.
pg 196Some of the causes of the historical importance of England, I shall enumerate. But I premise with this remark, that the praise of England is not that it has freed itself from the evils under which other countries labor, not that England has found out how to create wealth and power without the creation of poverty and crime—No, for all have these griefs and England also; but, that England has with this evil produced, in the last ﬁve hundred years, a greater number of strong, wise, educated, and humane men—a greater number of excellent and ﬁnished men, than any other nation.
England has the best working climate in the world. It is never hot or cold. There is no hour in the year when one cannot work. Here is no winter, but such days as we have in Massachusetts in November. A climate which makes no exhausting demand on human strength, but allows the fullest development of the form.
Then, England has all the materials of a working country,—all the materials except wood. The constant rain, a rain with every tide in some parts of the island, keeps its multitude of rivers full and swift. It has abundance of water, of stone, of coal, and iron. It is a working country, and everybody works in England. It is computed, that only three or four percent of the whole population are idle.
The only drawback on this advantage that I know is the darkness of its grey sky. The night and day are too nearly of a color. It strains the eyes to read or to write. Add, the smoke of the manufacturing towns, where the blacks darken the air, give white sheep precisely the color of black sheep, discolor the human saliva,—and you will know the want of daylight in Leeds and Manchester.
In this climate, (which, however, Ireland also enjoys,) the English appear to possess the advantage of the best blood. Without going into the history,—we may say, the mixture of Britons and Saxons was a good cross. Afterwards, England yielded to the Danes and Northmen in the tenth, and eleventh, and twelfth centuries; and was the receptacle into which all mettle of that strenuous population was poured. It would seem, that, the perpetual supply of the best men in Norway, Sweden, and Denmark to the piratical expeditions of the ninth and tenth centuries, into England, gradually exhausted those countries, like a tree which bears much fruit when young,—and these have been second-rate powers, ever since. pg 197Konghelle, the famed town, where the kings of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, were wont to meet, is now rented to a private English gentleman as a shooting ground.
The English, at the present day, have great vigor of body and endurance. Other countrymen look slight and undersized beside them, and invalids. They are bigger men than the Americans; I suppose, a hundred English, taken at random out of the street, would weigh a fourth more than so many Americans. Yet, I am told, the skeleton is not larger. They are round, ruddy, and handsome; at least, the whole bust is well formed; and there is a tendency to make stout and powerful frames, like castles. This stoutness of shape particularly struck me, on my ﬁrst landing at Liverpool;—porter, drayman, coachman, guard,—what substantial, respectable, grandfatherly ﬁgures, with costume and manners to suit. The American has really arrived at the old mansion-house, and ﬁnds himself among his Uncles, Aunts, and Grandmothers. The pictures on the chimney-tiles of his nursery were pictures of these people. Here they are in the identical costumes and air which so took him.
There are two styles of dress here which a traveller in the trains will soon take note of, the tortoise style, and the supple or becoming; the former, wherein the man seems to have obtained by time and pains a sort of house of cloth and buckram built up around him and speaks out of his building, suits English manners well enough.
It is the fault of their forms that they grow stocky, and the women seem to have that defect to their beauty;—few tall, slender persons of ﬂowing shape, but stunted and thickset ﬁgures. But they are a very handsome race and always have been. The bronze monuments of Crusaders lying cross-legged in the Temple Church in London and those in Worcester Cathedral which are nine hundred years old are of the same type as the best youthful heads of men now in England, and please by beauty of the same character—a certain expression, namely, of good nature, reﬁnement, and valor, and mainly with that uncorrupt youth in the face of manhood, which is daily seen in the streets of London. They have a vigorous health and last well into middle and old age. The old men are as red as roses, and still handsome. A clean skin, and a peach-bloom complexion, is found all over the island.
The English head is round, and the animal powers are in perfection. Their veins are full of blood, and the people hearty eaters, attaching great importance to a plentiful and nutricious diet. The cyclops operative of England cannot subsist on food less solid than beef, and his performance is not more amazing to the foreign laborer than his diet is. Good mutton, wheat bread, and malt liquors are universal among the ﬁrst-class laborers. It is curious that Tacitus found the English beer already in use among the Germans: "Potui humor ex hordeo aut pg 198frumento in quandam simililudi nem vini corruptus."4 Lord Chief Justice Fortescue, in Henry VI's time, says, "the inhabitants drink no water unless at certain times on a religious score and by way of penance."5 The extremes of poverty and of ascetic temperance never reach cold water in England. Wood, the antiquary, in describing the poverty and maceration of Father Lacey, an English Jesuit, does not deny him beer.6 He says, "His bed was under a thatching, and the way to it up a ladder: His face was coarse, his drink of a penny a gaun or gallon."
They have more constitutional energy, physical and moral, than any other people, and this is no whit abated, but in full play at this moment. I ﬁnd the Englishman to be he of all men who stands ﬁrmest in his shoes. They have in themselves what they value in their horses: mettle and bottom. A gentleman on the day of my arrival, in describing the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, said, "Lord Clarendon has pluck like a cock and will ﬁght till he dies;" and what I heard ﬁrst, I heard last, and the one thing the English value is pluck. The cabmen have it; the merchants have it; the bishops have it; the women have it; the journals have it; the Times newspaper, they say, is the pluckiest thing in England; and little Lord John Russell, the minister, would take the command of the Channel Fleet tomorrow.7
It requires, men say, a good constitution to travel in Spain. I say as much of England, simply on account of the vigor and brawn of the people. I know nothing but the most serious business that could give me any counter-weight to these Baresarks, though they were only to order eggs and mufﬁns for their breakfast. The Englishman speaks with all his body; his elocution is stomachic as the American's is labial. The Englishman is very petulant and precise about his accommodation at inns and on the roads; a quiddle about his toast and his chop, and every species of convenience; and loud and pungent in his expressions of impatience at any neglect. He has that aplomb which results only from a good adjustment of the moral and physical nature, and the obedience of all the powers to the will. The axes of his eyes are united to his backbone, and only move with the trunk.
When I landed, the times were disastrous, and the commercial and political sky full of gloom.8 But it was evident, that, let who will fail, England will not. It is plain, from the security of their manners, that these people have sat here a pg 199thousand years, and here will continue to sit. They will not break up, or arrive at any strange, desperate revolution like their neighbors, for they have as much energy and as much continence of character as they ever had. The immense power and possession which surround them is their own creation, and they exert the same commanding industry at this moment.
In America, we fancy that we live in a new and forming country, but that England was ﬁnished long ago. But we ﬁnd London and England in full growth. The towns are growing, some of them almost at the rate of American towns. Birkenhead, opposite Liverpool, was growing as fast as South Boston. The towns in Lancashire will by and by meet, and make a city, as big as, and bigger than, London. London itself is enlarging at a frightful rate, even to the ﬁlling up of Middlesex, and the decoration and repairs in every part of the old city go on day by day. Trafalgar Square was only new ﬁnished in April 1848. The British Museum is in full course of growth and activity and projected arrangement; the Vernon Gallery is just added to the National. The London University opens like our mushroom colleges at the West, and the Houses of Parliament are just sending up their proud Victoria tower, four hundred feet into the air. Everything in England bespeaks an immense and energetic population. The buildings are on a scale of size and wealth far beyond ours. The colossal masonry of the docks and of all public buildings attests the multitudes who are to be accommodated by them and who are to pay for them. England could not now build her old castles and abbeys, but what the nineteenth century wants,—club houses, vaults, docks, mills, canals, railways,—she builds fast and well.
A manly ability, a general sufﬁciency, is the genius of the English. The land and climate are favorable to the breeding of good men; and it was an odd proof of it, that, in my lectures, I hesitated to read many a disparaging phrase which I have been accustomed to throw into my writing, about poor, thin, unable, unsatisfying bipeds,—so much had the ﬁne physique and the personal vigor of this robust race worked on my imagination. This abundant life and vigor betrays itself, at all points, in their manners, in the respiration, and the inarticulate noises they make in clearing the throat, all signiﬁcant of burly strength. They have stamina; they can take the initiative on all emergences. And the one rule for the traveller in England, is,—This is no country for fainthearted people. Do not creep about difﬁdently. Make up your mind, take your course, and you shall ﬁnd respect and furtherance.
This vigour appears in the manners of the people in the complete incuriosity and stony neglect of each to every other. Each man walks, eats, drinks, shaves, dresses, gesticulates, and, in every manner, is, acts, suffers, without reference to the bystanders, and in his own fashion, only careful not to interfere with them, or annoy them. It is not that he is trained to neglect the eyes of his neighbors; he is pg 200really occupied with his own affair, and does not think of them. In the ﬁrst-class carriage, a clergyman takes his stout shoes out of his carpet bag, and puts them on, instead of thin ones, on approaching the station. Every man in this polished country consults only his convenience, as much as a solitary pioneer in Wisconsin. I know not where any personal eccentricity is so freely allowed, and no man gives himself any concern with it. An Englishman walks in a pouring rain swinging his closed umbrella, like a walking stick; wears a wig, or a shawl, or a saddle; or stands on his head; and no remark is made. And, as he has been doing this for several generations, it is now in the blood.
In short, every one of these islanders is an island himself—safe, tranquil, incommunicable. In a company of strangers, you would think him deaf; his eyes never wander from his own table and newspaper; he is never betrayed into any curiosity or unbecoming emotion. They seem all to have been trained in one severe school of manners, and never to put off this iron harness. He does not give his hand. He does not let you meet his eye. It is almost an affront to look a man in the face, before being introduced. In mixed, or in select companies, they do not introduce persons, so that a presentation is a circumstance as valid as a contract. Introductions are sacraments. He withholds his name. At the hotel, if they ask his name at the book ofﬁce, he stoops, and gives it in a low voice. If he give you his private address on a card, it is like an avowal of friendship; and his bearing, on being introduced, is studiously cold, even though he is seeking your acquaintance, and is studying how he shall serve you.
'Tis no wonder that this rigor astonishes their lively neighbors across the Channel, so strongly contrasted with the social genius of the French, and is the standing theme of French raillery. "The islanders of Albion," says a brilliant French writer,
"carry with them a peculiar ﬂuid, which I shall call the Britannic ﬂuid, and, in the midst of which, they travel, as little accessible to the atmosphere of the regions which they traverse, as the mouse at the centre of the exhausted receiver. It is not only to the thousand precautions with which they go surrounded that they owe their eternal impassivity; it is not because they wear three pair of breeches one over the other that they arrive perfectly dry and clean in spite of rain and mud; it is not because they have woolen wigs that their stiff and wiry frisure deﬁes moisture; it is not because they go loaded each with as much pommade, brushes, and soap as would serve to adonize a whole regiment of Bas Breton conscripts that they have always the beard smooth and the nails irreproachable. It is because the external air does not touch them; it is because they walk, drink, eat, and sleep, in their ﬂuid, as in a glass bell of twenty feet diameter, and, across which they behold with pity the cavaliers whose hair the wind discomposes, and the foot passenger whose shoes the snow soils."9
pg 201'Tis very certain that the Englishman has a conﬁdence in the power and performance of his nation, which makes him provokingly incurious about other nations. It is a very old remark,—some centuries old,—that he dislikes foreigners. Swedenborg, who visited England many times in the last century, remarks: "There is a similitude of minds among them, in consequence of which, they contract a familiarity with friends who are from their nation, and seldom with others. They are lovers of their country, and zealous for its glory, and they regard foreigners as one looking through a telescope from the top of his palace regards those who dwell or wander about out of the city." But in a much older traveller, the Relation of England by a Venetian in 1500, three hundred and ﬁfty years ago, I ﬁnd a similar testimony: "The English are great lovers of themselves, and of everything belonging to them. They think that there are no other men than themselves, and no other world but England; and whenever they see a handsome foreigner, they say that he looks like an Englishman, and it is a great pity he should not be an Englishman: and when they partake of any delicacy with a foreigner, they ask him whether such a thing is made in his country."10
It is very certain that this arrogance is really in the true-born Englishman, and all the goodness of heart and studious courtesy that belong to him fail to conceal it. When he accumulates epithets of praise, his climax of commendation is, "So English," and when he wishes to pay you the highest compliment, he says, "I should not know you from an Englishman."
At the same time, I know no national pride that is so easily forgiven and so much respected as his, and for the reason that it is so well-founded. The Englishman is proud—Yes, but he is admirable; he knows all things, has all things, and can do all things. How can he not be proud? There is a certain general culture wherein he surpasses other nations. There is no man so equally and harmoniously developed, and hence his easy pride when he ﬁnds every other countryman inferior to him as a social man. His wide outlook, his birth and breeding in the commercial and political centre of the world, have accustomed his eye and mind to whatever is best in the planet and made him instantly perceptive of any meanness or fault. A certain liberality and catholicism, an air of having seen much and seen the best, appears in all men. They are bored by anything provincial and detect the smutch of native clay sticking to the clothes of a villager. They notice in the American speech a certain purism, the accent of a man who knows how the word is spelled, rather than the unrestrained expression of a man who is only eager to say what he means.
Besides, it is quite inevitable that this spoiled child of nature and fortune should have the fastidiousness which the habit generates. He talks of his politics pg 202and institutions, but the real thing which he values is his home and that which belongs to it—that general culture and high polish, which, in his experience, no man but the Englishman possesses, and which, he naturally believes, have some essential connexion with his throne and laws.
In all culture, so much depends on sympathy, on a great number who keep each other up to a high point, that, 'tis a pleasure to the traveller in England to know that there is all around him an inﬁnite number of educated and thoughtful people, all quietly and calmly carrying forward every variety of profound and elegant study, with the best aids and materials, though rarely communicating, and, for the most part, each wholly independent and unacquainted with the rest.
And here comes in an element of decisive importance, the existence of a superior or model class, legalised by statute and usage, fostered and privileged from the beginning of the national history, with all the institutions of the country to secure them in their hereditary wealth, owners of all the soil, with the best education to develop and stamp these advantages, and placed in every manner on such high ground, that, whatever beneﬁt the nation reaps with its million arms outstretched from pole to pole,—they more. The ﬁnest race of men in the friendliest climate, possessing every natural and accidental advantage and secured in the possession of these by the loyal affection of the people, they easily came to produce sound minds in sound bodies and exhibit more ﬁnished men than any other nation.
The favoured class seem to gain as much as they lose by their position. They survey all society as from the top of Saint Paul's, and, if they never hear plain truth from men, as the poor do, they see the best of everything in every kind, and they see things so grouped and amassed, as to infer easily the sum and genius, instead of tedious particularities. Their good behaviour deserves all its fame; and they have, in the highest degree, that simplicity and that air of repose which are such chief ornaments of greatness.
It was inevitable that these people should have a controlling inﬂuence on the manners of the people. They naturally furnish the best models of manly behaviour to their country and the world. Moreover, it has come to be the ambition of the English system of education,—of their schools and of the universities,—to turn out gentlemen, rather than scholars or skilful masters in any art; and the like feeling runs into the middle and lower classes.
It is not to be disguised, however, that there is much in this English culture, so much prized at home, so much admired abroad, that will not bear analysis,—is by no means the best thing in the English state; is material; is built on wealth, built on triﬂes, and certainly has another less reputable face and name as the height of cockneyism. For, it rests on land and money, on birth, on diet, on excellence in horsemanship, on hunting, on dogs, on boxing, on boating, and on pg 203betting. The self-command and continuity of will are exerted in affairs,—the bribes of speculation, the panics of trade, the game of party, all powerless,—foiled by an insight which commands the law of the game better than any other player,—it is the guarantee of victory.
They have carried inoffensiveness to a very high point. They have applied their strong understanding and their love of animal comfort to a perfect organization of the details of a domestic day, studiously excluding everything annoying or discordant, and have become superstitiously neat and proper, and orderly, and respectable. Their hat, and shoes, and linen, their horse and gun, their egg, and toast, and soda water, and wine, and politics, and visiting-set, are irreproachable. It is a world of triﬂes, and seems to argue a mediocrity of intellect in the nation which allows it so much importance. Whilst we pay homage to the indisputable merits of the English people, we must not confound their immense regard to triﬂes, with their virtues.
Their good form and habit are much indebted to the manly exercises to which they are trained from earliest youth. They begin with cricket, archery, and skittles,—in each of which games they acquire some skill at school and at college. They learn the use of oars at Eton and Westminster schools: at Oxford and Cambridge, the boat clubs are in daily practice; and yachting and regattas are favorite amusements of gentlemen in every part of the island where there is water.
Still more universal is their attachment to horses, and to hounds, and to every form of hunting. They are always on horseback, centaurs. Every inn-room is lined with pictures of racers. And expresses bring, every hour, news to London, from Newmarket and Ascot.
The universal practice of betting, too, is not without its uses as it makes the knowledge of all men whom you meet singularly accurate in regard to all common facts. Every distance has been measured in miles, rods, and inches. They know the distance of their towns, the length of their boats, the speed of their horses, the numbers of their partisans, and complain of looseness in the information of other countrymen on these points.
But what I think is the secret of English success, is, a certain balance of qualities in their nature, corresponding to what we call temper in steel. The geographical position of England is excellent; but there are many countries with good seacoasts besides England,—many countries with good climate, which make no pretension to British inﬂuence. But here is the best average brain. Men found that this people had a faculty of doing, which others had not. There is an incompatibility in the Italians, in the Spaniards, in the Turks, of dealing with other nations,—of treating with them. But the English brain is of the right temper. Neither too cold, nor too hot; neither too swift, nor too slow.—Calm, energetic, tenacious, just, and wise.
pg 204The English metal is not brittle, is not soft, not explosive, but tenacious, incorruptible, and admitting a good working edge: That happy adaptedness to things which makes the ordinary Englishman a skilful and thorough workman, and the higher classes good heads for the combining and arranging of labour. The fabulous Saint George has never seemed to me the patron saint of England; but the scholar, monk, soldier, engineer, lawgiver, Alfred,—working-king; often defeated, never discouraged; patient of defeat, of affront, of labor, and victorious by fortitude and wisdom,—he is the model Englishman. They have many such in their annals. Cromwell is one. One is William of Wykeham,—Bishop of Winchester in the reign of Edward II, Edward III, and Richard II,—a poor boy of obscure parentage, who by study, and practical talent, and sound judgment, and a certain humble magnanimity, conceived and carried out great plans; built roads and causeys; built Windsor Castle; built the sublime Winchester Cathedral; and, observing the gross ignorance of the priesthood, in his times, and, attributing many public evils to that cause,—established a school at Winchester, and livings for seventy boys, to be there trained for the university, at his expense, forever; and then established at Oxford Winchester or New College, with livings for seventy fellows, at his expense forever. In May (1848) I visited Oxford, and Dr. Williams, the polite head of the College, showed me the halls, chapel, library, and common rooms and gardens—over every gate of which was written in stone William of Wykeham's motto, "Manners maketh man"—and assured me that now, after ﬁve hundred years, the seventy boys at Winchester school and the seventy fellows at Winchester College, are still maintained on the bounty of the founder.11
One of the merits of Wykeham was the stern investigation which he instituted into the embezzlement and perversion of the religious and charitable foundations in his time; especially, the account which he demanded of the revenues of the "Hospital of Saint Cross," where, long before him, Henry of Blois, brother of King Stephen, had founded a charity for the support of a hundred poor, and, with a provision, that a measure of beer and a piece of bread should be given forever to every son of man who should ask for it.12 As I passed the Hospital of Saint-Cross, on my way from Stonehenge, in July, I knocked at the door, to see if William-of-Wykeham's word was sterling yet in England, and received my horn of beer and my piece of bread, gratuitously, from the charity of a founder who has pg 205been dead seven centuries. I hardly think it less honorable that the man whom the English of this age put forward as the type of their race is a man so proverbial for his veracity, perseverance, and moderation as the Duke of Wellington.
I fear, that, in many points, the English tenacity is in strong contrast to American facility. The facile American sheds his Puritanism, when he leaves Cape Cod, runs into all English and French vices, with great zest, and is neither Unitarian, nor Calvinist, nor Catholic, nor Quaker, nor stands for any thought or thing; all which is very distasteful to English honor.
I do not think the English quite capable of doing justice to our countrymen. He is annoyed by the free and easy pretension, the careless manners, and the neglect of certain points of decorum and respect, to which he is accustomed to attach importance; and he does not see, that, this is his own self-reliance transferred to a new theatre, where there is no such division of labor as exists in England, and where every man must help himself in every manner, like an Indian, and remember much which the European more gracefully abandons to his valet.
But the main advantage which the American possesses, is a certain versatility, and, as far as I know, a greater apprehensiveness of mind. He more readily and genially entertains new thoughts, new modes, new books, is more speculative, more contemplative, and is really related to the future, whilst the Englishman seems mortgaged to the past. Each countryman is qualiﬁed for the part assigned him in history to play.
In drawing these sketches, I am well aware there is a dark side of England, which, I have not wished to expose. The ﬁrst effect of the extraordinary determination of the national mind for so many centuries on wealth has been, in developing colossal wealth, to develop hideous pauperism. These fair, ruddy, muscular, well-educated bodies go attended by poor, dwarfed, starved, short-lived skeletons. There are two Englands;—rich, Norman-Saxon, learned, social England,—seated in castles, halls, universities, and middle class houses of admirable completeness and comfort, and poor, Celtic, peasant, drudging, Chartist England, in hovels and workhouses, cowed and hopeless. I only recognize this fact, in passing. It is important that it be stated. It will not help us now to dwell on it.
England is the country of the rich. The great poor man does not yet appear. Whenever he comes, England will fall like France. It would seem, that an organizing talent applied directly to the social problem,—to bring, for example, labor to market; to bring want and supply face to face; would not be so rare. A man like Hudson, like Trevylian, like Cobden, should know something about it.13 The Reform Bill took in new partners, and Chartism again takes in more.
pg 206They are "strange, neat-handed Titans, and, if wanting ﬁre from heaven, make, at least, the cheapest and most polished patent lamps for receiving it, when it shall come." They have propriety and parliamentariness, propriety felt both in what they do not say, and in what they say. The schools and universities cling to them, and give a certain mechanical integrity to their manners and culture and make it impossible to them to make a mistake. In the educated English, one feels the advantage of thorough drill. Eton, and Harrow, and Rugby have done their work; they know prosody, and tread securely through all the humanities.
But the Englishman is the victim of this excellence. The practical and comfortable oppress him with inexorable claims, and the smallest fraction of power remains for heroism and poetry. My own feeling is, that the English have sacriﬁced their grandeur to their cleverness. They have vaunted their practicalness, until the brain serves the hand, which ought to serve the brain, and until the nobler traits, which, in former times, distinguished the British nation, are disappearing before the indispensable demand of wealth and convenience.
The English boast the grandeur of their national genius; but seem not to observe that a total revolution has taken place in their estimate of mental greatness. The age of their greatness was an ideal and Platonic age: all the great men of the Elizabethan period had that tendency. Now, the intellect of England plumes itself on its limitary and practical turn. Once there was mysticism in the British mind, a deep vein of religion. Once there was Platonism, a profound poetry, and daring sallies into the realm of thought on every side. Now, there is musty, self-conceited decorum—life made up of ﬁctions hating ideas: but not a breath of Olympian air dilates the collapsing lungs. Now, we have clever mediocrity: the paragraph writers, the fashionable-romance writers, the elegant travellers, and dapper diners-out, with anecdote and bons mots,—made up men with made up manners,—varied and exact information; facts,—(facts the Englishman delights in all day long;)—humour too, and all that goes to animate conversation. "Conversational powers," says Campbell, "are so much the rage in London, that no reputation is higher than his, who exhibits them to advantage."14
We have plenty of derision and worldliness. The genius of the House of Commons is a sneer. "What delights the House," says Fowell Buxton, "is a mixture of good sense and joking."15 We have no plain-dealing, no abandonment, but every sentence in good society must have a twist—something unexpected, something the reverse of the probable, is required. The day's Englishman must have his joke as duly as his bread. Bold is he and absolute in his narrow circle, versed in all his routine, sure and elegant, his stories are good, his sentences ﬁrm, and all pg 207his statesmen, lawyers, men of letters, and poets, ﬁnished and solid as the pavement. But a faith in the laws of the mind like that of Archimedes; belief like that of Euler and Kepler, that experience must follow and not lead the laws of the mind; a devotion to the theory of politics, like that of Hooker, Milton, and Harrington;—the modern English mind repudiates.16
I am forced to say that aristocracy requires an intellectual and moral basis, and that though all the accidents are very well, they indispensably involve real elevation at last. But, in England, one had to humour the society. "It was very well, considering"—as our country people say. Very ﬁne masters, very ﬁne misses, charming saloons,—but where were the great? The Americans who should succeed in it were the well-bred rich, and not those who make America to me. I am wearied and inconvenienced by what are called ﬁne people. The moment I meet a grand person, a man of sense and comprehension, I am emancipated. Such persons I did not ﬁnd. One would say there was a plentiful sterility of such. One goes through England making believe that this is good society. It is so old, so much has been spent on it, the case is so costly, it has such a history around it,—efﬁgies of a nation of ancestors—or it has so neatly stepped into the history and place of the real prince, that one easily lets it pass for true, and, nine times out of ten, does not doubt its legitimacy. But such illusion leads to suicide.—If this is the height of life, let me die.
Plutarch tells us, "that Archimedes considered the being busied about mechanics, and, in short, every art which is connected with the common purposes of life, illiberal and ignoble; and those things alone were objects of his ambition, with which the beautiful and the excellent were present, unmingled with the necessary." I have to say that the whole fabric is wonderful, but has cost too much; that the higher faculties have been sacriﬁced. The English mind is less contemplative, less religious, less open, than it was in former periods. Books of larger scope, as Wordsworth and Coleridge, must come to this country for their fame, before they gain it in England.
My own impression is, the English mind has more breadth and cosmopolitanism, but no ascending scale. He has not the least interest in speculation. No men in England are quite ideal, living in an ideal world, and working in politics and social life, only from that. Her best writer is an earth-son mixed up with politics of the day as a partisan. I suffered myself to be dazzled willingly by the various brilliancy of men of talent. But he who values his days by the number of insights he gets, will as rarely ﬁnd a good conversation, a solid dealing, man with man, in England, as in any country.
pg 208The English are eminently prosaic or unpoetic. All the poetic persons whom I saw, were deviations from the national type. The people have wide range, but no ascending scale in their speculation. An American, like a German, has many platforms of thought. But an Englishman requires to be humored, or treated with tenderness, as an invalid, if you wish him to climb.
Herein England has but obeyed the law, which, in the order of the world, assigns one ofﬁce to one people. Nature does one thing at a time. If she will have a perfect hand, she makes head and feet pay for it. So now that she is making railroad and telegraph ages, she starves the spirituel, to stuff the materiel and industriel.
But with all the deductions from the picture which truth requires, I ﬁnd the English to have a thorough good nature; they are a true, benign, gentle, benevolent, hospitable, and pious race, fearing God, and loving man. There is respect for truth, and there is milk of kindness in them; and this in all classes, from the Chartist to the Duke. In the shops, the articles you buy are thoroughly made, and you learn to rely on the probity of the tradesman. Probity is the rule. In the large transactions, it is not less. An eminent merchant, by birth American, whose name is known through the world as partner in one of the ﬁrst houses in London, said to me, "I have been here thirty years, and no man has ever attempted to cheat me."17 If you stand at the door of the House of Commons, and look at the faces of the members, as they go in, you will say, these are just, kind, and honorable men, who mean to do right. If you go to Englishmen, properly introduced—which is indispensable in this dense population, with the multitude of strangers, too, from all parts of the earth—if you go to their houses, I do not think there is in the world such sincerity and thoroughness of hospitality. They see you through. They give you real service: they give you their time: they introduce you cordially to their friends: until you ask yourself,—'if they do thus to every stranger, how many hours will be left to them in the day and the year?'
They are as gentle and peaceful, as they are brave and magnanimous. At Oxford, I was told, among twelve hundred young men, comprising the most noble and spirited in the aristocracy, a duel never occurs. In Cambridge, among seventeen hundred, the same is true. And there is a sentiment of justice and honor resident in the people, which is always sure to respond aright, when any private or public wrong has been attempted.
I trace the peculiarities of English manners and English fortune, then, to their working climate, their dense population, the presence of an aristocracy or model class for manners and speech, to their diet generous and orderly taken, to pg 209their force of constitution, to the tenacity or perseverance of their nature, and to their ﬁne moral quality. And these are some of the reasons why England is England. When to this vivacious stock at home, yielding armies of young men, every year, for her business of commercial conquest, all over the globe, you add the steady policy of planting a clear-headed, generous, and energetic gentleman, at every important point, all along their immense colonial territory, in islands and on the main, in the shape of a military, or diplomatic, or, at least, a commercial agent, you have the secret of British history. These Clives, Hastingses, Brookes, Cannings, Ponsonbys, and Hardinges, carry the eye and heart of the best circles of London into the extremities of the earth, and the homes of almost bestial barbarism.18
It is common to augur evil of England's future and to forbode her sudden or gradual decline under the load of debt, and pauperism, and the unequal competition with new nations where land is cheap. Certainly, she has enormous burthens to carry and grave difﬁculties to contend with. And her wisest statesmen incline to call her home from her immense colonial system. But though she may yield to time and change, what a fate is hers! She has planted her banian roots in the ground, they have run under the sea, and the new shoots have sprung in America, in India, in Australia, and she sees the spread of her language and laws over the most part of the world made certain for as distant a future as the science of man can explore.