Charles Dudley Warner.

England online

. (page 1 of 2)
Online LibraryCharles Dudley WarnerEngland → online text (page 1 of 2)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

Produced by David Widger





ENGLAND

By Charles Dudley Warner

England has played a part in modern history altogether out of proportion
to its size. The whole of Great Britain, including Ireland, has only
eleven thousand more square miles than Italy; and England and Wales alone
are not half so large as Italy. England alone is about the size of North
Carolina. It is, as Franklin, in 1763, wrote to Mary Stevenson in London,
"that petty island which, compared to America, is but a stepping-stone in
a brook, scarce enough of it above water to keep one's shoes dry."

A considerable portion of it is under water, or water-soaked a good part
of the year, and I suppose it has more acres for breeding frogs than any
other northern land, except Holland. Old Harrison says that the North
Britons when overcome by hunger used to creep into the marshes till the
water was up to their chins and there remain a long time, "onlie to
qualifie the heats of their stomachs by violence, which otherwise would
have wrought and beene readie to oppresse them for hunger and want of
sustinance." It lies so far north - the latitude of Labrador - that the
winters are long and the climate inhospitable. It would be severely cold
if the Gulf Stream did not make it always damp and curtain it with
clouds. In some parts the soil is heavy with water, in others it is only
a thin stratum above the chalk; in fact, agricultural production could
scarcely be said to exist there until fortunes made in India and in other
foreign adventure enabled the owners of the land to pile it knee-deep
with fertilizers from Peru and elsewhere. Thanks to accumulated wealth
and the Gulf Stream, its turf is green and soft; figs, which will not
mature with us north of the capes of Virginia, ripen in sheltered nooks
in Oxford, and the large and unfrequent strawberry sometimes appears upon
the dinner-table in such profusion that the guests can indulge in one
apiece.

Yet this small, originally infertile island has been for two centuries,
and is today, the most vital influence on the globe. Cast your eye over
the world upon her possessions, insular and continental, into any one of
which, almost, England might be dropped, with slight disturbance, as you
would transfer a hanging garden. For any parallel to her power and
possessions you must go back to ancient Rome. Egypt under Thotmes and
Seti overran the then known world and took tribute of it; but it was a
temporary wave of conquest and not an assimilation. Rome sent her laws
and her roads to the end of the earth, and made an empire of it; but it
was an empire of barbarians largely, of dynasties rather than of peoples.
The dynasties fought, the dynasties submitted, and the dynasties paid the
tribute. The modern "people" did not exist. One battle decided the fate
of half the world - it might be lost or won for a woman's eyes; the flight
of a chieftain might settle the fate of a province; a campaign might
determine the allegiance of half Asia. There was but one compact,
disciplined, law-ordered nation, and that had its seat on the Tiber.

Under what different circumstances did England win her position! Before
she came to the front, Venice controlled, and almost monopolized, the
trade of the Orient. When she entered upon her career Spain was almost
omnipotent in Europe, and was in possession of more than half the Western
world; and besides Spain, England had, wherever she went, to contend for
a foothold with Portugal, skilled in trade and adventure; and with
Holland, rich, and powerful on the sea. That is to say, she met
everywhere civilizations old and technically her superior. Of the ruling
powers, she was the least in arts and arms. If you will take time to fill
out this picture, you will have some conception of the marvelous
achievements of England, say since the abdication of the Emperor Charles
V.

This little island is today the centre of the wealth, of the solid
civilization, of the world. I will not say of art, of music, of the
lighter social graces that make life agreeable; but I will say of the
moral forces that make progress possible and worth while. Of this island
the centre is London; of London the heart is "the City," and in the City
you can put your finger on one spot where the pulse of the world is
distinctly felt to beat. The Moslem regards the Kaaba at Mecca as the
centre of the universe; but that is only a theological phrase. The centre
of the world is the Bank of England in Leadenhall Street. There is not an
occurrence, not a conquest or a defeat, a revolution, a panic, a famine,
an abundance, not a change in value of money or material, no depression
or stoppage in trade, no recovery, no political, and scarcely any great
religious movement - say the civil deposition of the Pope or the Wahhabee
revival in Arabia and India - that does not report itself instantly at
this sensitive spot. Other capitals feel a local influence; this feels
all the local influences. Put your ear at the door of the Bank or the
Stock Exchange near by, and you hear the roar of the world.

But this is not all, nor the most striking thing, nor the greatest
contrast to the empires of Rome and of Spain. The civilization that has
gone forth from England is a self-sustaining one, vital to grow where it
is planted, in vast communities, in an order that does not depend, as
that of the Roman world did, upon edicts and legions from the capital.
And it must be remembered that if the land empire of England is not so
vast as that of Rome, England has for two centuries been mistress of the
seas, with all the consequences of that opportunity - consequences to
trade beyond computation. And we must add to all this that an
intellectual and moral power has been put forth from England clear round
the globe, and felt beyond the limits of the English tongue.

How is it that England has attained this supremacy - a supremacy in vain
disputed on land and on sea by France, but now threatened by an equipped
and disciplined Germany, by an unformed Colossus - a Slav and Tartar
conglomerate; and perhaps by one of her own children, the United States?
I will mention some of the things that have determined England's
extraordinary career; and they will help us to consider her prospects. I
name:

I. The Race. It is a mixed race, but with certain dominant qualities,
which we call, loosely, Teutonic; certainly the most aggressive, tough,
and vigorous people the world has seen. It does not shrink from any
climate, from any exposure, from any geographic condition; yet its choice
of migration and of residence has mainly been on the grass belt of the
globe, where soil and moisture produce good turf, where a changing and
unequal climate, with extremes of heat and cold, calls out the physical
resources, stimulates invention, and requires an aggressive and defensive
attitude of mind and body. The early history of this people is marked by
two things:

( 1 ) Town and village organizations, nurseries of law, order, and
self-dependence, nuclei of power, capable of indefinite expansion,
leading directly to a free and a strong government, the breeders of civil
liberty.

( 2 ) Individualism in religion, Protestantism in the widest sense: I
mean by this, cultivation of the individual conscience as against
authority. This trait was as marked in this sturdy people in Catholic
England as it is in Protestant England. It is in the blood. England never
did submit to Rome, not even as France did, though the Gallic Church held
out well. Take the struggle of Henry II. and the hierarchy. Read the
fight with prerogative all along. The English Church never could submit.
It is a shallow reading of history to attribute the final break with Rome
to the unbridled passion of Henry VIII.; that was an occasion only: if it
had not been that, it would have been something else.

Here we have the two necessary traits in the character of a great people:
the love and the habit of civil liberty and religious conviction and
independence. Allied to these is another trait - truthfulness. To speak
the truth in word and action, to the verge of bluntness and offense - and
with more relish sometimes because it is individually obnoxious and
unlovely - is an English trait, clearly to be traced in the character of
this people, notwithstanding the equivocations of Elizabethan diplomacy,
the proverbial lying of English shopkeepers, and the fraudulent
adulteration of English manufactures. Not to lie is perhaps as much a
matter of insular pride as of morals; to lie is unbecoming an Englishman.
When Captain Burnaby was on his way to Khiva he would tolerate no
Oriental exaggeration of his army rank, although a higher title would
have smoothed his way and added to his consideration. An English official
who was a captive at Bokhara (or Khiva) was offered his life by the Khan
if he would abjure the Christian faith and say he was a Moslem; but he
preferred death rather than the advantage of a temporary equivocation. I
do not suppose that he was a specially pious man at home or that he was a
martyr to religious principle, but for the moment Christianity stood for
England and English honor and civilization. I can believe that a rough
English sailor, who had not used a sacred name, except in vain, since he
said his prayer at his mother's knee, accepted death under like
circumstances rather than say he was not a Christian.

The next determining cause in England's career is:

II. The insular position. Poor as the island was, this was the
opportunity. See what came of it:

( 1 ) Maritime opportunity. The irregular coastlines, the bays and
harbors, the near islands and mainlands invited to the sea. The nation
became, per force, sailors - as the ancient Greeks were and the modern
Greeks are: adventurers, discoverers - hardy, ambitious, seeking food from
the sea and wealth from every side.

( 2 ) Their position protected them. What they got they could keep;
wealth could accumulate. Invasion was difficult and practically
impossible to their neighbors. And yet they were in the bustling world,
close to the continent, commanding the most important of the navigable
seas. The wealth of Holland was on the one hand, the wealth of France on
the other. They held the keys.

( 3 ) The insular position and their free institutions invited refugees
from all the Continent, artisans and skilled laborers of all kinds.
Hence, the beginning of their great industries, which made England rich
in proportion as her authority and chance of trade expanded over distant
islands and continents. But this would not have been possible without the
third advantage which I shall mention, and that is:

III. Coal. England's power and wealth rested upon her coal-beds. In this
bounty nature was more liberal to the tight little island than to any
other spot in Western Europe, and England took early advantage of it. To
be sure, her coal-field is small compared with that of the United
States - an area of only 11,900 square miles to our 192,000. But Germany
has only 1,770; Belgium, 510; France, 2,086; and Russia only in her
expansion of territory leads Europe in this respect, and has now 30,000
square miles of coal-beds. But see the use England makes of this
material: in 1877, she took out of the ground 134,179,968 tons. The
United States the same year took out 50,000,000 tons; Germany,
48,000,000; France, 16,000,000; Belgium, 14,000,000. This tells the story
of the heavy industries.

We have considered as elements of national greatness the race itself, the
favorable position, and the material to work with. I need not enlarge
upon the might and the possessions of England, nor the general
beneficence of her occupation wherever she has established fort, factory,
or colony. With her flag go much injustice, domineering, and cruelty;
but, on the whole, the best elements of civilization.

The intellectual domination of England has been as striking as the
physical. It is stamped upon all her colonies; it has by no means
disappeared in the United States. For more than fifty years after our
independence we imported our intellectual food - with the exception of
politics, and theology in certain forms - and largely our ethical guidance
from England. We read English books, or imitations of the English way of
looking at things; we even accepted the English caricatures of our own
life as genuine - notably in the case of the so-called typical Yankee. It
is only recently that our writers have begun to describe our own life as
it is, and that readers begin to feel that our society may be as
interesting in print as that English society which they have been all
their lives accustomed to read about. The reading-books of children in
schools were filled with English essays, stories, English views of life;
it was the English heroines over whose woes the girls wept; it was of the
English heroes that the boys declaimed. I do not know how much the
imagination has to do in shaping the national character, but for half a
century English writers, by poems and novels, controlled the imagination
of this country. The principal reading then, as now - and perhaps more
then than now - was fiction, and nearly all of this England supplied. We
took in with it, it will be noticed, not only the romance and gilding of
chivalry and legitimacy, such as Scott gives us, but constant instruction
in a society of ranks and degrees, orders of nobility and commonalty, a
fixed social status, a well-ordered, and often attractive, permanent
social inequality, a state of life and relations based upon lingering
feudal conditions and prejudices. The background of all English fiction
is monarchical; however liberal it may be, it must be projected upon the
existing order of things. We have not been examining these foreign social
conditions with that simple curiosity which leads us to look into the
social life of Russia as it is depicted in Russian novels; we have, on
the contrary, absorbed them generation after generation as part of our
intellectual development, so that the novels and the other English
literature must have had a vast influence in molding our mental
character, in shaping our thinking upon the political as well as the
social constitution of states.

For a long time the one American counteraction, almost the only, to this
English influence was the newspaper, which has always kept alive and
diffused a distinctly American spirit - not always lovely or modest, but
national. The establishment of periodicals which could afford to pay for
fiction written about our society and from the American point of view has
had a great effect on our literary emancipation. The wise men whom we
elect to make our laws - and who represent us intellectually and morally a
good deal better than we sometimes like to admit - have always gone upon
the theory, with regard to the reading for the American people, that the
chief requisite of it was cheapness, with no regard to its character so
far as it is a shaper of notions about government and social life. What
educating influence English fiction was having upon American life they
have not inquired, so long as it was furnished cheap, and its authors
were cheated out of any copyright on it.

At the North, thanks to a free press and periodicals, to a dozen reform
agitations, and to the intellectual stir generally accompanying
industries and commerce, we have been developing an immense intellectual
activity, a portion of which has found expression in fiction, in poetry,
in essays, that are instinct with American life and aspiration; so that
now for over thirty years, in the field of literature, we have had a
vigorous offset to the English intellectual domination of which I spoke.
How far this has in the past molded American thought and sentiment, in
what degree it should be held responsible for the infidelity in regard to
our "American experiment," I will not undertake to say. The South
furnishes a very interesting illustration in this connection. When the
civil war broke down the barriers of intellectual non-intercourse behind
which the South had ensconced itself, it was found to be in a colonial
condition. Its libraries were English libraries, mostly composed of old
English literature. Its literary growth stopped with the reign of George
III. Its latest news was the Spectator and the Tatler. The social order
it covered was that of monarchical England, undisturbed by the fiery
philippics of Byron or Shelley or the radicalism of a manufacturing age.
Its chivalry was an imitation of the antiquated age of lords and ladies,
and tournaments, and buckram courtesies, when men were as touchy to
fight, at the lift of an eyelid or the drop of the glove, as Brian de
Bois-Guilbert, and as ready for a drinking-bout as Christopher North. The
intellectual stir of the North, with its disorganizing radicalism, was
rigorously excluded, and with it all the new life pouring out of its
presses. The South was tied to a republic, but it was not republican,
either in its politics or its social order. It was, in its mental
constitution, in its prejudices, in its tastes, exactly what you would
expect a people to be, excluded from the circulation of free ideas by its
system of slavery, and fed on the English literature of a century ago. I
dare say that a majority of its reading public, at any time, would have
preferred a monarchical system and a hierarchy of rank.

To return to England. I have said that English domination usually carries
the best elements of civilization. Yet it must be owned that England has
pursued her magnificent career in a policy often insolent and brutal, and
generally selfish. Scarcely any considerations have stood in the way of
her trade and profit. I will not dwell upon her opium culture in India,
which is a proximate cause of famine in district after district, nor upon
her forcing the drug upon China - a policy disgraceful to a Christian
queen and people. We have only just got rid of slavery, sustained so long
by Biblical and official sanction, and may not yet set up as critics. But
I will refer to a case with which all are familiar - England's treatment
of her American colonies. In 1760 and onward, when Franklin, the agent of
the colonies of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, was cooling his heels in
lords' waiting-rooms in London, America was treated exactly as Ireland
was - that is, discriminated against in every way; not allowed to
manufacture; not permitted to trade with other nations, except under the
most vexatious restrictions; and the effort was continued to make her a
mere agricultural producer and a dependent. All that England cared for us
was that we should be a market for her manufactures. This same
selfishness has been the keynote of her policy down to the present day,
except as the force of circumstances has modified it. Steadily pursued,
it has contributed largely to make England the monetary and industrial
master of the world.

With this outline I pass to her present condition and outlook. The
dictatorial and selfish policy has been forced to give way somewhat in
regard to the colonies. The spirit of the age and the strength of the
colonies forbid its exercise; they cannot be held by the old policy.
Australia boldly adopts a protective tariff, and her parliament is only
nominally controlled by the crown. Canada exacts duties on English goods,
and England cannot help herself. Even with these concessions, can England
keep her great colonies? They are still loyal in word. They still affect
English manners and English speech, and draw their intellectual supplies
from England. On the prospect of a war with Russia they nearly all
offered volunteers. But everybody knows that allegiance is on the
condition of local autonomy. If united Canada asks to go, she will go. So
with Australia. It may be safely predicted that England will never fight
again to hold the sovereignty of her new-world possessions against their
present occupants. And, in the judgment of many good observers, a
dissolution of the empire, so far as the Western colonies are concerned,
is inevitable, unless Great Britain, adopting the plan urged by Franklin,
becomes an imperial federation, with parliaments distinct and
independent, the crown the only bond of union - the crown, and not the
English parliament, being the titular and actual sovereign. Sovereign
power over America in the parliament Franklin never would admit. His idea
was that all the inhabitants of the empire must be citizens, not some of
them subjects ruled by the home citizens. The two great political parties
of England are really formed on lines constructed after the passage of
the Reform Bill of 1832. The Tories had been long in power. They had made
many changes and popular concessions, but they resisted parliamentary
reform. The great Whig lords, who had tried to govern England without the
people and in opposition to the crown in the days of George III., had
learned to seek popular support. The Reform Bill, which was ultimately
forced through by popular pressure and threat of civil war, abolished the
rotten boroughs, gave representation to the large manufacturing towns and
increased representation to the counties, and the suffrage to all men who
had 'paid ten pounds a year rent in boroughs, or in the counties owned
land worth ten pounds a year or paid fifty pounds rent. The immediate
result of this was to put power into the hands of the middle classes and
to give the lower classes high hopes, so that, in 1839, the Chartist
movement began, one demand of which was universal suffrage. The old party
names of Whig and Tory had been dropped and the two parties had assumed
their present appellations of Conservatives and Liberals. Both parties
had, however, learned that there was no rest for any ruling party except
a popular basis, and the Conservative party had the good sense to
strengthen itself in 1867 by carrying through Mr. Disraeli's bill, which
gave the franchise in boroughs to all householders paying rates, and in
counties to all occupiers of property rated at fifteen pounds a year.
This broadening of the suffrage places the power irrevocably in the hands
of the people, against whose judgment neither crown nor ministry can
venture on any important step.

In general terms it may be said that of these two great parties the
Conservative wishes to preserve existing institutions, and latterly has
leaned to the prerogatives of the crown, and the Liberal is inclined to
progress and reform, and to respond to changes demanded by the people.
Both parties, however, like parties elsewhere, propose and oppose
measures and movements, and accept or reject policies, simply to get
office or keep office. The Conservative party of late years, principally
because it has the simple task of holding back, has been better able to
define its lines and preserve a compact organization. The Liberals, with
a multitude of reformatory projects, have, of course, a less homogeneous
organization, and for some years have been without well-defined issues.
The Conservative aristocracy seemed to form a secure alliance with the
farmers and the great agricultural interests, and at the same time to
have a strong hold upon the lower classes. In what his opponents called
his "policy of adventure," Lord Beaconsfield had the support of the lower
populace. The Liberal party is an incongruous host. On one wing are the
Whig lords and great landowners, who cannot be expected to take kindly to
a land reform that would reform them out of territorial power; and on the
other wing are the Radicals, who would abolish the present land system
and the crown itself, and institute the rule of a democracy. Between
these two is the great body of the middle class, a considerable portion
of the educated and university trained, the majorities of the
manufacturing towns, and perhaps, we may say, generally the
Nonconformists. There are some curious analogies in these two parties to
our own parties before the war. It is, perhaps, not fanciful to suppose
that the Conservative lords resemble our own aristocratic leaders of
democracy, who contrived to keep near the people and had affiliations
that secured them the vote of the least educated portion of the voters;
while the great Liberal lords are not unlike our old aristocratic Whigs,
of the cotton order, who have either little sympathy with the people or
little faculty of showing it. It is a curious fact that during our civil
war respect for authority gained us as much sympathy from the
Conservatives, as love for freedom (hampered by the greed of trade and
rivalry in manufactures) gained us from the Liberals.

To return to the question of empire. The bulk of the Conservative party


1

Online LibraryCharles Dudley WarnerEngland → online text (page 1 of 2)