George Hooker Colton.

The American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 3) online

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distribution of the means of external well-
being, especially if this be joined with a
general diffusion of the elements of useful
knowledge, we have the test and measure
of the social progress of any community.
But if, in the time of Louis XIV., several
countries of Europe be compared in these
respects with France, the comparison
would result greatly in their favor, though
France then stood confessedly at the head
of European culture. Sparta was proba-
bly superior to Athens in these respects,
though less highly civilized. So probably
are Prussia and the United States at this
moment superior to England or France ;
yet Prussia will freely acknowledge both
England and France to be before her in
civilization, and it is hardly worth while
for us to contest the point in our favor
with the unanimous voice of the civilized
world against us. Finally, to bring the
question more nearly home to our appre-
hensions ; compare the population of one
of our large cities with the scattered
inhabitants of the country in respect to'
general comfort and intelligence, and we
suspect the comparison would turn out
in favor of the latter ; yet all will allow
that on the whole the cities are the great



614



Civilization : American and European.



[June,



centres of civilization. Thus we conclude
that though the points referred to are im-
portant elements in the progress of social
improvement, civilization includes other
elements which may more than counter-
balance them.

Shall we find these elements in public
virtue, morality and religion ? These
play a most noble part in civilization. It
can never long exist without them. A
perfect religion is a necessary condition
to its own perfection. Hence Christianity
is unquestionably the highest form which
civilization has ever yet assumed. But
that the proper civilization of different
countries and times is not proportioned
to the degree in which religion and virtue
prevail, will appear by an appeal to a few
facts. Is Switzerland more civilized than
France .' Was the Germany of Luther's
time more civilized than is the Germany
of the present day f Was the Athens of
Aristides more civilized than that of
Demosthenes .' Was the Rome of the
elder Brutus, of Cincinnatus, or of Regu-
lus more civilized than the Rome of Cata-
iine and Augustus ? Common sense
answera no ! and we need multiply
examples no further.

/ If, then, civilization is proportional
neither to the general virtue, nor general
intelligence, nor general comfort — if, in
some instances, it may go on increasing
while these diminish — is it a thing worth
troubling our heads about ? we are ready
to ask. But let us not be too hasty. It
is plain we have an idea of civilization
which contains the elements already
enumerated ; but it is equally plain they

' do not censlitute its leading or essential
character. And further, it is plain that,
according to the ideal we form to our
minds, civilization is a good thing — most
noble and most desirable — though in its
imperfect and distorted practical mani-
festations it contain or be associated with
many evils. But these manifestations,
though evil when considered in their
immediate connection, may in a wider
view, in relation to the progress of the
human race, be necessary links in the
advancement of the good towards its con-
summation. They may be regulated as
transition states — as merely the awkward
age in passing from the childish simplicity
of rude times to a manly maturity not yet
attained. After all, it is true, civilization
may be too highly extolled — being dis-
placed from its own subordinate sphere,
and elevated to the highest which belongs
only to religion — ^just as good manners



may be taught as of higher importance
than good morals.

But whatever civilization may be, and
whatever its merits, it plainlj' contains
other elements than have yet been men-
tioned. Some will think it strange that
the claims of Freedom should s« long
have been overlooked. In this country
we are naturally disposed to assign them
a very high value — and rightly, if our
views 'of freedom are sufficiently elevated
and p«re. If, by personal freedom, Ave
understand the manly consciousness of
power chastened by the attendant con-
sciousness of responsibility ; the due
attempering, the healthy unfolding and
harmonious action of all the faculties of
man, not only as an individual but as a
social being — uncramped by outward
restraint, and undistotted by inward per-
versity : — and if, by civil freedom, we
understand the harmony of all the social
relations, where every man naturally and
without any undue obstruction finds the
place which, in relation to others, he is
best fitted to fill, and where whatever
things are just, honest and lovely are
encouraged, and whatever things are
wrong and unseemly are checked and
suppressed : — if such be our idea of free-
dom, then freedom is indeed a most im-
portant condition of high attainment in
civilization.

But if of personal freedom we have
merely the gross notion of a lawless ca-
price — of a consciousness of the most
perfect individual independence — if we
imagine a state of human existence, (for
it cannot be called society,) where every-
body does what is ri^ht in his own eyes,
or what is wrong in his own eyes, it he
please, and scarcely acknowledges any
superior ; where there is no system of
government, or where the ideal of that
boasted sort of " government which gov-
erns least " is realized ; where there are
scarcely any general laws or general in-
terests ; where each individual is his own
law, his own sovereign, and his own
god : if such be our idea of personal free-
dom, 60 far from such freedom being an
element of civilization, it is the very in-
dex and characteristic of a savage state.
Among savages you have liberty and
equality in their unrestrained and perfect
form. And if, by civil and pohtical
freedom, we understand merely the form
of democratic government in distinction
from a monarchy or an aristocracy — not
to say that those forms of themselves
by no means exclude despotism and op-



1846.]



Civilizalion : American and European.



615



pression — the history of the world, and
the present state of Christendom, conspire
to demonstrate that such a type of free-
dom is essential neither to the progress
nor to a high (observe, we do not say
the highest) advancement of civilization.
Little children, in their simplicity, are
apt to think their fathers the most im-
portant personages in the world : in like
manner, there are many among us who
have grown up with the fixed idea, that
we are not only the freest and happiest,
but the best educated and most civilized
nation on earth. In their view, all that
now remains to be done is to American-
ize the world. We will not offend their
prejudices by instituting a comparison
between some of the old monarchies of
Europe and ourselves. We will merely
ask them if republican Switzerland is, in
their opinion, more civilized than abso-
lute Prussia, or monarchical France, or
aristocratical England .' We could wish
that Christian civilization furnished more
republics, with which to continue the
comparison. Over our' South American
sisters it is pious to throv?- a veil. But
we will ask further, if France made no
social progress under the despotic govern-
ment of Louis XIV. ? or, if she has been
going backvrard ever since the end of the
Reign of Terror .' or, if England has re-
mained stationary since Cromwell dis-
missed the Rump Parliament .' The in-
quiry here is not whether civilization is
a desirable thing — it is only ahotU facts,
applying to them the term according to its
ordinary and common-sense acceptation :
and so applying it, we find that civil-
ization — in the highest state it has yet
reached — is not tied to the forms of a
popular government. We shall have oc-
casion to recur to this point hereafter,
and must now hasten to conclude the
answer to our preliminary question.

We mention then, finally, as factors
and products of civilization. Science, Lit-
erature and the Fine Arts, on the one
hand ; and Commerce, with the Mechani-
cal and Useful Arts on the other. Both
have an important bearing upon it, but
its connection with the latter is much less
direct than with the former. Its central
idea is Science, Literature and the Fine
Arts. If it is considered as a process, a
becoming civilized, its central idea is
progress in these departments ; and if it
is considered as a state, a being civilized,
that idea is a high degree of attainment
in them. The cultivation of the mind,
the unfolding, the discipline, the enlarg-



ing and strengthening of the intellectual
powers, and the refining of the tastes
and sensibilities — this is not indeed the
whole, but the central idea of civilization.
Herein lies the very substance of the
thing itself — while Commerce and the
Mechanic and Useful Arts are but ex-
ternal means, aids, influences. The lat-
ter are but the leaves of the tree of civil-
ization, while the former, if not the fruits,
are at least the flowers. These views are
fully borne out by a reference to history
and facts. Of the comparative civili-
zation of all the ancient nations we judge
by this test. Hence the Grecian and the
Roman tower high above all others as
we look back over the wide waste of the
past. To a hasty view no other objects
are visible. On a closer examination,
however, appear evidences of a Jewish,
an Egyptian, an Indian, a Saracenic
civilization, but we refer them still to the
same standard. Nineveh, Babylon, Tyre,
Carthage, were immensly rich, immense-
ly powerful ; but they are not known to
have made any considerable advances in
literature or the fine arts, and men are
silent concerning their civilization. The
same test we apply to modern nations.
Thus we judge of the civilization of
France, of England, of Germany ; and
thus we infer that Italy, Spain, and Por-
tugal have been retrograding in later
times. But to this point also, we shall
have occasion to recur. i

If now we should venture to give a
definition of civilization, it would be-^
the complete and liarmonious development
of man in all his appropriate relations to
this world — or, more fully expressed, the
expanding and cultivating of all the pow-
ers and capacities of man considered as a
social being ; especially of those higher
faculties which characterize man's proper
nature; and including the refinement of
the manners, tastes and feelings, fn re-
ierence to each man, considered individu-
ally, this process might be called human-
ization, i.e., the complete drawing out
and unfolding of his proper nature —
making him perfectly a man — realizing
his ideal character ; (and hence, with
singularly beautiful appropriateness, the
proper studies of a liberal education used
to be called, not only the Arts, but the
Humanities). But as the nature of man
can be thus completely expanded only in
societ)^, the process is rightly called
civilization. Man makes society, and
society civilizes man. Civilization ter-
minates therefore in the cultivation and



616



Civilization : American and European.



[June,



perfecting of individuals; but it is a
social cultivation and perfection. The
self-improvement of each individual must
go on in living connection with the ob-
servation and appreciation of the progress
made by others. The more extensive
these two processes are, and the more
thoroughly they interpenetrate andmodil'y
each other, the more perfect the result.
It is the internal which is to be unfolded,
but it can be unfolded only in connection
with the e.vternal. The subjection is to
be guided, corrected, stimulated by the
objection : reflection, discipline are to be
conjoined with observation, conversation,
intercourse — the wider the better. This
is the way in which war, and one of the
ways in which commerce, exert so bene-
ficial an influence on civilization. Hence
the debt which modern Europe owes to
the Crusades. To nothing iscivihzation
more directly opposed than to narrow-
mindedness. A man truly civilized is
distinguished for breadth and compre-
hension of view. He has what the Ger-
mans call a world-consciousness. He
carries about v/ith him the familiar feel-
ing that he is here in a world where
there are not only New Englanders, with
their peculiar prejudices and institutions
— not only Americans and Europeans,
but Hindoos also, and Turks, and Tar-
tars, and Chinese and Japanese, who,
like his own neighbors, are all proud of
their several countries, creeds and char-
acters ; in a world, too, where there have
been Jews, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians
and Arabians : in short, his mind is to a
certain degree a geographical and his-
torical omnipresence. He feels, more-
over, that he is in vital connection with
a race which has been, and is, in a pro-
cess of development wherein he shares,
from which he has received, and to which
he must contribute. He is not a mere
'solated individual. In all the fortunes
of the race he takes sensible interest.
He is a man — and whatever concerns
humanity comes home to his bo.som.
Columbus is said to have discovered
America; though multitudes were on the
spot before him. But they knew only of
the existence of their own tribes, and of
their immediate neighbors, whom they
chanced lo meet in war or hunting — they
had no history, no future, i. e., they
were savages : they were not properly
men ; and hence they are said to have
been discovered as if they were mere
things. True civilization also implies a
ready sympathy and power of appreci-



ation. It enters with facility into the
characters and ideas of other nations, and
of more imperfect forms of social culture;
and by impartially judging them, includes
and makes them its own. In fine, its
idea, its mission is to bring into one, the
past, the present and the future — all na-
tions and all generations. Its spirit,
therefore, is both conservative and pro-
gressive. It keeps up the continuity of
the race. Its monuments are enduring.
Its apostles live and labor for all time,
though often obscure and neglected in
their own.

What share have we in such a civiliza-
tion ? What are our claims and prospects
as compared with the leading nations of
Europe ? We proceed to offier some views
in answer to these queries with a deep
sense of insufficiency, but at the same
time with a clear consciousness of an
earnest and impartial spirit. If what
shall be said be true and sound as far as
it goes, we trust that, in view of the
immensity of the subject, our readers
will pardon some incoherence and great
deficiencies.

We, Americans, are often accused of
indulging a vain and boastful spirit — and
not without reason ; though it seems to
be quite forgotten by our accusers that
we are not altogether singular in this
respect — nor are our boasts altogether
groundless — nor is it a greater sin to boast
than to traduce. If we boast more than
others, it is because we have more people
among us who take it into their heads
that they have a right to think for them-
selves, and not only for themselves but
for the rest of the Avorld — more mouths
which are opened not only to utter the
minds of their owners, but to serve as
the organs of the nation. Every little
village newspaper dares to speak in the
name of the American people ; and every
petty 4th of July orator and Lyceum
lecturer, considers himself the pro tempore
mouth-piece of the whole country. Now
it is certainly assuming more than any
considerate man will venture to maintain,
to suppose that we can furnish such
myriads of men with views equally en-
larged and minds equally cultivated, with
the select few who presume to stand
forth as the representatives of other na-
tions. Among the mass of the people in
most other countries, there is probably
as deep-seated a feeling of their national
superiority as there is among ourselves ;
but this feeling is among them compara-
tively silent, because there is too little



1846.]



Civilization : American and European.



617



mental activity to attempt its utterance,
and too little consciousness of the mere
existence of any rival to furnish so much
as a motive for expressing it. Thus much
in defence of our alleged habit of self-
laudation — as against others ; yet as
among ourselves, far be it from us to say
one word in its defence. It is a fault
which, so far as it exists, is a symptom
of narrow-mindedness, and therefore a
drawback to our claims to the true spirit
of civilization.

But before dismissing this topic, we
cannot forbear some further comments
upon the increasingly contemptuous and
insolent tone which British travelers and
British criticism, and the British press
generally, have chosen to assume towards
this country. What are the private griefs
and personal motives of the particular
writers, we know not — we care not.
They may be goaded on in the spirit of
denunciation by pecuniary losses or pecu-
niary rewards ; and the explanation may
be admitted in their personal defence,
though not much to their personal honor ;
but inasmuch as this has become the pre-
vailing, almost universal spirit of the
highest literary organs of the British
nation, it may fairly be assumed as indi-
cating the general tone of English feel-
ing — especially of the higher classes of
English society, towards this country.
England always felt towards us as a step-
mother, and that feeling has not been
softened by seeing her own children
deprived in our favor of so fair a portion
of the paternal inheritance. There was
always something irresistibly ludicrous
in the lofty bearing which every English
writer felt himself entitled to assume to-
wards America — though he had never
seen beyond the narrow precincts of his
native island — and if he had, it made no
great difference ; he always carried Eng-
land with him wherever he went — and
though he might be little more than a
beardless boy ; yet born himself in a cer-
tain little island, we on a magnificent
continent, he felt authorised and com-
missioned to assume towards us the office
of a schoolmaster. Gravely seating him-
self in a pedagogue's chair, he called us
before him to take a lesson in manners
and morals, and receive a severe castiga-
tion for our awkwardness and mis-
demeanors. English writers have not
bantered us as gentlemen and equals —
they have assumed to chastise us as being
themselves our acknowledged superiors
and tutors. They hav e dealt not in good -



humored national raillerj'', but in con-
temptuous sneers and studied insults.
And if we have resented or protested
against such treatment, they coolly shrug-
ged their shoulders and assured us we
were altogether too thin-skinned. It is
true we ought to have had self-respect
enough to laugh at such preposterous airs
— to return silence for contempt, and pity
for insult. But the fact is, we had cherish-
ed a reverential regard for England as the
home and the burial-place of our common
ancestors ; and, forgetting that the present
generation of English were no older or
more venerable than ourselves, we natu-
rally transferred to them that deference
which we felt for England as our mother
country. Hence our soreness. They knew
their advantage and they have abused it.
Latterly they have seemed determined to
cure us of our thin-skinned sensitiveness
and childish veneration both together, and
we trust by the time they have exhausted
their store of vituperation — if, indeed,
there is any more ink in the bottle — they
will have succeeded to their hearts' con-
tent. As to English travelers — they are
the same everywhere. They seem to
regard all the rest of the world as made
expressly for Englishmen to travel in,
and to judge well or ill of it according
as it suits their traveling convenience.
Every class of creatures is affected by
things according to its own nature. The
books of English travelers in this country
always remind us of the far-traveled
stork in the fable, who, when the fox
asked of him an account of the foreign
lands he had visited, began to name over
all the stagnant pools, the bogs and
marshes where he had found the most
savory worms and the fattest frogs.

The English at home are ridiculously
ignorant of us — not only of our condi-
tion and institutions, but of our very
geography. Men moving in the most
respectable society in England have not
so distinct an idea of the geography of
this country as our school-boys ordinarily
have of that of Caffraria or the Barbary
States — not to say, of England, for
obvious reasons. We have seen a forty
shilling atlas, published in London in the
year of our Lord 1840, in which the
separate map of the United States ex-
hibited but fourteen States; one of the
old thirteen. New Hampshire, being omit-
ted ; and, of the new States, only Vermont
and Kentucky added. The palpable and
ludicrous blunders of Alison in his history
of the late war between this country and



618



Civilization : American and European.



[Svmej



Great Britain, have already been, in part,
exposed in the pages of this Review.
They are not lapses of inadvertence, but
sins of sheer ignorance. He evidently
knew no better than to call New England
one of the States of the Union by the side
of Massachusetts and Connecticut ! Yet
Alison is probably the most praised and
prominent British historian of the present
generation. His is no light, ephemeral
production, but most grave and elaborate.
He lays extraordinary claims to accuracy
and fairness ; and no historian, since
Gibbon, has made so much pretension in
the way of rhetoric and philosophy. But
in writing about this country, he seems
to have thought it unnecessary to possess
himself of the merest outline of its
geography. The English may think us
not worth knowing much about ; but a
well-informed man ought to know more
of Abyssinia or Greenland, especially if
he undertook to publish a map of it, or
write its history.

What but the unconscious effrontery
of the purest ignorance can account for
Alison's gravely stating and publishing
before the v/hole world, in a history
which was to be the great work of his
life ; " that one of the last acts of Wash-
ington's life was to carry, by his casting
vote in Congress, a commercial treaty
with Great Britain .' " This is not merely
a downright falsehood in point of fact,
but shows either that the author had
never read the Constitution of the United
States, or that he had been too dull to
comprehend its simplest provisions. Yet
this man — professing great scrupulous-
ness as to the exactness of his informa-
tion in his statements about countries —
has had the audacity to sit in judgment
on our institutions, and visit them with
the most absolute and withering con-
demnation. If it should be said that the
blunder above referred to is unimportant
in itself, and furnishes no argument either
for or against our institutions, we admit
the extenuation though it does not cut off
our inferences. But what shall be said
of expressly basing an argument much to
our disadvantage upon the assumed fact,
that " all the State Judges, from the high-
est to the lowest, are elected by the people,
and are liable to be displaced by them —
iheir tenure of office is sometimes for
three, sometimes for four, sometimes for
isix years, but never for life." And what



shall be said of the incredible and in-
corrigible stupidity of a late British re-
viewer, who, after the facts have repeat-
edly been set forth before the world with
statistical fullness, showing the falsity of
almost every word of Alison's statement,
(for excepting the clause — "sometimes
for six years" — every word of it i»
literally false,) has been guilty of re-
iterating the stale slander in the following
form, intended to express substantially
the same thing, though in more guarded
language :

" The superiority of judges who are
appointed by the President and for life,
over the State judges, most of whom are
elected by the people, and many hold for
short terms, or at will, occasions a gen-
eral wish to resort to the national courts."*

Now the facts in the case, as nearly as
we have the means of ascertaining thera
at the moment of writing this, are, 1st.
In respect to the term of office : the judges
of the Supreme Courts — (and in reference
to any other than the Supreme Courts,
the statement of the reviewer has no
pertinency,) the judges of the Supreme



Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume 3) → online text (page 117 of 128)