George Hooker Colton.

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in Europe and in the British islands, enlist,
immediately upon arriving in America,
under the banners of Democracy and British
Free Trade ; and thus build up again, upon
American soil, the fortunes of that people
who have done their best to destioy them at
home. The grand ally of British commer-
cial aristocracy, the Democratic ]^arty of the
United States, makes us a second time the
vassals of that ojipression which we hate,
the oppression of Norman aristocracy in the
guise of capital and commerce.



298



Our Commercial and Political Relations.



October,



Is he not a strange, a ludicrous, and
miserable object, the unlucky Celt, rebelling
in Ireland against England, and defeated
and exiled by her, the instant he sets foot
upon the free soil of America, enlisting
again under her banners, and consecrating
the first fruits of his neioly -acquired liberty
upon the altar of " British Commercial
Prosperity " ? Is it the fate of the Irish-
man, every where and always, on this earth,
to be the Enghshraan's tool ?

It is not at all astonishing to ourselves,
with these facts before us, to hear of the de-
fection of D'Israeli and a numerous faction
of the Tories from the ranks of the old
Protectionists ; though, for reasons that we
cannot fully understand, the writer in the
Tribune endeavors to make it appear that
this defection is temporary, and preparatory
only to a change in the Imperial policy.
The writer, however, adds : " We are by no
means convinced that he (the Chancellor) is
the man to grapple fairly with the difficul-
ties into which a false policy has led his
country, and which are precisely those pro-
phesied by Adam Smith as the inevitable
result of sacrificing the near trade in the
effort to secure the distant one. It is never-
theless to be borne in mind, that the coun-
try was on the eve of a general election,
and that he must have felt himself in a
situation somewhat akin to that in which
General Jackson found himself, when he
gave his opinion in favor of ' a judicious
tariff.' It is said, that when taunted for re-
pudiating the principles which brought him
into office, he indignantly replied that he
intended to put in practice the opinions,
and carry out the policy he had advocated
when on the other side of the house."
Now, on refei'ring to the " declaration of
principles " of the party of D'Israeli, we find
no mention of protection as an essential
point ; and in the letter of Sir John Pak-
ington to the North American colonies, the
government express a positive reluctance to
trench upon the system of their predecessors
by granting bounties. Our own opinion,
though we broach it with some hesitation,
is that the Tory party will move over,
gradually, to the side of the Free-traders,
and adopt their system, as the permanent
governmental policy of the empire. The
foundations of the peerage will not be
then laid as exclusively in the ownership
of laud ; and it may be that the aristocracy



of England will acquire a Venetian or Car-
thaginian character. Th.%n' present platform
embraces particulars esteemed by them
to be at least of equal importance with
the opposition to an income tax ; nor have
they suffered as much by the policy of free
trade as is commonly supposed. The tariffs
of Great Britain, at the present moment, by
means of what we should call a heavy tax
upon tea and coffee and other articles in
popular use, added to the excise, are found
equal to the interest of the public debt and
all the expenses of colonial, military, and
civil list. The incomes of the church and
peerage being derived principally from rents
and tithes and other forms of impost, which
are not viuch affected by a change in the
system of taxation. The income tax will
perhaps be gradually shifted upon the mid-
dle class, as a compromise with them ; but
the points for which the aristocracy are at
present more jealous than for any others,
are the maintenance of the church establish-
ment ; the Protestant education of the
people, as opposed, on the one side, to
Catholicism, and on the other, to that
liberalism which has crept in of late ; de-
termined resistance to- republicanism in
every shape, which they call " democracy ;"
a distribution of internal taxes which shall
throw the burden of the national debt
upon the middle class, who are the prin-
cipal holders of it; a foreign policy in har-
mony with the present European system ;
active and loyal administration and in-
citement of the colonies ; and finally, an.
augmentation of the military power of the
empire, especially in England itself. We
must confess, we see nothing in the move-
ments of the Tory party that indicates a
lack of wisdom or of ability in the adminis-
tration of affiiirs after their manner. We
think it highly necessary for the people of
the United States to inform themselves
minutely in English affairs, and watch with
old-fashioned republican vigilance the move-
ments of England in regard to ourselves.
We repeat that we are constrained to differ
from the writer in the Tribune, in regard
to the impending weakness and dissolution
of the British empire. This writer refers
to the process of exhaustion applied by
England to the densely populated coun-
tries of Asia, to Portugal, Turkey, and Ire-
land, in her efforts for extending the area of
free trade. We have ourselves, in former



1852.



Our Commercial and Political Relations.



299



articles, enlarged upon these topics. The
annexation of the Burman empire to that of
Great Britain, which seems to be a calculated
event, and the compulsory sales of British
opium in China, are also referred to by the
same -writer, and the remark added, that
with every step in this direction, the wages
of English labor will of necessity decline,
together with the percentage upon invest-
ments. Already the iron manufacturers of
Great Britain, and in general the largest
operators with fixed capital, content them-
selves with one, two, and three per cent, in-
come ; but this is a natural result of the ac-
cumulation of capital in great masses. And
though it is not, as the Tribune justly re-
marks, a proof of the advance of national
wealth, it is a proof of the continued concen-
tration of wealth in tlie hands of a few, and
of the inability of small capitalists to engage
in important enterprises. An ingenious
Democratic editor has endeavored to estab-
lish the doctrine that large capitals at-
tain large profits, and small ones the re-
verse. The entire industrial systems of
Great Britain and America are proofs of the
falsity of this position. The owner of a
million pounds sterling realizes a princely
income with a profit of one per cent. The
owner of a hundred will starve at ten, and
is compelled, for the sake of larger profits,
to associate himself, in a subordinate rela-
tion, with the millionaire ; and this doubt-
less is the secret of the wonderful unity and
coucentaneity observed in the movements
of British capital. The industrial engage-
ments of the people follow the judgment
of the millionaires ; these in their turn being
consulted by and consulting the aristocracy.
Wages of labor in England are not as low
in general as some have imagined ; but
they are subject to dreadful vicissitudes in
consequence of changes in the foreign mar-
ket. We conceive, therefore, that England
has adopted a sound policy fur herself in
establishing, against all the world, her sys-
tem of free trade, and in giving a Car-
thaixiniau or Venetian turn to her legisla-
tion.

Let not the people of America stand in



awe of this power, but let them e:^ercise the
utmost sagacity and vigilance in protecting
themselves against it. Should England
continue her hostile attitude, and compel us,
against our will, into a naval contest with
her, the result will be eventually favorable
to ourselves upon one condition ; and that
is, that we seize the otherwise unhappy op-
portunity of shaking off our dependence
upon her industrial system. So thoroughly
sensible of this are the Free-traders of our
own country, we predict from them a power-
ful opposition to every measui'e that will
engage us, under any national disgrace, in
hostility with the Tories. We have fre-
quently made this prediction. If the reader
wishes to see the first symptom of its justi-
fication, let him read the debates on Mr.
Evans's amendment to the Appropriation
Bill, establishing a light-house duty on for-
eign vessels. We discover in that debate
of August 4th indications of the spirit of
the two parties which cannot be mistaken.
Sincerely and heartily as we deprecate hos-
tilities of every kind, either with Mexico or
with Great Britain, if we are driven to a
choice between the two, — an unhappy choice,
but which there is some fear our antagonists
may one day force upon us, — we prefer the
latter, as likely to entail the least amount
of evil in every shape. May the favor of
Heaven and the inherited wisdom of our
fathers avert the necessity of either !

Meanwhile we repeat, that it is absolutely
necessary for every citizen of the United
States to bear in mind the maxim of Thomas
Je'fierson, " that the price of liberty is per-
petual vigilance." Let us not weary ourselves
with vague philanthropical speculations, but
consider for once, and simj^ly, the exclu-
sive interest of the great Republic. The
day of action is at hand. By securing the
election of the most illustrious soldier and
the most vigilant and honorable of diplo-
matists, whose simple decisions are not biased
by a number of interested considerations,
but rest only upon a sense of national honor,
we shall secure for ourselves every possible
advantage, and escape every avoidable ca-
lamity. Now or never is the time.



300



National Humor.



October,



NATIONAL HUMOR.

A FRAGMENT.



Let us commence, like a respectable
Spbinx as we are, by a riddle. What is
liumor? Do you give it up? It is the
meeting of two opposite ideas from which a
third is evolved, as in the concussion of the
two flints which blew up Baron Munchau-
sen's bear. Ilumor is the music of discords,
just as poetry is the echo of harmony. The
difference between them is, between being-
tickled, and being caressed or sympathized
with. Humor is the point in which pain
and pleasure meeting produce a third
element, which strangely partakes of the
nature of both. It is a sort of voluptuous
torture, like being pinched in the arm by a
pretty girl. Hence, some humor makes us
cry, and some makes us laugh, according to
the quantities in which the radical elements
are mixed. Less prettiness and harder
pinching, or less pinch and more prettiness,
is the question. Humor is the identity of
contraries, like every thing in Hegel's meta-
physics. In fact, humor is so essentially
subtle and mysterious a matter that it would
seem to be extremely difficult to describe,
or, in the language of modest authors who
are apt to confound their own stupidity
with the universe, indescribable. It is pre-
cisely for that reason that we have so mi-
nutely described it.

But, in case one description be considered
unsatisfactory, we will give the opinions of
the seven wisest men we know — the seven
wise men of America — on the subject.

It being proposed over a bottle of cham-
pagne to define the nature of humor —

" Ilumor," said Tvvanky, "is a knife, of
which the handle is smooth and the point
sharp."

" Humor," said Cranky, " is a sort of red
pepper, which burns while it pleases the
palate."

" Humor," said Spanky, " is the smile of
a coquette, which has a double meaning, like
the esoteric and exoteric philosophies."

"Humor," said Lanky, "is candied ill-
temper."



" Humor," said Panky, " is good-nature
in pickle."

" Humor," said Yanky, " is impossibility
made easy."

" Humor," said Zank}', " is a mint julep
in which bitter and sweet are so exquisitely
blended, that it is impossible to distinguish
where one leaves off", or the other begins."

Hobbes, as is well known, attiibuted
laughter, which is the oi;tward development
of a humorous idea, to a sense of exulting
superiority, and evep pleasure in the pain of
another. But this crude theory needs no
examination. It is evident that in the
majority of cases which provoke our laugh-
ter, there is no room whatever for such a
feeling. Our own line of explanation is far
more consistent with facts. The enjoyment
of humor is indeed akin to eating a cucum-
ber with vinegar and pepper, or an acidulous
fruit-pie with sugar. Contrast, and contrast
only, is the radical element of humor.

The poet delights in resemblances, the
humorist in discrepancies. Humor is poetry
topsy turvy.

Not long since, some droll fellow, to whom
pen and ink were unluckily accessible, delib-
erately asserted that poetry was a disease —
like scrofula.

Now, so far from this being the case,
poetry is the acme of health. It is the
overflow of moral and corporeal redundancy
of strength. All great poets have been men
remarkable for their physical beautj^and per-
fection. For example, Shakspeare, Goethe,
Dante, Petrarch, Milton, Byron, (who swam
the Hellspont, notwithstanding his defect in
the foot,) Lamartine, Tennyson, etc. Where
will you find such a collection of faces and
forms as these ? Each of them have, in
their own time and country, been celebrated
for their majestic stature, or personal beauty.

On the other hand, we have our doubts
about liumor. We suspect that, uncom-
bined with poetry, of which it is the engine
reversed, wiience all poets are humorists,
though all humorists are certainly not poets,



1852.



National Humor.



301



it is at least a mental malady. "We fear that
your regular humorists are mostly queer-
looking; fellows, apt to be dwarfish and
wrinkled, with sharp noses, and a diabolical
sort of grin, with small piercing eyes, and
thin wicked mouths. We know many of
this stamp, and, notwithstandiag our own
sacred character as philosopher and poet,
cannot help feeling an odd creeping of the
flesh in their presence. We draw our pro-
phet's mantle uncomfortably tight about us,
and catch ourselves calculating the chances
of their hitting the well-known holes in our
garment with the arrows of their unscrupu-
lous sarcasm. An unreversible, that is, an
unpoetical humorist is an imperfect creature,
a sort of madman or devil-possessed demo-
niac.

We never felt ourselves a match for one
of these human goblins. Their incessant
sharp-shooting, their shower of insignificant
hits, and adroit turns and paradoxes, is quite
dazzling and confusing. A man, whose
mind is cast in the mould of reason and love
of truth, will ever be "bothered " in a con-
test with such antagonists. The true health-
ful man is afraid of his own strength; he
cannot return the little rattle of taps and
flips, from fear of striking one blow that
may be mortal — at least to the temper of
liis opponent. Habitual banterers are terri-
bly sensitive in their own persons.

Humor, then, is, in the abstract, to poetry
and art, what fungi, weeds and wild berries
are to the oaks of the forest, and the fruits
of the orchard, and the flowers of the pleas-
ure garden. Every land has its own weeds,
fungi, and wild berries, and every nation its
own peculiar humor. It is our wish to de-
scribe the special character of humor belong-
ing to a few of the more important nationali-
ties. For the present, lest our task should
prove endless, like the Indian serpent which
encircles the universe, we will confine our-
selves to England, France, Germany, and
America, the living representatives of pro-
gress. They will furnish us with ample
stuff for analytical comparism. So, as when
in Southey's "Devil's Walk," the Czar of
all the hells exclaims :

"Here's heads for England, tails for France;
He tost, and heads it came;"

we, not being desirous of imitating the
devil's example, will take care in tossing that
tails shall turn up, and, accordingly, as the



spectral army of Napoleon cried in the song,
" France is our watchword."

We will begin with the humor of France,
of beautiful France, the land of Rabelais
and Moliere, of Rochefoucauld and Talley-
rand, of Paul de Kock and the Charivari.
How the old jests and repartees rise up
before us, at the thought, like the grinning
skulls of departed boon companions — the
Yoricks of our youthful days of frolic! We
are in Paris ; we jostle brother dandies ou
the gay, crowded, dusty Boulevards ; we
lounge in cafes whose walls are mirrors of
interminable reflection, on sofas of everlasting
red velvet ; we sip eternal coffee from white
cups, on infinite marble tables ; and news-
papers without end, afiixed to inevitable
mahogany sticks, are spread before us by
gardens in white jackets, numerous as the
poet's

" Horsemen, like the sand
On ocean's shores, uncounted,"

whose devotion to our individual happiness,
so far as the resources of Parisian cafes go,
appears to be of a most perennial and inex-
haustible nature.

Once more we walk the arcades of the
lively, glittering Palais Royal — Palais Na-
tional, we mean, if any thing be now
national in France, save humor ; we pause
and stare into the curiosity shop, where
there is the dear old fan, made of humming-
birds' feathers, as some think, others say floss
silk ; and the candelabra man, who stands
on his brazen head, like the Colossus of
Rhodes upside down, with a socket for a
candle in each of his brazen legs, thus illus-
trating the fable of the hungry man, hollow
to his heels, of our youthful reminiscences.
There, too, is the marble bust of nobody in
particular, standing on the Chinese cabinet
that never came from China, and a small
army of little bronze men and women, who
may think themselves lucky that they are
not flesh and blood instead of bronze, so
uncomfortable is their general style of atti-
tude. And there, also, is the set of Indian
chessmen, with real elephants and castles,
and small warriors for pawns, looking alto-
gether much too expensive for anybody but
an emperor to play with. We pass over the
old china, with brick-dust colored roses, and
the sticks with the heads of griflSns, and
other terrible and fabulous animals, ready to
bite your hand the moment you attempt to



302



National Humor.



October,



lay hold of them. Yes, we pass over those
and many other remarkable things, and we
make our way across the Place dy Carrousel,
where there is a bude light, and an arch,
stuck up out of sheer extravagance, and
precisely because it is not wanted, a most
useless and fine-gentlemanly structure !
We cross the bridge of the " Arts," or of
the "sacred fathers," it matters not to us,
and we find ourselves in the Quai Voltaire,
opposite the old Hotel Voltaire, which faces
the Tuileries, and devours the substance of
foreigners with carpet-bags, who, mayhap,
deluded by its chipped and unpainted aspect,
have walked into it in search of economy,
like a mouse seekinjr luxurious livina: in a
mouse-trap. We cannot help it — we know
it is a weakness, but we cannot help looking
up at those windows on the first floor, erst
the dwelling of that lovely and most gra-
cious young baroness, whose only fault was
that she had run away from a monster of a
husband, and somehow, for want of papers
of some kind, could not make it quite all
right with the police, notwithstanding the
devotion of the ugly/emme de chambre who
perjured herself black in the face — she was
very brown to begin with — as her mistress
pathetically assured us.

We painted the portrait of that lovely
young baroness, at least we engaged to paint
it ; but it all ended in three-cornered notes,
which a friend of ours, the leader of a new
socialist school, assured us was a proof of her
liberality in politics, as the triangle is the
symbol of equality in what may be called
modern political heraldry.

The fact was, that when the charming
young baroness discovered that we were not
professionally portrait painters, she set us
down as rich milords in mufti, and rather
astonished our strong minds by a broad
hint at ten thousand francs a year, and a
carriage. Such are the surprises young
philosophers of adventurous temperaments
are apt to encounter at Paris !

We turn from the old hotel and its roman-
tic reminiscences to the long line of book-
stalls, or rather book-boxes, arranged for
nearly half a mile in unbroken line along
the parapet of the terrace overhanging the
Seine. An old man in a pale-blue frock,
with dark-blue patches, and a queer cap,
watches us intently. Perhaps he merely
regards us as a possible customer ; perhaps
he sees something wild or Eugene Aramish in



our looks. We take up a volume of Gavar-
ni's caricatures — a startling reminder that
we are not writing reminiscences of Paris, but
a treatise on National Humor. We return
to our muttons, or rather our muttons return
to us. Dreams ! vanish !

Let us try, Gavarni-like, to put a few bold
touches into our cartoon. Let us say that
French humor is preeminently the humor of
the passions and feelings ; that English hu-
mor is that of the interests and of social rela-
tions, the German of the abstract philosophi-
cal and political idea, the Italian of the artis-
tic sentiment, the Spanish of the grotesque
and the fanciful, Arabian of the moral, and
American of the purely and essentially com-
ical intention. Having said all this, let us
adn)it that the distinctions are but rude,
reckless generalizations, implying a predom-
inating, but by no means an absorbing ele-
ment.

And now for a few examples of French
humor. If many of our illustrations be old
or fiimiliar, let us at least care that they be
good of their kind. It is a poor joke that
will not bear repetition, and the newspapers
of all nations take care that the axiom shall
not fell into disuse. We have known even
originations of this poor brain of ours go the
rounds of the English and American papers
in a way that amazed us. Assuredly the
man who invents a droll story or says a smart
thing, needs be in no fear of wanting readers
in this journalizing world, where even a no-
vel platitude is pounced on with such vul-
ture-like alacrity. The consumption of fun
is greater than the production. The peo-
ple demand it as a necessity of their na-
tures, and the will of the people should be
respected.

" Make way for the representatives of the
people," said somebody at the commence-
ment of the late French Revolution, as La-
martine and his colleagues were proceeding
to the Hotel de Ville.

" Make way for the people themselves !"
retorted a body of the insurgents they en-
countered.

This reminds us of Lamartine's famous
reply to the demand for his head, raised by
some of the most violent during one of his
harangues.

" I wish you had the head of Lamartine,"
replied the poet smiling; "you would be
more patient and less bloodthirsty."

Talking of the poet-statesman reminds us,



1S52.



National Humor.



303



by antithesis, of Prince Talleyrand, -who cer-
tainly was any thing but a poet, though he
would make a very good hero of a poem for
any one witty enough to treat such a sub-
ject. Talleyrand is one of those men whose
fame as a wit and a humorist is not to be
disputed. Such names have this remarkable
peculiarity, they become in a manner bonded
warehouses or pounds for stray witticisms and
anecdotes of unknown origin, to which they
lend a certain aureole or halo. Just as the
fifth book of Moses is popularly attributed
to that author, whose death takes place in
the course of the narrative, so are countless
jokes, good, bad, and indifferent, remorse-
lessly fathered upon Talleyrand, Theodore
Hook, Lord Byron, Beau Brummel, and a
few other piquant celebrities, perhaps as a
sort of reparation for the numberless ex-
amples of their really genuine "good things"
which have passed away unrecorded with
the occasions that gave rise to them.

Talleyrand's hons mots were infinite. We
wish our memory were not the sinking fund
it is, or we would give a few of them. One
story, however, we do recollect, and that one
is eminently characteristic of the habitually
cunning and sarcastic diplomatist.

A lady was extremely desirous of possess-
ing Talleyrand's autograph. As if to prevent
the possibility of an improper use being
made of his signature, the astute minister
wrote his name at the top and close to the
edge of the blank sheet of paper which was
presented to him.

Washington Irving attributes to Gold-
smith the saying commoly given to Talley-
rand, that the use of language is to disguise


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Online LibraryGeorge Hooker ColtonThe American review : a Whig journal of politics, literature, art, and science (Volume no.4) → online text (page 3 of 21)