James Fenimore Cooper.

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fathers, that it may still require time to lose it altogether.
Almost every English traveller in America (who has pub-
lislied) admits the cordiality and kindness of his reception.
Though this acknow^ledgment is commonly made with some
such flourish as — ' we found the name of Englishman a gen-
eral passport,' it is not the less an acknowledgment of the
fact. What is the other side of the picture ? Remember
tliat I do not speak of exceptions, but of rules ; not of men
whom good fortune, or merit, or caprice, or fashion, or curi-
osity, or any other cause, has made the objects of attention ;
nor of those whose goodness of heart, and laudable desire to
study character as it is exhibited in nations as well as in in-
dividuals, excite to kindness ; but of those of my countrymen
who travel as a body, and of those Enghshmen who ordinarily
receive them as guests in their own island.

" In the first place, an American has evidently to overcome
a dislike to be received at all. This circumstance is betrayed
to us in a thousand ways. The first and most common is an
evident desire to avoid us. It is betrayed to us by foreigners

NOTES. 325

who tell us distinctly of the fact ; and it is betrayed to us by
the very manner in which their civilities are offered when
circumstances induce them to depart a httle from their cus-
tomary reserve.

" The reception of an American in England is not without
amusement. I shall say nothing of the honest, blustering
hospitality of that class in whom prejudice cannot always
repress kindness, (especially if profit be in view;) but my
remarks are now made on a class who liave no direct gain
before their eyes. These good folk are prodigious patron-
izers. Nothing makes them so happy as to get an American,
and to show him that they are not above treating him as an
equal ; and in order that the poor foreigner should have no
excuse for denying the condescension, they neglect no oppor-
tunity of exliibiting it. These people are every moment
giving you solemn assurances that they are above the vulgar
prejudices of the rest of the world, and perhaps you are
gravely told that the party despises the theory which says
physical nature is not so perfect in America as in Europe, by
an individual who is gravely looking up in your face at an
angle of forty-five degrees. One of the best-bred, natural,
and easy women that I met in London was a countrywoman
of my own. A very cosmopolite took occasion to compliment
me on the subject; but, probably fearing he had said too
much, he concluded by telling me that ' she had been caught
young !' On another occasion I was assured, in the presence
of twenty people, that a countr}Tnan of my owm ' could not
have been a finer gentleman than he was had he been edu-
cated in London or Paris !' An American lady was dancing
in the midst of fifty Englishwomen, and her performance was
so creditable, that I was led to believe by a by-stander, that
he saw no difference in her grace and that of the belles of
his own island ! I should be ungrateful indeed, not to ac-
knowledge the polished liberality of such concessions, which,
I candidly assure you, exceeds any tlung in the same way I
ever heard in my own country. But these are cases to be
laughed at : I am sorry to say that others occur, in which
indignation destroys the spirit of merriment.

" Now, aU this is exceedingly absurd and very pitiful.
Heaven knows that every rational American is wilhng enough
to admit what time, and money, and learning have done for
Europe ; nor do I think, unless provoked by superciliousness,
that we are too apt to remind her possessors of wliat they
have not done. But it is lamentable that the truly high
breeding and excellent sense of those who do possess those
ninliriHS in an cniineiit d'^o-ree, in Eno-land. cannot look uuwn

Y.i. T Ff ^

326 NOTES.

the overweening character of so many of the nation. ^ That
they do not, my own experience, and the observations of
every intelligent man, will show. 1 do not say, that if we
were the old, and proud, and successful people, that we
should discover better taste, deeper humility, or more can-
dour ; but this I do know, that being the people we are, we
are not hkely to submit quietly to the exhibition of an un-
earned superiority in others. These things must be changed,
or the growth of the feeling to which I have already alluded
appears to me to be inevitable. Hundreds of American
travellers are m Europe at this hour. Each year increases
the number, as it increases their influence on the tone of
the pubhc mind at home. Perhaps nine out of ten, place
their feet on the land of their ancestors with a feeling in
its favour ; and I am firmly persuaded, that, from the causes
I have named, nine out of ten leave it with satisfaction,
and return to it with reluctance. The same individuals
quit France, Italy, Russia, Switzerland and Germany, with
kind and friendly recollections. England and the United
States are placed in situations to make them respectful com-
petitors, or downright haters. Love does not more infallibly
beget love, than dislike creates dislike. I honestly think we
are, as yet, substantially the defendants in this war of inuen-
dos. We have certainly returned abuse for abuse, and as
coarsely and as vulgarly, and frequently as ignorantly, as it
has been bestowed ; but there is nothing in our resentment
which wears the aspect of settled and calculating hostility
I think our people have been wrong : they have often met
calumny with deprecation, when they would have better shut
its mouth by exhibiting spirit. We never got any thing from
England in the way of petition or remonstrance; but we
have obtained a glorious empire by resolution. I am no ad
vocate for vindictive and vulgar recrimination ; but I think
the nation or the individual who would maintain his proper
position, must take justice and self-respect for his guides,
and care as little as possible for others.

" It would be as disgusting as it is unprofitable, to descend
into the paltry details of the manner in which prejudices
and contempt are fostered in England against America.
Some itinerant hears a gross expression from the lips of a
vulgar man in New-York, or a horrid oath in the mouth of
gome blasphemous boatman on the Mississippi, and they are
instantly transferred to the pages of works like the Quarterly
and half a dozen others similar to it, as specimens of Amer-
ican manners ! Do those who preside over the publications
in question, believe that the art of objurgation is unknown

NOTES. 327

111 fxieir own country? I can tell them from close observation,
that sentences are daily and hourly uttered in London itself,
which, though they may want, and commonly do want, the
miserable ingenuity of those they quote, fail in none of the
blasphemy, ' Pretty considerable^ is always dignified with
italics ; and the President of the United States is lucky if it
be not interpolated into his annual message ; but it may
appear, as it does appear, in page 64, lines 6 and 7, of the
famous Reflections on the French Revolution, by the Right
Hon. Edmund Burke, in Roman insignificance !

" It behoves the wise, and the principled, and the good of
the tw^o nations, to put a stop to feelings which can so easily
give rise to all that is disagreeable. But truckling is not
wisdom m us, nor is condescension politeness in them. We
must meet at all times, and in all places, as equals : not in
concessions, that are v/rung by policy, or perhaps by a still less
worthy motive ; but as mortals, who have but one nature and
one God. Until this shall be done, and not till then, it is
vain to expect the least revival of tlie feeling that might arise
from a common parentage and common principles. I have
reason to thmk that I do not stand alone, in this opmion, by
millions. The tmie is near, I had almost written frightfully
near, when two nations, who thoroughly understand each
. other's vituperations, shall support a dehcate rivalry by equal
power. That crisis is to be passed ere the danger of the
malady shall abate. For one, I can say, in all sincerity, that
I hope it may be done in peace ; but I should be blind to the
eifect of natural causes, did I not see that it is a period at-
tended with alarm. It is a thousand pities that the good-
ness of heart, and the secret sympathies which bind the lovers
of humanity together, should be smothered by the grosser
and more active passions of the world ; but nature and self-
preservation point to only one course when the appeal is
seriously made to the patiiot. It is by this unfortunate
supremacy of the coarser passions of life, that the best men
eventually get enthralled in the mental tj^anny of prejudice
and hostility.

" You will perceive by what is here written, that v.ords
and empty profession pass but for httle in my poor estimate
of liberality. If I know myself, an Englishman is regarded
as any other man. When I find him, as I am happy to say I
have found hundreds, benevolent, kind of heart, and liberally
enlightened, he even draws nearer to my sympathies than
any other foreigner ; but the instnnt any of the quahties men-
tioned above, are discovered, distrust, coldness, and, not un-
iruquenlly, unconquerable disgust, succeed. There is no

328 NOTES.

other object in mentioning my own instance, except as" it
goes to prove what is the feeling of an individual who has
never been the subject of any peculiar causes to make his
case different from that of the mass of his nation. I believe
it is the state of mind of a vast majority of that portion of my
countrymen who are brought much in colhsion with the na-
tives of Great Britain. But these sympathies may be blighted
too often. It is vain to say, that the mass of mankind are
ignorant, and prejudiced, and obstinate, while you cannot add
that they are impotent. Men act and feel, they war and they
(Jestroy, in masses ; and it is as bodies, and not in their insu-
lated exceptions, that they must be viewed.

" But I deny that the prejudice of England against America
is limited to the ignorant, though I am willing to admit, and
admit it I do with unaffected pleasure, that there are many
and manly exceptions. Still, a deep, settled, ignorant, and, I
think, an increasing hostility, to the people, the institutions,
and, I fear, to the hopes of the United States, exists in the
minds of a vast majority of the middling classes. I use the
term middling in an intellectual, no less than in its ordinary,
acceptation. It is not a month since a friend of mine acci-
dentally met a clergyman's daughter, of good manners, of a
naturally kind heart, and of great general good sense, who
manifested this temper in an extraordinary degree. Chance
introduced the subject of America, and it is scarcely possible
to describe the quality of her abuse, which knew no other
bounds than what propriety of sex, and some little respect for
condition, would impose. On inquiry, it appeared that this
lady (for she was not at all unworthy of the appellation) had
never known an American in her life ! She had listened too
eagerly to misrepresentation and caricature ; and, perhaps,
her very intelligence added to her spleen, by giving the alarm
to her patriotism. But the progress of a great nation is not
to be stopped by angry words.

" You may be inclined to ask if the American is not often
guilty of the same weakness ? No doubt he is — though al-
ways with this marked difference : he disputes, and often de
nies the claims of England, in this or that particular ; he ia
disgusted with certain usages, and does not scruple to say so;
he laughs at the self-delusion of her poets and dramatists ;
but he does not deny her general right to be considered among
the greatest nations of the earth. While he sees and acknow-
ledges, and has often felt the equality of her courage, and
morals, and enterprise, he confesses no superiority, because,
in simple truth, it Leas no existence. I do not ever remember
to have heard one of my countrymen, however ignorant or

NOTES. 329

vulgar, refuse to admit an Englishman to most of the merit
of being a sufficiently civilized man ; but it would be quite
easy to produce printed evidence, in works of character, to
show that there is no reciprocity in even this doubtful degree
of liherality.

" I shall close this long, and, I fear, tiresome note, by
writing still more frankly. I have heard a great deal of
professions of amity and kindness towards America, during
my recent visit to England. I feel that no man has a right
to distrust declarations that come from fearless and honest
natures. For my own part, I give credit to the sincerity of
the individuals who have made them. But when these
declarations come, as they so often do come, openly and in
print, accompanied by sneers, and misrepresentations, and
caricatures, it would exceed the ordmary bounds of human
vanity to yield them faith. In order that no misconception
may exist on this head, I beg leave to direct your attention
to the Quarterly Review, a publication which, erroneously
or not, is said to enjoy a particular degree of the favour of
those who control the policy of England. Will any honest
or candid man -say, that the spirit and language of this
journal are conciliatory? If the Enghsh nation wish to cher-
ish an amicable temper with America, this is not the way
to effect their object. . One is often at a loss to arrive at
the spirit which dictates these mongrel essays. Are their
writers so ignorant of human nature, as not to know, that
while one taunt will be remembered, a thousand qualifying
commendations will be forgotten ? If they are WTitten for
the Enghsh nation, do they not prove the existence of the
temper I have described? and if they are written for the
American, is it believed that we shall take our political creed
from known rivals ? If peace between England and America
be an object — and God know^s, I consider it an object of deep
and momentous concern — it is not to be preserved by means
like these. There is one question alone, which must always
endanger the harmony of the two nations. I mean the
question of impressment. So long as this delicate and kn-
portant point remains at issue, England cannot war with any
other power w^ithout creating a fearful risk of drawing
America into the controversy. There exists no longer in the
United States, a blind and infatuated party to uphold a
foreign people in the support of a doctrme that is as untena-
ble by common sense, as it is insulting to the sovereignty of
an independent nation, and this is a question, tlierefore, that
can only be disposed of by great conciliation and mutual for-
bearance But, admitting that the admmistration of t'le

330 NOTES.

United States should be disposed to cede a little, for a time,,
to policy, until our sinews shall be still better strung, Heaveii
be praised, tlie American administration can do nothing against
the feeling and declared will of the American nation. Kind
words cost but little. He who does not choose to use them,
cannot expect to have his joke and keep his friend. It may
be very pleasant to laugh at the honest and sincere anticipa-
tions of a people whose hopes have never yet been deceived ;
but it would be far wiser to consider what are called the
boastful exaggerations of the Americans, as so many indica-
tions of the spirit with which the vast power they are so
shortly and so inevitably to possess, will be wielded. People
may not, and do not like to hear of these things ; but I appeal
to the candour of any honest man, if we tell them as often,
as plainly, and as forcibly as provocation and superciliousness
would justify ; nay more, I do not think we tell them ourselves
as often as they are betrayed by the jealousy of others. We
live in the quiet of a reasonable, and, I hope, of a grateful
security. There is one feature in the intercourse between
all Europeans and Americans that should never be forgotten.
The former proceed on the assumption of premises which
were once true, are now false, and will shortly be absurd ;
and they talk on quietly, with an air of superiority, of which,
half the time, they are unconscious themselves — while the
American is thought an arrogant innovator, if he pretend
even to equality.

" Turning from this picture of irritating and jealous con-
tention, one scarcely knows where to seek the antidote to the
poison which is thus insidiously infused into the two nations.
It can only be found in the high principles and good sense of
the rehgiously disposed, and of the enlightened. The former
class may endure and deprecate, for their office is meek and
holy charity ; but it may be well questioned, if the know-
ledge of man and worldly wisdom do not tell the intelligent
American, that his nation has already forborne too long.
When are we to expect the termination of these constant ap-
peals to our forbearance, or when are we to look with confi-
dence to the hour in which misrepresentation and calumny
shall cease? I refer you to the VII. Number of the Quarterly
Thelogical Review and Ecclesiastical Record, a work de-
voted to the promulgation of Christian doctrines, as a striking
evidence of the temper which pervades so much of England
on the subject of America. It is vain to say, that the sermon
it affects to review is any justification of the language it con-
tahis. Tliere is nothing in that sermon but what a minister
of Gud had a perfect right to tell his people. But it seems

NOTES. 331

our Bishop is accused of having left an eiToneous opinion of
his sentiments behind him in England. I hope his successors
will profit by the hint, and deal a little more frankly, though
it should be done at some expense of politeness. If any thing
can serve to make the sweeping and ridiculous charges of this
review more absurd, it is the well-known fact, that millions
in Great Britain pine to enjoy the distant advantages of the
very regions the writer affects to undervalue. It is no small
refutation of a large portion of the calumny heaped upon us,
that no work, pretending to a religious character, could pub-
Hsh such gross exaggerations of any other people, in Amer-
ica, without meeting its punishment in the powerful rebuke
of a community that knows well how to distinguish between
the professions and the duties of Christianity.

" But I have no wish to pursue the ungrateful subject fur-
ther. If we do not recriminate and assail, it is not for want
of means, but for want of inchnation. All of our travellers in
"England have as yet been Hodgsons (at least in temper ;) and
it is worthy of remark, that while so many English have been
journeying in America, to ridicule, to caricature, and to mis-
represent, not a single American of the thousands who daily
visit and have visited England, has, to my knowledge, ever
midertaken the office of retaliation. I shall not offend your
good sense, by pretending you do not know how easy the task
would become, to an American who had the disposition and
the talents for its — I had almost written duty.

" I have treated this matter more gravely than the security
and indifference of most Americans would induce them to
believe necessary. But to me there seems a danger in the
subject that my countrymen, who now openly laugh at these
' paper bullets,' do not*" always see. It is plain to me, that
immense numbers in England have a secret presentiment
that there is great danger of a war between the two coun-
tries. I take the often repeated disclaimers of a wish for
hostilities to be a bad omen. No man in America, thinks at
all on the subject. I do affinn that I have heard more said
about war in the last four weeks in England, than in the last
four years that I passed at home. I think one can trace
easily the cause of this difference of feeling. We are passive,
for we have neither distrust nor jealousy. We know we are
moving steadily to our object, and we think or care little
about what other people wish or contemplate. I do not be-
lieve that two grave and thinking nations will ever enter into
hostilities on account of pasquinades; but pasquinades can
produce a state of feeling that may render it difficult to over-
come serious obstacles to peace. That these obstacles hava

332 NOTES.

arisen, and that they will constantly continue to arise, good
men may lament, hut prudent men must foresee.

" Ilavino- veryprohahly wearied you, my dear , with

a subject in which you may not feel as interested as myself,
you have a right to some advice concernmg those prehmniary
investio-ations on which you are so meritoriously mclmed. I
scarcely know a book to which I can refer you. Most of the
travels' are next to w^orthless. Even statistical works are
liable to so much explanation, in a country where changes
are so rapid, that they are apt to mislead. For this simple
reason, no book, for a long time to come, can be deemed a
■ standard work. It is found difficult, with the utmost industry,
for even the geographies to mahitain their places in the
schools. What is°true to-day, m.ay, where so much activity
prevails, become erroneous to-morrcw. It is a common say-
in o-, that an American who remains five years abroad, gets
behind his country. There are many and lamentable proofs
of its justice. It would have been just as safe for the
Austrians to behove Napoleon at Turin this week, because
he was at Milan the last, as it would be exact to calculate
that America is the same the present as she was found the
preceding year. A population that, in our infancy, amounted
to three millions, has already swelled to twelve, and thou-
sands are now in being who will live to see it fifty ! All other
changes have kept equal pace with the unprecedented and
nearly incredible growth of our numbers.

" You will find, in the British Annual Register, a sufficient-
ly correct history of the war of the revolution. It is often
coloured in matters that may touch the national pride ; but is
written with far too much talent to be vulgarly illiberal.
Many of the private memoirs of that period, Enghsh, French,
and American, have merit as well as interest for those who
are disposed to seek it on so trite a subject : but Marshall,
with all his faults of arrangement, for candour, manliness,
and judicious weighing of testimony, is a model for all his-
tories. "His opportunities, too, for obtaining the truth have
probably never been equalled by any other historian. For
books of a later date, I scarcely know where to refer you.
The little episode of Anquetil on the American war, is won-
derfully erroneous. He confounds names, dates, and events,
in a manner that is inexplicable. He is not alone in saying
that the mistress of Washington had betrayed his secrets!
. Notliiug can be more absurd than to suppose any woman had
the power of betraying the secrets of one so wise, unless it
be to suppose that woman was his mistress. A more profound
ignoirance of the man, or of tlie people by whom he was iu-

NOTES. 333

trusted, cannot easily be imagined. After all, you have chosen
the only course by which a tolerably correct idea of America
can be obtained. You will labour under one disadvantagfe,
however, of which it is impossible to get rid in years. An
European can scarcely spare sufficient time to acquire the
simplicity of habits, may I also say, simphcity of thought,
necessary to estimate our country. There is no people of
whom a superficial knowledge is so soon gained, for tliey are
communicative and without suspicion ; but long familiarity is
required to judge of a nation so eminently practical, and so
universally influenced by common sense. Of one thmg you
may be assured, that nothmg I can bestow shall be wanting
to make your visit both pleasant and profitable. And now,
my dear ," &c. &c.

NOTE B.—Page 16.

" What effect did the general hostilities of Europe, from
1792 to 1814, produce on the maritime spirit or on the naviga-
tion of your country ; and what w^as the counteracting influ-
ence of the retaliating measures of the belligerents, of your
own restrictive laws, and of the war of 1812?"

"As to maritime spirit,.! should answer, none. The
American has ever shown an mchnation to the sea, and per-
haps there is no branch of his industry and profit that he
would abandon with greater reluctance. You will find the
proofs of this disposition in history, in his professional skill,
in the restless enterprise of the national character, nrA in the
sagacity of the people, w^hich is not likely to admit of their
being cajoled into an impression that they do not comprehend

Online LibraryJames Fenimore CooperNotions of the Americans: picked up by a travelling bachelor (Volume 1-2) → online text (page 28 of 58)