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The Complete Essays of C. D. Warner by Charles Dudley Warner

Part 9 out of 11

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If we turn from these general considerations to the evidences that this
is an "era of progress" in the condition of individual men, we are met by
more specific denials. Granted, it is said, all your facilities for
travel and communication, for cheap and easy manufacture, for the
distribution of cheap literature and news, your cheap education, better
homes, and all the comforts and luxuries of your machine civilization, is
the average man, the agriculturist, the machinist, the laborer any better
for it all? Are there more purity, more honest, fair dealing, genuine
work, fear and honor of God? Are the proceeds of labor more evenly
distributed? These, it is said, are the criteria of progress; all else
is misleading.

Now, it is true that the ultimate end of any system of government or
civilization should be the improvement of the individual man. And yet
this truth, as Mr. Froude puts it, is only a half-truth, so that this
single test of any system may not do for a given time and a limited area.
Other and wider considerations come in. Disturbances, which for a while
unsettle society and do not bring good results to individuals, may,
nevertheless, be necessary, and may be a sign of progress. Take the
favorite illustration of Mr. Froude and Mr. Ruskin--the condition of the
agricultural laborer of England. If I understand them, the civilization
of the last century has not helped his position as a man. If I
understand them, he was a better man, in a better condition of earthly
happiness, and with a better chance of heaven, fifty years ago than now,
before the "era of progress" found him out. (It ought to be noticed
here, that the report of the Parliamentary Commission on the condition of
the English agricultural laborer does not sustain Mr. Froude's
assumptions. On the contrary, the report shows that his condition is in
almost all respects vastly better than it was fifty years ago.)
Mr. Ruskin would remove the steam-engine and all its devilish works from
his vicinity; he would abolish factories, speedy travel by rail, new-
fangled instruments of agriculture, our patent education, and remit him
to his ancient condition--tied for life to a bit of ground, which should
supply all his simple wants; his wife should weave the clothes for the
family; his children should learn nothing but the catechism and to speak
the truth; he should take his religion without question from the hearty,
fox-hunting parson, and live and die undisturbed by ideas. Now, it seems
to me that if Mr. Ruskin could realize in some isolated nation this idea
of a pastoral, simple existence, under a paternal government, he would
have in time an ignorant, stupid, brutal community in a great deal worse
case than the agricultural laborers of England are at present. Three-
fourths of the crime in the kingdom of Bavaria is committed in the
Ultramontane region of the Tyrol, where the conditions of popular
education are about those that Mr. Ruskin seems to regret as swept away
by the present movement in England--a stagnant state of things, in which
any wind of heaven would be a blessing, even if it were a tornado.
Education of the modern sort unsettles the peasant, renders him unfit for
labor, and gives us a half-educated idler in place of a conscientious
workman. The disuse of the apprentice system is not made good by the
present system of education, because no one learns a trade well, and the
consequence is poor work, and a sham civilization generally. There is
some truth in these complaints. But the way out is not backward, but
forward. The fault is not with education, though it may be with the kind
of education. The education must go forward; the man must not be half
but wholly educated. It is only half-knowledge like half-training in a
trade that is dangerous.

But what I wish to say is, that notwithstanding certain unfavorable
things in the condition of the English laborer and mechanic, his chance
is better in the main than it was fifty years ago. The world is a better
world for him. He has the opportunity to be more of a man. His world is
wider, and it is all open to him to go where he will. Mr. Ruskin may not
so easily find his ideal, contented peasant, but the man himself begins
to apprehend that this is a world of ideas as well as of food and
clothes, and I think, if he were consulted, he would have no desire to
return to the condition of his ancestors. In fact, the most hopeful
symptom in the condition of the English peasant is his discontent.
For, as skepticism is in one sense the handmaid of truth, discontent is
the mother of progress. The man is comparatively of little use in the
world who is contented.

There is another thought pertinent here. It is this: that no man,
however humble, can live a full life if he lives to himself alone. He is
more of a man, he lives in a higher plane of thought and of enjoyment,
the more his communications are extended with his fellows and the wider
his sympathies are. I count it a great thing for the English peasant,
a solid addition to his life, that he is every day being put into more
intimate relations with every other man on the globe.

I know it is said that these are only vague and sentimental notions of
progress--notions of a "salvation by machinery." Let us pass to
something that may be less vague, even if it be more sentimental. For a
hundred years we have reckoned it progress, that the people were taking
part in government. We have had a good deal of faith in the proposition
put forth at Philadelphia a century ago, that men are, in effect, equal
in political rights. Out of this simple proposition springs logically
the extension of suffrage, and a universal education, in order that this
important function of a government by the people may be exercised

Now we are told by the most accomplished English essayists that this is a
mistake, that it is change, but no progress. Indeed, there are
philosophers in America who think so. At least I infer so from the fact
that Mr. Froude fathers one of his definitions of our condition upon an
American. When a block of printer's type is by accident broken up and
disintegrated, it falls into what is called "pi." The "pi," a mere
chaos, is afterwards sorted and distributed, preparatory to being built
up into fresh combinations. "A distinguished American friend," says Mr.
Froude, "describes Democracy as making pi." It is so witty a sarcasm
that I almost think Mr. Froude manufactured it himself. Well, we have
been making this "pi" for a hundred years; it seems to be a national dish
in considerable favor with the rest of the world--even such ancient
nations as China and Japan want a piece of it.

Now, of course, no form of human government is perfect, or anything like
it, but I should be willing to submit the question to an English traveler
even, whether, on the whole, the people of the United States do not have
as fair a chance in life and feel as little the oppression of government
as any other in the world; whether anywhere the burdens are more lifted
off men's shoulders.

This infidelity to popular government and unbelief in any good results to
come from it are not, unfortunately, confined to the English essayists.
I am not sure but the notion is growing in what is called the
intellectual class, that it is a mistake to intrust the government to the
ignorant many, and that it can only be lodged safely in the hands of the
wise few. We hear the corruptions of the times attributed to universal
suffrage. Yet these corruptions certainly are not peculiar to the United
States: It is also said here, as it is in England, that our diffused and
somewhat superficial education is merely unfitting the mass of men, who
must be laborers, for any useful occupation.

This argument, reduced to plain terms, is simply this: that the mass of
mankind are unfit to decide properly their own political and social
condition; and that for the mass of mankind any but a very limited mental
development is to be deprecated. It would be enough to say of this, that
class government and popular ignorance have been tried for so many ages,
and always with disaster and failure in the end, that I should think
philanthropical historians would be tired of recommending them. But
there is more to be said.

I feel that as a resident on earth, part owner of it for a time,
unavoidably a member of society, I have a right to a voice in determining
what my condition and what my chance in life shall be. I may be
ignorant, I should be a very poor ruler of other people, but I am better
capable of deciding some things that touch me nearly than another is.
By what logic can I say that I should have a part in the conduct of this
world and that my neighbor should not? Who is to decide what degree of
intelligence shall fit a man for a share in the government? How are we
to select the few capable men that are to rule all the rest? As a matter
of fact, men have been rulers who had neither the average intelligence
nor virtue of the people they governed. And, as a matter of historical
experience, a class in power has always sought its own benefit rather
than that of the whole people. Lunacy, extraordinary stupidity, and
crime aside, a man is the best guardian of his own liberty and rights.

The English critics, who say we have taken the government from the
capable few and given it to the people, speak of universal suffrage as a
quack panacea of this "era of progress." But it is not the manufactured
panacea of any theorist or philosopher whatever. It is the natural
result of a diffused knowledge of human rights and of increasing
intelligence. It is nothing against it that Napoleon III. used a mockery
of it to govern France. It is not a device of the closet, but a method
of government, which has naturally suggested itself to men as they have
grown into a feeling of self-reliance and a consciousness that they have
some right in the decision of their own destiny in the world. It is true
that suffrage peculiarly fits a people virtuous and intelligent. But
there has not yet been invented any government in which a people would
thrive who were ignorant and vicious.

Our foreign critics seem to regard our "American system," by the way, as
a sort of invention or patent right, upon which we are experimenting;
forgetting that it is as legitimate a growth out of our circumstances as
the English system is out of its antecedents. Our system is not the
product of theorists or closet philosophers; but it was ordained in
substance and inevitable from the day the first "town meeting" assembled
in New England, and it was not in the power of Hamilton or any one else
to make it otherwise.

So you must have education, now you have the ballot, say the critics of
this era of progress; and this is another of your cheap inventions.
Not that we undervalue book knowledge. Oh, no! but it really seems to
us that a good trade, with the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments
back of it, would be the best thing for most of you. You must work for a
living anyway; and why, now, should you unsettle your minds?

This is such an astounding view of human life and destiny that I do not
know what to say to it. Did it occur to Mr. Froude to ask the man
whether he would be contented with a good trade and the Ten Commandments?
Perhaps the man would like eleven commandments? And, if he gets hold of
the eleventh, he may want to know something more about his fellow-men,
a little geography maybe, and some of Mr. Froude's history, and thus he
may be led off into literature, and the Lord knows where.

The inference is that education--book fashion--will unfit the man for
useful work. Mr. Froude here again stops at a half-truth. As a general
thing, intelligence is useful in any position a man occupies. But it is
true that there is a superficial and misdirected sort of education,
so called, which makes the man who receives it despise labor; and it is
also true that in the present educational revival there has been a
neglect of training in the direction of skilled labor, and we all suffer
more or less from cheap and dishonest work. But the way out of this,
again, is forward, and not backward. It is a good sign, and not a stigma
upon this era of progress, that people desire education. But this
education must be of the whole man; he must be taught to work as well as
to read, and he is, indeed, poorly educated if he is not fitted to do his
work in the world. We certainly shall not have better workmen by having
ignorant workmen. I need not say that the real education is that which
will best fit a man for performing well his duties in life. If Mr.
Froude, instead of his plaint over the scarcity of good mechanics, and of
the Ten Commandments in England, had recommended the establishment of
industrial schools, he would have spoken more to the purpose.

I should say that the fashionable skepticism of today, here and in
England, is in regard to universal suffrage and the capacity of the
people to govern themselves. The whole system is the sharp invention of
Thomas Jefferson and others, by which crafty demagogues can rule.
Instead of being, as we have patriotically supposed, a real progress in
human development, it is only a fetich, which is becoming rapidly a
failure. Now, there is a great deal of truth in the assertion that,
whatever the form of government, the ablest men, or the strongest, or the
most cunning in the nation, will rule. And yet it is true that in a
popular government, like this, the humblest citizen, if he is wronged or
oppressed, has in his hands a readier instrument of redress than he has
ever had in any form of government. And it must not be forgotten that
the ballot in the hands of all is perhaps the only safeguard against the
tyranny of wealth in the hands of the few. It is true that bad men can
band together and be destructive; but so they can in any government.
Revolution by ballot is much safer than revolution by violence; and,
granting that human nature is selfish, when the whole people are the
government selfishness is on the side of the government. Can you mention
any class in this country whose interest it is to overturn the
government? And, then, as to the wisdom of the popular decisions by the
ballot in this country. Look carefully at all the Presidential elections
from Washington's down, and say, in the light of history, if the popular
decision has not, every time, been the best for the country. It may not
have seemed so to some of us at the time, but I think it is true, and a
very significant fact.

Of course, in this affirmation of belief that one hundred years of
popular government in this country is a real progress for humanity, and
not merely a change from the rule of the fit to the rule of the cunning,
we cannot forget that men are pretty much everywhere the same, and that
we have abundant reason for national humility. We are pretty well aware
that ours is not an ideal state of society, and should be so, even if the
English who pass by did not revile us, wagging their heads. We might
differ with them about the causes of our disorders. Doubtless, extended
suffrage has produced certain results. It seems, strangely enough, to
have escaped the observation of our English friends that to suffrage was
due the late horse disease. No one can discover any other cause for it.
But there is a cause for the various phenomena of this period of shoddy,
of inflated speculation, of disturbance of all values, social, moral,
political, and material, quite sufficient in the light of history to
account for them. It is not suffrage; it is an irredeemable paper
currency. It has borne its usual fruit with us, and neither foreign nor
home critics can shift the responsibility of it upon our system of
government. Yes, it is true, we have contrived to fill the world with
our scandals of late. I might refer to a loose commercial and political
morality; to betrayals of popular trust in politics; to corruptions in
legislatures and in corporations; to an abuse of power in the public
press, which has hardly yet got itself adjusted to its sudden accession
of enormous influence. We complain of its injustice to individuals
sometimes. We might imagine that something like this would occur.

A newspaper one day says: "We are exceedingly pained to hear that the
Hon. Mr. Blank, who is running for Congress in the First District, has
permitted his aged grandmother to go to the town poorhouse. What renders
this conduct inexplicable is the fact that Mr. Blank is a man of large

The next day the newspaper says: "The Hon. Mr. Blank has not seen fit to
deny the damaging accusation in regard to the treatment of his

The next day the newspaper says: "Mr. Blank is still silent. He is
probably aware that he cannot afford to rest under this grave charge."

The next day the newspaper asks: "Where's Blank? Has he fled?"

At last, goaded by these remarks, and most unfortunately for himself,
Mr. Blank writes to the newspaper and most indignantly denies the charge;
he never sent his grandmother to the poorhouse.

Thereupon the newspaper says: "Of course a rich man who would put his own
grandmother in the poorhouse would deny it. Our informant was a
gentleman of character. Mr. Blank rests the matter on his unsupported
word. It is a question of veracity."

Or, perhaps, Mr. Blank, more unfortunately for himself, begins by making
an affidavit, wherein he swears that he never sent his grandmother to the
poorhouse, and that, in point of fact, he has not any grandmother

The newspaper then, in language that is now classical, "goes for" Mr.
Blank. It says: "Mr. Blank resorts to the common device of the rogue--
the affidavit. If he had been conscious of rectitude, would he not have
relied upon his simple denial?"

Now, if an extreme case like this could occur, it would be bad enough.
But, in our free society, the remedy would be at hand. The constituents
of Mr. Blank would elect him in triumph. The newspaper would lose public
confidence and support and learn to use its position more justly. What I
mean to indicate by such an extreme instance as this is, that in our very
license of individual freedom there is finally a correcting power.

We might pursue this general subject of progress by a comparison of the
society of this country now with that of fifty years ago. I have no
doubt that in every essential this is better than that, in manners, in
morality, in charity and toleration, in education and religion. I know
the standard of morality is higher. I know the churches are purer.
Not fifty years ago, in a New England town, a distinguished doctor of
divinity, the pastor of a leading church, was part owner in a distillery.
He was a great light in his denomination, but he was an extravagant
liver, and, being unable to pay his debts, he was arrested and put into
jail, with the liberty of the "limits." In order not to interrupt his
ministerial work, the jail limits were made to include his house and his
church, so that he could still go in and out before his people. I do not
think that could occur anywhere in the United States today.

I will close these fragmentary suggestions by saying that I, for one,
should like to see this country a century from now. Those who live then
will doubtless say of this period that it was crude, and rather
disorderly, and fermenting with a great many new projects; but I have
great faith that they will also say that the present extending notion,
that the best government is for the people, by the people, was in the
line of sound progress. I should expect to find faith in humanity
greater and not less than it is now, and I should not expect to find that
Mr. Froude's mournful expectation had been realized, and that the belief
in a life beyond the grave had been withdrawn.


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

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

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

( 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

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
would hold the colonies if possible, and pursue an imperial policy; while
certainly a large portion of the Liberals--not all, by any means--would
let the colonies go, and, with the Manchester school, hope to hold
England's place by free-trade and active competition. The imperial
policy may be said to have two branches, in regard to which parties will
not sharply divide: one is the relations to be held towards the Western
colonies, and the other in the policy to be pursued in the East in
reference to India and to the development of the Indian empire, and also
the policy of aggression and subjection in South Africa.

An imperial policy does not necessarily imply such vagaries as the
forcible detention of the forcibly annexed Boer republic. But everybody
sees that the time is near when England must say definitely as to the
imperial policy generally whether it will pursue it or abandon it.
And it may be remarked in passing that the Gladstone government, thus
far, though pursuing this policy more moderately than the Beaconsfield
government, shows no intention of abandoning it. Almost everybody admits
that if it is abandoned England must sink to the position of a third-rate
power like Holland. For what does abandonment mean? It means to have no
weight, except that of moral example, in Continental affairs: to
relinquish her advantages in the Mediterranean; to let Turkey be absorbed
by Russia; to become so weak in India as to risk rebellion of all the
provinces, and probable attack from Russia and her Central Asian allies.
But this is not all. Lost control in Asia is lost trade; this is evident
in every foot of control Russia has gained in the Caucasus, about the
Caspian Sea, in Persia. There Russian manufactures supplant the English;
and so in another quarter: in order to enjoy the vast opening trade of
Africa, England must be on hand with an exhibition of power. We might
show by a hundred examples that the imperial idea in England does not
rest on pride alone, on national glory altogether, though that is a large
element in it, but on trade instincts. "Trade follows the flag" is a
well-known motto; and that means that the lines of commerce follow the
limits of empire.

Take India as an illustration. Why should England care to keep India?
In the last forty years the total revenue from India, set down up to 1880
as L 1,517,000,000, has been L 53,000,000 less than the expenditure. It
varies with the years, and occasionally the balance is favorable, as in
1879, when the expenditure was L 63,400,000 and the revenue was
L 64,400,000. But to offset this average deficit the very profitable
trade of India, which is mostly in British hands, swells the national
wealth; and this trade would not be so largely in British hands if the
flag were away.

But this is not the only value of India. Grasp on India is part of the
vast Oriental network of English trade and commerce, the carrying trade,
the supply of cotton and iron goods. This largely depends upon English
prestige in the Orient, and to lose India is to lose the grip.
On practically the same string with India are Egypt, Central Africa,
and the Euphrates valley. A vast empire of trade opens out. To sink the
imperial policy is to shut this vision. With Russia pressing on one side
and America competing on the other, England cannot afford to lose her
military lines, her control of the sea, her prestige.

Again, India offers to the young and the adventurous a career, military,
civil, or commercial. This is of great weight--great social weight.
One of the chief wants of England today is careers and professions for
her sons. The population of the United Kingdom in 1876 was estimated at
near thirty-four millions; in the last few decades the decennial increase
had been considerably over two millions; at that rate the population in
1900 would be near forty millions. How can they live in their narrow
limits? They must emigrate, go for good, or seek employment and means of
wealth in some such vast field as India. Take away India now, and you
cut off the career of hundreds of thousands of young Englishmen, and the
hope of tens of thousands of households.

There is another aspect of the case which it would be unfair to ignore.
Opportunity is the measure of a nation's responsibility. I have no doubt
that Mr. Thomas Hughes spoke for a very respectable portion of Christian
England, in 1861, when he wrote Mr. James Russell Lowell, in a prefatory
note to "Tom Brown at Oxford," these words:

"The great tasks of the world are only laid on the strongest
shoulders. We, who have India to guide and train, who have for our
task the educating of her wretched people into free men, who feel
that the work cannot be shifted from ourselves, and must be done as
God would have it done, at the peril of England's own life, can and
do feel for you."

It is safe, we think, to say that if the British Empire is to be
dissolved, disintegration cannot be permitted to begin at home. Ireland
has always been a thorn in the side of England. And the policy towards
it could not have been much worse, either to impress it with a respect
for authority or to win it by conciliation; it has been a strange mixture
of untimely concession and untimely cruelty. The problem, in fact, has
physical and race elements that make it almost insolvable. A water-
logged country, of which nothing can surely be predicted but the
uncertainty of its harvests, inhabited by a people of most peculiar
mental constitution, alien in race, temperament, and religion, having
scarcely one point of sympathy with the English. But geography settles
some things in this world, and the act of union that bound Ireland to the
United Kingdom in 1800 was as much a necessity of the situation as the
act of union that obliterated the boundary line between Scotland and
England in 1707. The Irish parliament was confessedly a failure, and it
is scarcely within the possibilities that the experiment will be tried
again. Irish independence, so far as English consent is concerned, and
until England's power is utterly broken, is a dream. Great changes will
doubtless be made in the tenure and transfer of land, and these changes
will react upon England to the ultimate abasement of the landed
aristocracy; but this equalization of conditions would work no consent to
separation. The undeniable growth of the democratic spirit in England
can no more be relied on to bring it about, when we remember what renewed
executive vigor and cohesion existed with the Commonwealth and the fiery
foreign policy of the first republic of France. For three years past we
have seen the British Empire in peril on all sides, with the addition of
depression and incipient rebellion at home, but her horizon is not as
dark as it was in 1780, when, with a failing cause in America, England
had the whole of Europe against her.

In any estimate of the prospects of England we must take into account the
recent marked changes in the social condition. Mr. Escott has an
instructive chapter on this in his excellent book on England. He notices
that the English character is losing its insularity, is more accessible
to foreign influences, and is adopting foreign, especially French, modes
of living. Country life is losing its charm; domestic life is changed;
people live in "flats" more and more, and the idea of home is not what it
was; marriage is not exactly what it was; the increased free and
independent relations of the sexes are somewhat demoralizing; women are a
little intoxicated with their newly-acquired freedom; social scandals are
more frequent. It should be said, however, that perhaps the present
perils are due not to the new system, but to the fact that it is new;
when the novelty is worn off the peril may cease.

Mr. Escott notices primogeniture as one of the stable and, curious
enough, one of the democratic institutions of society. It is owing to
primogeniture that while there is a nobility in England there is no
noblesse. If titles and lands went to all the children there would be
the multitudinous noblesse of the Continent. Now, by primogeniture,
enough is retained for a small nobility, but all the younger sons must go
into the world and make a living. The three respectable professions no
longer offer sufficient inducement, and they crowd more and more into
trade. Thus the middle class is constantly recruited from the upper.
Besides, the upper is all the time recruited from the wealthy middle;
the union of aristocracy and plutocracy may be said to be complete.
But merit makes its way continually from even the lower ranks upward,
in the professions, in the army, the law, the church, in letters,
in trade, and, what Mr. Escott does not mention, in the reformed civil
service, newly opened to the humblest lad in the land. Thus there is
constant movement up and down in social England, approaching, except in
the traditional nobility, the freedom of movement in our own country.
This is all wholesome and sound. Even the nobility itself, driven by
ennui, or a loss of former political control, or by the necessity of more
money to support inherited estates, goes into business, into journalism,
writes books, enters the professions.

What are the symptoms of decay in England? Unless the accumulation of
wealth is a symptom of decay, I do not see many. I look at the people
themselves. It seems to me that never in their history were they more
full of vigor. See what travelers, explorers, adventurers they are.
See what sportsmen, in every part of the globe, how much they endure,
and how hale and jolly they are--women as well as men. The race,
certainly, has not decayed. And look at letters. It may be said that
this is not the age of pure literature--and I'm sure I hope the English
patent for producing machine novels will not be infringed--but the
English language was never before written so vigorously, so clearly, and
to such purpose. And this is shown even in the excessive refinement and
elaboration of trifles, the minutia of reflection, the keenness of
analysis, the unrelenting pursuit of every social topic into subtleties
untouched by the older essayists. And there is still more vigor, without
affectation, in scientific investigation, in the daily conquests made in
the realm of social economy, the best methods of living and getting the
most out of life. Art also keeps pace with luxury, and shows abundant
life and promise for the future.

I believe, from these and other considerations, that this vigorous people
will find a way out of its present embarrassment, and a way out without
retreating. For myself, I like to see the English sort of civilization
spreading over the world rather than the Russian or the French. I hope
England will hang on to the East, and not give it over to the havoc of
squabbling tribes, with a dozen religions and five hundred dialects, or
to the military despotism of an empire whose morality is only matched by
the superstition of its religion.

The relations of England and the United States are naturally of the first
interest to us. Our love and our hatred have always been that of true
relatives. For three-quarters of a century our 'amour propre' was
constantly kept raw by the most supercilious patronage. During the past
decade, when the quality of England's regard has become more and more a
matter of indifference to us, we have been the subject of a more
intelligent curiosity, of increased respect, accompanied with a sincere
desire to understand us. In the diplomatic scale Washington still ranks
below the Sublime Porte, but this anomaly is due to tradition, and does
not represent England's real estimate of the status of the republic.
There is, and must be, a good deal of selfishness mingled in our
friendship--patriotism itself being a form of selfishness--but our ideas
of civilization so nearly coincide, and we have so many common
aspirations for humanity that we must draw nearer together,
notwithstanding old grudges and present differences in social structure.
Our intercourse is likely to be closer, our business relations will
become more inseparable. I can conceive of nothing so lamentable for the
progress of the world as a quarrel between these two English-speaking

But, in one respect, we are likely to diverge. I refer to literature;
in that, assimilation is neither probable nor desirable. We were brought
up on the literature of England; our first efforts were imitations of it;
we were criticised--we criticised ourselves on its standards.
We compared every new aspirant in letters to some English writer.
We were patted on the back if we resembled the English models; we were
stared at or sneered at if we did not. When we began to produce
something that was the product of our own soil and our own social
conditions, it was still judged by the old standards, or, if it was too
original for that, it was only accepted because it was curious or
bizarre, interesting for its oddity. The criticism that we received for
our best was evidently founded on such indifference or toleration that it
was galling. At first we were surprised; then we were grieved; then we
were indignant. We have long ago ceased to be either surprised, grieved,
or indignant at anything the English critics say of us. We have
recovered our balance. We know that since Gulliver there has been no
piece of original humor produced in England equal to "Knickerbocker's New
York"; that not in this century has any English writer equaled the wit
and satire of the "Biglow Papers." We used to be irritated at what we
called the snobbishness of English critics of a certain school; we are so
no longer, for we see that its criticism is only the result of ignorance
--simply of inability to understand.

And we the more readily pardon it, because of the inability we have to
understand English conditions, and the English dialect, which has more
and more diverged from the language as it was at the time of the
separation. We have so constantly read English literature, and kept
ourselves so well informed of their social life, as it is exhibited in
novels and essays, that we are not so much in the dark with regard to
them as they are with regard to us; still we are more and more bothered
by the insular dialect. I do not propose to criticise it; it is our
misfortune, perhaps our fault, that we do not understand it; and I only
refer to it to say that we should not be too hard on the Saturday Review
critic when he is complaining of the American dialect in the English that
Mr. Howells writes. How can the Englishman be expected to come into
sympathy with the fiction that has New England for its subject--from
Hawthorne's down to that of our present novelists--when he is ignorant of
the whole background on which it is cast; when all the social conditions
are an enigma to him; when, if he has, historically, some conception of
Puritan society, he cannot have a glimmer of comprehension of the subtle
modifications and changes it has undergone in a century? When he visits
America and sees it, it is a puzzle to him. How, then, can he be
expected to comprehend it when it is depicted to the life in books?

No, we must expect a continual divergence in our literatures. And it is
best that there should be. There can be no development of a nation's
literature worth anything that is not on its own lines, out of its own
native materials. We must not expect that the English will understand
that literature that expresses our national life, character, conditions,
any better than they understand that of the French or of the Germans.
And, on our part, the day has come when we receive their literary efforts
with the same respectful desire to be pleased with them that we have to
like their dress and their speech.


By Charles Dudley Warner

There has been a great improvement in the physical condition of the
people of the United States within two generations. This is more
noticeable in the West than in the East, but it is marked everywhere;
and the foreign traveler who once detected a race deterioration, which he
attributed to a dry and stimulating atmosphere and to a feverish anxiety,
which was evident in all classes, for a rapid change of condition, finds
very little now to sustain his theory. Although the restless energy
continues, the mixed race in America has certainly changed physically for
the better. Speaking generally, the contours of face and form are more
rounded. The change is most marked in regions once noted for leanness,
angularity, and sallowness of complexion, but throughout the country the
types of physical manhood are more numerous; and if women of rare and
exceptional beauty are not more numerous, no doubt the average of
comeliness and beauty has been raised. Thus far, the increase of beauty
due to better development has not been at the expense of delicacy of
complexion and of line, as it has been in some European countries.
Physical well-being is almost entirely a matter of nutrition. Something
is due in our case to the accumulation of money, to the decrease in an
increasing number of our population of the daily anxiety about food and
clothes, to more leisure; but abundant and better-prepared food is the
direct agency in our physical change. Good food is not only more
abundant and more widely distributed than it was two generations ago,
but it is to be had in immeasurably greater variety. No other people
existing, or that ever did exist, could command such a variety of edible
products for daily consumption as the mass of the American people
habitually use today. In consequence they have the opportunity of being
better nourished than any other people ever were. If they are not better
nourished, it is because their food is badly prepared. Whenever we find,
either in New England or in the South, a community ill-favored,
dyspeptic, lean, and faded in complexion, we may be perfectly sure that
its cooking is bad, and that it is too ignorant of the laws of health to
procure that variety of food which is so easily obtainable. People who
still diet on sodden pie and the products of the frying-pan of the
pioneer, and then, in order to promote digestion, attempt to imitate the
patient cow by masticating some elastic and fragrant gum, are doing very
little to bring in that universal physical health or beauty which is the
natural heritage of our opportunity.

Now, what is the relation of our intellectual development to this
physical improvement? It will be said that the general intelligence is
raised, that the habit of reading is much more widespread, and that the
increase of books, periodicals, and newspapers shows a greater mental
activity than existed formerly. It will also be said that the
opportunity for education was never before so nearly universal. If it is
not yet true everywhere that all children must go to school, it is true
that all may go to school free of cost. Without doubt, also, great
advance has been made in American scholarship, in specialized learning
and investigation; that is to say, the proportion of scholars of the
first rank in literature and in science is much larger to the population
than a generation ago.

But what is the relation of our general intellectual life to popular
education? Or, in other words, what effect is popular education having
upon the general intellectual habit and taste? There are two ways of
testing this. One is by observing whether the mass of minds is better
trained and disciplined than formerly, less liable to delusions, better
able to detect fallacies, more logical, and less likely to be led away by
novelties in speculation, or by theories that are unsupported by historic
evidence or that are contradicted by a knowledge of human nature. If we
were tempted to pursue this test, we should be forced to note the seeming
anomaly of a scientific age peculiarly credulous; the ease with which any
charlatan finds followers; the common readiness to fall in with any
theory of progress which appeals to the sympathies, and to accept the
wildest notions of social reorganization. We should be obliged to note
also, among scientific men themselves, a disposition to come to
conclusions on inadequate evidence--a disposition usually due to one-
sided education which lacks metaphysical training and the philosophic
habit. Multitudes of fairly intelligent people are afloat without any
base-line of thought to which they can refer new suggestions; just as
many politicians are floundering about for want of an apprehension of the
Constitution of the United States and of the historic development of
society. An honest acceptance of the law of gravitation would banish
many popular delusions; a comprehension that something cannot be made out
of nothing would dispose of others; and the application of the ordinary
principles of evidence, such as men require to establish a title to
property, would end most of the remaining. How far is our popular
education, which we have now enjoyed for two full generations,
responsible for this state of mind? If it has not encouraged it, has it
done much to correct it?

The other test of popular education is in the kind of reading sought and
enjoyed by the majority of the American people. As the greater part of
this reading is admitted to be fiction, we have before us the relation of
the novel to the common school. As the common school is our universal
method of education, and the novels most in demand are those least worthy
to be read, we may consider this subject in two aspects:
the encouragement, by neglect or by teaching, of the taste that demands
this kind of fiction, and the tendency of the novel to become what this
taste demands.

Before considering the common school, however, we have to notice a
phenomenon in letters--namely, the evolution of the modern newspaper as a
vehicle for general reading-matter. Not content with giving the news,
or even with creating news and increasing its sensational character,
it grasps at the wider field of supplying reading material for the
million, usurping the place of books and to a large extent of
periodicals. The effect of this new departure in journalism is beginning
to attract attention. An increasing number of people read nothing except
the newspapers. Consequently, they get little except scraps and bits; no
subject is considered thoroughly or exhaustively; and they are furnished
with not much more than the small change for superficial conversation.
The habit of excessive newspaper reading, in which a great variety of
topics is inadequately treated, has a curious effect on the mind. It
becomes demoralized, gradually loses the power of concentration or of
continuous thought, and even loses the inclination to read the long
articles which the newspaper prints. The eye catches a thousand things,
but is detained by no one. Variety, which in limitations is wholesome in
literary as well as in physical diet, creates dyspepsia when it is
excessive, and when the literary viands are badly cooked and badly served
the evil is increased. The mind loses the power of discrimination, the
taste is lowered, and the appetite becomes diseased. The effect of this
scrappy, desultory reading is bad enough when the hashed compound
selected is tolerably good. It becomes a very serious matter when the
reading itself is vapid, frivolous, or bad. The responsibility of
selecting the mental food for millions of people is serious. When, in
the last century, in England, the Society for the Diffusion of Useful
Information, which accomplished so much good, was organized, this
responsibility was felt, and competent hands prepared the popular books
and pamphlets that were cheap in price and widely diffused. Now, it
happens that a hundred thousand people, perhaps a million in some cases,
surrender the right of the all-important selection of the food for their
minds to some unknown and irresponsible person whose business it is to
choose the miscellaneous reading-matter for a particular newspaper. His
or her taste may be good, or it may be immature and vicious; it may be
used simply to create a sensation; and yet the million of readers get
nothing except what this one person chooses they shall read. It is an
astonishing abdication of individual preference. Day after day, Sunday
after Sunday, they read only what this unknown person selects for them.
Instead of going to the library and cultivating their own tastes, and
pursuing some subject that will increase their mental vigor and add to
their permanent stock of thought, they fritter away their time upon a
hash of literature chopped up for them by a person possibly very unfit
even to make good hash. The mere statement of this surrender of one's
judgment of what shall be his intellectual life is alarming.

But the modern newspaper is no doubt a natural evolution in our social
life. As everything has a cause, it would be worth while to inquire
whether the encyclopaedic newspaper is in response to a demand, to a
taste created by our common schools. Or, to put the question in another
form, does the system of education in our common schools give the pupils
a taste for good literature or much power of discrimination? Do they
come out of school with the habit of continuous reading, of reading
books, or only of picking up scraps in the newspapers, as they might
snatch a hasty meal at a lunch-counter? What, in short, do the schools
contribute to the creation of a taste for good literature?

Great anxiety is felt in many quarters about the modern novel. It is
feared that it will not be realistic enough, that it will be too
realistic, that it will be insincere as to the common aspects of life,
that it will not sufficiently idealize life to keep itself within the
limits of true art. But while the critics are busy saying what the novel
should be, and attacking or defending the fiction of the previous age,
the novel obeys pretty well the laws of its era, and in many ways,
especially in the variety of its development, represents the time.
Regarded simply as a work of art, it may be said that the novel should be
an expression of the genius of its writer conscientiously applied to a
study of the facts of life and of human nature, with little reference to
the audience. Perhaps the great works of art that have endured have been
so composed. We may say, for example, that "Don Quixote" had to create
its sympathetic audience. But, on the other hand, works of art worthy
the name are sometimes produced to suit a demand and to please a taste
already created. A great deal of what passes for literature in these
days is in this category of supply to suit the demand, and perhaps it can
be said of this generation more fitly than of any other that the novel
seeks to hit the popular taste; having become a means of livelihood, it
must sell in order to be profitable to the producer, and in order to sell
it must be what the reading public want. The demand and sale are widely
taken as the criterion of excellence, or they are at least sufficient
encouragement of further work on the line of the success. This criterion
is accepted by the publisher, whose business it is to supply a demand.
The conscientious publisher asks two questions: Is the book good? and
Will it sell? The publisher without a conscience asks only one question:
Will the book sell? The reflex influence of this upon authors is
immediately felt.

The novel, mediocre, banal, merely sensational, and worthless for any
purpose of intellectual stimulus or elevation of the ideal, is thus
encouraged in this age as it never was before. The making of novels has
become a process of manufacture. Usually, after the fashion of the silk-
weavers of Lyons, they are made for the central establishment on
individual looms at home; but if demand for the sort of goods furnished
at present continues, there is no reason why they should not be produced,
even more cheaply than they are now, in great factories, where there can
be division of labor and economy of talent. The shoal of English novels
conscientiously reviewed every seventh day in the London weeklies would
preserve their present character and gain in firmness of texture if they
were made by machinery. One has only to mark what sort of novels reach
the largest sale and are most called for in the circulating libraries,
to gauge pretty accurately the public taste, and to measure the influence
of this taste upon modern production. With the exception of the novel
now and then which touches some religious problem or some socialistic
speculation or uneasiness, or is a special freak of sensationalism, the
novels which suit the greatest number of readers are those which move in
a plane of absolute mediocrity, and have the slightest claim to be
considered works of art. They represent the chromo stage of development.

They must be cheap. The almost universal habit of reading is a mark of
this age--nowhere else so conspicuous as in America; and considering the
training of this comparatively new reading public, it is natural that it
should insist upon cheapness of material, and that it should require
quality less than quantity. It is a note of our general intellectual
development that cheapness in literature is almost as much insisted on by
the rich as by the poor. The taste for a good book has not kept pace
with the taste for a good dinner, and multitudes who have commendable
judgment about the table would think it a piece of extravagance to pay as
much for a book as for a dinner, and would be ashamed to smoke a cigar
that cost less than a novel. Indeed, we seem to be as yet far away from
the appreciation of the truth that what we put into the mind is as
important to our well-being as what we put into the stomach.

No doubt there are more people capable of appreciating a good book, and
there are more good books read, in this age, than in any previous, though
the ratio of good judges to the number who read is less; but we are
considering the vast mass of the reading public and its tastes. I say
its tastes, and probably this is not unfair, although this traveling,
restless, reading public meekly takes, as in the case of the reading
selected in the newspapers, what is most peristently thrust upon its
attention by the great news agencies, which find it most profitable to
deal in that which is cheap and ephemeral. The houses which publish
books of merit are at a disadvantage with the distributing agencies.

Criticism which condemns the common-school system as a nurse of
superficiality, mediocrity, and conceit does not need serious attention,
any more than does the criticism that the universal opportunity of
individual welfare offered by a republic fails to make a perfect
government. But this is not saying that the common school does all that
it can do, and that its results answer to the theories about it. It must
be partly due to the want of proper training in the public schools that
there are so few readers of discrimination, and that the general taste,
judged by the sort of books now read, is so mediocre. Most of the public
schools teach reading, or have taught it, so poorly that the scholars who
come from them cannot read easily; hence they must have spice, and blood,
and vice to stimulate them, just as a man who has lost taste peppers his
food. We need not agree with those who say that there is no merit
whatever in the mere ability to read; nor, on the other hand, can we join
those who say that the art of reading will pretty surely encourage a
taste for the nobler kind of reading, and that the habit of reading trash
will by-and-by lead the reader to better things. As a matter of
experience, the reader of the namby-pamby does not acquire an appetite
for anything more virile, and the reader of the sensational requires
constantly more highly flavored viands. Nor is it reasonable to expect
good taste to be recovered by an indulgence in bad taste.

What, then, does the common school usually do for literary taste?
Generally there is no thought about it. It is not in the minds of the
majority of teachers, even if they possess it themselves. The business
is to teach the pupils to read; how they shall use the art of reading is
little considered. If we examine the reading-books from the lowest grade
to the highest, we shall find that their object is to teach words, not
literature. The lower-grade books are commonly inane (I will not say
childish, for that is a libel on the open minds of children) beyond
description. There is an impression that advanced readers have improved
much in quality within a few years, and doubtless some of them do contain
specimens of better literature than their predecessors. But they are on
the old plan, which must be radically modified or entirely cast aside,
and doubtless will be when the new method is comprehended, and teachers
are well enough furnished to cut loose from the machine. We may say that
to learn how to read, and not what to read, is confessedly the object of
these books; but even this object is not attained. There is an endeavor
to teach how to call the words of a reading-book, but not to teach how to
read; for reading involves, certainly for the older scholars, the
combination of known words to form new ideas. This is lacking. The
taste for good literature is not developed; the habit of continuous
pursuit of a subject, with comprehension of its relations, is not
acquired; and no conception is gained of the entirety of literature or
its importance to human life. Consequently, there is no power of
judgment or faculty of discrimination.

Now, this radical defect can be easily remedied if the school authorities
only clearly apprehend one truth, and that is that the minds of children
of tender age can be as readily interested and permanently interested in
good literature as in the dreary feebleness of the juvenile reader. The
mind of the ordinary child should not be judged by the mind that produces
stuff of this sort: "Little Jimmy had a little white pig." "Did the
little pig know Jimmy?" "Yes, the little pig knew Jimmy, and would come
when he called." "How did little Jimmy know his pig from the other
little pigs?" "By the twist in his tail." ("Children," asks the
teacher, "what is the meaning of 'twist'?") "Jimmy liked to stride the
little pig's back." "Would the little pig let him?" "Yes, when he was
absorbed eating his dinner." ("Children, what is the meaning of
'absorbed'?") And so on.

This intellectual exercise is, perhaps, read to children who have not got
far enough in "word-building" to read themselves about little Jimmy and
his absorbed pig. It may be continued, together with word-learning,
until the children are able to say (is it reading?) the entire volume of
this precious stuff. To what end? The children are only languidly
interested; their minds are not awakened; the imagination is not appealed
to; they have learned nothing, except probably some new words, which are
learned as signs. Often children have only one book even of this sort,
at which they are kept until they learn it through by heart, and they
have been heard to "read" it with the book bottom side up or shut! All
these books cultivate inattention and intellectual vacancy. They are--
the best of them--only reading exercises; and reading is not perceived to
have any sort of value. The child is not taught to think, and not a step
is taken in informing him of his relation to the world about him. His
education is not begun.

Now it happens that children go on with this sort of reading and the
ordinary text-books through the grades of the district school into the
high school, and come to the ages of seventeen and eighteen without the
least conception of literature, or of art, or of the continuity of the
relations of history; are ignorant of the great names which illuminate
the ages; have never heard of Socrates, or of Phidias, or of Titian; do
not know whether Franklin was an Englishman or an American; would be
puzzled to say whether it was Ben Franklin or Ben Jonson who invented
lightning--think it was Ben Somebody; cannot tell whether they lived
before or after Christ, and indeed never have thought that anything
happened before the time of Christ; do not know who was on the throne of
Spain when Columbus discovered America--and so on. These are not
imagined instances. The children referred to are in good circumstances
and have had fairly intelligent associations, but their education has
been intrusted to the schools. They know nothing except their text-
books, and they know these simply for the purpose of examination. Such
pupils come to the age of eighteen with not only no taste for the best
reading, for the reading of books, but without the ability to be
interested even in fiction of the first class, because it is full of
allusions that convey nothing to their minds. The stories they read,
if they read at all--the novels, so called, that they have been brought
up on--are the diluted and feeble fictions that flood the country, and
that scarcely rise above the intellectual level of Jimmy and the absorbed

It has been demonstrated by experiment that it is as easy to begin with
good literature as with the sort of reading described. It makes little
difference where the beginning is made. Any good book, any real book,
is an open door into the wide field of literature; that is to say,
of history--that is to say, of interest in the entire human race. Read
to children of tender years, the same day, the story of Jimmy and a Greek
myth, or an episode from the "Odyssey," or any genuine bit of human
nature and life; and ask the children next day which they wish to hear
again. Almost all of them will call for the repetition of the real
thing, the verity of which they recognize, and which has appealed to
their imaginations. But this is not all. If the subject is a Greek
myth, they speedily come to comprehend its meaning, and by the aid of the
teacher to trace its development elsewhere, to understand its historic
significance, to have the mind filled with images of beauty, and wonder.
Is it the Homeric story of Nausicaa? What a picture! How speedily Greek
history opens to the mind! How readily the children acquire knowledge of
the great historic names, and see how their deeds and their thoughts are
related to our deeds and our thoughts! It is as easy to know about
Socrates as about Franklin and General Grant. Having the mind open to
other times and to the significance of great men in history, how much
more clearly they comprehend Franklin and Grant and Lincoln! Nor is this
all. The young mind is open to noble thoughts, to high conceptions;
it follows by association easily along the historic and literary line;
and not only do great names and fine pieces of literature become
familiar, but the meaning of the continual life in the world begins to be
apprehended. This is not at all a fancy sketch. The writer has seen the
whole assembly of pupils in a school of six hundred, of all the eight
grades, intelligently interested in a talk which contained classical and
literary allusions that would have been incomprehensible to an ordinary
school brought up on the ordinary readers and text-books.

But the reading need not be confined to the classics nor to the master-
pieces of literature. Natural history--generally the most fascinating of
subjects--can be taught; interest in flowers and trees and birds and the
habits of animals can be awakened by reading the essays of literary men
on these topics as they never can be by the dry text-books. The point I
wish to make is that real literature for the young, literature which is
almost absolutely neglected in the public schools, except in a scrappy
way as a reading exercise, is the best open door to the development of
the mind and to knowledge of all sorts. The unfolding of a Greek myth
leads directly to art, to love of beauty, to knowledge of history, to an
understanding of ourselves. But whatever the beginning is, whether a
classic myth, a Homeric epic, a play of Sophocles, the story of the life
and death of Socrates, a mediaeval legend, or any genuine piece of
literature from the time of Virgil down to our own, it may not so much
matter (except that it is better to begin with the ancients in order to
gain a proper perspective)whatever the beginning is, it should be the
best literature. The best is not too good for the youngest child.
Simplicity, which commonly characterizes greatness, is of course
essential. But never was a greater mistake made than in thinking that a
youthful mind needs watering with the slops ordinarily fed to it. Even
children in the kindergarten are eager for Whittier's "Barefoot Boy" and
Longfellow's "Hiawatha." It requires, I repeat, little more pains to
create a good taste in reading than a bad taste.

It would seem that in the complete organization of the public schools all
education of the pupil is turned over to them as it was not formerly, and
it is possible that in the stress of text-book education there is no time
for reading at home. The competent teachers contend not merely with the
difficulty of the lack of books and the deficiencies of those in use, but
with the more serious difficulty of the erroneous ideas of the function
of text-books. They will cease to be a commercial commodity of so much
value as now when teachers teach. If it is true that there is no time
for reading at home, we can account for the deplorable lack of taste in
the great mass of the reading public educated at the common schools; and
we can see exactly what the remedy should be--namely, the teaching of the
literature at the beginning of school life, and following it up broadly
and intelligently during the whole school period. It will not crowd out
anything else, because it underlies everything. After many years of
perversion and neglect, to take up the study of literature in a
comprehensive text-book, as if it were to be learned--like arithmetic,
is a ludicrous proceeding. This, is not teaching literature nor giving
the scholar a love of good reading. It is merely stuffing the mind with
names and dates, which are not seen to have any relation to present life,
and which speedily fade out of the mind. The love of literature is not
to be attained in this way, nor in any way except by reading the best

The notion that literature can be taken up as a branch of education, and
learned at the proper time and when studies permit, is one of the most
farcical in our scheme of education. It is only matched in absurdity by
the other current idea, that literature is something separate and apart
from general knowledge. Here is the whole body of accumulated thought
and experience of all the ages, which indeed forms our present life and
explains it, existing partly in tradition and training, but more largely
in books; and most teachers think, and most pupils are led to believe,
that this most important former of the mind, maker of character, and
guide to action can be acquired in a certain number of lessons out of a
textbook! Because this is so, young men and young women come up to
college almost absolutely ignorant of the history of their race and of
the ideas that have made our civilization. Some of them have never read
a book, except the text-books on the specialties in which they have
prepared themselves for examination. We have a saying concerning people
whose minds appear to be made up of dry, isolated facts, that they have
no atmosphere. Well, literature is the atmosphere. In it we live, and
move, and have our being, intellectually. The first lesson read to, or
read by, the child should begin to put him in relation with the world and
the thought of the world. This cannot be done except by the living
teacher. No text-book, no one reading-book or series of reading-books,
will do it. If the teacher is only the text-book orally delivered,
the teacher is an uninspired machine. We must revise our notions of the
function of the teacher for the beginners. The teacher is to present
evidence of truth, beauty, art. Where will he or she find it? Why, in
experimental science, if you please, in history, but, in short, in good
literature, using the word in its broadest sense. The object in
selecting reading for children is to make it impossible for them to see
any evidence except the best. That is the teacher's business, and how
few understand their business! How few are educated! In the best
literature we find truth about the world, about human nature; and hence,
if children read that, they read what their experience will verify. I am
told that publishers are largely at fault for the quality of the reading
used in schools--that schools would gladly receive the good literature if
they could get it. But I do not know, in this case, how much the demand
has to do with the supply. I am certain, however, that educated teachers
would use only the best means for forming the minds and enlightening the
understanding of their pupils. It must be kept in mind that reading,
silent reading done by the scholar, is not learning signs and calling
words; it is getting thought. If children are to get thought, they
should be served with the best--that which will not only be true, but
appeal so naturally to their minds that they will prefer it to all meaner
stuff. If it is true that children cannot acquire this taste at home--
and it is true for the vast majority of American children--then it must
be given in the public schools. To give it is not to interrupt the
acquisition of other knowledge; it is literally to open the door to all

When this truth is recognized in the common schools, and literature is
given its proper place, not only for the development of the mind, but as
the most easily-opened door to history, art, science, general
intelligence, we shall see the taste of the reading public in the United
States undergo a mighty change: It will not care for the fiction it likes
at present, and which does little more than enfeeble its powers; and then
there can be no doubt that fiction will rise to supply the demand for
something better. When the trash does not sell, the trash will not be
produced, and those who are only capable of supplying the present demand
will perhaps find a more useful occupation. It will be again evident
that literature is not a trade, but an art requiring peculiar powers and
patient training. When people know how to read, authors will need to
know how to write.

In all other pursuits we carefully study the relation of supply to
demand. Why not in literature? Formerly, when readers were
comparatively few, and were of a class that had leisure and the
opportunity of cultivating the taste, books were generally written for
this class, and aimed at its real or supposed capacities. If the age was
coarse in speech or specially affected in manner, the books followed the
lead given by the demand; but, coarse or affected, they had the quality
of art demanded by the best existing cultivation. Naturally, when the
art of reading is acquired by the great mass of the people, whose taste
has not been cultivated, the supply for this increased demand will, more
or less, follow the level of its intelligence. After our civil war there
was a patriotic desire to commemorate the heroic sacrifices of our
soldiers in monuments, and the deeds of our great captains in statues.
This noble desire was not usually accompanied by artistic discrimination,
and the land is filled with monuments and statues which express the
gratitude of the people. The coming age may wish to replace them by
images and structures which will express gratitude and patriotism in a
higher because more artistic form. In the matter of art the development
is distinctly reflex. The exhibition of works of genius will slowly
instruct and elevate the popular taste, and in time the cultivated
popular taste will reject mediocrity and demand better things. Only a
little while ago few people in the United States knew how to draw, and
only a few could tell good drawing from bad. To realize the change that
has taken place, we have only to recall the illustrations in books,
magazines, and comic newspapers of less than a quarter of a century ago.
Foreign travel, foreign study, and the importation of works of art (still
blindly restricted by the American Congress) were the lessons that began
to work a change. Now, in all our large towns, and even in hundreds of
villages, there are well-established art schools; in the greater cities,
unions and associations, under the guidance of skillful artists, where
five or six hundred young men and women are diligently, day and night,
learning the rudiments of art. The result is already apparent.
Excellent drawing is seen in illustrations for books and magazines, in
the satirical and comic publications, even in the advertisements and
theatrical posters. At our present rate of progress, the drawings in all
our amusing weeklies will soon be as good as those in the 'Fliegende
Blatter.' The change is marvelous; and the popular taste has so improved
that it would not be profitable to go back to the ill-drawn illustrations
of twenty years ago. But as to fiction, even if the writers of it were
all trained in it as an art, it is not so easy to lift the public taste
to their artistic level. The best supply in this case will only very
slowly affect the quality of the demand. When the poor novel sells
vastly better than the good novel, the poor will be produced to supply
the demand, the general taste will be still further lowered, and the
power of discrimination fade out more and more. What is true of the
novel is true of all other literature. Taste for it must be cultivated
in childhood. The common schools must do for literature what the art
schools are doing for art. Not every one can become an artist, not every
one can become a writer--though this is contrary to general opinion; but
knowledge to distinguish good drawing from bad can be acquired by most
people, and there are probably few minds that cannot, by right methods
applied early, be led to prefer good literature, and to have an enjoyment
in it in proportion to its sincerity, naturalness, verity, and truth to

It is, perhaps, too much to say that all the American novel needs for its
development is an audience, but it is safe to say that an audience would
greatly assist it. Evidence is on all sides of a fresh, new, wonderful
artistic development in America in drawing, painting, sculpture, in
instrumental music and singing, and in literature. The promise of this
is not only in the climate, the free republican opportunity, the mixed
races blending the traditions and aptitudes of so many civilizations, but
it is in a certain temperament which we already recognize as American.
It is an artistic tendency. This was first most noticeable in American
women, to whom the art of dress seemed to come by nature, and the art of
being agreeable to be easily acquired.

Already writers have arisen who illustrate this artistic tendency in
novels, and especially in short stories. They have not appeared to owe
their origin to any special literary centre; they have come forward in
the South, the West, the East. Their writings have to a great degree
(considering our pupilage to the literature of Great Britain, which is
prolonged by the lack of an international copyright) the stamp of
originality, of naturalness, of sincerity, of an attempt to give the
facts of life with a sense of their artistic value. Their affiliation is
rather with the new literatures of France, of Russia, of Spain, than with
the modern fiction of England. They have to compete in the market with
the uncopyrighted literature of all other lands, good and bad, especially
bad, which is sold for little more than the cost of the paper it is
printed on, and badly printed at that. But besides this fact, and owing
to a public taste not cultivated or not corrected in the public schools,
their books do not sell in anything like the quantity that the inferior,
mediocre, other home novels sell. Indeed, but for the intervention of
the magazines, few of the best writers of novels and short stories could
earn as much as the day laborer earns. In sixty millions of people, all
of whom are, or have been, in reach of the common school, it must be
confessed that their audience is small.

This relation between the fiction that is, and that which is to be, and
the common school is not fanciful. The lack in the general reading
public, in the novels read by the greater number of people, and in the
common school is the same--the lack of inspiration and ideality. The
common school does not cultivate the literary sense, the general public
lacks literary discrimination, and the stories and tales either produced
by or addressed to those who have little ideality simply respond to the
demand of the times.

It is already evident, both in positive and negative results, both in the
schools and the general public taste, that literature cannot be set aside
in the scheme of education; nay, that it is of the first importance.
The teacher must be able to inspire the pupil; not only to awaken
eagerness to know, but to kindle the imagination. The value of the
Hindoo or the Greek myth, of the Roman story, of the mediaeval legend,
of the heroic epic, of the lyric poem, of the classic biography, of any
genuine piece of literature, ancient or modern, is not in the knowledge
of it as we may know the rules of grammar and arithmetic or the formulas
of a science, but in the enlargement of the mind to a conception of the
life and development of the race, to a study of the motives of human
action, to a comprehension of history; so that the mind is not simply
enriched, but becomes discriminating, and able to estimate the value of
events and opinions. This office for the mind acquaintance with
literature can alone perform. So that, in school, literature is not
only, as I have said, the easiest open door to all else desirable, the
best literature is not only the best means of awakening the young mind,
the stimulus most congenial, but it is the best foundation for broad and
generous culture. Indeed, without its co-ordinating influence the
education of the common school is a thing of shreds and patches.
Besides, the mind aroused to historic consciousness, kindled in itself by
the best that has been said and done in all ages, is more apt in the
pursuit, intelligently, of any specialty; so that the shortest road to
the practical education so much insisted on in these days begins in the
awakening of the faculties in the manner described. There is no doubt of
the value of manual training as an aid in giving definiteness,
directness, exactness to the mind, but mere technical training alone will
be barren of those results, in general discriminating culture, which we
hope to see in America.

The common school is a machine of incalculable value. It is not,
however, automatic. If it is a mere machine, it will do little more to
lift the nation than the mere ability to read will lift it. It can
easily be made to inculcate a taste for good literature; it can be a
powerful influence in teaching the American people what to read; and upon
a broadened, elevated, discriminating public taste depends the fate of
American art, of American fiction.

It is not an inappropriate corollary to be drawn from this that an
elevated public taste will bring about a truer estimate of the value of a
genuine literary product. An invention which increases or cheapens the
conveniences or comforts of life may be a fortune to its originator.
A book which amuses, or consoles, or inspires; which contributes to the
highest intellectual enjoyment of hundreds of thousands of people; which
furnishes substance for thought or for conversation; which dispels the
cares and lightens the burdens of life; which is a friend when friends
fail, a companion when other intercourse wearies or is impossible, for a
year, for a decade, for a generation perhaps, in a world which has a
proper sense of values, will bring a like competence to its author.



By Charles Dudley Warner

Queen Elizabeth being dead about ten o'clock in the morning, March 24,
1603, Sir Robert Cary posted away, unsent, to King James of Scotland to
inform him of the "accident," and got made a baron of the realm for his
ride. On his way down to take possession of his new kingdom the king
distributed the honor of knighthood right and left liberally; at
Theobald's he created eight-and-twenty knights, of whom Sir Richard
Baker, afterwards the author of "A Chronicle of the Kings of England,"
was one. "God knows how many hundreds he made the first year," says the
chronicler, "but it was indeed fit to give vent to the passage of Honour,
which during Queen Elizabeth's reign had been so stopped that scarce any
county of England had knights enow to make a jury."

Sir Richard Baker was born in 1568, and died in 1645; his "Chronicle"
appeared in 1641. It was brought down to the death of James in 1625,
when, he having written the introduction to the life of Charles I, the
storm of the season caused him to "break off in amazement," for he had
thought the race of "Stewards" likely to continue to the "world's end";
and he never resumed his pen. In the reign of James two things lost
their lustre--the exercise of tilting, which Elizabeth made a special
solemnity, and the band of Yeomen of the Guard, choicest persons both for
stature and other good parts, who graced the court of Elizabeth; James
"was so intentive to Realities that he little regarded shows," and in his
time these came utterly to be neglected. The virgin queen was the last
ruler who seriously regarded the pomps and splendors of feudalism.

It was characteristic of the age that the death of James, which occurred
in his fifty-ninth year, should have been by rumor attributed to
"poyson"; but "being dead, and his body opened, there was no sign at all
of poyson, his inward parts being all sound, but that his Spleen was a
little faulty, which might be cause enough to cast him into an Ague: the
ordinary high-way, especially in old bo'dies, to a natural death."

The chronicler records among the men of note of James's time Sir Francis
Vere, "who as another Hannibal, with his one eye, could see more in the
Martial Discipline than common men can do with two"; Sir Edward Coke;
Sir Francis Bacon, "who besides his profounder book, of Novum Organum,
hath written the reign of King Henry the Seventh, in so sweet a style,
that like Manna, it pleaseth the tast of all palats"; William Camden,
whose Description of Britain "seems to keep Queen Elizabeth alive after
death"; "and to speak it in a word, the Trojan Horse was not fuller of
Heroick Grecians, than King James his Reign was full of men excellent in
all kindes of Learning." Among these was an old university acquaintance
of Baker's, "Mr. John Dunne, who leaving Oxford, lived at the Innes of
Court, not dissolute, but very neat; a great Visitor of Ladies, a great
frequenter of Playes, a great writer of conceited Verses; until such
times as King James taking notice of the pregnancy of his Wit, was a
means that he betook him to the study of Divinity, and thereupon
proceeding Doctor, was made Dean of Pauls; and became so rare a Preacher,
that he was not only commended, but even admired by all who heard him."

The times of Elizabeth and James were visited by some awful casualties
and portents. From December, 1602, to the December following, the plague
destroyed 30,518 persons in London; the same disease that in the sixth
year of Elizabeth killed 20,500, and in the thirty-sixth year 17,890,
besides the lord mayor and three aldermen. In January, 1606, a mighty
whale came up the Thames within eight miles of London, whose body, seen
divers times above water, was judged to be longer than the largest ship
on the river; "but when she tasted the fresh water and scented the Land,
she returned into the sea." Not so fortunate was a vast whale cast upon
the Isle of Thanet, in Kent, in 1575, which was "twenty Ells long, and
thirteen foot broad from the belly to the backbone, and eleven foot
between the eyes. One of his eyes being taken out of his head was more
than a cart with six horses could draw; the Oyl being boyled out of his
head was Parmacittee." Nor the monstrous fish cast ashore in
Lincolnshire in 1564, which measured six yards between the eyes and had a
tail fifteen feet broad; "twelve men stood upright in his mouth to get
the Oyl." In 1612 a comet appeared, which in the opinion of
Dr. Bainbridge, the great mathematician of Oxford, was as far above the
moon as the moon is above the earth, and the sequel of it was that
infinite slaughters and devastations followed it both in Germany and
other countries. In 1613, in Standish, in Lancashire, a maiden child was
born having four legs, four arms, and one head with two faces--the one
before, the other behind, like the picture of Janus. (One thinks of the
prodigies that presaged the birth of Glendower.) Also, the same year,
in Hampshire, a carpenter, lying in bed with his wife and a young child,
"was himself and the childe both burned to death with a sudden lightning,
no fire appearing outwardly upon him, and yet lay burning for the space
of almost three days till he was quite consumed to ashes." This year the
Globe playhouse, on the Bankside, was burned, and the year following the
new playhouse, the Fortune, in Golding Lane, "was by negligence of a
candle, clean burned down to the ground." In this year also, 1614, the
town of Stratford-on-Avon was burned. One of the strangest events,
however, happened in the first year of Elizabeth (1558), when "dyed Sir
Thomas Cheney, Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports, of whom it is reported
for a certain, that his pulse did beat more than three quarters of an
hour after he was dead, as strongly as if he had been still alive." In
1580 a strange apparition happened in Somersetshire--three score
personages all clothed in black, a furlong in distance from those that
beheld them; "and after their appearing, and a little while tarrying,
they vanished away, but immediately another strange company, in like
manner, color, and number appeared in the same place, and they
encountered one another and so vanished away. And the third time
appeared that number again, all in bright armour, and encountered one
another, and so vanished away. This was examined before Sir George
Norton, and sworn by four honest men that saw it, to be true." Equally
well substantiated, probably, was what happened in Herefordshire in 1571:
"A field of three acres, in Blackmore, with the Trees and Fences, moved
from its place and passed over another field, traveling in the highway
that goeth to Herne, and there stayed." Herefordshire was a favorite
place for this sort of exercise of nature. In 1575 the little town of
Kinnaston was visited by an earthquake: "On the seventeenth of February
at six o'clock of the evening, the earth began to open and a Hill with a
Rock under it (making at first a great bellowing noise, which was heard a
great way off) lifted itself up a great height, and began to travel,
bearing along with it the Trees that grew upon it, the Sheep-folds, and
Flocks of Sheep abiding there at the same time. In the place from whence
it was first moved, it left a gaping distance forty foot broad, and
forescore Ells long; the whole Field was about twenty Acres. Passing
along, it overthrew a Chappell standing in the way, removed an Ewe-Tree
planted in the Churchyard, from the West into the East; with the like
force it thrust before it High-wayes, Sheep-folds, Hedges, and Trees,
made Tilled ground Pasture, and again turned Pasture into Tillage.
Having walked in this sort from Saturday in the evening, till Monday
noon, it then stood still." It seems not improbable that Birnam wood
should come to Dunsinane.

It was for an age of faith, for a people whose credulity was fed on such
prodigies and whose imagination glowed at such wonderful portents, that
Shakespeare wrote, weaving into the realities of sense those awful
mysteries of the supernatural which hovered not far away from every
Englishman of his time.

Shakespeare was born in 1564, when Elizabeth had been six years on the
throne, and he died in 1616, nine years before James I., of the faulty
spleen, was carried to the royal chapel in Westminster, "with great
solemnity, but with greater lamentation." Old Baker, who says of himself
that he was the unworthiest of the knights made at Theobald's,
condescends to mention William Shakespeare at the tail end of the men of
note of Elizabeth's time. The ocean is not more boundless, he affirms,
than the number of men of note of her time; and after he has finished
with the statesmen ("an exquisite statesman for his own ends was Robert
Earl of Leicester, and for his Countries good, Sir William Cecill, Lord
Burleigh"), the seamen, the great commanders, the learned gentlemen and
writers (among them Roger Askam, who had sometime been schoolmaster to
Queen Elizabeth, but, taking too great delight in gaming and cock-
fighting, lived and died in mean estate), the learned divines and
preachers, he concludes: "After such men, it might be thought ridiculous
to speak of Stage-players; but seeing excellency in the meanest things
deserve remembring, and Roscius the Comedian is recorded in History with
such commendation, it may be allowed us to do the like with some of our
Nation. Richard Bourbidge and Edward Allen, two such actors as no age
must ever look to see the like; and to make their Comedies compleat,
Richard Tarleton, who for the Part called the Clowns Part, never had his
match, never will have. For Writers of Playes, and such as have been
players themselves, William Shakespeare and Benjamin Johnson have
especially left their Names recommended to posterity."

Richard Bourbidge (or Burbadge) was the first of the great English tragic
actors, and was the original of the greater number of Shakespeare's
heroes--Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Shylock, Macbeth, Richard III., Romeo,
Brutus, etc. Dick Tarleton, one of the privileged scapegraces of social
life, was regarded by his contemporaries as the most witty of clowns and
comedians. The clown was a permitted character in the old theatres,
and intruded not only between the acts, but even into the play itself,
with his quips and antics. It is probable that he played the part of
clown, grave-digger, etc., in Shakespeare's comedies, and no doubt took
liberties with his parts. It is thought that part of Hamlet's advice to
the players--"and let those that play your clowns speak no more than is
set down for them," etc.--was leveled at Tarleton.

The question is often asked, but I consider it an idle one, whether
Shakespeare was appreciated in his own day as he is now. That the age,
was unable to separate him from itself, and see his great stature, is
probable; that it enjoyed him with a sympathy to which we are strangers
there is no doubt. To us he is inexhaustible. The more we study him,
the more are we astonished at his multiform genius. In our complex
civilization, there is no development of passion, or character, or trait
of human nature, no social evolution, that does not find expression
somewhere in those marvelous plays; and yet it is impossible for us to
enter into a full, sympathetic enjoyment of those plays unless we can in
some measure recreate for ourselves the atmosphere in which they were
written. To superficial observation great geniuses come into the world
at rare intervals in history, in a manner independent of what we call the
progress of the race. It may be so; but the form the genius shall take
is always determined by the age in which it appears, and its expression
is shaped by the environments. Acquaintance with the Bedouin desert life
of today, which has changed little for three thousand years, illumines
the book of Job like an electric light. Modern research into Hellenic
and Asiatic life has given a new meaning to the Iliad and the Odyssey,
and greatly enhanced our enjoyment of them. A fair comprehension of the
Divina Commedia is impossible without some knowledge of the factions that
rent Florence; of the wars of Guelf and Ghibelline; of the spirit that
banished Dante, and gave him an humble tomb in Ravenna instead of a
sepulchre in the pantheon of Santa Croce. Shakespeare was a child of his
age; it had long been preparing for him; its expression culminated in
him. It was essentially a dramatic age. He used the accumulated
materials of centuries. He was playwright as well as poet. His variety
and multiform genius cannot otherwise be accounted for. He called in the
coinage of many generations, and reissued it purified and unalloyed,
stamped in his own mint. There was a Hamlet probably, there were
certainly Romeos and Juliets, on the stage before Shakespeare. In him
were received the imaginations, the inventions, the aspirations, the
superstitions, the humors, the supernatural intimations; in him met the
converging rays of the genius of his age, as in a lens, to be sent onward
thenceforth in an ever-broadening stream of light.

It was his fortune to live not only in a dramatic age, but in a
transition age, when feudalism was passing away, but while its shows and
splendors could still be seriously comprehended. The dignity that doth
hedge a king was so far abated that royalty could be put upon the stage
as a player's spectacle; but the reality of kings and queens and court
pageantry was not so far past that it did not appeal powerfully to the
imaginations of the frequenters of the Globe, the Rose, and the Fortune.
They had no such feeling as we have in regard to the pasteboard kings and
queens who strut their brief hour before us in anachronic absurdity.
But, besides that he wrote in the spirit of his age, Shakespeare wrote in
the language and the literary methods of his time. This is not more
evident in the contemporary poets than in the chroniclers of that day.
They all delighted in ingenuities of phrase, in neat turns and conceits;
it was a compliment then to be called a "conceited" writer.

Of all the guides to Shakespeare's time, there is none more profitable or
entertaining than William Harrison, who wrote for Holinshed's chronicle
"The Description of England," as it fell under his eyes from 1577 to
1587. Harrison's England is an unfailing mine of information for all the
historians of the sixteenth century; and in the edition published by the
New Shakespeare Society, and edited, with a wealth of notes and
contemporary references, by Mr. Frederick J. Furnivall, it is a new
revelation of Shakespeare's England to the general reader.

Harrison himself is an interesting character, and trustworthy above the
general race of chroniclers. He was born in 1534, or, to use his
exactness of statement, "upon the 18th of April, hora ii, minut 4,
Secunde 56, at London, in Cordwainer streete, otherwise called bowe-
lane." This year was also remarkable as that in which "King Henry 8
polleth his head; after whom his household and nobility, with the rest of
his subjects do the like." It was the year before Anne Boleyn, haled
away to the Tower, accused, condemned, and executed in the space of
fourteen days, "with sigheing teares" said to the rough Duke of Norfolk,
"Hither I came once my lord, to fetch a crown imperial; but now to
receive, I hope, a crown immortal." In 1544, the boy was at St. Paul's
school; the litany in the English tongue, by the king's command, was that
year sung openly in St. Paul's, and we have a glimpse of Harrison with
the other children, enforced to buy those books, walking in general
procession, as was appointed, before the king went to Boulogne. Harrison
was a student at both Oxford and Cambridge, taking the degree of bachelor
of divinity at the latter in 1569, when he had been an Oxford M.A. of
seven years' standing. Before this he was household chaplain to Sir
William Brooke, Lord Cobham, who gave him, in 1588-89, the rectory of
Radwinter, in Essex, which he held till his death, in 1593. In 1586 he
was installed canon of Windsor. Between 1559 and 1571 he married Marion
Isebrande,--of whom he said in his will, referring to the sometime
supposed unlawfulness of priests' marriages, "by the laws of God I take
and repute in all respects for my true and lawful wife." At Radwinter,
the old parson, working in his garden, collected Roman coins, wrote his
chronicles, and expressed his mind about the rascally lawyers of Essex,
to whom flowed all the wealth of the land. The lawyers in those days
stirred up contentions, and then reaped the profits. "Of all that ever I
knew in Essex," says Harrison, "Denis and Mainford excelled, till John of
Ludlow, alias Mason, came in place, unto whom in comparison these two
were but children." This last did so harry a client for four years that
the latter, still called upon for new fees, "went to bed, and within four
days made an end of his woeful life, even with care and pensiveness."
And after his death the lawyer so handled his son "that there was never
sheep shorn in May, so near clipped of his fleece present, as he was of
many to come." The Welsh were the most litigious people. A Welshman
would walk up to London bare-legged, carrying his hose on his neck, to
save wear and because he had no change, importune his countrymen till he
got half a dozen writs, with which he would return to molest his
neighbors, though no one of his quarrels was worth the money he paid for
a single writ.

The humblest mechanic of England today has comforts and conveniences
which the richest nobles lacked in Harrison's day, but it was
nevertheless an age of great luxury and extravagance; of brave apparel,
costly and showy beyond that of any Continental people, though wanting in
refined taste; and of mighty banquets, with service of massive plate,
troops of attendants, and a surfeit of rich food and strong drink.

In this luxury the clergy of Harrison's rank did not share. Harrison was
poor on forty pounds a year. He complains that the clergy were taxed
more than ever, the church having become "an ass whereon every man is to
ride to market and cast his wallet." They paid tenths and first-fruits
and subsidies, so that out of twenty pounds of a benefice the incumbent
did not reserve more than L 13 6s. 8d. for himself and his family. They
had to pay for both prince and laity, and both grumbled at and slandered
them. Harrison gives a good account of the higher clergy; he says the
bishops were loved for their painful diligence in their calling, and that
the clergy of England were reputed on the Continent as learned divines,
skillful in Greek and Hebrew and in the Latin tongue.

There was, however, a scarcity of preachers and ministers in Elizabeth's
time, and their character was not generally high. What could be expected
when covetous patrons canceled their debts to their servants by bestowing
advowsons of benefices upon their bakers, butlers, cooks, grooms, pages,
and lackeys--when even in the universities there was cheating at
elections for scholarships and fellowships, and gifts were for sale!
The morals of the clergy were, however, improved by frequent conferences,
at which the good were praised and the bad reproved; and these
conferences were "a notable spur unto all the ministers, whereby to apply
their books, which otherwise (as in times past) would give themselves to
hawking, hunting, tables, cards, dice, tipling at the ale house,
shooting, and other like vanities." The clergy held a social rank with
tradespeople; their sons learned trades, and their daughters might go out
to service. Jewell says many of them were the "basest sort of people"
unlearned, fiddlers, pipers, and what not. "Not a few," says Harrison,
"find fault with our threadbare gowns, as if not our patrons but our
wives were the causes of our woe." He thinks the ministers will be
better when the patrons are better, and he defends the right of the
clergy to marry and to leave their goods, if they have any, to their
widows and children instead of to the church, or to some school or
almshouse. What if their wives are fond, after the decease of their
husbands, to bestow themselves not so advisedly as their calling
requireth; do not duchesses, countesses, and knights' wives offend in the
like fully so often as they? And Eve, remarks the old philosopher of
Radwinter--"Eve will be Eve, though Adam would say nay."

The apparel of the clergy, at any rate, was more comely and decent than
it ever was in the popish church, when the priests "went either in divers
colors like players, or in garments of light hue, as yellow, red, green,
etc.; with their shoes piked, their hair crisped, their girdles armed
with silver; their shoes, spurs, bridles, etc., buckled with like metal;
their apparel (for the most part) of silk, and richly furred; their caps
laced and buttoned with gold; so that to meet a priest, in those days,
was to behold a peacock that spreadeth his tail when he danceth before
the hen."

Hospitality among the clergy was never better used, and it was increased
by their marriage; for the meat and drink were prepared more orderly and
frugally, the household was better looked to, and the poor oftener fed.
There was perhaps less feasting of the rich in bishops' houses, and "it
is thought much peradventure, that some bishops in our time do come short
of the ancient gluttony and prodigality of their predecessors;" but this
is owing to the curtailing of their livings, and the excessive prices
whereunto things are grown.

Harrison spoke his mind about dignitaries. He makes a passing reference
to Thomas a Becket as "the old Cocke of Canturburie," who did crow in
behalf of the see of Rome, and the "young cockerels of other sees did
imitate his demeanour." He is glad that images, shrines, and tabernacles
are removed out of churches. The stories in glass windows remain only
because of the cost of replacing them with white panes. He would like to
stop the wakes, guilds, paternities, church-ales, and brides-ales, with
all their rioting, and he thinks they could get on very well without the
feasts of apostles, evangelists, martyrs, the holy-days after Christmas,
Easter, and Whitsuntide, and those of the Virgin Mary, with the rest.
"It is a world to see," he wrote of 1552, "how ready the Catholicks are
to cast the communion tables out of their churches, which in derision
they call Oysterboards, and to set up altars whereon to say mass." And
he tells with sinful gravity this tale of a sacrilegious sow: "Upon the
23rd of August, the high altar of Christ Church in Oxford was trimly
decked up after the popish manner and about the middest of evensong,
a sow cometh into the quire, and pulled all to the ground; for which
heinous fact, it is said she was afterwards beheaded; but to that I am
not privy." Think of the condition of Oxford when pigs went to mass!
Four years after this there was a sickness in England, of which a third
part of the people did taste, and many clergymen, who had prayed not to
live after the death of Queen Mary, had their desire, the Lord hearing
their prayer, says Harrison, "and intending thereby to give his church a
breathing time."

There were four classes in England--gentlemen, citizens, yeomen, and
artificers or laborers. Besides the nobles, any one can call himself a
gentleman who can live without work and buy a coat of arms--though some
of them "bear a bigger sail than his boat is able to sustain." The
complaint of sending abroad youth to be educated is an old one; Harrison
says the sons of gentlemen went into Italy, and brought nothing home but
mere atheism, infidelity, vicious conversation, and ambitious, proud
behavior, and retained neither religion nor patriotism. Among citizens
were the merchants, of whom Harrison thought there were too many; for,
like the lawyers, they were no furtherance to the commonwealth, but
raised the price of all commodities. In former, free-trade times, sugar
was sixpence a pound, now it is two shillings sixpence; raisins were one
penny, and now sixpence. Not content with the old European trade, they
have sought out the East and West Indies, and likewise Cathay and
Tartary, whence they pretend, from their now and then suspicious voyages,
they bring home great commodities. But Harrison cannot see that prices
are one whit abated by this enormity, and certainly they carry out of
England the best of its wares.

The yeomen are the stable, free men, who for the most part stay in one
place, working the farms of gentlemen, are diligent, sometimes buy the
land of unthrifty gentlemen, educate their sons to the schools and the
law courts, and leave them money to live without labor. These are the
men that made France afraid. Below these are the laborers and men who
work at trades, who have no voice in the commonwealth, and crowds of
young serving-men who become old beggars, highway-robbers, idle fellows,
and spreaders of all vices. There was a complaint then, as now, that in
many trades men scamped their work, but, on the whole, husbandmen and
artificers had never been so good; only there were too many of them, too
many handicrafts of which the country had no need. It appears to be a
fault all along in history that there are too many of almost every sort
of people.

In Harrison's time the greater part of the building in cities and towns
was of timber, only a few of the houses of the commonalty being of stone.
In an old plate giving a view of the north side of Cheapside, London, in
1638, we see little but quaint gable ends and rows of small windows set
close together. The houses are of wood and plaster, each story

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