London: Saturday, August 26, 1865The Illustrated London News, vol. 47, no. 1332, p. 186-187.
August 26, 1865
"We don't expect no good grammar here, but you might shut the scenes to." Such was stated by the late Mr. G. A. à Beckett to have been a criticism which he heard publicly addressed by a gentleman of the chimney-sweeping persuasion to the manager of one of the inferior theatres. One feels singularly inclined to adapt the remonstrance to present circumstances, and address it to such of our American friends as are grumbling and murmuring against England, and looking jealously because we are exchanging courtesies with France. With such a press as that of the States, and with universal suffrage in the hands of persons who are led by such a press, it would be unreasonable to expect argument, or even patient attention to the arguments of others. But considering that five years ago all the inhabitants of the States were "Americans," and that to censure one of them, North or South, was to offend all; and considering that since that time a very large portion of these Americans declared their belief that it would be a good thing to divide the country into two parts, we may almost be allowed to suggest that American gentlemen should settle matters among themselves, and somehow induce the minority to assent to the views of the majority before flying at strangers and threatening to fight them because a few thousands here thought that seven millions there had something to say for themselves. The American manager should "shut the scenes to."
Will our friends over the water forget the war and all its glories and miseries, for a few minutes, and just reconstruct American society and reproduce American feeling as they existed a year before the Sumter gun was fired. May we ask them, in all good nature, whether at that time an English writer who should have said of the smallest Southern State what all the Northern organs are now saying of the whole South, would not have been abused with all the force of the press and of public oratory in all parts of the Union? Is it not notorious that no American ever could bear to hear a single syllable against any other American? There was never any clanship like it, except, perhaps, in Scotland; but there are but three millions of Scottish people, and they are supposed to be all more or less related, so that to insult a Scot is to abuse a family. In America there were thirty millions all bound to "crack one another up," and they did it. In travelling, could anything be more unlike than the mode in which an Englishman and a Yankee spoke when a countryman of either had disgraced himself. "A smooth-faced rascal, Sir," John Bull would say, loud enough to be heard three quarters up the table-d'hôte, "and I'm glad he's come to grief. His father got his peerage by jobbery, and the whole family is no better than it ought to be. It is a good thing that a scandalous lot will be cleared out of the public service." And he gave a kind of Rhadamanthine nod of approval of his own stern justice. Not so the American in similar circumstances:--"The kind of treatment necessary in such cases, Sir, is not rightly apprehended except by those who live in the localities, and the gentleman you name has made his way to affluence from very humble beginnings, and we do not judge such a man harshly, and he has much influence with the people." Such were the different ways in which Englishmen and Americans were accustomed to deal with their fellow-citizens. We do not offer an opinion as to which was the wiser course, or whether it is better to be perfectly frank and honest and ignore all accidental ties, or whether we should wash all our dirty linen at home: we only wish to remind the Americans that it was only the other day that no stranger could, without offence, hint to one of them that another was in the wrong. And now they talk of quarrelling with us because, at a couple of thousand miles distance, and with no information on which we could absolutely rely, some of us were not ready at the shortest notice to call six or seven millions of Americans thieves, rebels, traitors, murderers, and miscreants. We simply put the matter on the ground of fair play.
Then, again, let them charge us with cowardice if they will; but we perceive another awful peril from which we have escaped. Only suppose that things had taken a different turn, and matters had been arranged without an appeal to the sword. Suppose that the gun from Sumter had awakened not rage, but common-sense; and that men who spoke the English language had unanimously exclaimed that they were not going to kill one another for tariffs or niggers, and that a convention should settle all disputes. We heartily wish that such a solution had been tried. But suppose, also, that John Bull had at once given way to all those feelings which he is now abused for lacking; and, while things looked like war, had opened his mouth in denunciation of the wicked slaveowners and traitors;--why, as soon as peace had been made, both sides would have turned upon the insolent Bull, and demanded how he dared to expect anything but a calm and rational line of conduct from American citizens. Nations ruled and schooled by a savage aristocracy might go to war for red and white roses, for lovelocks and roundheads, for stars of Brunswick and Popish warming-pans; but enlightened citizens were not so to be dragged into bloodshed. And it would have required all the civility possessed by Earl Russell to frame despatches to avoid a castigatory war, such as that with which we are now menaced because some of our upper ten thousand believed what the American press had been so long saying about the aristocratic character of the slaveowner.
We certainly should be exceedingly sorry if the hatred which is stated to be prevalent against us in the States should take the form of actual hostility. Should it do so, we believe that it will be in opposition to the wishes and feelings of the Government of the States and of educated citizens. But if a nation will give universal suffrage to the scum of all lands, that nation must be prepared to find the intruders troublesome, and moreover, disposed to fraternise with the lowest and most ignorant part of the home population. It is chiefly among politicians from these classes that the anti-English feeling is kept up, and we could hardly wish that such a population did not hate English institutions. We are content, for the present, to believe that the hostile sentiments, of which we hear so much, are mainly those of the classes whom all cultivated persons hold in contempt, and whom statesmen endeavour also to hold in subjection. And, believing this, we have, in all good-humour, appealed to the real American citizen to look back to what he now calls "old times," but which are not so very old, and to remember our relations as they then were, He was so stern in teaching us that we were not to suppose any American ever in the wrong that he ought not to be angry with us for being slow to believe that
Page 187seven millions of Americans are such atrocious monsters that they ought to be exterminated, and their property (over £4000) given to other American gentlemen of more correct views. But if menace and accusation go on, we may be apter pupils than he imagines in learning to express ourselves plainly.