Ralph Waldo Emerson (18031882). The Complete Works. 1904. Vol. V. English Traits
AN ingenious anatomist has written a book1 to prove that races are imperishable, but nations are pliant political constructions, easily changed or destroyed. But this writer did not found his assumed races on any necessary law, disclosing their ideal or metaphysical necessity; nor did he on the other hand count with precision the existing races and settle the true bounds; a point of nicety, and the popular test of the theory. The individuals at the extremes of divergence in one race of men are as unlike as the wolf to the lapdog. Yet each variety shades down imperceptibly into the next, and you cannot draw the line where a race begins or ends. Hence every writer makes a different count. Blumenbach reckons five races; Humboldt three; and Mr. Pickering,2 who lately in our Exploring Expedition thinks he saw all the kinds of men that can be on the planet, makes eleven.
The British Empire is reckoned to contain (in 1848) 222,000,000 souls,perhaps a fifth of the population of the globe; and to comprise a territory of 5,000,000 square miles. So far have British people predominated. Perhaps forty of these millions are of British stock. Add the United States of America, which reckon (in the same year), exclusive of slaves, 20,000,000 of people, on a territory of 3,000,000 square miles, and in which the foreign element, however considerable, is rapidly assimilated, and you have a population of English descent and language of 60,000,000, and governing a population of 245,000,000 souls.
The British census proper reckons twenty-seven and a half millions in the home countries. What makes this census important is the quality of the units that compose it. They are free forcible men, in a country where life is safe and has reached the greatest value. They give the bias to the current age; and that, not by chance or by mass, but by their character and by the number of individuals among them of personal ability. It has been denied that the English have genius. Be it as it may, men of vast intellect have been born on their soil, and they have made or applied the principal inventions. They have sound bodies and supreme endurance in war and in labor. The spawning force of the race has sufficed to the colonization of great parts of the world; yet it remains to be seen whether they can make good the exodus of millions from Great Britain, amounting in 1852 to more than a thousand a day. They have assimilating force, since they are imitated by their foreign subjects; and they are still aggressive and propagandist, enlarging the dominion of their arts and liberty. Their laws are hospitable, and slavery does not exist under them. What oppression exists is incidental and temporary; their success is not sudden or fortunate, but they have maintained constancy and self-equality for many ages.
Is this power due to their race, or to some other cause? Men hear gladly of the power of blood or race. Every body likes to know that his advantages cannot be attributed to air, soil, sea, or to local wealth, as mines and quarries, nor to laws and traditions, nor to fortune; but to superior brain, as it makes the praise more personal to him.
We anticipate in the doctrine of race something like that law of physiology that whatever bone, muscle, or essential organ is found in one healthy individual, the same part or organ may be found in or near the same place in its congener; and we look to find in the son every mental and moral property that existed in the ancestor. In race, it is not the broad shoulders, or litheness, or stature that give advantage, but a symmetry that reaches as far as to the wit. Then the miracle and renown begin. Then first we care to examine the pedigree, and copy heed-fully the training,what food they ate, what nursing, school, and exercises they had, which resulted in this mother-wit, delicacy of thought and robust wisdom. How came such men as King Alfred, and Roger Bacon, William of Wykeham, Walter Raleigh, Philip Sidney, Isaac Newton, William Shakspeare, George Chapman, Francis Bacon, George Herbert, Henry Vane, to exist here? What made these delicate natures? was it the air? was it the sea? was it the parentage? For it is certain that these men are samples of their contemporaries. The hearing ear is always found close to the speaking tongue, and no genius can long or often utter any thing which is not invited and gladly entertained by men around him.
It is race, is it not, that puts the hundred millions of India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe? Race avails much, if that be true which is alleged, that all Celts are Catholics and all Saxons are Protestants; that Celts love unity of power, and Saxons the representative principle. Race is a controlling influence in the Jew, who, for two millenniums, under every climate, has preserved the same character and employments. Race in the negro is of appalling importance. The French in Canada, cut off from all intercourse with the parent people, have held their national traits. I chanced to read Tacitus On the Manners of the Germans, not long since, in Missouri and the heart of Illinois, and I found abundant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian forest, and our Hoosiers, Suckers and Badgers of the American woods.
But whilst race works immortally to keep its own, it is resisted by other forces. Civilization is a re-agent, and eats away the old traits. The Arabs of to-day are the Arabs of Pharaoh; but the Briton of to-day is a very different person from Cassibelaunus or Ossian.3 Each religious sect has its physiognomy. The Methodists have acquired a face; the Quakers, a face; the nuns, a face. An Englishman will pick out a dissenter by his manners. Trades and professions carve their own lines on face and form. Certain circumstances of English life are not less effective; as personal liberty; plenty of food; good ale and mutton; open market, or good wages for every kind of labor; high bribes to talent and skill; the island life, or the million opportunities and outlets for expanding and misplaced talent; readiness of combination among themselves for politics or for business; strikes;4 and sense of superiority founded on habit of victory in labor and in war: and the appetite for superiority grows by feeding.
It is easy to add to the counteracting forces to race. Credence is a main element. T is said that the views of nature held by any people determine all their institutions. Whatever influences add to mental or moral faculty, take men out of nationality as out of other conditions, and make the national life a culpable compromise.
These limitations of the formidable doctrine of race suggest others which threaten to undermine it, as not sufficiently based. The fixity or inconvertibleness of races as we see them is a weak argument for the eternity of these frail boundaries, since all our historical period is a point to the duration in which nature has wrought.5 Any the least and solitariest fact in our natural history, such as the melioration of fruits and of animal stocks, has the worth of a power in the opportunity of geologic periods. Moreover, though we flatter the self-love of men and nations by the legend of pure races, all our experience is of the gradation and resolution of races, and strange resemblances meet us everywhere. It need not puzzle us that Malay and Papuan, Celt and Roman, Saxon and Tartar should mix, when we see the rudiments of tiger and baboon in our human form, and know that the barriers of races are not so firm but that some spray sprinkles us from the antediluvian seas.
The low organizations are simplest; a mere mouth, a jelly, or a straight worm. As the scale mounts, the organizations become complex. We are piqued with pure descent, but nature loves inoculation. A child blends in his face the faces of both parents and some feature from every ancestor whose face hangs on the wall. The best nations are those most widely related; and navigation, as effecting a world-wide mixture, is the most potent advancer of nations.
The English composite character betrays a mixed origin. Everything English is a fusion of distant and antagonistic elements.6 The language is mixed; the names of men are of different nations,three languages, three or four nations;the currents of thought are counter: contemplation and practical skill; active intellect and dead conservatism; world-wide enterprise and devoted use and wont; aggressive freedom and hospitable law with bitter class-legislation; a people scattered by their wars and affairs over the face of the whole earth, and homesick to a man; a country of extremes,dukes and chartists, Bishops of Durham and naked heathen colliers;nothing can be praised in it without damning exceptions, and nothing denounced without salvos of cordial praise.
Neither do this people appear to be of one stem, but collectively a better race than any from which they are derived. Nor is it easy to trace it home to its original seats. Who can call by right names what races are in Britain? Who can trace them historically? Who can discriminate them anatomically, or metaphysically?
In the impossibility of arriving at satisfaction on the historical question of race, andcome of whatever disputable ancestrythe indisputable Englishman before me, himself very well marked, and nowhere else to be found,I fancied I could leave quite aside the choice of a tribe as his lineal progenitors. Defoe said in his wrath, the Englishman was the mud of all races. I incline to the belief that, as water, lime and sand make mortar, so certain temperaments marry well, and, by well-managed contrarieties, develop as drastic a character as the English. On the whole it is not so much a history of one or of certain tribes of Saxons, Jutes, or Frisians, coming from one place and genetically identical, as it is an anthology of temperaments out of them all. Certain temperaments suit the sky and soil of England, say eight or ten or twenty varieties, as, out of a hundred pear-trees, eight or ten suit the soil of an orchard and thrive,whilst all the unadapted temperaments die out.
The English derive their pedigree from such a range of nationalities that there needs sea-room and land-room to unfold the varieties of talent and character. Perhaps the ocean serves as a galvanic battery, to distribute acids at one pole and alkalies at the other. So England tends to accumulate her liberals in America, and her conservatives at London. The Scandinavians in her race still hear in every age the murmurs of their mother, the ocean; the Briton in the blood hugs the homestead still.
Again, as if to intensate the influences that are not of race, what we think of when we talk of English traits really narrows itself to a small district. It excludes Ireland and Scotland and Wales, and reduces itself at last to London, that is, to those who come and go thither. The portraits that hang on the walls in the Academy Exhibition at London, the figures in Punchs drawings of the public men or of the club-houses, the prints in the shop-windows, are distinctive English, and not American, no, nor Scotch, nor Irish: but t is a very restricted nationality. As you go north into the manufacturing and agricultural districts, and to the population that never travels; as you go into Yorkshire, as you enter Scotland, the worlds Englishman is no longer found. In Scotland there is a rapid loss of all grandeur of mien and manners; a provincial eagerness and acuteness appear; the poverty of the country makes itself remarked, and a coarseness of manners; and, among the intellectual, is the insanity of dialectics.7 In Ireland are the same climate and soil as in England, but less food, no right relation to the land, political dependence, small tenantry and an inferior or misplaced race.
These queries concerning ancestry and blood may be well allowed, for there is no prosperity that seems more to depend on the kind of man than British prosperity. Only a hardy and wise people could have made this small territory great. We say, in a regatta or yacht-race, that if the boats are anywhere nearly matched, it is the man that wins. Put the best sailing-master into either boat, and he will win.
Yet it is fine for us to speculate in face of unbroken traditions, though vague and losing themselves in fable. The traditions have got footing, and refuse to be disturbed. The kitchen-clock is more convenient than sidereal time. We must use the popular category, as we do the Linnæan classification, for convenience, and not as exact and final. Otherwise we are presently confounded when the best-settled traits of one race are claimed by some new ethnologist as precisely characteristic of the rival tribe.
I found plenty of well-marked English types, the ruddy complexion fair and plump, robust men, with faces cut like a die, and a strong island speech and accent; a Norman type, with the complacency that belongs to that constitution. Others who might be Americans, for any thing that appeared in their complexion or form; and their speech was much less marked and their thought much less bound. We will call them Saxons. Then the Roman has implanted his dark complexion in the trinity or quaternity of bloods.
1. The sources from which tradition derives their stock are mainly three. And first they are of the oldest blood of the world,the Celtic. Some peoples are deciduous or transitory. Where are the Greeks? Where the Etrurians? Where the Romans? But the Celts or Sidonides are an old family, of whose beginning there is no memory, and their end is likely to be still more remote in the future; for they have endurance and productiveness. They planted Britain, and gave to the seas and mountains names which are poems and imitate the pure voices of nature. They are favorably remembered in the oldest records of Europe. They had no violent feudal tenure, but the husband-man owned the land. They had an alphabet, astronomy, priestly culture and a sublime creed.8 They have a hidden and precarious genius. They made the best popular literature of the Middle Ages in the songs of Merlin and the tender and delicious mythology of Arthur.
2. The English come mainly from the Germans, whom the Romans found hard to conquer in two hundred and ten years,say impossible to conquer, when one remembers the long sequel;a people about whom in the old empire the rumor ran there was never any that meddled with them that repented it not.9
3. Charlemagne, halting one day in a town of Narbonnese Gaul, looked out of a window and saw a fleet of Northmen cruising in the Mediterranean. They even entered the port of the town where he was, causing no small alarm and sudden manning and arming of his galleys. As they put out to sea again, the emperor gazed long after them, his eyes bathed in tears. I am tormented with sorrow, he said, when I foresee the evils they will bring on my posterity. There was reason for these Xerxes tears. The men who have built a ship and invented the rig, cordage, sail, compass and pump; the working in and out of port, have acquired much more than a ship.10 Now arm them and every shore is at their mercy. For if they have not numerical superiority where they anchor, they have only to sail a mile or two to find it. Bonapartes art of war, namely of concentrating force on the point of attack, must always be theirs who have the choice of the battle-ground. Of course they come into the fight from a higher ground of power than the land-nations; and can engage them on shore with a victorious advantage in the retreat. As soon as the shores are sufficiently peopled to make piracy a losing business, the same skill and courage are ready for the service of trade.
The Heimskringla,11 or Sagas of the Kings of Norway, collected by Snorro Sturleson, is the Iliad and Odyssey of English history. Its portraits, like Homers, are strongly individualized. The Sagas describe a monarchical republic like Sparta. The government disappears before the importance of citizens. In Norway, no Persian masses fight and perish to aggrandize a king, but the actors are bonders or landholders, every one of whom is named and personally and patronymically described, as the kings friend and companion. A sparse population gives this high worth to every man. Individuals are often noticed as very handsome persons, which trait only brings the story nearer to the English race. Then the solid material interest predominates, so dear to English understanding, wherein the association is logical, between merit and land. The heroes of the Sagas are not the knights of South Europe. No vaporing of France and Spain has corrupted them. They are substantial farmers whom the rough times have forced to defend their properties. They have weapons which they use in a determined manner, by no means for chivalry, but for their acres. They are people considerably advanced in rural arts, living amphibiously on a rough coast, and drawing half their food from the sea and half from the land. They have herds of cows, and malt, wheat, bacon, butter and cheese. They fish in the fiord and hunt the deer. A king among these farmers has a varying power, sometimes not exceeding the authority of a sheriff. A king was maintained, much as in some of our country districts a winter-schoolmaster is quartered, a week here, a week there, and a fortnight on the next farm,on all the farms in rotation. This the king calls going into guest-quarters; and it was the only way in which, in a poor country, a poor king with many retainers could be kept alive when he leaves his own farm to collect his dues through the kingdom.
These Norsemen are excellent persons in the main, with good sense, steadiness, wise speech and prompt action. But they have a singular turn for homicide; their chief end of man is to murder or to be murdered; oars, scythes, harpoons, crowbars, peat-knives and hay-forks are tools valued by them all the more for their charming aptitude for assassinations. A pair of kings, after dinner, will divert themselves by thrusting each his sword through the others body, as did Yngve and Alf. Another pair ride out on a morning for a frolic, and finding no weapon near, will take the bits out of their horses mouths and crush each others heads with them, as did Alric and Eric. The sight of a tent-cord or a cloak-string puts them on hanging somebody, a wife, or a husband, or, best of all, a king. If a farmer has so much as a hay-fork, he sticks it into a King Dag. King Ingiald finds it vastly amusing to burn up half a dozen kings in a hall, after getting them drunk. Never was poor gentleman so surfeited with life, so furious to be rid of it, as the Northman. If he cannot pick any other quarrel, he will get himself comfortably gored by a bulls horns, like Egil, or slain by a land-slide, like the agricultural King Onund. Odin died in his bed, in Sweden; but it was a proverb of ill condition to die the death of old age. King Hake of Sweden cuts and slashes in battle, as long as he can stand, then orders his war-ship, loaded with his dead men and their weapons, to be taken out to sea, the tiller shipped and the sails spread; being left alone he sets fire to some tar-wood and lies down contented on deck. The wind blew off the land, the ship flew, burning in clear flame, out between the islets into the ocean, and there was the right end of King Hake.
The early Sagas are sanguinary and piratical; the later are of a noble strain. History rarely yields us better passages than the conversation between King Sigurd the Crusader and King Eystein his brother, on their respective merits,one the soldier, and the other a lover of the arts of peace.12
But the reader of the Norman history must steel himself by holding fast the remote compensations which result from animal vigor. As the old fossil world shows that the first steps of reducing the chaos were confided to saurians and other huge and horrible animals, so the foundations of the new civility were to be laid by the most savage men.
The Normans came out of France into England worse men than they went into it one hundred and sixty years before. They had lost their own language and learned the Romance or barbarous Latin of the Gauls, and had acquired, with the language, all the vices it had names for. The conquest has obtained in the chronicles the name of the memory of sorrow. Twenty thousand thieves landed at Hastings. These founders of the House of Lords were greedy and ferocious dragoons, sons of greedy and ferocious pirates. They were all alike, they took everything they could carry, they burned, harried, violated, tortured and killed, until everything English was brought to the verge of ruin. Such however is the illusion of antiquity and wealth, that decent and dignified men now existing boast their descent from these filthy thieves, who showed a far juster conviction of their own merits, by assuming for their types the swine, goat, jackal, leopard, wolf and snake, which they severally resembled.13
England yielded to the Danes and Northmen in the tenth and eleventh centuries, and was the receptacle into which all the mettle of that strenuous population was poured. The continued draught of the best men in Norway, Sweden and Denmark to these piratical expeditions exhausted those countries, like a tree which bears much fruit when young, and these have been second-rate powers ever since. The power of the race migrated and left Norway void. King Olaf said, When King Harold, my father, went westward to England, the chosen men in Norway followed him; but Norway was so emptied then, that such men have not since been to find in the country, nor especially such a leader as King Harold was for wisdom and bravery.
It was a tardy recoil of these invasions, when, in 1801, the British government sent Nelson to bombard the Danish forts in the Sound, and, in 1807, Lord Cathcart, at Copenhagen, took the entire Danish fleet, as it lay in the basins, and all the equipments from the Arsenal, and carried them to England. Konghelle, the town where the kings of Norway, Sweden and Denmark were wont to meet, is now rented to a private English gentleman for a hunting ground.
It took many generations to trim and comb and perfume the first boat-load of Norse pirates into royal highnesses and most noble Knights of the Garter; but every sparkle of ornament dates back to the Norse boat. There will be time enough to mellow this strength into civility and religion. It is a medical fact that the children of the blind see; the children of felons have a healthy conscience. Many a mean, dastardly boy is, at the age of puberty, transformed into a serious and generous youth.14
The mildness of the following ages has not quite effaced these traits of Odin; as the rudiment of a structure matured in the tiger is said to be still found unabsorbed in the Caucasian man. The nation has a tough, acrid, animal nature, which centuries of churching and civilizing have not been able to sweeten. Alfieri said the crimes of Italy were the proof of the superiority of the stock; and one may say of England that this watch moves on a splinter of adamant. The English uncultured are a brutal nation. The crimes recorded in their calendars leave nothing to be desired in the way of cold malignity. Dear to the English heart is a fair stand-up fight. The brutality of the manners in the lower class appears in the boxing, bear-baiting, cock-fighting, love of executions, and in the readiness for a set-to in the streets, delightful to the English of all classes. The costermongers of London streets hold cowardice in loathing:we must work our fists well; we are all handy with our fists. The public schools are charged with being bear-gardens of brutal strength, and are liked by the people for that cause. The fagging is a trait of the same quality. Medwin, in the Life of Shelley, relates that at a military school they rolled up a young man in a snowball, and left him so in his room while the other cadets went to church;and crippled him for life. They have retained impressment, deck-flogging, army-flogging and school-flogging. Such is the ferocity of the army discipline that a soldier, sentenced to flogging, sometimes prays that his sentence may be commuted to death. Flogging, banished from the armies of Western Europe, remains here by the sanction of the Duke of Wellington. The right of the husband to sell the wife has been retained down to our times. The Jews have been the favorite victims of royal and popular persecution. Henry III. mortgaged all the Jews in the kingdom to his brother the Earl of Cornwall, as security for money which he borrowed. The torture of criminals, and the rack for extorting evidence, were slowly disused. Of the criminal statutes, Sir Samuel Romilly said, I have examined the codes of all nations, and ours is the worst, and worthy of the Anthropophagi.15 In the last session (1848), the House of Commons was listening to the details of flogging and torture practised in the jails.16
As soon as this land, thus geographically posted, got a hardy people into it, they could not help becoming the sailors and factors of the globe. From childhood, they dabbled in water, they swam like fishes, their playthings were boats. In the case of the ship-money, the judges delivered it for law, that England being an island, the very midland shires therein are all to be accounted maritime; and Fuller adds, the genius even of landlocked counties driving the natives with a maritime dexterity. As early as the conquest it is remarked, in explanation of the wealth of England, that its merchants trade to all countries.
The English at the present day have great vigor of body and endurance. Other countrymen look slight and undersized beside them, and invalids. They are bigger men than the Americans. I suppose a hundred English taken at random out of the street would weigh a fourth more than so many Americans. Yet, I am told, the skeleton is not larger. They are round, ruddy and handsome; at least the whole bust is well formed, and there is a tendency to stout and powerful frames. I remarked the stoutness on my first landing at Liverpool; porter, dray-man, coachman, guard,what substantial, respectable, grandfatherly figures, with costume and manners to suit. The American has arrived at the old mansion-house and finds himself among uncles, aunts and grandsires. The pictures on the chimney-tiles of his nursery were pictures of these people. Here they are in the identical costumes and air which so took him.
It is the fault of their forms that they grow stocky, and the women have that disadvantage,few tall, slender figures of flowing shape, but stunted and thickset persons. The French say that the Englishwomen have two left hands. But in all ages they are a handsome race. The bronze monuments of crusaders lying cross-legged in the Temple Church at London, and those in Worcester and in Salisbury cathedrals, which are seven hundred years old, are of the same type as the best youthful heads of men now in England;please by beauty of the same character, an expression blending good-nature, valor and refinement, and mainly by that uncorrupt youth in the face of manhood, which is daily seen in the streets of London.
Both branches of the Scandinavian race are distinguished for beauty. The anecdote of the handsome captives which Saint Gregory found at Rome, A.D. 600, is matched by the testimony of the Norman chroniclers, five centuries later, who wondered at the beauty and long flowing hair of the young English captives. Mean-time the Heimskringla has frequent occasion to speak of the personal beauty of its heroes. When it is considered what humanity, what resources of mental and moral power the traits of the blonde race betoken, its accession to empire marks a new and finer epoch, wherein the old mineral force shall be subjugated at last by humanity and shall plough in its furrow hence-forward. It is not a final race, once a crab always crab,but a race with a future.
On the English face are combined decision and nerve with the fair complexion, blue eyes and open and florid aspect. Hence the love of truth, hence the sensibility, the fine perception and poetic construction. The fair Saxon man, with open front and honest meaning, domestic, affectionate, is not the wood out of which cannibal, or inquisitor, or assassin is made, but he is moulded for law, lawful trade, civility, marriage, the nurture of children, for colleges, churches, charities and colonies.
They are rather manly than warlike. When the war is over, the mask falls from the affectionate and domestic tastes, which make them women in kindness. This union of qualities is fabled in their national legend of Beauty and the Beast, or, long before, in the Greek legend of Hermaphrodite. The two sexes are co-present in the English mind. I apply to Britannia, queen of seas and colonies, the words in which her latest novelist portrays his heroine; She is as mild as she is game, and as game as she is mild. The English delight in the antagonism which combines in one person the extremes of courage and tenderness. Nelson, dying at Trafalgar, sends his love to Lord Collingwood, and like an innocent schoolboy that goes to bed, says Kiss me, Hardy, and turns to sleep. Lord Collingwood, his comrade, was of a nature the most affectionate and domestic. Admiral Rodneys figure approached to delicacy and effeminacy, and he declared himself very sensible to fear, which he surmounted only by considerations of honor and public duty. Clarendon says the Duke of Buckingham was so modest and gentle, that some courtiers attempted to put affronts on him, until they found that this modesty and effeminacy was only a mask for the most terrible determination. And Sir Edward Parry said of Sir John Franklin, that if he found Wellington Sound open, he explored it; for he was a man who never turned his back on a danger, yet of that tenderness that he would not brush away a mosquito. Even for their highwaymen the same virtue is claimed, and Robin Hood comes described to us as mitissimus prædonum; the gentlest thief. But they know where their war-dogs lie. Cromwell, Blake, Marlborough, Chatham, Nelson and Wellington are not to be trifled with, and the brutal strength which lies at the bottom of society, the animal ferocity of the quays and cockpits, the bullies of the costermongers of Shoreditch, Seven Dials and Spitalfields, they know how to wake up.
They have a vigorous health and last well into middle and old age. The old men are as red as roses, and still handsome. A clear skin, a peach-bloom complexion and good teeth are found all over the island. They use a plentiful and nutritious diet. The operative cannot subsist on water-cresses. Beef, mutton, wheat-bread and malt-liquors are universal among the first-class laborers. Good feeding is a chief point of national pride among the vulgar, and in their caricatures they represent the Frenchman as a poor, starved body. It is curious that Tacitus found the English beer already in use among the Germans: They make from barley or wheat a drink corrupted into some resemblance to wine. Lord Chief Justice Fortescue, in Henry VI.s time, says, The inhabitants of England drink no water, unless at certain times on a religious score and by way of penance. The extremes of poverty and ascetic penance, it would seem, never reach cold water in England. Wood the antiquary, in describing the poverty and maceration of Father Lacey, an English Jesuit, does not deny him beer. He says, His bed was under a thatching, and the way to it up a ladder; his fare was coarse; his drink, of a penny a gawn, or gallon.
They have more constitutional energy than any other people. They think, with Henri Quatre, that manly exercises are the foundation of that elevation of mind which gives one nature ascendant over another; or with the Arabs, that the days spent in the chase are not counted in the length of life. They box, run, shoot, ride, row, and sail from pole to pole. They eat and drink, and live jolly in the open air, putting a bar of solid sleep between day and day.17 They walk and ride as fast as they can, their head bent forward, as if urged on some pressing affair. The French say that Englishmen in the street always walk straight before them like mad dogs. Men and women walk with infatuation. As soon as he can handle a gun, hunting is the fine art of every Englishman of condition. They are the most voracious people of prey that ever existed. Every season turns out the aristocracy into the country to shoot and fish. The more vigorous run out of the island to America, to Asia, to Africa and Australia, to hunt with fury by gun, by trap, by harpoon, by lasso, with dog, with horse, with elephant or with dromedary, all the game that is in nature. These men have written the game-books of all countries, as Hawker, Scrope, Murray, Herbert, Maxwell, Cumming and a host of travellers. The people at home are addicted to boxing, running, leaping and rowing matches.
I suppose the dogs and horses must be thanked for the fact that the men have muscles almost as tough and supple as their own. If in every efficient man there is first a fine animal, in the English race it is of the best breed, a wealthy, juicy, broad-chested creature, steeped in ale and good cheer and a little overloaded by his flesh. Men of animal nature rely, like animals, on their instincts. The Englishman associates well with dogs and horses. His attachment to the horse arises from the courage and address required to manage it. The horse finds out who is afraid of it, and does not disguise its opinion. Their young boiling clerks and lusty collegians like the company of horses better than the company of professors. I suppose the horses are better company for them. The horse has more uses than Buffon noted. If you go into the streets, every driver in bus or dray is a bully, and if I wanted a good troop of soldiers, I should recruit among the stables. Add a certain degree of refinement to the vivacity of these riders, and you obtain the precise quality which makes the men and women of polite society formidable.
They come honestly by their horsemanship, with Hengst and Horsa for their Saxon founders. The other branch of their race had been Tartar nomads. The horse was all their wealth. The children were fed on mares milk. The pastures of Tartary were still remembered by the tenacious practice of the Norsemen to eat horseflesh at religious feasts. In the Danish invasions the marauders seized upon horses where they landed, and were at once converted into a body of expert cavalry.
At one time this skill seems to have declined. Two centuries ago the English horse never performed any eminent service beyond the seas; and the reason assigned was that the genius of the English hath always more inclined them to foot-service, as pure and proper manhood, without any mixture; whilst in a victory on horse-back, the credit ought to be divided betwixt the man and his horse. But in two hundred years a change has taken place.18 Now, they boast that they understand horses better than any other people in the world, and that their horses are become their second selves.
William the Conqueror being, says Camden, better affected to beasts than to men, imposed heavy fines and punishments on those that should meddle with his game. The Saxon Chronicle says he loved the tall deer as if he were their father. And rich Englishmen have followed his example, according to their ability, ever since, in encroaching on the tillage and commons with their game-preserves. It is a proverb in England that it is safer to shoot a man than a hare. The severity of the game-laws certainly indicates an extravagant sympathy of the nation with horses and hunters. The gentlemen are always on horseback, and have brought horses to an ideal perfection; the English racer is a factitious breed. A score or two of mounted gentlemen may frequently be seen running like centaurs down a hill nearly as steep as the roof of a house. Every inn-room is lined with pictures of races; telegraphs communicate, every hour, tidings of the heats from Newmarket and Ascot; and the House of Commons adjourns over the Derby Day.
Note 1. The Races, A Fragment, by Robert Knox, M. D., London, 1850; republished in fuller form in 1862: The Races of Men, A Philosophical Inquiry into the Influence of Races over the Destinies of Nations. [back]
Note 2. Charles Pickering, naturalist to the exploring expedition sent out by the United States in 1838, under Commodore Wilkes; author of Races of Man and works on the geographical distribution of animals and plants. [back]
Note 3. Mr. Emerson had read Lyell and heard of Lamarcks teachings through him and others, and on his second visit to England had taken great interest in the conversation of the men of science. That the imperative needs brought about by emigration, or other radical change of conditions, wrought variations in species, was the argument brought up by Lamarck against those who pointed to Egyptian sculpture as showing the absolute persistence of race-type in men and animals. The conditions in Egypt, being constant, did not provoke variation. [back]
Note 4. J. R. Green, in his Short History of the English People, says that even in the reign of Richard II. strikes and combinations became frequent among the lower craftsmen in the towns. [back]
Mr. Emerson took great interest in his pear orchard, which he set out soon after settling in Concord, and every morning in good weather, before going to his study, visited, to prune, watch for caterpillars and borers, or gather the fruit. He had Downings book on Fruits. A few pages in this gave him especial pleasure; namely, the account of the theory and successful experiments in the amelioration of fruits, by Dr. Van Mons, professor at Louvain in the Netherlands. All through Mr. Emersons works crop out allusions to this hopeful theory of Amelioration, to him symbolic. This theory, full of parables, might be thus stated in very condensed form: The aim of nature in the wild fruit-tree is only to produce a vigorous tree, and perfect seeds for continuing the species. The object of culture is to subdue excess of vegetation, lessen coarseness of tree, reduce size of seeds, and increase the pulp of the fruit. There is always a tendency of improved fruits to return by seeds to the wild state, especially in seeds borne by old fruit-trees, yet they never quite return. But the seeds of a young tree of a good sort, being itself in a state of amelioration, have the least tendency to retrograde, and are most likely to produce improved sorts. There is a limit to perfection in fruits. When this is reached, the next generation will more probably produce bad fruit than if raised from seeds of an indifferent sort in the course of amelioration. Seeds of the oldest good fruits usually produce inferior sorts; those from recent varieties of bad fruit, if reproduced uninterruptedly under good conditions for several generations, will certainly yield good fruit. Van Mons was constantly on the watch for trees in a state of variation for his experiments. In the fifth generation his seedlings mostly gave excellent fruit and bore in the third year. In 1823 Van Monss nurseries contained two thousand seedlings of merit. To his teachings and work should be credited a share in strengthening Mr. Emersons faith in Compensation and in Ascension. [back]
Note 6. La Nature aime les croisements is a quotation appearing in the journals. [back]
Note 7. In spite of his praise for Plato, argument was not only disagreeable to Mr. Emerson, but he felt that the heat engendered burned up the perception. Truth ceases to be truth when polemically stated, he said. [back]
Note 8. In his boyhood Mr. Emerson delighted in Ossian and later in the genuine remains of the British bards, Taliessin, Llewarch Hen, and the others. We are apt to think and speak of the Scotch as one people, but the difference is striking between the religion of the Saxon Lowlander, fanatically wedded to his Kirks dour dogma, and delighting in argumentative theology, and the Celtic Highlanders faith in Spirit, associated with wild, free Nature and almost ancestor-worship. [back]
Note 9. It was in the consulship of Cæcilius Metellus and Papirius Carbo, six hundred and forty years after the founding of Rome, that we first heard the clash of the Cimbrian arms. From that date, reckoning down to the second consulship of the Emperor Trajan, gives an interval of some two hundred and ten years. Our conquest of Germany is taking us a long time. And during the process we have had many hard blows in return. Not the Samnites, nor the Carthaginians, nor the Spaniards, nor the Gauls, nor even the Parthians themselves, have oftener given us a lesson. The freemen of Germany are more spirited antagonists than all the subjects of King Arsaces [From the Germania of Tacitus (xxxvii.), translated by R. B. Townshend, M. A. London, 1894.]. Tacitus then enumerates the disastrous defeats of Roman armies in Germany, ending with the crushing blow when Varus lost three legions, and thus ends: Nec impune Caius Marius in Italia, divus Julius in Gallia, Drusus ac Nero et Germanicus in suis eos sedibus perculerunt. [back]
Note 11. Heimskringla, or The Sea-Kings of Norway, translated and edited by Samuel Laing. London, 1844. [back]
Note 12. This story, one of those which Mr. Emerson liked to read to his children, is in Laings Sea-Kings of Norway, above mentioned. [back]
Note 13. Throughout English Traits it appears that Mr. Emerson had been carried along in the tide of historical reaction that set in in the first half of the century. The merits of the Anglo-Saxon then shone out after long eclipse by Norman glory,much as Cromwell damned to everlasting fame was established as the hero of England by Carlyle. The tendency of many books of that day showed a democratic recoil from aristocratic feudalism, and withal the dislike of France by English writers told to the disadvantage of the vikings who had really been much civilized by French residence. So, as was natural, the pendulum of opinion for the time went to the Saxon extreme. Yet with regard to the Saxon conquest of Britain, Tennysons picture
Last, a heathen horde,
Reddening the sky with fire and earth with blood,
And on the spear which pierced the mothers heart
Spitting the babe, brake over sea
is borne out by Freeman and Green in their histories, and the Norman Conquest was gentle and beneficent beside that of the exterminating Saxon. Freeman writes: The English wiped out everything Celtic and everything Roman . A more fearful blow never fell on any nation than the landing of the Angles and Saxons was to the Celt of Britain. But we may now be thankful for the barbarism and ferocity of our forefathers. Of the Norseman settled on the Seine he says: The Scandinavians in Gaul embraced the creed, the language and the manners of their French neighbors, without losing a whit of their old Scandinavian vigor and love of adventure. The people thus formed became the foremost apostles alike of French Chivalry and Latin Christianity . To free England he (the Norman) gave a line of tyrants . But to England he gave also a conquering nobility which in a few years became as truly English in England, as it had become French in Normandy . In a word, the indomitable vigor of the Scandinavian, joined to the buoyant vivacity of the Gaul, produced the conquering and ruling race of Europe. And yet that race, as a race, has vanished. It has everywhere been absorbed by the races which it has conquered. [back]
Note 14. In one of the lectures on England Mr. Emerson said: Then came the Gothic nations, Belgian, Saxon, Dane, Northman. The Emperor Charles V. said that all the nobility of Europe came out of Scandia and from the stock of the Goths. [back]
Note 15. Sir Samuel Romilly (17571818), of Huguenot descent, was solicitor-general under the Grenville administration in 1806. In Parliament he bravely advocated political reform, abolition of the slave trade, Catholic emancipation, and mitigation of the criminal code. The success of the last measure did not come until after his death by his own hand while suffering from melancholia. [back]
Note 16. Charles Reades story, It is Never too Late to Mend, was an important tract in arousing public attention in England to these outrages. It may be interesting to mention that one of Mr. Emersons friends and neighbors, John S. Keyes, sheriff of Middlesex, was greatly moved by this book, and gave copies of it to the officers of the county jail at East Cambridge. [back]
Note 17. I think this phrase was Lord Palmerstons, when asked how he could carry the load of care and labor that rested on him when he was Premier: By putting a solid bar of eight hours sleep between day and day. [back]
Note 18. In the Achievements of Cavalry by General Sir Evelyn Wood, V. C., G. C. B., etc., in which six brilliant actions of cavalry in Europe in the last hundred years are selected, two are credited to the English service: 1st, at Villars en Couchées in Brittany in 1793, the breaking of a square of French infantry protected by artillery and cavalry by the Fifteenth Light Dragoons; 2d, at Garcia Hernandez in the Peninsular War, where five British squadrons (but Hanoverians, of the Kings German Legion) attacked the rear guard of a French division, broke two squares, and captured a general and one thousand prisoners. The French commander praised the gallantry of their action in the highest terms, and the Duke of Wellington said he had never seen so gallant a charge. The English cavalry certainly distinguished themselves at the end of the day at Waterloo, and at Balaclava in the Crimea the superb courage and steadiness of Scarletts Heavy Brigade in the morning, and the unquestioning gallantry of the hopeless charge of the Light Brigade under Lord Cardigan in the afternoon, demonstrated the individual prowess and admirable discipline of the British cavalryman, even when ill managed. [back]