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The Estranging Sea
by [?]

Fear of a French invasion and the carefully nurtured detestation of the Papacy,–these two controlling influences must be held responsible for prejudices too deep to be fathomed, too strong to be overcome. “We do naturally hate the French,” observes Mr. Pepys, with genial candour; and this ordinary, everyday prejudice darkened into fury when Napoleon’s conquests menaced the world. Our school histories have taught us (it is the happy privilege of a school history to teach us many things which make no impression on our minds) that for ten years England apprehended a descent upon her shores; but we cannot realize what the apprehension meant, how it ate its way into the hearts of men, until we stumble upon some such paragraph as this, from a letter of Lord Jeffrey’s, written to Francis Horner in the winter of 1808: “For my honest impression is that Bonaparte will be in Dublin in about fifteen months, perhaps. And then, if I survive, I shall try to go to America.”

“If I survive!” What wonder that Jeffrey, who was a clear-headed, unimaginative man, cherished all his life a cold hostility to France? What wonder that the painter Haydon, who was highly imaginative and not in the least clear-headed, felt such hostility to be an essential part of patriotism? “In my day,” he writes in his journal, “boys were born, nursed, and grew up, hating and to hate the name of Frenchman.” He did hate it with all his heart, but then his earliest recollection–when he was but four years old–was seeing his mother lying on her sofa and crying bitterly. He crept up to her, puzzled and frightened, poor baby, and she sobbed out: “They have cut off the Queen of France’s head, my dear.” Such an ineffaceable recollection colours childhood and sets character. It is an education for life.

As for the Papacy,–well, years have softened but not destroyed England’s hereditary detestation of Rome. The easy tolerance of the American for any religion, or for all religions, or for no religion at all, is the natural outcome of a mixed nationality, and of a tolerably serene background. We have shed very little of our blood, or of our neighbour’s blood, for the faith that was in us, or in him; and, during the past half-century, forbearance has broadened into unconcern. Even the occasional refusal of a pastor to allow a cleric of another denomination to preach in his church, can hardly be deemed a violent form of persecution.

What American author, for example, can recall such childish memories as those which Mr. Edmund Gosse describes with illuminating candour in “Father and Son”? “We welcomed any social disorder in any part of Italy, as likely to be annoying to the Papacy. If there was a custom-house officer stabbed in a fracas at Sassari, we gave loud thanks that liberty and light were breaking in upon Sardinia.” What American scientist, taking a holiday in Italy, ever carried around with him such uncomfortable sensations as those described by Professor Huxley in some of his Roman letters? “I must have a strong strain of Puritan blood in me somewhere,” he writes to Sir John Donnelly, after a morning spent at Saint Peter’s, “for I am possessed with a desire to arise and slay the whole brood of idolaters, whenever I assist at one of these services.”

Save and except Miss Georgiana Podsnap’s faltering fancy for murdering her partners at a ball, this is the most bloodthirsty sentiment on record, and suggests but a limited enjoyment of a really beautiful service. Better the light-hearted unconcern of Mr. John Richard Green, the historian, who, albeit a clergyman of the Church of England, preferred going to the Church of Rome when Catholicism had an organ, and Protestantism, a harmonium. “The difference in truth between them doesn’t seem to me to make up for the difference in instruments.”

Mr. Lowell speaks somewhere of a “divine provincialism,” which expresses the sturdy sense of a nation, and is but ill replaced by a cosmopolitanism lacking in virtue and distinction. Perhaps this is England’s gift, and insures for her a solidarity which Americans lack. Ignoring or misunderstanding the standards of other races, she sets her own so high we needs must raise our eyes to consider them. Yet when Mr. Arnold scandalized his fellow countrymen by the frank confession that he found foreign life “liberating,” what did he mean but that he refused to