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PAGE 4

The Estranging Sea
by [?]

The same strenuous spirit impelled the English to express their sympathy for Captain Alfred Dreyfus by staying away from the Paris fair of 1900. The London press loudly boasted that Englishmen would not give the sanction of their presence to any undertaking of the French Government, and called attention again and again to their absence from the exhibition. I myself was asked a number of times in England whether this absence were a noticeable thing; but truth compelled me to admit that it was not. With Paris brimming over like a cup filled to the lip, with streets and fair-grounds thronged, with every hotel crowded and every cab engaged, and with twenty thousand of my own countrymen clamorously enlivening the scene, it was not possible to miss anybody anywhere. It obviously had not occurred to Americans to see any connection between the trial of Captain Dreyfus and their enjoyment of the most beautiful and brilliant thing that Europe had to give. The pretty adage, “Tout homme a deux pays: le sien et puis la France,” is truer of us than of any other people in the world. And we may as well pardon a nation her transgressions, if we cannot keep away from her shores.

England’s public utterances anent the United States are of the friendliest character. Her newspapers and magazines say flattering things about us. Her poet-laureate–unlike his great predecessor who unaffectedly detested us–began his official career by praising us with such fervour that we felt we ought in common honesty to tell him that we were nothing like so good as he thought us. An English text-book, published a few years ago, explains generously to the school-boys of Great Britain that the United States should not be looked upon as a foreign nation. “They are peopled by men of our blood and faith, enjoy in a great measure the same laws that we do, read the same Bible, and acknowledge, like us, the rule of King Shakespeare.”

All this is very pleasant, but the fact remains that Englishmen express surprise and pain at our most innocent idiosyncrasies. They correct our pronunciation and our misuse of words. They regret our nomadic habits, our shrill voices, our troublesome children, our inability to climb mountains or “do a little glacier work” (it sounds like embroidery, but means scrambling perilously over ice), our taste for unwholesome–or, in other words, seasoned–food. When I am reproved by English acquaintances for the “Americanisms” which disfigure my speech and proclaim my nationality, I cannot well defend myself by asserting that I read the same Bible as they do,–for maybe, after all, I don’t.

The tenacity with which English residents on the Continent cling to the customs and traditions of their own country is pathetic in its loyalty and in its misconceptions. Their scheme of life does not permit a single foreign observance, their range of sympathies seldom includes a single foreign ideal. “An Englishman’s happiness,” says M. Taine, “consists in being at home at six in the evening, with a pleasing, attached wife, four or five children, and respectful domestics.” This is a very good notion of happiness, no fault can be found with it, and something on the same order, though less perfect in detail, is highly prized and commended in America. But it does not embrace every avenue of delight. The Frenchman who seems never to go home, who seldom has a large family, whose wife is often his business partner and helpmate, and whose servants are friendly allies rather than automatic menials, enjoys life also, and with some degree of intelligence. He may be pardoned for resenting the attitude of English exiles, who, driven from their own country by the harshness of the climate, or the cruel cost of living, never cease to deplore the unaccountable foreignness of foreigners. “Our social tariff amounts to prohibition,” said a witty Englishman in France. “Exchange of ideas takes place only at the extreme point of necessity.”