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The Estranging Sea
by [?]

It is not under such conditions that any nation gives its best to strangers. It is not to the affronted soul that the charm of the unfamiliar makes its sweet and powerful appeal. Lord Byron was furious when one of his countrywomen called Chamonix “rural”; yet, after all, the poor creature was giving the scenery what praise she understood. The Englishman who complained that he could not look out of his window in Rome without seeing the sun, had a legitimate grievance (we all know what it is to sigh for grey skies, and for the unutterable rest they bring); but if we want Rome, we must take her sunshine, along with her beggars and her Church. Accepted sympathetically, they need not mar our infinite content.

There is a wonderful sentence in Mrs. Humphry Ward’s “Marriage of William Ashe,” which subtly and strongly protests against the blight of mental isolation. Lady Kitty Bristol is reciting Corneille in Lady Grosville’s drawing-room. “Her audience,” says Mrs. Ward, “looked on at first with the embarrassed or hostile air which is the Englishman’s natural protection against the great things of art.” To write a sentence at once so caustic and so flawless is to triumph over the limitations of language. The reproach seems a strange one to hurl at a nation which has produced the noblest literature of the world since the light of Greece waned; but we must remember that distinction of mind, as Mrs. Ward understands it, and as it was understood by Mr. Arnold, is necessarily allied with a knowledge of French arts and letters, and with some insight into the qualities which clarify French conversation. “Divine provincialism” had no halo for the man who wrote “Friendship’s Garland.” He regarded it with an impatience akin to mistrust, and bordering upon fear. Perhaps the final word was spoken long ago by a writer whose place in literature is so high that few aspire to read him. England was severing her sympathies sharply from much which she had held in common with the rest of Europe, when Dryden wrote: “They who would combat general authority with particular opinion must first establish themselves a reputation of understanding better than other men.”