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The English Volunteers During The Late Invasion
by [?]

The most painful event since the bombardment of Alexandria has been what is called by an English writer the “invasion” of “American Literature in England.” The hostile forces, with an advanced guard of what was regarded as an “awkward squad,” had been gradually effecting a landing and a lodgment not unwelcome to the unsuspicious natives. No alarm was taken when they threw out a skirmish-line of magazines and began to deploy an occasional wild poet, who advanced in buckskin leggings, revolver in hand, or a stray sharp-shooting sketcher clad in the picturesque robes of the sunset. Put when the main body of American novelists got fairly ashore and into position the literary militia of the island rose up as one man, with the strength of a thousand, to repel the invaders and sweep them back across the Atlantic. The spectacle had a dramatic interest. The invaders were not numerous, did not carry their native tomahawks, they had been careful to wash off the frightful paint with which they usually go into action, they did not utter the defiant whoop of Pogram, and even the militia regarded them as on the whole “amusin’ young ‘possums” and yet all the resources of modern and ancient warfare were brought to bear upon them. There was a crack of revolvers from the daily press, a lively fusillade of small-arms in the astonished weeklies, a discharge of point-blank blunderbusses from the monthlies; and some of the heavy quarterlies loaded up the old pieces of ordnance, that had not been charged in forty years, with slugs and brickbats and junk-bottles, and poured in raking broadsides. The effect on the island was something tremendous: it shook and trembled, and was almost hidden in the smoke of the conflict. What the effect is upon the invaders it is too soon to determine. If any of them survive, it will be God’s mercy to his weak and innocent children.

It must be said that the American people–such of them as were aware of this uprising–took the punishment of their presumption in a sweet and forgiving spirit. If they did not feel that they deserved it, they regarded it as a valuable contribution to the study of sociology and race characteristics, in which they have taken a lively interest of late. We know how it is ourselves, they said; we used to be thin-skinned and self-conscious and sensitive. We used to wince and cringe under English criticism, and try to strike back in a blind fury. We have learned that criticism is good for us, and we are grateful for it from any source. We have learned that English criticism is dictated by love for us, by a warm interest in our intellectual development, just as English anxiety about our revenue laws is based upon a yearning that our down-trodden millions shall enjoy the benefits of free-trade. We did not understand why a country that admits our beef and grain and cheese should seem to seek protection against a literary product which is brought into competition with one of the great British staples, the modern novel. It seemed inconsistent. But we are no more consistent ourselves. We cannot understand the action of our own Congress, which protects the American author by a round duty on foreign books and refuses to protect him by granting a foreign copyright; or, to put it in another way, is willing to steal the brains of the foreign author under the plea of free knowledge, but taxes free knowledge in another form. We have no defense to make of the state of international copyright, though we appreciate the complication of the matter in the conflicting interests of English and American publishers.

Yes; we must insist that, under the circumstances, the American people have borne this outburst of English criticism in an admirable spirit. It was as unexpected as it was sudden. Now, for many years our international relations have been uncommonly smooth, oiled every few days by complimentary banquet speeches, and sweetened by abundance of magazine and newspaper “taffy.” Something too much of “taffy” we have thought was given us at times for, in getting bigger in various ways, we have grown more modest. Though our English admirers may not believe it, we see our own faults more clearly than we once did–thanks, partly, to the faithful castigations of our friends–and we sometimes find it difficult to conceal our blushes when we are over-praised. We fancied that we were going on, as an English writer on “Down-Easters” used to say, as “slick as ile,” when this miniature tempest suddenly burst out in a revival of the language and methods used in the redoubtable old English periodicals forty years ago. We were interested in seeing how exactly this sort of criticism that slew our literary fathers was revived now for the execution of their degenerate children. And yet it was not exactly the same. We used to call it “slang-whanging.” One form of it was a blank surprise at the pretensions of American authors, and a dismissal with the formula of previous ignorance of their existence. This is modified now by a modest expression of “discomfiture” on reading of American authors “whose very names, much less peculiarities, we never heard of before.” This is a tribunal from which there is no appeal. Not to have been heard of by an Englishman is next door to annihilation. It is at least discouraging to an author who may think he has gained some reputation over what is now conceded to be a considerable portion of the earth’s surface, to be cast into total obscurity by the negative damnation of English ignorance. There is to us something pathetic in this and in the surprise of the English critic, that there can be any standard of respectable achievement outside of a seven-miles radius turning on Charing Cross.