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CHAPTER I The Proposition
“And what, prithee, hath overtaken Guy?”

“Guy—why Guy diced and drabbed and ruffled away his inheritance, and to save his neck took shipping for the tobacco plantations where, they say, he married a daughter of Lo, the poor Indian, and none hath since heard of him.”

This is the kind of talk that one could hear in the clubs of London a matter of, say, two hundred and fifty years ago. In plain terms, Guy, poor devil, being a wastrel,—and a broken wastrel at that—had betaken himself to America, there probably to found one of the “fine old Virginia families” of which American writers, and particularly American fictional writers, are so prone to babble.

America, of course, was really started not by the Indians or Columbus, but by the Pilgrim Fathers, assisted and backed up by several cargoes of blue-brained and cleverblooded spirits from the British Isles, whose minds were full of theology and whose souls were full of tea. I shall be told that it is unkind of me to make such remarks.

But, quite apart from all questions of[8] kindness, it is desirable that you know something of the antecedents of a man before you set about a proper estimate of him. If you wish to understand him thoroughly, you must never let sleeping dogs lie nor allow bygones to be bygones. It is notorious that the average frantic Fourth of July American is an adept at showing the best side of himself and his institutions to an admiring world. If you are to believe him the first American was Christopher Columbus, whose name in this connection I had hoped not to mention. But Don Columbus made the mistake of “discovering America.” For the accomplishment of this feat the Americans bestow upon his memory unqualified p?ans. Really, of course, the fact that Columbus steered his leaky lugger desperately for Coney Island and Long Branch, when he had the rest of the world—including China and Gozo—before him where to choose, proves that so far from being a hero and a man of genius, he was a dull and evilly disposed person.

According to the bumptious, khaki-tinted gentleman from Indiana too, the Pilgrim Fathers already referred to were high-minded, blameless, and entirely disinterested saints, incapable of hurting a fly or causing butter to melt north of the colour line. They “inaugurated[9] America for conscience sake, sir, and you can bet your pile that I am proud to have them for ancestors.” In which connection I shall pass no rude observation, contenting myself rather with the hint that the reader who wishes to acquaint himself with the true inwardness of the Pilgrim Fathers and their doings in America should look up some of the serious literature on the subject. The Americans, be it noted, read that literature very privately, and neither in the basket nor in the store.

I might proceed indefinitely on these lines of disillusion for Master Phineas B. Flubdub; but as it is not my particular business to amuse him inordinately, I shall desist.

In Europe, or at any rate in England, there is a disposition on the part of the sandblind to look upon the United States and the people who dwell in them with an eye of amused wonderment, as well as admiration. For reasons that are not difficult to appreciate America has never been taken quite seriously by the superior European. In spite of all her boasting and shouting, in spite of her e-normous population and her equally e-normous wealth, in spite of the fact that there is a U.S. Army and a U.S. Navy that can lick creation, and that the U.S. also boasts of a reeking,[10] shrieking press, together with the most gaudy and scintillating “Courts of Justice” that ever delighted civilisation, no person in Europe believes in the back of his mind that the land of hustle and bluff is a nation of any weight where nations count, or that she is capable of exercising the smallest direct or indirect influence upon the manners, customs, tendencies, or destiny of haughty feudal Europe.

The Americans are hot stuff. They go in for cut-throat finance and lime-light lynchings, their swindles are beautiful, their fortunes colossal, and their corruption is picturesque. They have a wonderful country. It is theirs and not ours, and they are welcome to do as they like in it. They can never hurt us. Knowing this, the Englishman sleeps snugly of nights, and when he meets a “Yank” in London or on the Riviera or in Paris, he smiles to himself, professes to be tickled, tolerates him if there be occasion for it, grapples him to his bosom with hooks of steel if there is money in it, and parts from him pretty much in the mood of a man who has been inspecting a new motor car.

And, truth to tell, in the guileless, sight-seeing, rush-about American whom the Englishman encounters on his own midden, there does not appear to be anything[11] which is either very outrageous or very formidable. All you see of him is a somewhat undersized, loosely built human biped, with a fat jowl, straight hair, a nobby suit, a little round white or brown felt hat—and a guide-book. Of course, there is also the smart swagger American, accompanied by a feminine entourage of peaches and dreams. But usually your man from Yankeeland has with him a plain, up-and-down, sad sort of woman who might have stepped out of Noah’s ark—and that is the end of it. When he engages you in conversation, which he commonly insists upon doing, he blows foolishly about his own Country, admits that yours “hez the bulge in antiques,” says that he is glad that he came over, and sticking out his finger in the direction of the woman, remarks: “This is Mrs. Sarah B. Gazabo, my wife.” The real “insides” of the man never strike you, partly because you are busy loathing his accent and admiring his ginger, and partly because he has left his vital concerns, his private essence and sheer Americanisms “way back to hum.” All Americans imported for us by Thos. Cook & Son and his imitators are of this order. For them England is a place in which to tread softly and speak low, or at any rate as low as possible. They visit us in the same spirit that a prize-fighter[12] might visit a cemetery, and though the casual observer would scarcely suspect it, their intention is to be subdued, sober, decorous, and civil.

Eight times out of nine the American is a fine specimen of a manly man, but it is the ninth that is such a wonder. We, the obtuse and effete people of Great Britain, now and again wake up suddenly to the circumstance that we have been the victims of an American invasion. Such a ghastly conviction may at any moment overtake the best of us, for no class of society knows whose turn is likely to be next. There was an American invasion of the turf a year or two back, and English sport is sore and poor about it to this day. There have been sundry social invasions which those most directly concerned find it difficult to forget, and at the present moment we are in the thick of a theatrical invasion which is not doing us an appreciable amount of good. The fact of these invasions and of their always unpleasant consequences so far as the invaded are involved is, in my judgment, a fact of the most serious import to Englishmen.

I shall for a moment drop the American as he seems to be, and regard him as he actually is. What can one record of him that is to his credit? Imprimus: He[13] has devoted three hundred years more or less to the frantic and bloodthirsty pursuit of the Almighty Dollar. Item: During those three hundred years more or less he has done absolutely nothing but pursue dollars. Item: He is still pursuing them. Item: But he makes the best husband in the world, and places woman in the high place to which she is so amply entitled. I will put so much to the credit side, though I make no doubt that there are people in the world who will find themselves unable to commend me for doing it.

Now for the obverse or discredit side. I shall ask you to note:

(1) That the Americans are the only nation who are ruled by a bureaucracy of millionaires and at the same time croon themselves into a state of vacuous coma to the touching strains of “vox populi, vox dei!”

(2) That they are the originators of the yelling yellow press, the pioneers of the New Humour and the apostles of the New Pathos.

(3) That they are the only civilised people who make a point of exporting the finest specimens of their womankind to foreign countries, included[14] in a consignment of cold dollars calculated pro rata with the antiquity, decay and general worthlessness of the name which the former take in exchange.

(4) That having inherited, borrowed or stolen a beautiful language, they wilfully and of set purpose degrade, distort and misspell it apparently for the sole purpose of saving money in type-setting.

(5) That out of twenty-six Presidents of the United States, three have met death at the hands of the assassin.[1]

(6) That having by sheer accident or because of the care and forethought, which Providence has for fools, become possessed of a President who is a man among men and a ninety horse-power statesman with direct drive on all speeds, they allow him to be handicapped by a spectacular gang of undesirable citizens.

(7) That they consider no function, public or private, sacred or profane, to be complete without a newspaper correspondent, a lime-light photographer, and a sky-sign contractor.

[15]

(8) That willingly and of their own unfettered volition they have thrown back to the customs of their aboriginal ancestors in the matter of diet, which diet is rapidly reducing them morally, physically and intellectually to the level of primordial protoplasms.

(9) That they are the only nation who in civilised times rate noise above all else, save dollars, and who in their theatres acclaim as the greatest actor or play the one that in the shortest time makes the greatest uproar for the smallest reason.

(10) That they have resolved their sports and pastimes into business propositions in which the avowed aim and object of every competitor is the utter destruction of his opponent by any means that can be found, devised or conceived.

(11) That they are the only nation who in civilised times have been happy and content to sink their individuality in an all pervading and evil smelling atmosphere of hog and by-products.

The foregoing are merely a few of the main counts in the indictment. Behind every one of them lies a history of gaiety, graft, dyspepsia, bossism, fakery,[16] flamboyancy, hysteria, vociferation brain storms and dementia Americana of the most disconcerting and entertaining kind. The details are on record, and I do not propose to harrow the reader’s feelings with examples of them. I shall suggest simply that it is questionable whether any other known race of men, white or black, has managed to pack into three centuries such a volume of unthinkable excitement and picturesque iniquity as can be rightfully and without exaggeration laid at the door of these abounding Americans.

A certain Western city has been described by a friendly visitor as “hell with the lid off.” For the greater part of her existence as a nation that description might with justice have been applied to all America, and I am by no means sure that it is not still applicable. It would seem that under the inspiring ?gis of the much-vaunted American constitution the whole of the vices of civilised man have become grossly and incredibly intensified. For unscrupulousness, insincerity, cynicism, and the pure worship of mammon the United States stands without rival among the nations to-day.

I believe the man lied who said there is not an institution in the country—political,[17] social, economic or even religious—that is not based on a species of ingrained rottenness and not infested with the worm of corruption and the scrawl of scandal. But there is no national aspiration that does not have at the back of it the root idea that the sole duty of an American man is to get rich and to get rich quick. There are few standards of American life that are not gold standards and few kinds of American effort that are not directed towards the rapid acquisition of other people’s money.

It can be proved out of the history books that, broadly speaking, your average American is a nondescript and nefarious hybrid composed of three parts promoter, three parts missionary, three parts slave-driver, and one part Indian. On this unsavoury soil the worst passions of the soaring human animal have grown and run hoggishly to seed. Out of such blood nothing that is honest or of good report could be expected to rise. And when we in England, as has been the tendency in the past few years, condescend to the adoption of American methods and American notions, and applaud rather than rebuke American smartness and American impudence, there can be no question whatever that we are on the[18] toboggan. The gradual Americanisation of this grand old country is not only flattering to American vanity, but gratifying to American greed. As I shall presently show, America has no more love for England than would easily cover a threepenny-bit, and her insatiable cry is for markets, markets, markets—a howl in which she is dulcetly supported by her dear friend Germany. The causes for alarm in so far as they affect the larger concrete issues are as yet comparatively slight. But it behoves every Englishman to meditate on the possibility that Macaulay’s New Zealander may in the long run turn out to be an American.

[1] This is a greater percentage than has obtained in the case of the Czars of Russia, and in America there are no Nihilists or at any rate none who are actively opposed to the American Presidency.


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