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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesHome As Found - Chapter 25
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Home As Found - Chapter 25 Post by :RichHope Category :Long Stories Author :James Fenimore Cooper Date :May 2012 Read :3193

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Home As Found - Chapter 25

Chapter XXV

"To show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time, his form and pressure."

SHAKSPEARE.

When Mrs. Bloomfield entered the drawing-room, she found nearly the whole party assembled. The Fun of Fire had ceased, and the rockets no longer gleamed athwart the sky; but the blaze of artificial light within, was more than a substitute for that which had so lately existed without.

Mr. Effingham and Paul were conversing by themselves, in a window- seat, while John Effingham, Mrs. Hawker, and Mr. Howel were in an animated discussion on a sofa; Mr. Wenham had also joined the party, and was occupied with Captain Ducie, though not so much so as to prevent occasional glances at the trio just mentioned. Sir George Templemore and Grace Van Cortlandt were walking together in the great hall, and were visible through the open door, as they passed and repassed.

"I am glad of your appearance among us, Mrs. Bloomfield," said John Effingham, "for, certainly more Anglo-mania never existed than that which my good friend Howel manifests this evening, and I have hopes that your eloquence may persuade him out of some of those notions, on which my logic has fallen like seed scattered by the way-side."

"I can have little hopes of success where Mr. John Effingham has failed."

"I am far from being certain of that; for, somehow Howel has taken up the notion that I have gotten a grudge against England, and he listens to all I say with distrust and distaste."

"Mr. John uses strong language habitually, ma'am," cried Mr. Howel, "and you will make some allowances for a vocabulary that has no very mild terms in it; though, to be frank, I do confess that he seems prejudiced on the subject of that great nation."

"What is the point in immediate controversy, gentlemen?" asked Mrs. Bloomfield, taking a seat.

"Why here is a review of a late American work, ma'am, and I insist that the author is skinned alive, whereas, Mr. John insists that the reviewer exposes only his own rage, the work having a national character, and running counter to the reviewer's feelings and interests."

"Nay, I protest against this statement of the case, for I affirm that the reviewer exposes a great deal more than his rage, since his imbecility, ignorance, and dishonesty, are quite as apparent as any thing else."

"I have read the article," said Mrs. Bloomfield, after glancing her eye at the periodical, "and I must say that I take sides with Mr. John Effingham in his opinion of its character."

"But do you not perceive, ma'am, that this is the idol of the nobility and gentry; the work that is more in favour with people of consequence in England than any other. Bishops are said to write for it!"

"I know it is a work expressly established to sustain one of the most factitious political systems that ever existed, and that it sacrifices every high quality to attain its end."

"Mrs. Bloomfield, you amaze me! The first writers of Great Britain figure in its pages."

"That I much question, in the first place; but even if it were so, it would be but a shallow mystification. Although a man of character might write one article in a work of this nature, it does not follow that a man of no character does not write the next. The principles of the communications of a periodical are as different as their talents."

"But the editor is a pledge for all.--The editor of this review is an eminent writer himself."

"An eminent writer may be a very great knave, in the first place, and one fact is worth a thousand conjectures in such a matter. But we do not know that there is any responsible editor to works of this nature at all, for there is no name given in the title-page, and nothing is more common than vague declarations of a want of this very responsibility. But if I can prove to you that this article _cannot have been written by a man of common honesty, Mr. Howel, what will you then say to the responsibility of your editor?"

"In that case I shall be compelled to admit that he had no connexion with it."

"Any thing in preference to giving up the beloved idol!" said John Effingham laughing. "Why not add at once, that he is as great a knave as the writer himself? I am glad, however, that Tom Howel has fallen into such good hands, Mrs. Bloomfield, and I devoutly pray you may not spare him."

We have said that Mrs. Bloomfield had a rapid perception of things and principles, that amounted almost to intuition. She had read the article in question, and, as she glanced her eyes through its pages, had detected its fallacies and falsehoods, in almost every sentence. Indeed, they had not been put together with ordinary skill, the writer having evidently presumed on the easiness of the class of readers who generally swallowed his round assertions, and were so clumsily done that any one who had not the faith to move mountains would have seen through most of them without difficulty. But Mr. Howel belonged to another school, and he was so much accustomed to shut his eyes to palpable mystification mentioned by Mrs. Bloomfield, that a lie, which, advanced in most works, would have carried no weight with it, advanced in this particular periodical became elevated to the dignity of truth.

Mrs. Bloomfield turned to an article on America, in the periodical in question, and read from it several disparaging expressions concerning Mr. Howel's native country, one of which was, "The American's first plaything is the rattle-snake's tail."

"Now, what do you think of this assertion in particular, Mr. Howel?" she asked, reading the words we have just quoted.

"Oh! that is said in mere pleasantry--it is only wit."

"Well, then, what do you think of it as wit?"

"Well, well, it may not be of a very pure water, but the best of men are unequal at all times, and more especially in their wit."

"Here," continued Mrs. Bloomfield, pointing to another paragraph, "is a positive statement or misstatement, which makes the cost of the 'civil department of the United States Government,' about six times more than it really is."

"Our government is so extremely mean, that I ascribe that error to generosity."

"Well," continued the lady, smiling, "here the reviewer asserts that Congress passed a law _limiting the size of certain ships, in order to please the democracy; and that the Executive privately evaded this law, and built vessels of a much greater size; whereas the provision of the law is just the contrary, or that the ships should not be _less than of seventy-four guns; a piece of information, by the way, that I obtained from Mr. Powis."

"Ignorance, ma'am; a stranger cannot be supposed to know all the laws of a foreign country."

"Then why make bold and false assertions about them, that are intended to discredit the country? Here is another assertion--'ten thousand of the men that fought at Waterloo would have marched through North America?' Do you believe that, Mr. Howel?"

"But that is merely an opinion, Mrs. Bloomfield; any man may be wrong in his opinion."

"Very true, but it is an opinion uttered in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-eight; and after the battles of Bunker Hill, Cowpens, Plattsburg, Saratoga, and New-Orleans! And, moreover, after it had been proved that something very like ten thousand of the identical men who fought at Waterloo, could not march even ten miles into the country."

"Well, well, all this shows that the reviewer is sometimes mistaken."

"Your pardon Mr. Howel; I think it shows, according to your own admission, that his wit, or rather its wit, for there is no _his about it--that its wit is of a very indifferent quality as witticisms even; that it is ignorant of what it pretends to know; and that its opinions are no better than its knowledge: all of which, when fairly established against one who, by his very pursuit, professes to know more than other people, is very much like making it appear contemptible."

"This is going back eight or ten years--let us look more particularly at the article about which the discussion commences."

"_Volontiers_"

Mrs. Bloomfield now sent to the library for the work reviewed, and opening the review she read some of its strictures; and then turning to the corresponding passages in the work itself, she pointed out the unfairness of the quotations, the omissions of the context, and, in several flagrant instances, witticisms of the reviewer, that were purchased at the expense of the English language. She next showed several of those audacious assertions, for which the particular periodical was so remarkable, leaving no doubt with any candid person, that they were purchased at the expense of truth.

"But here is an instance that will scarce admit of cavilling or objection on your part, Mr. Howel," she continued; "do me the favour to read the passage in the review."

Mr. Howel complied, and when he had done, he looked expectingly at the lady.

"The effect of the reviewer's statement is to make it appear that the author has contradicted himself, is it not?"

"Certainly, nothing can be plainer."

"According to your favourite reviewer, who accuses him of it, in terms. Now let us look at the fact. Here is the passage in the work itself. In the first place you will remark that this sentence, which contains the alleged contradiction, is mutilated; the part which is omitted, giving a directly contrary meaning to it, from that it bears under the reviewer's scissors."

"It has some such appearance, I do confess."

"Here you perceive that the closing sentence of the same paragraph, and which refers directly to the point at issue, is displaced, made to appear as belonging to a separate paragraph, and as conveying a different meaning from what the author has actually expressed."

"Upon my word, I do not know but you are right!"

"Well, Mr. Howel, we have had wit of no very pure water, ignorance as relates to facts, and mistakes as regards very positive assertions. In what category, as Captain Truck would say, do you place this?"

"Why does not the author reviewed expose this?"

"Why does not a gentleman wrangle with a detected pick-pocket?"

"It is literary swindling," said John Effingham, "and the man who did it, is inherently a knave."

"I think both these facts quite beyond dispute," observed Mrs. Bloomfield, laying down Mr. Howel's favourite review with an air of cool contempt; "and I must say I did not think it necessary to prove the general character of the work, at this late date, to any American of ordinary intelligence; much less to a sensible man, like Mr. Howel."

"But, ma'am, there may be much truth and justice in the rest of its remarks," returned the pertinacious Mr. Howel, "although it has fallen into these mistakes."

"Were you ever on a jury, Howel?" asked John Effingham, in his caustic manner.

"Often; and on grand juries, too."

"Well, did the judge never tell you, when a witness is detected in lying on one point, that his testimony is valueless on all others?"

"Very true; but this is a review, and not testimony."

"The distinction is certainly a very good one," resumed Mrs. Bloomfield, laughing, "as nothing, in general, can be less like honest testimony than a review!"

"But I think, my dear ma'am, you will allow that all this is excessively biting and severe--I can't say I ever read any thing sharper in my life."

"It strikes me, Mr. Howel, as being nothing but epithets, the cheapest and most contemptible of all species of abuse. Were two men, in your presence, to call each other such names, I think it would excite nothing but disgust in your mind. When the thought is clear and poignant, there is little need to have recourse to mere epithets; indeed, men never use the latter, except when there is a deficiency of the first."

"Well, well, my friends," cried Mr. Howel, as he walked away towards Grace and Sir George, "this is a different thing from what I at first thought it, but still I think you undervalue the periodical."

"I hope this little lesson will cool some of Mr. Howel's faith in foreign morality," observed Mrs. Bloomfield, as soon as the gentleman named was out of hearing; "a more credulous and devout worshipper of the idol, I have never before met."

"The school is diminishing, but it is still large. Men like Tom Howel, who have thought in one direction all their lives, are not easily brought to change their notions, especially when the admiration which proceeds from distance, distance 'that lends enchantment to the view,' is at the bottom of their faith. Had this very article been written and printed round the corner of the street in which he lives, Howel would be the first to say that it was the production of a fellow without talents or principles, and was unworthy of a second thought."

"I still think he will be a wiser, if not a better man, by the exposure of its frauds."

"Not he. If you will excuse a homely and a coarse simile, 'he will return like a dog to his vomit, or the sow to its wallowing in the mire.' I never knew one of that school thoroughly cured, until he became himself the subject of attack, or, by a close personal communication, was made to feel the superciliousness of European superiority. It is only a week since I had a discussion with him on the subject of the humanity and the relish for liberty in his beloved model; and when I cited the instance of the employment of the tomahawk, in the wars between England and this country, he actually affirmed that the Indian savages killed no women and children, but the wives and offspring of their enemies; and when I told him that the English, like most other people, cared very little for any liberty but their own, he coolly affirmed that their own was the only liberty worth caring for!"

"Oh yes," put in young Mr. Wenham, who had overheard the latter portion of the conversation, "Mr. Howel is so thoroughly English, that he actually denies that America is the most civilized country in the world, or that we speak our language better than any nation was ever before known to speak its own language."

"This is so manifest an act of treason," said Mrs. Bloomfield, endeavouring to look grave, for Mr. Wenham was any thing but accurate in the use of words himself, commonly pronouncing "been," "ben," "does," "dooze," "nothing," "nawthing," "few," "foo," &c. &c. &c., "that, certainly, Mr. Howel should be arraigned at the bar of public opinion for the outrage."

"It is commonly admitted, even by our enemies, that our mode of speaking is the very best in the world, which, I suppose, is the real reason why our literature has so rapidly reached the top of the ladder."

"And is that the fact?" asked Mrs. Bloomfield, with a curiosity that was not in the least feigned.

"I believe no one denies _that. You will sustain me in this, I fancy, Mr. Dodge?"

The editor of the Active Inquirer had approached, and was just in time to catch the subject in discussion. Now the modes of speech of these two persons, while they had a great deal in common, had also a great deal that was not in common. Mr. Wenham was a native of New- York, and his dialect was a mixture that is getting to be sufficiently general, partaking equally of the Doric of New England, the Dutch cross, and the old English root; whereas, Mr. Dodge spoke the pure, unalloyed Tuscan of his province, rigidly adhering to all its sounds and significations. "Dissipation," he contended, meant "drunkenness;" "ugly," "vicious;" "clever," "good-natured;" and "humbly," (homely) "ugly." In addition to this finesse in significations, he had a variety of pronunciations that often put strangers at fault, and to which he adhered with a pertinacity that obtained some of its force from the fact, that it exceeded his power to get rid of them. Notwithstanding all these little peculiarities, peculiarities as respects every one but those who dwelt in his own province, Mr. Dodge had also taken up the notion of his superiority on the subject of language, and always treated the matter as one that was placed quite beyond dispute, by its publicity and truth.

"The progress of American Literature," returned the editor, "is really astonishing the four quarters of the world. I believe it is very generally admitted, now, that our pulpit and bar are at the very summit of these two professions. Then we have much the best poets of the age, while eleven of our novelists surpass any of all other countries. The American Philosophical Society is, I believe, generally considered the most acute learned body now extant, unless, indeed, the New-York Historical Society may compete with it, for that honour. Some persons give the palm to one, and some to the other; though I myself think it would be difficult to decide between them. Then to what a pass has the drama risen of late years! Genius is getting to be quite a drug in America!"

"You have forgotten to speak of the press, in particular," put in the complacent Mr. Wenham. "I think we may more safely pride ourselves on the high character of the press, than any thing else."

"Why, to tell you the truth, sir," answered Steadfast, taking the other by the arm, and leading him so slowly away, that a part of what followed was heard by the two amused listeners, "modesty is so infallibly the companion of merit, that _we who are engaged in that high pursuit do not like to say any thing in our own favour. You never detect a newspaper in the weakness of extolling itself; but, between ourselves, I may say, after a close examination of the condition of the press in other countries, I have come to the conclusion, that, for talents, taste, candour, philosophy, genius, honesty, and truth, the press of the United States stands at the very----"

Here Mr. Dodge passed so far from the listeners, that the rest of the speech became inaudible, though from the well-established modesty of the man and the editor, there can be little doubt of the manner in which he concluded the sentence.

"It is said in Europe," observed Johr Effingham, his fine face expressing the cool sarcasm in which he was so apt to indulge, "that there are _la vieille and _la Jeune France_. I think we have now had pretty fair specimens of _old and _young America; the first distrusting every thing native, even to a potatoe: and the second distrusting nothing, and least of all, itself."

"There appears to be a sort of pendulum-uneasiness in mankind," said Mrs. Bloomfield, "that keeps opinion always vibrating around the centre of truth, for I think it the rarest thing in the world to find man or woman who has not a disposition, as soon as an error is abandoned, to fly off into its opposite extreme. From believing we had nothing worthy of a thought, there is a set springing up who appear to have jumped to the conclusion that we have every thing."

"Ay, this is _one of the reasons that all the rest of the world laugh at us."

"Laugh at us, Mr. Effingham! Even _I had supposed the American name had, at last, got to be in good credit in other parts of the world."

"Then even _you_, my dear Mrs. Bloomfield, are notably mistaken. Europe, it is true, is beginning to give us credit for not being quite as bad as she once thought us; but we are far, very far, from being yet admitted to the ordinary level of nations, as respects goodness."

"Surely they give us credit for energy, enterprize, activity----"

"Qualities that they prettily term, rapacity, cunning, and swindling! I am far, very far, however, from giving credit to all that it suits the interests and prejudices of Europe, especially of our venerable kinswoman, Old England, to circulate and think to the prejudice of this country, which, in my poor judgment, has as much substantial merit to boast of as any nation on earth; though, in getting rid of a set of ancient vices and follies, it has not had the sagacity to discover that it is fast falling into pretty tolerable--or if you like it better--intolerable substitutes."

"What then do _you deem our greatest error--our weakest point?"

"Provincialisms, with their train of narrow prejudices, and a disposition to set up mediocrity as perfection, under the double influence of an ignorance that unavoidably arises from a want of models, and of the irresistible tendency to mediocrity, in a nation where the common mind so imperiously rules."

"But does not the common mind rule every where? Is not public opinion always stronger than law?"

"In a certain sense, both these positions may be true. But in a nation like this, without a capital, one _that is all provinces_, in which intelligence and tastes are scattered, this common mind wants the usual direction, and derives its impulses from the force of numbers, rather than from the force of knowledge. Hence the fact, that the public opinion never or seldom rises to absolute truth. I grant you that _as a mediocrity, it is well; much better than common even; but it is still a mediocrity."

"I see the justice of your remark, and I suppose we are to ascribe the general use of superlatives, which is so very obvious, to these causes."

"Unquestionably; men have gotten to be afraid to speak the truth, when that truth is a little beyond the common comprehension; and thus it is that you see the fulsome flattery that all the public servants, as they call themselves, resort to, in order to increase their popularity, instead of telling the wholesome facts that are needed."

"And what is to be the result?"

"Heaven knows. While America is so much in advance of other nations, in a freedom from prejudices of the old school, it is fast substituting a set of prejudices of its own, that are not without serious dangers. We may live through it, and the ills of society may correct themselves, though there is one fact that men aces more evil than any thing I could have feared."

"You mean the political struggle between money and numbers, that has so seriously manifested itself of late!" exclaimed the quick-minded and intelligent Mrs. Bloomfield.

"_That has its dangers; but there is still another evil of greater magnitude. I allude to the very general disposition to confine political discussions to political men. Thus, the private citizen, who should presume to discuss a political question, would be deemed fair game for all who thought differently from himself. He would be injured in his pocket, reputation, domestic happiness, if possible; for, in this respect, America is much the most intolerant nation I have ever visited. In all other countries, in which discussion is permitted at all, there is at least the _appearance of fair play, whatever may be done covertly; but here, it seems to be sufficient to justify falsehood, frauds, nay, barefaced rascality, to establish that the injured party has had the audacity to meddle with public questions, not being what the public chooses to call a public man. It is scarcely necessary to say that, when such an opinion gets to be effective, it must entirely defeat the real intentions of a popular government."

"Now you mention it," said Mrs. Bloomfield, "I think I have witnessed instances of what you mean."

"Witnessed, dear Mrs. Bloomfield! Instances are to be seen as often as a man is found freeman enough to have an opinion independent of party. It is not for connecting himself with party that a man is denounced in this country, but for daring to connect himself with truth. Party will bear with party, but party will not bear with truth. It is in politics as in war, regiments or individuals may desert, and they will be received by their late enemies with open arms, the honour of a soldier seldom reaching to the pass of refusing succour of any sort; but both sides will turn and fire on the countrymen who wish merely to defend their homes and firesides."

"You draw disagreeable pictures of human nature, Mr. Effingham."

"Merely because they are true, Mrs. Bloomfield. Man is worse than the beasts, merely because he has a code of right and wrong, which he never respects. They talk of the variation of the compass, and even pretend to calculate its changes, though no one can explain the principle that causes the attraction or its vagaries at all. So it is with men; they pretend to look always at the right, though their eyes are constantly directed obliquely; and it is a certain calculation to allow of a pretty wide variation--but here comes Miss Effingham, singularly well attired, and more beautiful than I have ever before seen her!"

The two exchanged quick glances, and then, as if fearful of betraying to each other their thoughts, they moved towards our heroine, to do the honours of the reception.

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