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On entering the old palmer's apartment, they found him looking over
some ancient papers, yellow and crabbedly written, and on one of them a
large old seal, all of which he did up in a bundle and enclosed in a
parchment cover, so that, before they were well in the room, the
documents were removed from view.
"Those papers and parchments have a fine old yellow tint, Colcord,"
said the Warden, "very satisfactory to an antiquary."
"There is nothing in them," said the old man, "of general interest.
Some old papers they are, which came into my possession by inheritance,
and some of them relating to the affairs of a friend of my youth;--a
long past time, and a long past friend," added he, sighing.
"Here is a new friend, at all events," said the kindly Warden, wishing
to cheer the old man, "who feels himself greatly indebted to you for
your care." [Endnote: 1.]
There now ensued a conversation between the three, in the course of
which reference was made to America, and the Warden's visit there.
"You are so mobile," he said, "you change so speedily, that I suppose
there are few external things now that I should recognize. The face of
your country changes like one of your own sheets of water, under the
influence of sun, cloud, and wind; but I suppose there is a depth below
that is seldom effectually stirred. It is a great fault of the country
that its sons find it impossible to feel any patriotism for it."
"I do not by any means acknowledge that impossibility," responded
Redclyffe, with a smile. "I certainly feel that sentiment very strongly
in my own breast, more especially since I have left America three
thousand miles behind me."
"Yes, it is only the feeling of self-assertion that rises against the
self-complacency of the English," said the Warden. "Nothing else; for
what else have you become the subject of this noble weakness of
patriotism? You cannot love anything beyond the soil of your own
estate; or in your case, if your heart is very large, you may possibly
take in, in a quiet sort of way, the whole of New England. What more is
possible? How can you feel a heart's love for a mere political
arrangement, like your Union? How can you be loyal, where personal
attachment--the lofty and noble and unselfish attachment of a subject
to his prince--is out of the question? where your sovereign is felt to
be a mere man like yourselves, whose petty struggles, whose ambition--
mean before it grew to be audacious--you have watched, and know him to
be just the same now as yesterday, and that to-morrow he will be
walking unhonored amongst you again? Your system is too bare and meagre
for human nature to love, or to endure it long. These stately degrees
of society, that have so strong a hold upon us in England, are not to
be done away with so lightly as you think. Your experiment is not yet a
success by any means; and you will live to see it result otherwise than
"It is natural for you Englishmen to feel thus," said Redclyffe;
"although, ever since I set my foot on your shores,--forgive me, but
you set me the example of free speech,--I have had a feeling of coming
change among all that you look upon as so permanent, so everlasting;
and though your thoughts dwell fondly on things as they are and have
been, there is a deep destruction somewhere in this country, that is
inevitably impelling it in the path of my own. But I care not for this.
I do aver that I love my country, that I am proud of its institutions,
that I have a feeling unknown, probably, to any but a republican, but
which is the proudest thing in me, that there is no man above me,--for
my ruler is only myself, in the person of another, whose office I
impose upon him,--nor any below me. If you would understand me, I would
tell you of the shame I felt when first, on setting foot in this
country, I heard a man speaking of his birth as giving him privileges;
saw him looking down on laboring men, as of an inferior race. And what
I can never understand, is the pride which you positively seem to feel
in having men and classes of men above you, born to privileges which
yon can never hope to share. It may be a thing to be endured, but
surely not one to be absolutely proud of. And yet an Englishman is so."
"Ah! I see we lack a ground to meet upon," said the Warden. "We can
never truly understand each other. What you have last mentioned is one
of our inner mysteries. It is not a thing to be reasoned about, but to
be felt,--to be born within one; and I uphold it to be a generous
sentiment, and good for the human heart."
"Forgive me, sir," said Redclyffe, "but I would rather be the poorest
and lowest man in America than have that sentiment."
"But it might change your feeling, perhaps," suggested the Warden, "if
you were one of the privileged class."
"I dare not say that it would not," said Redclyffe, "for I know I have
a thousand weaknesses, and have doubtless as many more that I never
suspected myself of. But it seems to me at this moment impossible that
I should ever have such an ambition, because I have a sense of meanness
in not starting fair, in beginning the world with advantages that my
fellows have not."
"Really this is not wise," said the Warden, bluntly, "How can the start
in life be fair for all? Providence arranges it otherwise. Did you
yourself,--a gentleman evidently by birth and education,--did you start
fair in the race of life?"
Redclyffe remembered what his birth, or rather what his first
recollected place had been, and reddened.
"In birth, certainly, I had no advantages," said he, and would have
explained further but was kept back by invincible reluctance; feeling
that the bare fact of his origin in an almshouse would be accepted,
while all the inward assurances and imaginations that had reconciled
himself to the ugly fact would go for nothing. "But there were
advantages, very early in life," added he, smiling, "which perhaps I
ought to have been ashamed to avail myself of."
"An old cobwebby library,--an old dwelling by a graveyard,--an old
Doctor, busied with his own fantasies, and entangled in his own
cobwebs,--and a little girl for a playmate: these were things that you
might lawfully avail yourself of," said Colcord, unheard by the Warden,
who, thinking the conversation had lasted long enough, had paid a
slight passing courtesy to the old man, and was now leaving the room.
"Do you remain here long?" he added.
"If the Warden's hospitality holds out," said the American, "I shall be
glad; for the place interests me greatly."
"No wonder," replied Colcord.
"And wherefore no wonder?" said Redclyffe, impressed with the idea that
there was something peculiar in the tone of the old man's remark.
"Because," returned the other quietly, "it must be to you especially
interesting to see an institution of this kind, whereby one man's
benevolence or penitence is made to take the substance and durability
of stone, and last for centuries; whereas, in America, the solemn
decrees and resolutions of millions melt away like vapor, and
everything shifts like the pomp of sunset clouds; though it may be as
pompous as they. Heaven intended the past as a foundation for the
present, to keep it from vibrating and being blown away with every
"But," said Redclyffe, "I would not see in my country what I see
elsewhere,--the Past hanging like a mill-stone round a country's neck,
or encrusted in stony layers over the living form; so that, to all
intents and purposes, it is dead."
"Well," said Colcord, "we are only talking of the Hospital. You will
find no more interesting place anywhere. Stay amongst us; this is the
very heart of England, and if you wish to know the fatherland,--the
place whence you sprung,--this is the very spot!"
Again Redclyffe was struck with the impression that there was something
marked, something individually addressed to himself, in the old man's
words; at any rate, it appealed to that primal imaginative vein in him
which had so often, in his own country, allowed itself to dream over
the possibilities of his birth. He knew that the feeling was a vague
and idle one; but yet, just at this time, a convalescent, with a little
play moment in what had heretofore been a turbulent life, he felt an
inclination to follow out this dream, and let it sport with him, and by
and by to awake to realities, refreshed by a season of unreality. At a
firmer and stronger period of his life, though Redclyffe might have
indulged his imagination with these dreams, yet he would not have let
them interfere with his course of action; but having come hither in
utter weariness of active life, it seemed just the thing for him to
do,--just the fool's paradise for him to be in.
"Yes," repeated the old man, looking keenly in his face, "you will not
leave us yet."
Redclyffe returned through the quadrangle to the Warden's house; and
there were the brethren, sitting on benches, loitering in the sun,
which, though warm for England, seemed scarcely enough to keep these
old people warm, even with their cloth robes. They did not seem
unhappy; nor yet happy; if they were so, it must be with the mere bliss
of existence, a sleepy sense of comfort, and quiet dreaminess about
things past, leaving out the things to come,--of which there was
nothing, indeed, in their future, save one day after another, just like
this, with loaf and ale, and such substantial comforts, and prayers,
and idle days again, gathering by the great kitchen fire, and at last a
day when they should not be there, but some other old men in their
stead. And Redclyffe wondered whether, in the extremity of age, he
himself would like to be one of the brethren of the Leopard's Head. The
old men, he was sorry to see, did not seem very genial towards one
another; in fact, there appeared to be a secret enjoyment of one
another's infirmities, wherefore it was hard to tell, unless that each
individual might fancy himself to possess an advantage over his fellow,
which he mistook for a positive strength; and so there was sometimes a
sardonic smile, when, on rising from his seat, the rheumatism was a
little evident in an old fellow's joints; or when the palsy shook
another's fingers so that he could barely fill his pipe; or when a
cough, the gathered spasmodic trouble of thirty years, fairly convulsed
another. Then, any two that happened to be sitting near one another
looked into each other's cold eyes, and whispered, or suggested merely
by a look (for they were bright to such perceptions), "The old fellow
will not outlast another winter."
Methinks it is not good for old men to be much together. An old man is
a beautiful object in his own place, in the midst of a circle of young
people, going down in various gradations to infancy, and all looking up
to the patriarch with filial reverence, keeping him warm by their own
burning youth; giving him the freshness of their thought and feeling,
with such natural influx that it seems as if it grew within his heart;
while on them he reacts with an influence that sobers, tempers, keeps
them down. His wisdom, very probably, is of no great account,--he
cannot fit to any new state of things; but, nevertheless, it works its
effect. In such a situation, the old man is kind and genial, mellow,
more gentle and generous, and wider-minded than ever before. But if
left to himself, or wholly to the society of his contemporaries, the
ice gathers about his heart, his hope grows torpid, his love--having
nothing of his own blood to develop it--grows cold; he becomes selfish,
when he has nothing in the present or the future worth caring about in
himself; so that, instead of a beautiful object, he is an ugly one,
little, mean, and torpid. I suppose one chief reason to be, that unless
he has his own race about him he doubts of anybody's love, he feels
himself a stranger in the world, and so becomes unamiable.
A very few days in the Warden's hospitable mansion produced an
excellent effect on Redclyffe's frame; his constitution being naturally
excellent, and a flow of cheerful spirits contributing much to restore
him to health, especially as the abode in this old place, which would
probably have been intolerably dull to most young Englishmen, had for
this young American a charm like the freshness of Paradise. In truth it
had that charm, and besides it another intangible, evanescent,
perplexing charm, full of an airy enjoyment, as if he had been here
before. What could it be? It could be only the old, very deepest,
inherent nature, which the Englishman, his progenitor, carried over the
sea with him, nearly two hundred years before, and which had lain
buried all that time under heaps of new things, new customs, new
institutions, new snows of winter, new layers of forest leaves, until
it seemed dead, and was altogether forgotten as if it had never been;
but, now, his return had seemed to dissolve or dig away all this
incrustation, and the old English nature awoke all fresh, so that he
saw the green grass, the hedgerows, the old structures and old manners,
the old clouds, the old raindrops, with a recognition, and yet a
newness. Redclyffe had never been so quietly happy as now. He had, as
it were, the quietude of the old man about him, and the freshness of
his own still youthful years.
The Warden was evidently very favorably impressed with his
Transatlantic guest, and he seemed to be in a constant state of
surprise to find an American so agreeable a kind of person.
"You are just like an Englishman," he sometimes said. "Are you quite
sure that you were not born on this side of the water?"
This is said to be the highest compliment that an Englishman can pay to
an American; and doubtless he intends it as such. All the praise and
good will that an Englishman ever awards to an American is so far
gratifying to the recipient, that it is meant for him individually, and
is not to be put down in the slightest degree to the score of any
regard to his countrymen generally. So far from this, if an Englishman
were to meet the whole thirty millions of Americans, and find each
individual of them a pleasant, amiable, well-meaning, and well-mannered
sort of fellow, he would acknowledge this honestly in each individual
case, but still would speak of the whole nation as a disagreeable
As regards Redclyffe being precisely like an Englishman, we cannot but
think that the good Warden was mistaken. No doubt, there was a common
ground; the old progenitor (whose blood, moreover, was mixed with a
hundred other streams equally English) was still there, under this
young man's shape, but with a vast difference. Climate, sun, cold,
heat, soil, institutions, had made a change in him before he was born,
and all the life that he had lived since (so unlike any that he could
have lived in England) had developed it more strikingly. In manners, I
cannot but think that he was better than the generality of Englishmen,
and different from the highest-mannered men, though most resembling
them. His natural sensitiveness, a tincture of reserve, had been
counteracted by the frank mixture with men which his political course
had made necessary; he was quicker to feel what was right at the
moment, than the Englishman; more alive; he had a finer grain; his look
was more aristocratic than that of a thousand Englishmen of good birth
and breeding; he had a faculty of assimilating himself to new manners,
which, being his most un-English trait, was what perhaps chiefly made
the Warden think him so like an Englishman. When an Englishman is a
gentleman, to be sure, it is as deep in him as the marrow of his bones,
and the deeper you know him, the more you are aware of it, and that
generation after generation has contributed to develop and perfect
these unpretending manners, which, at first, may have failed to impress
you, under his plain, almost homely exterior. An American often gets as
good a surface of manners, in his own progress from youth, through the
wear and attrition of a successful life, to some high station in middle
age; whereas a plebeian Englishman, who rises to eminent station, never
does credit to it by his manners. Often you would not know the American
ambassador from a duke. This is often merely external; but in
Redclyffe, having delicate original traits in his character, it was
something more; and, we are bold to say, when our countrymen are
developed, or any one class of them, as they ought to be, they will
show finer traits than have yet been seen. We have more delicate and
quicker sensibilities; nerves more easily impressed; and these are
surely requisites for perfect manners; and, moreover, the courtesy that
proceeds on the ground of perfect equality is better than that which is
a gracious and benignant condescension,--as is the case with the
manners of the aristocracy of England.
An American, be it said, seldom turns his best side outermost abroad;
and an observer, who has had much opportunity of seeing the figure
which they make, in a foreign country, does not so much wonder that
there should be severe criticism on their manners as a people. I know
not exactly why, but all our imputed peculiarities--our nasal
pronunciation, our ungraceful idioms, our forthputtingness, our uncouth
lack of courtesy--do really seem to exist on a foreign shore; and even,
perhaps, to be heightened of malice prepense. The cold, unbelieving eye
of Englishmen, expectant of solecisms in manners, contributes to
produce the result which it looks for. Then the feeling of hostility
and defiance in the American must be allowed for; and partly, too, the
real existence of a different code of manners, founded on, and arising
from, different institutions; and also certain national peculiarities,
which may be intrinsically as good as English peculiarities; but being
different, and yet the whole result being just too nearly alike, and,
moreover, the English manners having the prestige of long
establishment, and furthermore our own manners being in a transition
state between those of old monarchies and what is proper to a new
republic,--it necessarily followed that the American, though really a
man of refinement and delicacy, is not just the kind of gentleman that
the English can fully appreciate. In cases where they do so, their
standard being different from ours, they do not always select for their
approbation the kind of man or manners whom we should judge the best;
we are perhaps apt to be a little too fine, a little too sedulously
polished, and of course too conscious of it,--a deadly social crime,
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