ePub 版

seen enough ofá understand how human nature tended to de. velop •jn eighteenth-century America, where for a time econamic and social pressure was so relaxed. This relaxation, indeed, is incidentally attested by two stray passages from Franklin's writings. One is in a letter to his wife from London, dated the 27th of June, 1760:

“ The accounts you give me of the marriages of our friends are very agreeable. I love to hear of everything that tends to increase the number of good people. You cannot conceive how shamefully the mode here is a single life. One can scarce be in the company of a dozen men of circumstance and fortune, but what it is odds that you find on inquiry eleven of them are single. The great complaint is the excessive expensiveness of English wives.”

The other is from his celebrated examination before the House of Commons in 1766:

“Q. What do you think is the reason that the people in America increase faster than in England ?

" A. Because they marry younger, and more generally. "Q. Why so?

A. Because any young couple, that are industrious, may easily obtain land of their own, on which they can raise a family.

“Q. Are not the lower ranks of the people more at their ease in America than in England ?

A. They may be so, if they are sober and diligent, as they are better paid for their labour."

From these very lower ranks Franklin himself sprung. Undoubtedly he was what we call great; his qualities were on a larger scale than is common anywhere; but the question of scale does not affect that of character. Devoting himself with unceasing energy, common-sense, and tact to practical matters, and never seriously concerning himself with eternity, he developed into a living example of such rational, kindly humanity as the philosophy of revolutionary France held attainable by whoever should be freed from the distorting in Aluence of accidental and outworn institutions.

In Jonathan Edwards we found theoretical Puritanism, divorced from life, proclaiming more uncompromisingly than ever that human nature is damnable. In such temper we find on a grand scale something akin to the petty enthusiasm of our own day, which now and again maintains that whoever takes a glass of wine shall sleep in a drunkard's grave, or that whoever smokes a cigarette shall smoke for it in hell. All the while we see about us godly smokers the better for rational stimulant. And all the while when Edwards was preaching his unfinching Calvinism, Franklin, by living as well and as sensibly as he could, was demonstrating that, at least in America, unaided human nature could develop into an earthly shape which looked quite as far from damnable as that of any Puritan parson.

The America which in the same years bred Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin bred too the American Revolution.



Like Calvinism, the American Revolution has generally been discussed so passionately that in eagerness to prove one side right historians have hardly been able to consider the questions which arose as matters of mere historic fact. And as Professor Tyler's “ Literary History” shows, the tradition of the Revolution which commonly prevails in the United States is a remarkable distortion of a familiar truth. The war which began at Lexington and ended six years later with the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown has been talked about in public places and taught about in schools as if it had been a rising against a foreign invader, like the old Spanish wars in the Netherlands, or those more recent wars in which the Austrians were expelled from what is now united Italy. No error could be much graver. Up to 1760 the colonies of America were as loyal to the crown of England as Australia or Canada is to-day. England, of course, was separated from America by the Atlantic Ocean; and, so far as time goes, the North Atlantic of the eighteenth century was wider than the equatorial Pacific is to-day. But the people of the American colonies were as truly compatriots of Englishmen as the citizens of our Southern States in 1860 were compatriots of New England Yankees. The Revolution, in short, was a civil war, like the wars of Cavaliers and Round-heads a century before in England, or the war in our own country between 1861 and 1865. Both of those other civil wars, the older English and the newer American, have already faded into a past where one can feel them, for all their tragedy, to

have something of the character of family quarrels which have ended in fresh family concord. What distinguishes the American Revolution from other civil wars is the fact that the quarrel which produced it a century and a quarter ago has never been truly settled or forgotten.

Already in 1780 American feeling toward England had become consciously foreign. Consciously foreign it remains ; there are plenty of sensible Americans to-day who really feel less strange in Paris than in London. In modern Boston the unaltered King's Chapel of the royal governors, surrounded by the tombs of colonial worthies, seems almost as much a relic of some mysterious past as the ruins of Stonehenge seem on Salisbury Plain. Yet one has but to land at Halifax to see a surviving image of what Boston was in 1775; Canada today is English in the sense in which Boston was English when George III. ascended the throne. The political frontier which divides Canada from New England, however, remains as distinct as it was when Canada was French; for New England now is not English but American. The American Revolution was a civil war whereof the end is not yet, and indeed may never be.

To those Americans who most cherish our deep national ideal of union, this fact has an aspect which may well qualify our just pride of independence. This ideal of union means that, however much men of common race, language, and principles may differ, it is best that they devote their energies to neglecting, or at worst to compromising, their differences, and to working in common for ends in which all believe, trusting that from such common effort better things shall ensue for mankind. It needs no great effort of imagination, and as time passes it will probably need less and less, to see that this ideal of union applies as fully to the events of 1776 as to those of 1861. Had the Southern States succeeded in their heroic attempt at secession, our country to-day, whatever its condition, must have been politically so weak as to make impossible the


imperial questions now affecting our politics. If the American colonies had failed in their heroic attempt to assert independence of England, there can be little question that by this time the imperial dominance of our language, our law, and our ideals would be assured throughout the world. The American Revolution, then, disuniting the English-speaking race, has had on history an effect which those who cherish the moral and political heritage of our language may well grow to feel in some sense tragic.

To modern scholars of the critical kind, too, the Revolution is becoming more of a puzzle than it used to be. The distortion of tradition which has represented it rather as a war against an alien invader than as a civil war, is not our only popular

American writings, in general, tell only one side of the story ; and we have been accustomed to accept their ex parte, though sincere, assertions as comprehensive. So much is this the case that few remember the origin of a phrase which from a political letter written by Rufus Choate in 1856 has passed into idiomatic use. This phrase, “glittering generality,” is commonly used of empty rhetoric : Mr. Choate used it of a piece of rhetoric which American tradition is apt to believe the least empty in our history. His words were :

« The glittering and sounding generalities of natural right which make up the Declaration of Independence.” Now, to describe the Declaration of Independence as a tissue of glittering generalities is by no means to tell its whole story; but so to describe it is probably as near the truth as to accept it for a sober statement of historic fact. Not that Jefferson, who wrote it, or his compatriots who signed it, were insincere ; the chances are that they believed what they said. But the fact that in a moment of high passion a man believes a thing does not make it true. And when under the cool scrutiny of pos.. terity fervid convictions prove somewhat mistaken, the vital question is from what they arose. Professor Tyler collects and arranges as

never before

« 上一頁繼續 »