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The idea that there is something English in the repression of one's
feelings is one of those ideas which no Englishman ever heard of until
England began to be governed exclusively by Scotchmen, Americans,
and Jews. At the best, the idea is a generalization from the Duke
of Wellington--who was an Irishman. At the worst, it is a part
of that silly Teutonism which knows as little about England as it
does about anthropology, but which is always talking about Vikings.
As a matter of fact, the Vikings did not repress their feelings in
the least. They cried like babies and kissed each other like girls;
in short, they acted in that respect like Achilles and all strong
heroes the children of the gods. And though the English nationality
has probably not much more to do with the Vikings than the French
nationality or the Irish nationality, the English have certainly
been the children of the Vikings in the matter of tears and kisses.
It is not merely true that all the most typically English men
of letters, like Shakespeare and Dickens, Richardson and Thackeray,
were sentimentalists. It is also true that all the most typically English
men of action were sentimentalists, if possible, more sentimental.
In the great Elizabethan age, when the English nation was finally
hammered out, in the great eighteenth century when the British
Empire was being built up everywhere, where in all these times,
where was this symbolic stoical Englishman who dresses in drab
and black and represses his feelings? Were all the Elizabethan
palladins and pirates like that? Were any of them like that?
Was Grenville concealing his emotions when he broke wine-glasses
to pieces with his teeth and bit them till the blood poured down?
Was Essex restraining his excitement when he threw his hat into the sea?
Did Raleigh think it sensible to answer the Spanish guns only,
as Stevenson says, with a flourish of insulting trumpets?
Did Sydney ever miss an opportunity of making a theatrical remark in
the whole course of his life and death? Were even the Puritans Stoics?
The English Puritans repressed a good deal, but even they were
too English to repress their feelings. It was by a great miracle
of genius assuredly that Carlyle contrived to admire simultaneously
two things so irreconcilably opposed as silence and Oliver Cromwell.
Cromwell was the very reverse of a strong, silent man.
Cromwell was always talking, when he was not crying. Nobody, I suppose,
will accuse the author of "Grace Abounding" of being ashamed
of his feelings. Milton, indeed, it might be possible to represent
as a Stoic; in some sense he was a Stoic, just as he was a prig
and a polygamist and several other unpleasant and heathen things.
But when we have passed that great and desolate name, which may
really be counted an exception, we find the tradition of English
emotionalism immediately resumed and unbrokenly continuous.
Whatever may have been the moral beauty of the passions
of Etheridge and Dorset, Sedley and Buckingham, they cannot
be accused of the fault of fastidiously concealing them.
Charles the Second was very popular with the English because,
like all the jolly English kings, he displayed his passions.
William the Dutchman was very unpopular with the English because,
not being an Englishman, he did hide his emotions. He was, in fact,
precisely the ideal Englishman of our modern theory; and precisely
for that reason all the real Englishmen loathed him like leprosy.
With the rise of the great England of the eighteenth century,
we find this open and emotional tone still maintained in letters
and politics, in arts and in arms. Perhaps the only quality
which was possessed in common by the great Fielding, and the
great Richardson was that neither of them hid their feelings.
Swift, indeed, was hard and logical, because Swift was Irish.
And when we pass to the soldiers and the rulers, the patriots and
the empire-builders of the eighteenth century, we find, as I have said,
that they were, If possible, more romantic than the romancers,
more poetical than the poets. Chatham, who showed the world
all his strength, showed the House of Commons all his weakness.
Wolfe walked. about the room with a drawn sword calling himself
Caesar and Hannibal, and went to death with poetry in his mouth.
Clive was a man of the same type as Cromwell or Bunyan, or, for the
matter of that, Johnson--that is, he was a strong, sensible man
with a kind of running spring of hysteria and melancholy in him.
Like Johnson, he was all the more healthy because he was morbid.
The tales of all the admirals and adventurers of that England are
full of braggadocio, of sentimentality, of splendid affectation.
But it is scarcely necessary to multiply examples of the essentially
romantic Englishman when one example towers above them all.
Mr. Rudyard Kipling has said complacently of the English,
"We do not fall on the neck and kiss when we come together."
It is true that this ancient and universal custom has vanished with
the modern weakening of England. Sydney would have thought nothing
of kissing Spenser. But I willingly concede that Mr. Broderick
would not be likely to kiss Mr. Arnold-Foster, if that be any proof
of the increased manliness and military greatness of England.
But the Englishman who does not show his feelings has not altogether
given up the power of seeing something English in the great sea-hero
of the Napoleonic war. You cannot break the legend of Nelson.
And across the sunset of that glory is written in flaming letters
for ever the great English sentiment, "Kiss me, Hardy."