November 19, 2019

Fanny Trollope

Some time ago someone asked if the US was always as bad as it is today, or whether the contemporary condition is something new. An answer comes from Fanny (Frances) Trollope, mother of great English novelist, Anthony Trollope, who visited the US during 1927-31. Her book, Domestic Manners of the Americans, was publ. 1832. She basically regarded the nation as a collection of hustlers and boors, profoundly nasty, and self-deluded. A sample:

"every bee in the hive is actively employed in search; neither art, science, learning, nor pleasure can seduce them from its pursuit."

"there is no charm, no grace in their conversation."

"however meritorious the American character may be, it is not amiable."

"I never saw a population so totally divested of gaiety; there is no trace of this feeling from one end of the Union to the other."

"rude so remarkably prevalent in the manners of American children."

"they never have the air of leisure or repose."

"they never amuse themselves--no; and their hearts are not warm...and they have no ease, no forgetfulness of business and of care--no, not for a moment."

"The want of warmth, of interest, of feeling, upon all subjects which do not immediately touch their own concerns, is universal, and has a most paralyzing effect upon conversation."

"The poor of great Britain, whom distress, or a spirit of enterprise tempt to try another land, ought, for many reasons, to repair to Canada; there they would meet co-operation and sympathy, instead of malice, hatred, and all uncharitableness."

[On the American obsession with money:] "This sordid object, for ever before their eyes, must inevitably produce a sordid tone of mind, and worse still, it produces a seared and blunted conscience on all questions of probity."

"[Americans] believe themselves in all sincerity to have surpassed, to be surpassing, and to be about to surpass, the whole earth in the intellectual race. I am aware that not a single word can be said, hinting a different opinion, which will not bring down a transatlantic anathema on my head."

"...what I consider as one of the most remarkable traits in the national character of Americans: namely, their exquisite sensitiveness and soreness respecting everything said or written concerning them....these feelings, if carried to excess, produce a weakness which amounts to imbecility....they wince if a breeze blows over them, unless it be tempered with adulation....The extraordinary features of [this is] the excess of rage into which they lash themselves [if criticized]."