Tuesday, February 24, 2015

What the Dickens Sayeth He?


Concluding remarks from American Notes for General Circulation by Charles Dickens:

"It is an essential part of every national character to pique itself mightily upon its faults, and to deduce tokens of its virtue or its wisdom from their very exaggeration.  One great blemish in the popular mind of America, and the prolific parent of an innumerable brood of evils, is Universal Distrust.  Yet the American citizen plumes himself upon this spirit, even when he is sufficiently dispassionate to perceive the ruin it works; and will often adduce it, in spite of his own reason, as an instance of the great sagacity and acuteness of the people, and their superior shrewdness and independence."
"‘You carry,’ says the stranger, ‘this jealousy and distrust into every transaction of public life.  By repelling worthy men from your legislative assemblies, it has bred up a class of candidates for the suffrage, who, in their very act, disgrace your Institutions and your people’s choice.  It has rendered you so fickle, and so given to change, that your inconstancy has passed into a proverb; for you no sooner set up an idol firmly, than you are sure to pull it down and dash it into fragments: and this, because directly you reward a benefactor, or a public servant, you distrust him, merely because he is rewarded; and immediately apply yourselves to find out, either that you have been too bountiful in your acknowledgments, or he remiss in his deserts.  Any man who attains a high place among you, from the President downwards, may date his downfall from that moment; for any printed lie that any notorious villain pens, although it militate directly against the character and conduct of a life, appeals at once to your distrust, and is believed.  You will strain at a gnat in the way of trustfulness and confidence, however fairly won and well deserved; but you will swallow a whole caravan of camels, if they be laden with unworthy doubts and mean suspicions.  Is this well, think you, or likely to elevate the character of the governors or the governed, among you?’"
"The answer is invariably the same: ‘There’s freedom of opinion here, you know.  Every man thinks for himself, and we are not to be easily overreached.  That’s how our people come to be suspicious.’"

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