Saturday, December 02, 2006

Emerson, Still Analyzing the English

It's Emerson time again. This week I read about English manners and their love of truth. At times I found myself wondering if Emerson actually ever met any real English people because so much of his description seems to have come from a novel. He says things like, "the one thing the English value is pluck. The word is not beautiful, but on the quality they signify by it the nation is unanimous." Emerson insists the English love eccentrics and eccentrics get along well because the English mind their own business and don't care what anyone else does so long as it doesn't interfere with their own doings. Emerson also describes the English as "positive, methodical, cleanly and formal, loving routine and conventional ways; loving truth and religion to be sure, but inexorable on points of form." They have an "affectionate and loyal temper" and love their houses (it strikes me that this makes them sound like good pets). And he notes, they are very fond of silver plate and old customs. They are also very "petulant and precise" about "accommodation at inns and on the road." Apparently, dinner is "the capital institution." Inviting someone to dinner, Emerson says, is considered one of the highest honors that can be accorded that person especially if the hosts do not know him well. If dinner is the capital institution, an introduction is a "sacrament." It is "almost and affront" to talk to or even look in the eye someone to whom you have not been introduced. This sort of reminded me of the scene in Pride and Prejudice where Mr. Collins dares to speak to Mr. Darcy at a party when they have not been introduced. Horrors! Emerson declares that to the English "a presentation is a circumstance as valid as a contract." The English also have a love of truth and Emerson states "their practical power rests on their national sincerity." The people are blunt in saying what they think, "sparing of promises," "require plain dealing of others," and "hate shuffling equivocation." But Emerson also finds fault with the English, believing their mastery of the mechanical and the efficiency with which they run things has given the people a "mechanical regularity" in their habits which has also infiltrated their thoughts. This leads to a dislike of change and innovation and a tendency toward the entrenchment of mediocrity. However, Emerson clearly admires the English because he states over and over, if the English decide to do something there is nothing that will keep them from doing it. Next week's English Traits: Character and Cockayne (appears to be a person)