Friday, 11 May 2012

Scribble Scribble Scribble

I have been chastised for being leisurely with my posting. Like most people who are taken to task for their performance, I immediately took umbrage and told my chastiser exactly what I thought of him. This was both unfair and stupid: unfair, because he had done no more than say the truth, and stupid, because I vented my umbrage to the air, whereas the chastisement had proceeded via electrons. After I had given things some thought I decided that maybe I do have to lift my game - 3 weeks between posts risks alienating an audience, and if I can't be bothered posting more often than that, then I should be keeping a diary, not a blog.

And yet. And yet. I set the remit of this blog quite a bit wider than the previous one, which was entirely about my motorcycle, but that change has failed to yield much more in the way of topics. Actually, to some degree it must, because I am presently without the motorcycle, having lent it to R until the engine in his bike is replaced, and yet I can still find something to blog about.

The title of this post comes from the book of the same name by Simon Schama, which is in turn a reference to the comment purportedly made by Prince William Henry, Duke of Gloucester and Edinburgh (i.e. a royal duke) in 1781 when he received a copy of Volume 2 (or Volume 3, or both) of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

" Another damned thick, square, book! Always scribble, scribble,scribble! Eh! Mr Gibbon? "

The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is a very famous set of volumes, but it isn't very readable. In fact, I don't know anyone who has read it, and I'm the kind of person who knows people who have read War and Peace. At least, that's what they claim: since I haven't read that myself I wouldn't know whether they were telling porkies or not. You can try Gibbon for yourself at Project Gutenberg here:

Gibbon

But my story today is not about Gibbon, it's about one of the articles in the book Scribble, Scribble, Scribble. The title of the article is The Unloved American: Two Centuries of Alienating Europe first published in The New Yorker on 10 March 2003. In it Schama quotes several European writers who had visited the United States of America during the 19th and 20th centuries, and come away decidedly unimpressed, Charles Dickens and Rudyard Kipling to name just two.

It is the quote that concludes the article that struck me most, and it comes from a writer well known in her day but little read today: Frances Trollope, who in 1832 published Domestic Manners of the Americans. She is the mother of the better known Anthony Trollope. Domestic Manners of the Americans sold like hot cakes and set her up for life; it sold well on the eastern side of the Atlantic because it confirmed every prejudice the Europeans had about the Americans, and it sold well on the western side of the Atlantic because it got the Americans all riled up. 'Trollope' became a term of abuse in America, and in New York there was a waxwork of Frances Trollope in the form of a goblin.

And what did she have to say that got the Americans so riled up? Well, among many other things, this:

" If the citizens of the United States were indeed the devoted patriots they call themselves, they would surely not thus encrust themselves in the hard, dry, stubborn persuasion, that they are the first and best of the human race, that nothing is to be learnt but what they are able to teach, and that nothing is worth having which they do not possess. "

Nearly 200 years later has much changed? Has anything changed? I think not.

I am saddened to discover that 'trollop' meaning prostitute or immoral woman predates Frances by at least 200 years, and does not derive from her puncturing of American pride.