‘Yes,’ he said aloud, squaring his shoulders resolutely, ’I have generalised long enough. Without malice, but without restraint, I will trace the contribution of Britain towards the world’s debacle.’
With gathering rapidity and intensity he covered page after page with finely worded paragraphs. He summoned the facts of history, and churning them with his conceptions of humanity’s duty to humanity, poured out a flood of ideas, from which he chose the best. Infatuated by the richness of the stream, he created such a powerful sequence of facts that the British began to loom up as a reactionary tribe fighting a rearguard action throughout the ages against the advancing hosts of enlightenment. The Island of Britain, the ‘Old Country,’ as its people called it, began to shape in his eyes like a hundred-taloned monster sprawling over the whole earth. This was the nation which had forced opium on China, ruled India by tyranny, blustered and bullied America into rebellion, conquered South Africa at the behest of business interests. . . . Those and endless others were the counts against Britain in the open court of history.
And if those had been her crimes in the international sphere, what better record could she show in the management of human affairs at home? She had clung to the feudal idea of class distinction, only surrendering a few outposts reluctantly to the imperious onslaught of time; she had maintained a system of public schools which produced first-class snobs and third-rate scholars; she had ignored the rights of women until in very desperation they had resorted to the crudities of violence in order to achieve some outlet for the pent-up uselessness and directionlessness of their sex; she had tolerated vile living conditions for the poor, and had forced men and women to work under conditions which were degrading and an insult to their Maker. . . . One by one these dragons reared their heads and fell to the gleaming Excalibur of the author.
Selwyn made one vital error—he mistook facts for truth. He forgot that a sequence of facts, each one absolutely accurate in itself, may, when pieced together, create a fabric of falsehood.
There were many contributing influences to Austin Selwyn’s denunciation of Britain that morning. Although he had ordered sentiment and prejudice to leave his mind unclogged, these two passions cannot be dismissed by mere will-power.
He was keenly moved by the meeting with Dick Durwent, and, almost unknown to himself, his love for Elise was a smouldering fever whose fumes mounted to his head. Love is so overpowering that it overlaps the confines of hate, and his hunger for her was mixed with an almost savage desire to conquer her, force homage from her. And she was English!
In addition to these undercurrents affecting his thoughts, there was the dislike towards England which lies dormant in so many American breasts. Gloss it over as they will, no political entente can do away with the mutual dislike of Americans and Englishmen. It is a thing which cannot be eradicated in a day, but will die the sooner for exposure to the light, being an ugly growth of swampy prejudice and evil-smelling provincialism that needs the darkness and the damp for life.