The possible disadvantages connected with an experiment of this kind easily suggest themselves; but since the “precocity” of the American child is a recognised fact, it is perhaps well that it should be turned into such unobjectionable channels.
International Misapprehensions and National Differences
Some years ago I was visiting the cyclorama of Niagara Falls in London and listening to the intelligent description of the scene given by the “lecturer.” In the course of this he pointed out Goat Island, the wooded islet that parts the headlong waters of the Niagara like a coulter and shears them into the separate falls of the American and Canadian shores. Behind me stood an English lady who did not quite catch what the lecturer said, and turned to her husband in surprise. “Rhode Island? Well, I knew Rhode Island was one of the smallest States, but I had no idea it was so small as that!” On another occasion an Englishman, invited to smile at the idea of a fellow-countryman that the Rocky Mountains flanked the west bank of the Hudson, exclaimed: “How absurd! The Rocky Mountains must be at least two hundred miles from the Hudson.” Even so intelligent a traveller and so friendly a critic as Miss Florence Marryat (Mrs. Francis Lean), in her desire to do justice to the amplitude of the American continent, gravely asserts that “Pennsylvania covers a tract of land larger than England, France, Spain, and Germany all put together,” the real fact being that even the smallest of the countries named is much larger than the State, while the combined area of the four is more than fourteen times as great. Texas, the largest State in the Union, is not so very much more extensive than either Germany or France.
An analogous want of acquaintance with the mental geography of America was shown by the English lady whom Mr. Freeman heard explaining to a cultivated American friend who Sir Walter Scott was, and what were the titles of his chief works.
It is to such international ignorance as this that much, if not most, of the British want of appreciation of the United States may be traced; just as the acute critic may see in the complacent and persistent misspelling of English names by the leading journals of Paris an index of that French attitude of indifference towards foreigners that involved the possibility of a Sedan. It is not, perhaps, easy to adduce exactly parallel instances of American ignorance of Great Britain, though Mr. Henry James, who probably knows his England better than nine out of ten Englishmen, describes Lord Lambeth, the eldest son of a duke, as himself a member of the House of Lords ("An International Episode"). It was amusing to find when meine Wenigkeit was made the object of a lesson in a Massachusetts school, that many of the children knew the name England only in connection with their own New England home. Nor, I fear, can it be denied that much of the historical teaching in the primary schools of the United States gives a somewhat one-sided view of the past relations between the mother country and her revolted daughter. The American child is not taught as much as he ought to be that the English people of to-day repudiate the attitude of the aristocratic British government of 1770 as strongly as Americans themselves.