12 AUGUST 1905, Page 10


SINCE the Englishman is occasionally at pains to represent himself to himself as something which he is not, it would be strange if he were completely understood by any one but himself in the world. Since, again, he occasionally prefers—or at least allows—others to be misrepresented to him, there need be little wonder that he has been misrepresented to others. Thirdly, it is doubtful whether, even if he wished to show himself to others as he really is, he could always obtain the opportunity. The opportunity is only present when he is at home. Nobody will ever thoroughly understand him until he has been his guest; and if that is true of individuals, it is true with added force of nations. Perhaps the last is the real reason of the genuine surprise which seems to be felt by Frenchmen who have watched during the past week the preparations made to entertain the French officers and sailors at Portsmouth and in London. The warmth and the thoroughness of the welcome extended by the representatives of the one nation to the representatives of the other appear to have come to the correspondents of the French newspapers as a revela- tion. The traditional Englishman has vanished, at all events for the time being, and the explanations given make, as it were, an interesting looking-glass. "The Englishman," writes the correspondent of the Petit Parisien, "is of a rather cold temperament, but when he lets himself go he does so with a vengeance, and this is just as true of public as of private life. No nation is more reserved, more self-contained, but when once the Englishman's sympathy has been won, it can be counted upon." The correspondent of the Echo de Paris is not less " astounded " than his colleague. He is amazed to find that even the poorest houses are showing the Tricolour at their windows. His illusions of the " phlegmatic " English- man have disappeared.

In the mass, we believe, Englishmen have not in the past greatly resented being misunderstood and misrepresented on the Continent. We are not really a taciturn nation—no Englishman, at all events, is quite so taciturn as a certain type of German—but we rather admire taciturnity. We like "deeds, not words," and do not resent being told that we carry that preference to extremes, even though we may not think it entirely true. When, again, Englishmen are told that they are " cold " or "stand-offish," they do not raise any strong objection, because they reflect in a comfortable manner that it is better to seem aloof and distant than to run any risk of being supposed to be asking a favour. Yet all the while it is true of Englishmen that they are neither " cold " nor " stand-offish." There is not, we believe, in the world a more warm-hearted people, nor, taking the mass of the nation, is there any people better mannered or more genuinely polite. It is true that for sheer rudeness there is no one to equal a certain kind of society woman, or the worst type of official ; but the great majority of English people, who travel third-class in the trains, and crowd the tramcars and omni- buses, are charmingly polite out of pure good-heartedness. No one, we think, who has ever found himself in any difficulty in London, for instance, would refuse to admit that. The kindness which is invariably shown to a child in distress in the street; the trouble which entire strangers will take to see that a countryman finds his way about the puzzling maze of the Metropolis ; the numbers of willing searchers who will stop on their way to help to look for the smallest coin that a fellow-passenger has dropped ; the readiness with which men, especially working men, will give up their seats to ladies who are compelled to enter an overcrowded railway carriage,—it is not in any spirit of self-glorification that we set out what we believe to be the truth. The writer may, perhaps, refer gratefully to two recent experiences of his own. It happened not long ago that he was involved in a dispute with a not over sober cabman, the point at issue being an. alleged attempt to pass counterfeit coin in payment of the fare. The inevitable crowd collected, and a policeman was sent for; but before he arrived the cabman's embarrassed fare was drawn aside by a bystander, who, after begging his pardon, offered to lend him whatever money was necessary. The writer explained the position. "I really beg your pardon," he was answered ; "I thought the difficulty was you hadn't enough to pay your fare." On the second occasion referred to, owing to a mistake as to trains, an extremely sleepy traveller found himself at midnight one Sunday turned out upon the platform of a station a dozen miles from his desti- nation. There was no train back until the following morning, and there were particular reasons making it necessary for him to reach home that night He wandered disconsolately out into the town and asked a policeman to help him to find a cab. The policeman shook his head; it was midnight on Sunday. "I tell you what, though," he remarked thought- fully, "there's a gentleman who's had a breakdown with his motor-car just starting from the Three Pigeons ; he might be going your way. I'll ask him." He did so, with the result that an absolute stranger took charge of an extremely grateful passenger, and within half-an-hour had landed him at a side-turning from the main London road within an easy walk of his house. Could kindness and hospitality to a stranger go further than in these two cases ?

There may be, as we have said, several reasons why the Englishman traditional in the minds of Frenchmen should be a person so different from the Englishman as he really is. But whatever the reasons may be, one single reason probably has been the causa causans of the continuance of the wrong tradition. That is the work of the caricaturists of both countries. It is the business of the caricaturist to emphasise, to overload, the distinguishing characteristics of his subject. But that may sometimes lead -to awkward results when the caricaturist's work is not accepted by the masses as what it is meant to be—namely, pure caricature—but is taken to be a faithful portrait. It is true that the French caricaturists—and with them perhaps should be bracketed some of the French playwrights—have treated English tourists pretty severely. Perhaps they have had reason to do so, for it happens that some strange mad- ness seems to inflict a certain kind of Englishman in his travels abroad, leading him to brand himself not only as a rather ill-dressed, but as an extremely overbearing and provocative person. But to whatever extent the French caricaturists have misrepresented Englishmen in the mass, no one has misrepresented them more cruelly than the English draughtsmen and satirists, who have joked over the exception, not over the rule. "Here come three Englishmen," Thackeray writes from Boulogne, "dandy specimens of our countrymen —one wears a marine dress, another has a shooting dress, a third has a blouse and a pair of guiltless spurs—all have as rauchlair on the face as nature or art can supply,-and all wear their hats very much on one side." That is, mutatis mutandis, the worst type of English tourist of to-day; and though Thackeray never meant the description to be typical of 'all, he could easily be construed as having meant it. But the illustrated papers have had even more to say. The French caricaturists may have made fun of what they seem to have regarded as typical Englishmen, wonderful beings whose cheekbones are only equalled in prominence by their teeth, and who make it a habit, apparently, to wear whiskers. Still, it might be urged that no person in the world could be more repellently hideous than the Frenchman caricatured by his own countrymen ; and in any case, even if French draughtsmen do not do us an injustice, we make amends ourselves in that direction. The most serious of our comic papers, quite naturally, when dealing with the Englishman abroad, concern themselves chiefly with his gaucheries and mistakes. To be readily recognised as an Englishman abroad the poor victim has to be labelled, scythe inevitable pipe is put into his mouth, he is duly clothed in Norfolk jacket and knickerbockers, the deerstalker is clapped on his head, and he is sent out to walk down the Boulevard des Italiens, a thoroughly ill-mannered, ill-dressed, boorish, typical English person, to be politely described by French gentlemen as "cold" and "reserved." That is not wholly a true picture, for the Continental papers were not concealing thought when they openly praised the manner of the reception in London of the news from Colenso and Magersfontein in December, 1899. But that the carica- turists have had the chief influence of all in perpetuating the wrong tradition of the Englishman's character nothing is more certain. Only in the best and most dignified of our English cartoons has the real spirit of Englishmen been at all adequately expressed, and that, curiously enough, chiefly when English thought has been typified by the artist in the person of a gracious woman.

But if the main truth is, as we have ventured to suggest, that Frenchmen have come to get a false idea of Englishmen because we have not often enough been so fortunate as to have Frenchmen for our guests, is it not equally true that Englishmen in the mass have a lamentably wrong notion of the real Frenchman ? Many of us, of course, are privileged to be well acquainted with the French character ; but what do the theatres provide us with, if the playwright wants his Frenchman to be recognised ? A shrug of the shoulders, a flaming tie, a sugarloaf hat, and the volatility of a shuttle. cock,—everybody knows the foolish caricature. The pity is that to so many it has hitherto been the real thing. It will not be one of the least results of the Portsmouth week if the traditional stage Frenchman is consigned to whatever limbo holds crinolines, Dundreau whiskers, and other antiquated and dismal relics of the past.