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VARIOUS TEXTS: THE ENGLISH CHARACTER

Excerpts from R. W. Emerson's (American philosopher, essayist, and poet. 1803-1882) essay on English Traits (1856)

Keep in mind that the following text was written c. 150 years ago; this is why vocabulary and syntax at times look obsolete. Yours task is to write a composition concerning the question:
From what you have heard about English people and what you have read about them, are today's Englishmen still the same as 150 years ago?

1. The English have more constitutional energy than any other people. They think that manly exercises are the foundation of that element of mind which gives one nature ascendency over another. They box, run, shoot, ride, row, and sail from pole to pole. They walk and ride as fast as they can, there heads bent forward, as if urged on some pressing affair. The French say that the Englishmen in the street always walk straight along like mad dogs. Men and women have a craze for walking. Every season the aristocracy turns out into the country to shoot and fish. The more vigorous run out of the island to Europe, to America, to Asia, to Africa, and Australia, to hunt with fury by gun, by trap, by harpoon, by lasso, with dog, with horse, with elephant, dromedary, all the game that is in nature.
2. The English race are reputed morose. I do not know that they have sadder brows than their neighbors of northern climates. They are sad by comparison with the singing and dancing nations: not sadder, but slow and staid, as finding their joys at home. They, too, believe that where there is no enjoyment of life, there can be no vigor and art in speech or thought: that your merry heart goes all the way, your sad one tires in a mile. This trait of gloom has been fixed on them by French travellers. I suppose, their gravity of demeanor and their few words have obtained this reputation. As compared with the Americans, I think them cheerful and contented. Young people, in this country (i.e. America), are much more prone to melancholy. The English have a mild aspect, and a ringing cheerful voice. In mixed company, they shut their mouths. A Yorkshire mill-owner told me, he had ridden more than once all the way from London to Leeds, in the first-class carriage, with the same persons, and no word exchanged. The club-houses were established to cultivate social habits, and it is rare that more than two eat together, and oftenest one eats alone. They are contradictorily described as sour, splenetic, and stubborn, and as mild, sweet, and sensible. The truth is, they have great range and variety of character. Commerce sends abroad multitudes of different classes. The choleric Welshman, the fervid Scot, the bilious resident in the East or West Indies, are wide of the perfect behavior of the educated and dignified man of family. So is the burly farmer; so is the country 'squire, with his narrow and violent life. In every inn, is the Commercial-Room, in which `travellers,' or bagmen who carry patterns, and solicit orders, for the manufacturers, are wont to be entertained. It easily happens that this class should characterize England to the foreigner, who meets them on the road, and at every public house, whilst the gentry avoid the taverns, or seclude themselves whilst in them.
3. The stability of England is the security of the modern world. If the English race were as mutable as the French, what reliance? But the English stand for liberty. The conservative, money-loving, lord-loving English are yet liberty-loving; and so freedom is safe. They wish neither to command or obey, but to be kings in their own houses. They are intellectual and deeply enjoy literature; they like well to have the world served up to them in books, maps, models, and every mode of exact information, and, though not creators in art, they value its refinement. They are ready for leisure, can direct and fill their own day, nor need so much as others the constraint of a necessity. They choose that welfare which is compatible with the commonwealth, knowing that such alone is stable.


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