Saturday 3 March 2018

Dr Opimian on America, from Thomas Love Peacock's Gryll Grange (1860)

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Without magnetism we should never have discovered America; to which we are indebted for nothing but evil; diseases in the worst forms that can afflict humanity, and slavery in the worst form in which slavery can exist. The Old World had the sugar-cane and the cotton-plant, though it did not so misuse them. Then, what good have we got from America? What good of any kind, from the whole continent and its islands, from the Esquimaux to Patagonia?

Mr. Gryll. Newfoundland salt fish, Doctor.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. That is something, but it does not turn the scale. 

Mr. Gryll. If they have given us no good, we have given them none.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian.  
We have given them wine and classical literature; but I am afraid Bacchus and Minerva have equally
"Scattered their bounty upon barren ground."
On the other-hand, we have given the red men rum, which has been the chief instrument of their perdition. On the whole, our intercourse with America has been little else than an interchange of vices and diseases.

Lord Curryfin. Do you count it nothing to have substituted civilised for savage men?

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Civilised. The word requires definition. But looking into futurity, it seems to me that the ultimate tendency of the change is to substitute the worse for the better race, the Negro for the Red Indian. The Red Indian will not work for a master. No ill-usage will make him. Herein, he is the noblest specimen of humanity that ever walked the earth. Therefore, the white man exterminates his race. But the time will come, when by mere force of numbers, the black race will predominate, and exterminate the white. And thus the worse race will be substituted for the better, even as it is in St. Domingo, where the Negro has taken the place of the Caraib. The change is clearly for the worse.

Lord Curryfin. You imply that in the meantime the white race is better than the red.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. I leave that as an open question. But I hold, as some have done before me, that the human mind degenerates in America, and that the superiority, such as it is, of the white race, is only kept up by intercourse with Europe. Look at the atrocities in their ships. Look at their Congress and their Courts of Justice; debaters in the first; suitors, even advocates, sometimes judges, in the second, settling their arguments with pistol and dagger. Look at their extensions of slavery, and their revivals of the slave-trade, now covertly, soon to be openly. If it were possible that the two worlds could be absolutely dissevered for a century, I think a new Columbus would find nothing in America but savages.

Lord Curryfin. You look at America, doctor, through your hatred of slavery. You must remember that we introduced it when they were our colonists. It is not so easily got rid of. Its abolition by France exterminated the white race in St. Domingo [Haiti], as the white race had exterminated the red. Its abolition by England ruined our West Indian colonies.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Yes, in conjunction with the direct encouragement of foreign slave labour, given by our friends of liberty under the pretext of free trade. It is a mockery to keep up a squadron for suppressing the slave-trade on the one hand, while, on the other hand, we encourage it to an extent that counteracts in a tenfold degree the apparent power of suppression. It is a clear case of false pretension

Mr. Gryll. You know, doctor, the Old World had slavery throughout its entire extent; under the Patriarchs, the Greeks, the Romans; everywhere in short. Cicero thought our island not likely to produce anything worth having, excepting slaves;{1} and of those none skilled, as some slaves were, in letters and music, but all utterly destitute of both. And in the Old World the slaves were of the same race with the masters. The Negroes are an inferior race, not fit, I am afraid, for anything else.
     1 Etiam illud jam cognitum est, neque argenti scripulum esse
     ullum in ilia insula, neque ullam spem praedae, nisi ex
     mancipiis: ex quibus nullos puto te literis aut musicis
     eruditos expectare.—Cicero: ad Atticum, iv. 16.

     A hope is expressed by Pomponius Mela, 1. iii, c. 6 (he
     wrote under Claudius), that, by the success of the Roman
     arms, the island and its savage inhabitants would soon be
     better known. It is amusing enough to peruse such passages
     in the midst of London.—Gibbon: c. i.
The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Not fit, perhaps, for anything else belonging to what we call civilised life. Very fit to live on little, and wear nothing, in Africa; where it would have been a blessing to themselves and the rest of the world if they had been left unmolested; if they had had a Friar Bacon to surround their entire continent with a wall of brass.
Mr. Falconer. I am not sure, doctor, that in many instances, even yet, the white slavery of our factories is not worse than the black slavery of America. We have done much to amend it, and shall do more. Still, much remains to be done.
The Rev. Dr. Opimiun. And will be done, I hope and believe. The Americans do nothing to amend their system. On the contrary, they do all they can to make bad worse. Whatever excuse there may be for maintaining slavery where it exists, there can be none for extending it into new territories; none for reviving the African slave-trade. These are the crying sins of America. Our white slavery, so far as it goes, is so far worse, that it is the degradation of a better race. But if it be not redressed, as I trust it will be, it will work out its own retribution. And so it is of all the oppressions that are done under the sun. Though all men but the red men will work for a master, they will not fight for an oppressor in the day of his need. Thus gigantic empires have crumbled into dust at the first touch of an invader's footstep. For petty, as for great oppressions, there is a day of retribution growing out of themselves. It is often long in coming. Ut sit magna, tamen eerie lenla ira Deoruni est.{2} But it comes.
          Raro anteccdentem scelestum
          Deseruit pede poena claudo.{2}

     1 The anger of the Gods, though great, is slow.

     2 The foot of Punishment, though lame,
     O'ertakes at last preceding Wrong.

Lord Curryfin. I will not say, doctor, 'I've seen, and sure I ought to know.' But I have been in America, and I have found there, what many others will testify, a very numerous class of persons who hold opinions very like your own: persons who altogether keep aloof from public life, because they consider it abandoned to the rabble; but who are as refined, as enlightened, as full of sympathy for all that tends to justice and liberty, as any whom you may most approve amongst ourselves.

The Rev. Dr. Opimian. Of that I have no doubt. But I look to public acts and public men.


  1. I am done with your blog again.

    Why do europeans hate americans so much? Why so so many anti american posts?

    Is it inferiority, malaise, degeneracy and enervation?

    The US saved your a__ at least twice from German hegemony. As well as keeping the the Soviet Union out of your panties.
    And, now you have the Islamic migrant armies. I hope you choke. We wont save you a third time.

    1. I am rereading Peacock for the first time since I was 14 and came across this passage, that I thought would interest my readers. Please don't take offence where none was meant. How civilised this conversation is, where doing good is defined not in economic terms but by introducing wine and Latin and Greek literature.

    2. Please come back. I greatly valued your comments.

    3. As Paul Marks said, Peacock's opinions or anything I quote I do not endorse.

  2. Gosh! I hope he never reads of Charles Dickens/Oscar Wilde's impressions of the great Republic to my south.There was always an active industry of writers who disparaged America. Whatever you do, don't read Evelyn Waugh's "The Loved One."! The master does not spare the harpoon.....-Doug.

    1. I post this too often because I like it so much.

      "We are all American at puberty; we die French."

      -Evelyn Waugh

  3. It's amusing that the reasons to hate America haven't changed since, and furthermore, all the mals mentioned here, have actually engulfed the old European countries, and have taken a new life there. Without the somewhat archaic choice of words and racial comments this article would pass quite easily as a socialist/leftist article.
    What is actually fascinating is that throughout the last 300 years, there seems to be the same voice shouting from the top of the mountain, how vulgar and evil the rest of humanity is, how much it is in need of an enlightened group to guide it and save it.
    Maybe it's a feature of the start of the end, as he quite rightly observes, although in reality, American or not we're going down together.

  4. European anti Americanism is based upon two things - the hatred of people for their benefactors (a human trait - someone saves the life of someone else, and they hate their benefactor for saving their life as it implies they are inferior), and the turn away from the idea that there are universal principles. As Mrs Thatcher was fond of saying the United States of America is an "idea" - the Old Whigs (such as Sir John Holt - Chief Justice from 1689 to 1710) would have had no problem with that, as the American idea is simply the application of their ideas - the ideas of Natural Law. Indeed such men as the "Kit Kat" Club would have scolded the Founding Fathers for lack of constancy (with the exception of Mr Morris of New York - whose sarcastic treatment of the failure to deal with slavery was second-to-none). However, Europe moved away from believing in Old Whig (or Old Tory, Dr Johnson style, principles) - so by the 20th century the division was between an America that did not fully live up to the old principles (and never had fully lived up to them) and a Europe that did not believe in the old principles at all.
    Paul Marks

  5. Americans worry (like the Romans of old) that they are betraying the old principles ("the same law for all, equal rights and equal freedom of speech, a Princely government that values most of all the liberty of the governed" as the Emperor Marcus Aurelius summed up the old principles in what we call his "Meditations" ) - but to even talk of limited government, Freedom of Speech, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms...... in most European countries (including this one) invites ridicule - indeed prosecution. Always in this Fallen World the choice is a bitter one - between those who try but fail to live up to the old principles and those hate-and-despise the old principles.

  6. What an odd conversation. First of all it shows no knowledge of the various Indian tribes - it lumps them together as if they were all the same. Nor were they "exterminated". Still I do not make the mistake of some here - the mistake of confusing the opinions expressed by these 19th century thinkers, with the opinions of the present "blogger". It is always interesting to see what people in the past thought.