AN AMERICAN ON GUARD
I want to speak more of France, and of what
she can do for America, the land of the coming new race.
I have spoken before of her love, which is so great that even
her own enemies cannot hate her. I have praised her critical genius, which
analyses all things and compares one with another. But now I want to speak
of her charm and her courtesy.
You have said yourself that good-manners are the imitation of
kind-heartedness. To imitate is to emulate. A race that has charming manners
has a heart. A race that is brusque needs to cultivate heart.
Employ French teachers in your schools, you Americans. A French
teacher or a French mother tells her children not to do a certain thing
because it is not pretty, another word for charming, for kind-hearted. If
you imitate kind-heartedness this way, perhaps you will some day feel it,
you American children.
By setting up the standard of beauty in
deportment you need have no fear of forgetting the ethical. You all drank
Puritan ethics with your mother’s milk; there is no danger that those
precepts will be lost if you practise charm a little by way of variety.
Every face in France was once a smiling face. It was not so this
afternoon when I passed through France on my way to you. But the faces are
still brave, because it is not pretty to make a parade of sorrow. I know the
excess of French mourning-apparel might be called a parade of sorrow, but
the black is worn as a mark of respect for all the dead of France.
Taste! There is a race which has it. And in advising America to
learn from the French, I am naturally selecting the good qualities of that
nation. We all have faults of our own.
The taste of the French in the United
States at this time! Do they print journals in English attacking their
enemy? Do they support a lobby in Washington and a press-bureau in New York?
If so I have not heard of them, and we hear of most things out here—we who
keep our ears to the ground. If they grieve for their stricken country, they
do not drop their tears on America’s freshly ironed shirt-bosom. If they
hate their enemy, they hate him with a quiet, well-bred hate. If France wins
a victory in the field, they do not bluster about it. If France loses in the
field, they do not call their enemy a rattlesnake or some other kind of
reptile. It would not be pretty. It might not be unethical, but it would be
Americans bluster too much. I said that when I myself was an
American, before I was uprooted and became a citizen of the world invisible
and universal, and I have not changed my mind by association with angels,
adepts and masters. They never bluster, but the devils often do.
In advising America to learn from France those things in which
France is supreme, I am not depreciating other races. Each nation can learn
something from every other nation. The Chinese and the Japanese have points
where they rise above their neighbors. So have the Americans.
This war has brought out the dominant
traits in all the warring peoples, and their complementary traits. Have you
ever thought of the “turbaned Turk” (or, to be less Shakespearean, the fezzed Turk) as being gullible? Treacherous races are always gullible, as
cruel races are apt to be sentimental—in all that touches themselves. “Free
America” must beware of too many laws. England, too conscious of her virtue,
will one day yield to temptation. Germany, “over all,” has got the whole
world on top of her. Italy, the excitable, is now deliberating to a degree
that would be dangerous for any other land. “Neutral America” is so
unneutral that her right hand threatens her left, and both the whole body.
Do not be impatient with President Wilson. He is dealing with
the problems of the present war as if they were dated 500 B.C., and the long
view is apt to be the clear view. The professor in him is safer than the
politician in him. He is not happy just now. Why? Oh, that is an affair of
State, and I am writing for publication! I know so many secrets that I am
discreet as the family doctor.
But there is an “American on guard
tonight.” Who is he? Old Abraham Lincoln, who renounced heaven that he might
watch over the land he lived and died for.
No, I shall not tell you any more about him. There is something
sacred in a soul’s renouncing rest. He will not go too far away until
America passes through her next great trial. When will that be? As the
Beautiful Being says, “Nay, Child, you ask too much.”
And still you are eager to know about Abraham Lincoln! I was
eager to know about him myself a few short years ago; but I did not ask too
many questions. It would not have been pretty, as the French mothers say.