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COLONIAL CHARACTERISTICS

There is no kind of reading more interesting to the intelligent part of a nation than that from which they learn what outsiders think of their manners and institutions. To the people of a young country such comments are especially interesting, whether they be friendly or adverse. The Americans, for instance, used to be sensitive to a degree in regard to what was said about them by their cousins at Home, as they called and still call the Old Country ; and it must be confessed that English travellers in the first half of the present century, and even down to a later date, showed little consideration for such a natural feeling. It seemed to be the set purpose, even of many writers of reputation, to ridicule and exasperate their relations on the other side of the Atlantic. But whatever they wrote was all the while devoured with the keenest interest, though often not without intense pain and deep indignation, by the subjects of their observations. The fact is that the vulgar British mind to which such writers pandered was jealous, perhaps unconsciously, of the wonderful energy and success of the great Republic of the West; though the better sentiment of the nation always lamented and condemned the offensive practice. The Americana have in great measure outgrown their extreme sensitiveness, and a very marked change has at the same time come over the British mind. Such pictures of American society and American manners as were drawn by Mrs Trollope and Charles Dickens would not now be tolerated in England. The Mother and Daughter have come to understand each other better, and the better the mutual understanding the higher the mutual respect. Here in the South Seas another new world of British origin is growing up; but though these Australasian colonies are already practically independent of the Mother Country, and though they are making enormous strides towards wealth and power, the treatment they receive from the British public is very different from what the Americans experienced. The danger is lest they should be spoilt with too much praise. Mr Trollope, indeed, said something about their tendency to " blow," and Mr Froude the other day slightly wounded the amour j?ropre of New Zealanders; but the general tone of the remarks of English visitors is -certainly not lacking in friendliness. While, however, it is interesting to know what the people at Home think of us and of our way of life—social, industrial, and political—it is even more interesting to get the appraisal of the Americans. America, compared with Australasia, may be called an old country. The Americans, at any rate, have long had a distinct national character. They are, moreover, good judges of the character of other nations. In the May number of the ' Atlantic Monthly' there is an article (the first of two on the same subject) entitled "Reflections after a Wandering Life in Australasia." In these jottings there is not a trace either of flattery or malice. They are written in an excellent spirit, evidently by a man of culture, who can both observe and reflect. He says there are two feelings which make it hard for an American visitor in the Australasian colonies to bring to what he sees an open and a sympathetic mind. The one is that this uew world is too remote from his own to excite in him any very warm interest; the other, that if he knows " his own great West" there can be nothing of any consequence for him to learn under the Southern Cross. He was, however, no sooner in Australia than he found that the resemblances to the " great West" were not nearly so important as the differences. Mr Josiah Royce (for that is the name of the writer) also shows that he brought an open and sympathetic mind with him, in spite of the prejudice, common to us all, which he expresses so well in these words:—"As a foreign tongue I " refuses to come to the lips when we "are in earnest, so a very distant "land refuses to appear to us like a " perfectly fit habitation for the truest- " hearted men or the best of womeD." But one has only to travel to find out one's mistake, and this American tells us that he felt it " a trifle thrilling not " merely to know, but actually to see, " that a happy home in Australia is " the same warm English fireside in- " stitution that it is in America. One's "prejudice leads him to expect it to be " something singular, altered, remote—"in short, antipodean. It is nothing "of the kind; but, on the contrary, is " most disappointingly human and delightful." After a comparison between the respective conditions of the early settlers of Australia and those of America, perhaps more ingenious than instructivp, Mr Royce devotes a paragraph to the Australian newspaper Press (that mirror of the life of the people), and especially to the weeklies, which he considers greatly superior to the same class of journals in America. He then comes to the politics and political institutions of Australasia. What most strikes the observer, he says, either in Australia or New Zealand, is the remarkable political maturity of the colonies; and this political maturity is not merely the result of the heritage common to all English-speaking communities. In addition to this common heritage there is a rapid growth of State organisation —a growth taking forms that are

partly novel. Here, he continues, are pure democracies, "with what Americans would at once pronounce to be strong Socialistic tendencies, lie instances the State railways as evidence of certain habits of mind which democracies of English origin have not elsewhere developed. The American protective tariff is something quite different from an experiment in State Socialism. American politics, in a word, are more Conservative than those of Australasia. In many States of the Union constitutional provisions hamper the law-makers, and the changes introduced in the newer State Constitutions have in a number of cases been intended for the express purpose of restricting legislation. There is indeed a species of State Socialism in the United States, but it exists, so far, only in the shape of opinion—the opinion of a certain class of speculative philanthropists. But in the colonies the State is first in every man's thought, and its purposes are commercial rather than philanthropic. Americans cannot understand how these colonies get on, seeing that a general election may happen any day, and may at any time "lead to important changes " in the business policy of tho Government, and so of the whole com"munity." Mr Royce found, on the other hand, that colonials could not understand "how freemen could live, " and be so completely without dread, "as wo here in America often aro, " concerning what may happen next in " the political world. A Presidential " canvass is for us a refreshing draught "of genuine national politics, after a " number of years of comparative dul"ness. But the colonist is used to " excitements that for him are almost "as great, and that perhaps once "a session. This, doubtless, is one " reason why he expects so much from " the State. If the gods will always " be appearing to mix in the affairs of " daily life, then, to be sure, even the " herdsman must try to get the gods "to do his work for him," This peculiarity of our colonial politics—the constant interference of the Government in social and industrial affairs—which Mr Royce calls State Socialism, is what most strikes an intelligent American. It is often said that the Australasian colonies copy after America; but this is a superficial remark. They are working out their own destinies in their own way; and, so far, have chosen lines in many respects different from those of the Americans. Can it be, asks Mr Royce, that the problem of State Socialism is, after all, to be worked out in these young communities % We do not think so; and in another article we will endeavor to show that the differences between the Australasian and the American methods of government are not quite so great as Mr Royce imagines.

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https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/ESD18890826.2.2

Bibliographic details

COLONIALCHARACTERISTICS, Issue 7995, 26 August 1889

Word Count
1,352

COLONIALCHARACTERISTICS Issue 7995, 26 August 1889

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