Further Fannyisms

…a selection of the passages I bookmarked in the Kemble journals.

On American women

The dignified and graceful influence which married women, among us, exercise over the tone of manners, uniting the duties of home to the charms of social life, and bearing, at once, like the orange-tree, the fair fruits of maturity with the blossoms of their spring, is utterly unknown here. Married women are either house-drudges and nursery-maids, or, if they appear in society, comparative ciphers ; and the retiring, modest, youthful bearing, which among us distinguishes girls of fifteen or sixteen, is equally unknown. Society is entirely led by chits, who in England would be sitting behind a pinafore ; the consequence is, that it has neither the elegance, refinement, nor the propriety which belongs to ours ; but is a noisy, rackety, vulgar congregation of flirting boys and girls, alike without style or decorum.

On the absence of desperate poverty in America

This country is in (one) respect blessed above all others, and above all others deserving of blessing. There are no poor I say there are none, there need be none ; none here need lift up the despairing voice of hopeless and help less want towards that Heaven which hears when men will not. No father here need work away his body s health, and his spirit s strength, in unavailing labour, from day to day, and from year to year, bowed down by the cruel curse his fellows lay upon him. ..Oh, it makes the heart sick to think of all the horrible anguish that has been suffered by thousands and thousands of those wretched creatures, whose want begets a host of moral evils fearful to contemplate; whose existence begins in poverty, struggles on through care and toil, and heart-grinding burdens, and ends in destitution, in sickness, alas! too often in crime and infamy. Thrice blessed is this country, for no such crying evil exists in its bosom; no such moral reproach, no such political rottenness. Not only is the eye never offended with those piteous sights of human suffering, which make one s heart bleed, and whose number appals one s imagination in the thronged thoroughfares of the European cities ; but the mind reposes with delight in he certainty that not one human creature is here doomed to suffer and to weep through life ;not one immortal soul is thrown into jeopardy by the combined temptations of its own misery, and the heartless self ishness of those who pass it by without holding out so much as a finger to save it. If we have any faith in the excellence of mercy and benevolence, we must believe that this alone will secure the blessing of Providence on this country,

On American economic opportunity

(The woman mentioned in this passage was a fellow passenger on one of Fanny’s westbound transatlantic voyages)

Her husband was a Staffordshire potter, and had gone to the United States to establish a pottery there; to begin the building up of a large concern, and lay the foundation for probable future wealth and prosperity. He had been gone two years, and she was now going out to join him with their four children. In his summons to her after this long separation, he told her that all had prospered with him, that he had bought a large tract of land, found excellent soil, water, and means of every description for his manufacturing purposes, obtained a patent, and established his business, and was every way likely to thrive and be successful.

What hope, what energy, what enterprise, what industry, in but two years of one human existence! What a world of doubt, of distressful anxiety and misgiving in the heart of the woman, left to patient expectation, to prayerful, tearful hopes and fears! What trust in man and faith in God during those two years!…Moreover, this woman was carrying out with her the wives of several of her husband’s workmen, who had accompanied him out on his experimental voyage; and, being settled in his employment, had got their master’s wife to bring their partners out to them. Think what a meeting for all these poor people, dear Harriet, in this little hive of English industry and energy in the far west, the fertile wildernesses of Indiana!

Reservations about universal suffrage

Unfortunately this precaution (publicly-funded education–ed) does not fulfil its purpose; universal suffrage is a political fallacy : and will be one of the stumbling-blocks in the path of this country s greatness. I do not mean that it will lessen her wealth, or injure her commercial and financial resources; but it will be an insuperable bar to the pro gress of mental and intellectual cultivation tis a plain case of action and re action. If the mass, i. e. the inferior portion, (for when was the mass not inferior?) elect their own governors, they will of course elect an inferior class of governors, and the government of such men will be an inferior government; that it may be just, honest, and rational, I do not dispute; but that it ever will be enlarged, liberal, and highly enlightened, I do not, and cannot, believe.

On the failure of some socialist/communal experiments:

Fourierism was received with extreme enthusiasm in New England, where various societies have been formed upon the plan of Fourier’s suggestions, and this not by the poor or lower classes, but by the voluntary association of the rich with the poor in communities where all worldly goods were in common, and labor, too, so foolishly fairly in common that delicately bred and highly educated women took their turn to stand all day at the wash-tub, for the benefit of the society, though surely not of their shirts…In America these social experiments were perfectly disinterested and undertaken for the sake of moral good results; for where they were tried, there was neither excessive wealth nor poverty to suggest them, and the excellent and intelligent people thus brought together by pure zeal for social improvement disagreed and grumbled with each other, were so perfectly and uncomfortably unsuccessful in their experiments that their whole scheme collapsed, and dissolved into the older social disorders from which they had thought to raise themselves and others….

On the importance of rituals

There is a species of home religion, so to speak, which is kept alive by the gathering together of families at slated periods of joy and festivity, which has a far deeper moral than most people imagine. The merry-making at Christmas, the watching out the old year, and in the new, the royalty of Twelfth-night, the keeping of birth-days, and anniversaries of weddings, are things which, to the worldly-wise in these wise times, may savour of childishness or superstition ; but they tend to promote and keep alive some of the sweetest charities and kindliest sympathies of our poor nature. While we are yet children, these days are set in golden letters in the calendar, long looked forward to, enjoyed with unmixed delight, the peculiar seasons of new frocks, new books, new toys, drinking of healths, bestowing of blessings and wishes by kindred and parents, and being brought into the notice of our elders, and, as children used to think in the dark ages, therefore their betters. To the older portion of the community, such times were times of many mingled emotions, all, all of a softening if not of so exhilarat ing a nature. The cares, the toils, of the worlJ had become their portion, some little of its coldness, its selfishness, and sad guardedness had crept upon them, distance and various interests, and the weary works of life had engrossed their thoughts, and turned their hearts and their feet from the dear household paths, and the early fellowship of home; but at these seasons the world was in its turn pushed aside for a moment, the old thresholds were crossed by those who had ceased to dwell in the house of their birth, kindred and friends met again, as in the early days of childhood and youth, under the same roof-tree, the nursery revel, and the school-day jubilee, was recalled to their thoughts by the joyful voices and faces of a new generation, the blessed and holy influences of home flowed back into their souls, at such a time, by a thousand channels, the heart was warmed with the kind old love and fellowship, face brightened to kindred face, and hand grasped the hand where the same blood was flowing, and all the evil deeds of time seemed for a while retrieved.

On improved communications:

(written circa 1882 in annotation of her earlier comments about the difficulties and emotional pain caused by slow communications between the continents)

To those who know the rate of intercourse between Europe and America now, these expressions of the painful sense of distance from my country and friends, under which I suffered, must seem almost incomprehensible,—now, when to go to Europe seems to most Americans the easiest of summer trips, involving hardly more than a week’s sea voyage; when letters arrive almost every other day by some of the innumerable steamers flying incessantly to and fro, and weaving, like living shuttles, the woof and warp of human communication between the continents; and the submarine telegraph shoots daily tidings from shore to shore of that terrible Atlantic, with swift security below its storms. But when I wrote this to my friend, no words were carried with miraculous celerity under the dividing waves; letters could only be received once a month, and from thirty to thirty-seven days was the average voyage of the sailing packets which traversed the Atlantic. Men of business went to and fro upon their necessary affairs, but very few Americans went to Europe, and still fewer Europeans went to America, to spend leisure, or to seek pleasure; and American and English women made the attempt still seldomer than the men. The distance between the two worlds, which are now so near to each other, was then immense.

On character, rules, principles:

The abiding spirit of a man’s life, more than his special actions and peculiar theories, is that by which other men are moved and admonished. I have extreme faith in the potency of this species of influence, and comparatively less in the effect of example, in special cases and particular details of conduct. Christ’s teaching was always aimed at the spirit which should govern us, not at its mere application to isolated instances; and to those who sought advice from Him for application to some special circumstance He invariably answered with a deep and broad rule of conduct, leaving the conscience of the individual to apply it to the individual case; and it seems to me the only way in which we can exhort each other is by the love of truth, the desire of right, the endeavor after holiness, which may still be ours, and to which we may still effectually point our fellow-pilgrims, even when we ourselves have fallen by the wayside under the weight of our own infirmities, failures, and sins.

On critics writing for newspapers:

The few critiques that I have seen upon our acting have been, upon the whole, laudatory. One was sent to me from a paper called The Mirror, which pleased me very much ; not because the praise in it was excessive, and far beyond my deserts, but that it was written with great taste and feeling, and was evidently not the produce of a common press-hack. There appeared to me in all the others the true provincial dread of praising too much, and being led into approbation by previous opinions; a sort of jealousy of critical freedom, which, together with the established nil admirariot the press, seems to keep them in a constant dread of being thought enthusiastic. They need not be afraid : enthusiasm may belong to such analyses as Schlegels or Channing s, but has nothing in common with the paragraphs of a newspaper; the inditers of which, in my poor judgment, seldom go beyond the very threshold of criticism, ie. the discovery of faults.

On her love of Shakespeare:

…the happiness of reading Shakespeare’s heavenly imaginations is so far beyond all the excitement of acting them (white satin, gas lights, applause, and all), that I cannot conceive a time when having him in my hand will not compensate for the absence of any amount of public popularity. While I can sit obliviously curled up in an armchair, and read what he says till my eyes are full of delicious, quiet tears, and my heart of blessed, good, quiet thoughts and feelings, I shall not crave that which falls so far short of any real enjoyment, and hitherto certainly seems to me as remote as possible from any real happiness…Portia is my favoritest of all Shakespeare’s women. She is so generous, affectionate, wise, so arch and full of fun, and such a true lady, that I think if I could but convey her to my audience as her creator has conveyed her to me, I could not fail to please them much.

13 thoughts on “Further Fannyisms”

  1. She’s quite an observationsist (is that a word?), isn’t she? I am enjoying these excerpts, David.

    – Madhu

  2. Re: universal suffrage.
    I, too, think that this is a mistake. I think that a citizen should not be allowed to vote, especially for Congress, if they do not pay federal income taxes. The ability of non-producers and parasites to have an equal voice with those who actually are producers when it comes to tax rates and goodies distributed by the government just leads to more and more non-producers and parasites, more corruption on the part of Congressmen, and more and more onerous regulations on businesses and taxes on producers in order to pay for all the “entitlements” for those who are parasites.
    If the “pay federal taxes or don’t vote” provision became law, then in most years I could not vote, so this isn’t a matter of a “have” resenting the have-nots. This is an ethical matter, and the ethics of this country, especially at the top, are the pits. It is unethical for one who has no skin in the game to be able to use votes to bribe a Congresscritter to force someone who actually works to support someone who does not work.

  3. Oggre….on the other hand, some of those who DO pay federal income taxes…and often quite a lot thereof…are even more effective at (in effect) bribing CongressCreatures than are those whose incomes are below the taxable level. Consider, for example, the individuals behind the “alternative energy” industry, university presidents and other top administrators, and substantial parts of the financial services industry. See my post paying higher taxes can be very profitable for related thoughts.

  4. The section “On the absence of desperate poverty in America” confounds.

    How can a market economy thoroughly eliminate poverty if every person is maximizing his own fortune? How does institionalized selfishness better aid the helpless than institionalized charity?

    Or do you get what you pay for? If you reward productivity you get productive people. If you reward indolence, you get extreme in-your-face poverty.

  5. in re bribery.

    If there is no government there is no bribery because there is no one to bribe. Big government = big corruption. Little goverment = little corruption. Some where there is a sweet spot where we get just the right amount of government at a level of corruption we can tollerate.

    Remember that what the US press calls corrupt government in Afganistan is really a matter of placing the needs of family and tribe above the needs of the “Afgan nation” or the UN.

  6. Sol…must also note that the availability of cheap land played an important point in maintaining relatively high wage rates in America: someone who didn’t like the pay or working conditions had the realistic option to strike out on his own.

    (It’s interesting to speculate about what the present-day equivalent of cheap land might be, if anything..)

  7. Several things made European-style extreme poverty rare. Since work was almost entirely at-will, and hiring was usually done by the owner or foreman on the spot, after perhaps a few questions to determine whether the person might have the skills needed, any willing worker could be working and earning money almost instantaneously. There was large amounts of unskilled, pick-and-shovel labor needed that paid far better than in Europe. Many immigrant narratives describe getting hired on the day they landed. Housing was not up to any kind of code, but it was almost all better than the kind of hovel that had been living in in Europe. Food was cheap and plentiful, and in all but the big cities, wild game could be had at any season, which would have been banned for the use in Europe.

    We wouldn’t call it prosperity, or even a decent life, but it was far better than what they had come from.

    And, yes, cheap land helped a lot. The modern equivalent might be cheap land — if you took away all planning and zoning restrictions (like Houston) housing would be a lot cheaper.

  8. Regulations at the city, state and federal level prevent many people from hiring people in order to provide a service.

    1. It is illegal in many states for a child to run a lemonade stand.

    2. It is illegal to sell food, beverages and other stuff to tailgaters at a football game or other events

    3. baby sitters need licenses, background checks and proof of special training

    4. It is illegal to sell stuff without charging sales tax and illegal to collect sales tax without a license and that license requires the seller maintain records and hire lawyers and accountants

    5. It is illegal to hire someone with filing reports to agencies at the local, state and federal level and one is required to withhold taxes and somerimes provide insurances and bomds.

    These regulations did not exist when Fanny noticed the absence of poverty. Now would be a good time for some entreprenuer to higher people at cheap wages and provide useful products and services but the unemployed are protected from exploitation.

    Big business can comply – small businesses simply don’t get created.

    Economists call these rules and regulations barriers to entry.

  9. “Start-up capital and entrepreneurial skill” — those are great things and will do good for a lot of people, including the people the entrepreneur will hire. And plentiful capital and skillful entrepreneurs make for a more prosperous economy all around. But they don’t do much to prevent the sort of dire poverty Fanny was talking about, aside from the fact that prosperity helps everybody. Today’s hyper-organizaed, credentialed, controlled society is particularly hellish for people with no skills, education, or credentials. The welfare system will keep them alive in a minimal sort of way if their substance problems aren’t too bad. But for the most part people on the bottom have a hell of a time getting out these days. Free land out West was one way out in the past.

    In the 19th and early 20th centuries an unskilled but willing person could usually get enough unskilled work without credentials or even ID to feed, house, and clothe himself, and there were always steps up to the next level for those with some ambition. My paternal grandfather was an iron foundry foreman in the 1930s; he did the hiring and firing for his shift personally. There was no personnel or HR department. Accounting sent a sack of cash down on payday and he handed it out himself. When Social Security came in he was told to create a list of his worker’s names and birthdays, and to tell them to go get Social Security numbers. He considered it an outrageous violation of their privacy to ask their birthday, and thought the idea of them having to get numbers from the government and disclose them to the company was “like Hitler’s Germany.” When he told me this story, I realized how in some ways America had been a much freer country in the past, and what we lost when people are no longer outraged at the idea of somebody having to disclose their date of birth.

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