Henry James, Jr.


It may be said of English as is said of council of war in Sheridan's farce of Critic by one of spectators of rehearsal, that when they do agree their unanimity is wonderful. (......) but neither just now nor at any other time do they fail to conform to those social observances on which Respectability has set her seal. England is country of curious anomalies, and this has much to do with her being so interesting to foreign observers. English individual character is very positive, very independent, very much made up according to its own sentiment of things, very prone to startling eccentricities; and yet at same time it has beyond any other this peculiar gift of squaring itself with fashion and custom. In no other country, I imagine, are so many people to be found doing same thing in same way at same time ---- using same slang, wearing same hats and cravats, collecting same china plates, playing same game of lawn-tennis or of polo, flocking into same skating-rinks-. monotony of this spectacle would soon become oppressive if foreign observer were not conscious of this latent capacity in performers for free play of character; he finds good deal of entertainment in wondering how they reconcile traditional insularity of individual with this perpetual tribute to custom. Of course in all civilized societies tribute to custom is being constantly paid; if it is less observable in America than elsewhere reason is not, I think, because individual independence is greater, but because custom is more sparsely established.



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