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Translation of a Letter written by a Foreigner on his Travels



London, December 3, 1776.

DEAR COUNT: I have now been six months in England, and eight weeks in this metropolis. You should have heard from me before, but my frequent avocations, as well as the want of a suitable opportunity, have prevented. Agreeably to my promise, however, I now sit down to give you some account of the character and politicks of this strange people. So copious a subject cannot be discussed in one letter; but you shall hear from me again, when further observation shall have enabled me to be more particular.

The general character of the English is certainly the most fantastick and absurd that ever fell to the lot of any known nation. As they are made up of contradictions, it would be unjust to give them any uniform designation. There is scarce a virtue that adorns the mind, or a vice that disgraces human nature, but may be ascribed to them as part of their national character. But the former are often


rendered ineffectual by misapplication, and the latter qualified by a levity of manners, which shows them not to be constitutionally prevalent. An Englishman will treat his enemy with great generosity, and his friend with ingratitude and inhumanty. He will be lavish of his wealth when he has but little of it, and become a miserly wretch when fortune pours her favours into his purse. He will brave the utmost hardships, and encounter the severest trials with heroick fortitude; and will drown or hang himself because the wind is in the east. He will lend large sums to a stranger on the slightest security, and refuse his nearest relation the means of subsistence. To-day, his heart expands with social benevolence; to-morrow, he is cold, sullen and morose. To-day, he possesses the wealth of a nabob; to-morrow, he refuses a sixpence to a beggar, lest he should himself be reduced to the want of that sixpence. In a word, contradiction and absurdity makes an Englishman.

During the last century, this people hath risen in wealth, power, and prosperity; but the instability of their temper will not permit them to enjoy with content any blessing in possession. At peace with all the world; feared and respected by their neighbours; an established policy, reformed religion, and extensive commerce, are circumstances sufficient, one would suppose, to render any people happy. But the thirst of lawless ambition can never be satisfied. The English assume to themselves the character of being the most just, generous, and humane nation in the world, and yet they encourage the African trade — a trade attended with circumstances of injustice, cruelty, and horrour, that disgrace human nature; whereby they fasten for life, the chains of servitude the most abject, and misery the most complete, on many hundreds of their fellow-creatures every year.

This just and humane nation also sent one Clive to the East-Indies, to secure a dominion for them there; a country which, it should seem, the Creator never intended for the English, because he had placed it on the opposite side of the globe, and made the inhabitants of a quite, different complexion. This Clive, however, arrived with his forces in the East-Indies, and under the sanction of his most gracious Britannick majesty and a free Parliament, put to death some hundred thousands of the inoffensive inhabitants by the sword, by famine, and the most atrocious cruelties; after which he returned to England with immense riches, and a wife set in diamonds, and was made a Lord — and then cut his throat with a penknife.

You will be surprised at this; but the people here were not surprised at all. It is no uncommon thing to spend an evening with a man, in all the easy gaiety of social life, and to hear next morning that he hanged himself in a stable, or practised phlebotomy on his own jugular vein with a razor.

The English now govern in the East-Indies with a tyranny so pure, so unadulterated with any mixture of justice or humanity, as could not have been exceeded in the reigns of the twelve Caesars.

This best of all Kings has now turned his attention to America. There he had three millions of subjects, who loved, honoured, and obeyed him. He governed them by officers of his own appointment; he had the whole regulation of their commerce; and the overflowings of their wealth were conducted by easy channels into his coffers, and into the purses of the merchants and manufacturers of his kingdom. But he has quarreled with these loyal and beneficial subjects, because they are so obstinate that they will not acknowledge that two and two make five. Whole volumes have been written on this subject, and all the force of reason and eloquence exerted to convince this wise King that he is in an errour. The Americans have most emphatically beseeched him to accept of the undissembled loyalty of their hearts; declaring that they are satisfied that the fruits of their industry should centre with him and his people, as heretofore, to enrich and aggrandize them; but humbly pray that they may not be compelled to acknowledge that two and two make five, which would be to them a most dangerous and distressing violation of truth. But this wise and humane monarch is far from being disposed to give up the point. He has rejected their petitions with scorn, and spurned at their offers of affection and fidelity; and declares, that he will even risk the crown of his ancestors but he will make the obstinate Americans subscribe to his new dogma.


To this end he hath sent over, not only his own fleets and armies, but has hired a banditti of foreign mercenaries from a petty prince, who supports the splendour of his court by selling the blood of his subjects; and he has also employed negroes and wild Indians to persecute the poor Americans without mercy until they shall acknowledge that two and two make five.

America is at this time a scene of desolation and distress; a theatre whereon is acted a real tragedy, exhibiting every species of cruelty and injustice. The royal Army of this most enlightened of all nations are ravishing the women, murdering the men, and laying waste that fertile and beautiful country, under the conduct of Lord and General Howe; who are executing their bloody mandate with all the composure in the world. His most gracious Majesty receives, from time to time, such accounts of their proceedings as they please to give him, and is as happy as such a monarch can be.

Who would have thought that the peaceful plains of America would be desolated because the inhabitants will not believe that two and two make five, when their good King and wise Parliament require them so to do?

On the contrary, the Americans, highly resenting this treatment, have declared that they will no longer be pensioners of the smiles of such a King, or submit to a Government in which they have no share, and over which they have no control, and which is therefore, with respect to them, a Government of mere will and pleasure. They have determined to be henceforth a free people; and have publickly avowed that they will enjoy the inestimable privileges of believing and saying, that two and two make only four, according to the common sense of mankind.

How this affair will terminate, God only knows: but it seems very probable that the King of England will lose the most valuable jewel of his crown, in the pursuit of his present views.

You will say, perhaps, that the King could not act so absurdly were he not countenanced and supported in his folly by the assent of his people. But the truth is that the King, by means of his Ministers, hath gained such an ascendency over the Parliament, which is the constitutional voice of the people, that he can obtain their sanction for any project in which their rights are not openly and directly attacked. As to the people at large, they do not trouble themselves about the right or wrong of the matter in contest. America is a great way off, and they have no feelings for what is passing there. They grumble, indeed, about the diminution of their trade in consequence of this war, but leave the discussion of national politicks to their Parliament. The Crown hath imperceptibly extended its prerogative so as to destroy the boasted balance of the British constitution; and if the King' s power should be further strengthened by the subjugation of America, the people of England may bid adieu to their constitutional freedom. Some of the wisest amongst them see this, and have openly declared, that the salvation of England depends upon the success of the Americans in the present war.

This infatuated people have wearied the world for these hundred years with loud eulogiums on liberty and their constitution; and yet they see that constitution languishing in a deep decay, without making any efforts for its recovery. Amused with trifles, and accustomed to venality and corruption, they are not alarmed at the consequences of their supineness. They love to talk of their glorious constitution, because the idea is agreeable, and they are satisfied with the idea; and they honour their King, because it is the fashion to honour the King. Half the loyalty of the nation is supported by two popular songs, viz: "Britons strike home," and "God save the King." These are vociferated at taverns, over porter, punch, and wine, till the imagination is heated, and the blood in a ferment, and then these pot-valiant patriots sally forth and commit all manner of riot and excess in honour of their King and country.

There are fanaticks in politicks as well as in religion, and both are managed in the same, viz: by keeping up the delusion in which they delight. The men in power well know the weakness of the multitude, and when they observe them to grow uneasy under the too barefaced encroachments of prerogative, they get half a dozen of court scribblers to expatiate on the glories of the British constitution, and to sing the sweet lullaby of liberty to the people, and all is well. Just so a nurse rattles three pieces of tin in a little


rush basket to amuse her crying child. The poor infant thinks it has the world in possession, and is satisfied.

The extreme ignorance of the common people of this civilized country can scarce be credited. In general they know nothing beyond the particular branch of business which their parents or the parish happened to choose for them. This, indeed, they practise with unremitting diligence; but never think of extending their knowledge further.

A manufacturer has been brought up a maker of pin heads. He has been at this business forty years, and of course makes pin heads with great dexterity; but he cannot make a whole pin for his life. He thinks it is the perfection of human nature to make pin heads. He leave other matters to inferiour abilities. It is enough for him that he believes in the Athanasian creed, reverences the splendour of the court, and makes pin heads. This he conceives to be the sum total of religion, politicks, and trade. He is sure that London is the finest city in the world; Black Friar' s bridge the most superb of all possible bridges; and the river Thames the largest river in the universe. It is in vain to tell him that there are many rivers in America, in comparison of which the Thames is but a ditch; that there are single provinces there larger than all England; and that the Colonies formerly belonging to Great Britain, now independent States, are vastly more extensive than England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland, taken all together. He cannot conceive this. He goes into his best parlour and looks on a map of England four feet square; on the other side of the room he sees a map of North and South-America not more than two feet square, and exclaims, How can these things be! It is impossible! He has read the Arabian Night' s Entertainment, and he hears this wonderful account of America — he believes the one as much as the other. That a giant should rise out of the sea, or that the Delaware should be larger than the Thames, are equally incredible to him. Talk to him of the British constitution, he will tell you it is a glorious constitution; ask him what it is, and he is ignorant of its first principles; but he is sure that he can make and sell pin:heads under it. Mention the freedom of elections, and he will tell that he does not meddle in these matters; that he lives in a borough; and that it is impossible but that Squire Goosecap must represent that borough in Parliament, because Squire Goosecap is acquainted with the Prime Minister, and his lady comes every Sunday to the parish church in a brocaded gown, and sits in a pew lined with green cloth. How then can it be otherwise? But these are things in which he is not concerned. He believes in the Athanasian creed, honours the King, and makes pin heads — and what more can be expected of man?

It is not so in America. The lowest tradesman there is not without some degree of general knowledge. They turn their hands to every thing; their situation obliges them to do so. A farmer there cannot run to an artist upon every trifling occasion. He must make and mend, and contrive for himself. This I observed in my travels through that country. In many towns, and in every city, they have publick libraries. Not a,tradesman but will find time to read. He acquires knowledge imperceptibly. He is amused with voyages and travels, and becomes acquainted with the geography, customs, and commerce of other countries. He reads political disquisitions, and learns the great outlines of his rights as a man and as a citizen. He dips a little into philosophy, and knows that the apparent motion of the sun is occasioned by the real motion of the earth. In a word, he is sure that, notwithstanding the determination of King, Lords, and Commons to the contrary, two and two can never make five.

Such are the people of England, and such the people of America. These nations are now at daggers drawn. At first, the Americans knew little or nothing of the art of war, but they improve daily. The British troops are teaching them how to conquer; and they find them very apt scholars. The probable consequence is, that England will lose, and America gain, an empire. If George the Third should subjugate America on his present principles, all good men will abhor him as a tyrant; if he should fail in his project, all wise men will despise him for risking the immense advantages he derived from a friendly connection with that country.

But it is time to conclude this long letter; for the present, therefore, adieu! and believe me ever yours, &c˙, &c˙, &c.