Story type: Essay
Anecdotes illustrative of manners, above all of national manners, will be found on examination, in a far larger proportion than might be supposed, rank falsehoods. Malice is the secret foundation of all anecdotes in that class. The ordinary course of such falsehoods is, that first of all some stranger and alien to those feelings which have prompted a particular usage–incapable, therefore, of entering fully into its spirit or meaning–tries to exhibit its absurdity more forcibly by pushing it into an extreme or trying case. Coming himself from some gross form of Kleinstaedtigkeit, where no restraints of decorum exist, and where everybody speaks to everybody, he has been utterly confounded by the English ceremony of ‘introduction,’ when enforced as the sine qua non condition of personal intercourse. If England is right, then how clownishly wrong must have been his own previous circles! If England is not ridiculously fastidious, then how bestially grovelling must be the spirit of social intercourse in his own land! But no man reconciles himself to this view of things in a moment. He kicks even against his own secret convictions. He blushes with shame and anger at the thought of his own family perhaps brought suddenly into collision with polished Englishmen; he thrills with wrath at the recollection of having himself trespassed upon this code of restriction at a time when he was yet unwarned of its existence. In this temper he is little qualified to review such a regulation with reason and good sense. He seeks to make it appear ridiculous. He presses it into violent cases for which it was never intended. He supposes a case where some fellow-creature is drowning. How would an Englishman act, how could he act, even under such circumstances as these? We know, we who are blinded by no spite, that as a bar to personal communication or to any interchange of good offices under appeals so forcible as these, this law of formal presentation between the parties never did and never will operate. The whole motive to such a law gives way at once.