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I came away from England with the anxious hope that I should find sufficient materials to enable me to make an effort towards bringing our two countries together. I will not conceal from you that I have been somewhat disappointed. You prefer a democracy. If we choose to abide by our monarchy you will love to be chopping and changing. We desire to continue in our present. But it's. My opinion now is that while each of our governments retains its present character of any closer intimacy is not likely to spring up. They bend our ear drop us to America.
From the 1820s to the eve of the civil Europeans came to America in a steady flow. They traveled through the United States driven by an irresistible curiosity. Later many of them wrote books about their travels to tell Europe what they'd seen in the new world of Jacksonian democracy. Some were friendly. Some were highly critical. All were meant to kill us observers of detail. In they bend our ear written by Perry Miller professor of American literature at Harvard University. You will meet some of the travelers to America who bend our ear with their criticisms their advice their praise or their philosophy. Some you already know. Dickens Thackeray uses trauma others are new acquaintances. At all times the travellers speak in their own words quoted directly from their writings.
They bend our ear is produced and recorded by the Lowell Institute co-operative broadcasting Council under a grant from the educational television and radio center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. Our first encounter is with Captain Basil hall author of travels in North America in the area's 1827 and 1828. Professor Parry Miller is the host and the writer. For two or three decades after the United States of America definitely achieve their political independence. Europeans were not much interested in the country. Those who did come to America either as political exiles or tourists were interested mainly in nature. In the vast rivers the forests the vistas the decade evading 20 hardly any observer was much concerned about American society. But in this decade 40 years after the war for independence a realization
dawned in Europe and especially in England that America was moving into the West that it had endured and even prospered imaginative Europeans could foresee that it might become a great power. And by the same token a society that upon their curiosity was aroused they came they saw they reported. They came not because they needed to study a Republican action but they wanted to be home whether in hope or fear was a republic that was also a democracy. All these foreigners were familiar only with the society in which there always had been some element some ruling aristocracy some elite. How could a society exist let alone prosper if there were no such controlling group. They themselves gave us the theme of these broadcasts. They bent the ears of Americans by asking how Americans could afford to be Democrats. How America managed to survive as a democracy
in May 18 27 Captain Boswell whole late of the Royal Navy arrived as a passenger in New York accompanied by his wife and daughter. It was not the first time he had seen New York for he had been there as a midshipman on a British warship 23 years ago. But everything immediately perceived was altered beyond recognition. He was soon to see to be whale all over rapidly indeed things in America did alter. Why should a retired naval officer aged 39 having seen extremely active service around all the coasts of Europe and in India the story I'm self in 1827 to undergo what everybody said were the incredible hardships of travelling in America. He had no business interests he was no land speculator. Let us ask him why did you come Captain Aull in former days I confess I was not very well disposed to the Americans. A feeling shared with all my companions on board and probably also with most of my
superiors. But as the Judeans of a varied service in after years through me far from the source at which these national entities had been imbibed they appeared gradually to dissipate themselves in proportion as my acquaintance with other countries was extended and I had learned to think better of mankind in general. My next anxiety naturally was to persuade others that there really were no just grounds for the mutual hostility is so manifestly existing between America and England. To speak more correctly I could not help believing that in spite of the great differences in the geographical and political situation of the two countries there must still be so many circumstances in which they agreed that if the merits of both were respectively explained there would spring up more cordiality between them. A state of things which I took it for granted must be advantageous to both countries. So Captain Hall's motives were as he would think of the best he
came on a self-appointed mission. He hoped to bring England in America closer together so that England might thereby be strengthened. Hence he suppose that he was more than ready to praise everything or anything he could discover praiseworthy. He had no difficulty starting off with praise for his first breakfast in a New York hotel. There were Americans in the year 1827 would have considered this man you're merely ordinary. I thought I was and yours would not wipe out the recollection of our first breakfast at New York. We asked merely for some fresh shed but a great steaming juicy beef steak also made its appearance flanked by a dish of mutton cutlets the shed is a native of the American waters I believe exclusively. And if so it is almost worthy of a voyage across the Atlantic to make its acquaintance. What do these Vians What did a splendid arrangement of snow white rules regiments of hot toast with oceans of tea and coffee. Unfortunately soon after that a memorable breakfast unpleasant
impressions began to thrust themselves upon the good captain most notably the spectacle of New York. When moving on I was bodily along the ground mobility it was bad enough but mobility of dwelling places would shock any Englishman of the age. Since Englishman notoriously thought that housing should stay put but it doubly outraged Captain Hall. He was an arch conservative a Tory staunch believer in the established church who opposed the then rising agitation for reform of Parliament and I believe that the lower crosses like other ranks in the Navy should keep to their stations. Bit by bit the implications of American democracy were brought home to him. You could only conclude that the American system was basically incompatible with the English and his respect for honesty compelled him in the book he wrote on his return to England to tell what he thought was the truth. The book raised a whole of protest and anger. Paul was accused of being a British agent sent by the government with the deliberate
intention of producing a dreadful picture of America you know order to check a rising admiration for the United States among the English masses. What made Holmes book insulting to the Americans was not only that he utterly deplored democracy but that after having been a lavishly entertained he described his American hosts as a braggart and loud mouth boasters and right here we find that a never ending source of disagreement between America and the old world. When Americans boast or at least point in the time of all a boasted they have every intention of making good the promise and so don't believe that in fact they are boasting that's kept in the hall traveled by horse and by coach from Stockbridge Massachusetts to North Hampton admiring the Berkshires scenery when he reached North Hampton was aghast to hear it Yankee hosts eight in the course of your agreeable jet and you drove us to polish another route over which it has been proposed to carry a railroad between Boston and Albany.
You're not in my other scheme and I admit there is much boldness in the conception but I must take the liberty of adding that the Buddhist lies in the conception alone for if it were executed its character would be changed into madness. Much of the space between our Been in Boston is so completely rigged over by a series of high ridges running north and south that the railway in question would have to possible the sort of gigantic corduroy road over a country altogether unsuited for such an undertaking. Besides which several navigable rivers and more than one canal lying along the intermediate valleys connect to the interior with the sea and thus afford fodder ready our means of exporting already importing goods to or from New York at Albany old Boston than any railway can ever furnish. Perhaps we should pause a moment to notice that there is indeed and for over ten decades has been a railroad between Boston and Albany. Americans might forgive the Tory captain for looking down his nose at their bad manners the way they
bolted their food the amount of hard liquor they drank their tobacco chewing and spitting in public. But the one thing they could not forget was his conservative incredulity about the future of this country. At the same time what he could never understand about these people was the blind faith in that future which everybody has. Even the most intelligent in spite of all the rational considerations that obviously denied it. The captain was so mystified by the American rejoinder which he everywhere roused by his efforts at sober discussion that he was reduced to quoting it is proof positive that the Americans were not only Vogue or Democrats but more than a little crazy. He tried for instance to raise in Boston the question of whether universal or indeed even any education of the masses would not wrecked society here in what he thought the most cultured city in America and therefore the one that ought most to resemble Europe. He ran again into the American obstinacy which not even Americans could put into words and which has manifested itself to forthright hall and sheer arrogance.
Well tell me at Cap'n HALL How do you in England contrive to keep your young man so long at school and university. We in this country find it next to impossible to keep back even the poorest lads they insist upon being allowed to go off at an early age to the unexplored backwoods of the great cities all around to try their fortune on the ocean with us. All men are divided into ranks and classes. Everyone finds out in the long run that his best chance of success and of happiness consists in conforming as nearly as possible to the established habits of that branch of society in which he happens to be born in the learned professions. It so happens that a certain amount of classical knowledge has been settled from time immemorial as the indispensable mark of a gentleman all that is very true is applied to a whole crowd an artificial state of society such as even then. But weary and you can see he would consist the advantage of giving our young men in
America the same amount of classical knowledge. I really do not see the practical utility of such delays in refinements. If men want to follow the same occupations they now pursue in America and in those you think you should be cautious in finding fault with our small acquaintance with not the smallest wish to find fault. What calls for such remarks as you allude to is hearing many persons in your country claiming the highest degree of marriage in these respects. You are not content with possessing the vigorous pleasures of youth and the broad field you have got to play about in. But claim like why is the wisdom of age and the refinement of a crowded society. In what respect do we live in this double play. What I hear everywhere in America. Of the immense distance you have shot ahead of European knowledge power wealth and so forth. But when I come to closer quarters with the claimants of these advantages and show my reasons for declining to concede all they ask for they turn about upon me and say why do you make no allowances for
our situation. We are a young country we want to live. We are really getting on very fast. Do not you think so. Thus without any actual shift of weight and they put about on the other tech and as soon as a sales are trimmed afresh seek to gain those favorable concessions on the score of wonderment which the real nature of things denies and for which self praise let me tell you is but a hollow substitute. I said I see that no holiday can ever be made to understand our carry. That was just what exasperated Captain Paul. These Americans took up absurd self contradictory positions instead of rational argument they retreated into some mystical jibberish about how difficult they were to comprehend. The captain and good nautical language could only call it hypocrisy. Try to expose it as a subtle only not too subtle disguise for self-praise. And as a well-bred English gentleman
he thought self-praise at least in public. The depth of authority. Captain holds respect for the American democracy fall even lower when he reached Washington D.C. followers of Andrew Jackson had by now fully convinced themselves that they had been cheated in 1824 when the election had gone into the House of Representatives and Henry Clay had thrown his support to John Quincy Adams making Adams the president but the Jacksonian kept up during all his administration the cry of corrupt bargain and accused Adams of all of vices in the catalogue primarily and out of extravagance because he set up a billiard table in the White House. Captain Hall met Mr Adams and found him as indeed he was a man of culture. So the captain took special delight in asking various citizens what they thought of President Adams and in recording the answer he generally received. I cannot support John Q. Latham because he has introduced a bill to the table into the president's house for the amusement of its
inmates and visit halls thus holding out inducements to engage in a captivating vice departing from plain Republican manners imitating the call to etiquette of regal POA and furnish an example to the youth of our country which I can see can neither be too generally not too severe and record ahead. Of course Captain Hall this is ludicrous. But there is something even more sinister behind it and that something is the fatal meaning of this nation. Paul could finally put his finger so we thought precisely upon it. At last he could give a name to the poison which he found everywhere present in American society. The effect of which ruined all his expectations. After he had travelled across the south just before he was about to sail for home. He hadn't recorded his last conversation with an American. He was obliged to name the basic unforgivable The fact of the United States of
America. Fraser will you tell me in what respect you think we differ most from the English. I think the absence of loyalty in America is the most striking difference. The absence of loyalty. I cannot help thinking you must be mistaken for your strong love of our country and our institutions which more than takes the place of your loyalty I mean that we have universally throughout the nation a feeling of personal attachment to the king on the throne a pride and pleasure in his happiness and success and the resolute determination to support him. As a matter of habit duty and sentiment. Of what use can your loyalty be. A very great use as a bond of union amongst us. It unites all parties however dissimilar their opinions and wishes may be in other respects. What effect has it on the character of individuals who would otherwise I think be as well or better without it. But it strikes me that the feeling I speak of is perhaps the least selfish in its nature
that can be imagined. That is hardly one in a million amongst us who looks to any person advantage from an expression or indeed ever thinks of putting his thoughts into words respecting it. And yet every man is conscious that his neighbor is equally under its influence as a part of his natural birthright. Still I don't see what good it can do. Surely there must arise good from the extent of this common sympathy. It must be advantageous to spread over a community is so general a sentiment as this to make all men think and feel alike on any one topic cannot fail I should imagine. To make them better members of society. But what good does it do to the state to the country politically speaking. It helps probably more than anything else to keep all things in their proper places. It is the grand symbol if I may so call it the masonic secret by which the distinction of ranks is preserved. But as long as men are thoroughly loyal and know that the mass of the population also to these
distinctions of which I speak which are perhaps the greatest sources of our happiness on pot in every respect are perfectly safe. You confuse me a little. These ideas of yours are so different from ours in America that I can either take them up nor can I fairly answer them. What is the use after all of these distinctions upon which you hop so much. And how does your having a king contribute to the establishment in the first instance or to their stability afterwards and naturally I think by allowing the chief station in the country to be filled by the Headed to the nomination of nature. It was a quaint expression. Now all the rest of the community are left to attend to their own substantial affairs. Instead of being distracted as so very large a proportion of your population are about matters of moonshine. I am a huge gentleman from Europe see all things here through a pair of monarchical spectacles and that is the reason our country and our institutions never get justice done
here that is exactly the impasse which the dialogue between America and Europe had reached in the very beginning of the Jacksonian period. From this seemingly absolute disagreement the discussion would have to proceed if it were to proceed at all. In this series of broadcasts we should follow the course of this extended debate as it was conducted through the next two or three decades. But here we may well make explicit Captain haul as do most foreign visitors. The American experiment in democracy posed the question would seem moral rather than purely political. Paul saw the democratic way of life dividing man from one another setting them in opposition tearing apart the organic unity of society. Therefore it seemed to him the obvious deduction that this democracy will never work. His American friend. Little by little time was almost ceasing to be a friend pushed the argument further and so elicited from the Tory sailor what that gentleman considered the final and conclusive dismissal of the American democracy.
Well I trust you will allow that good faith public spirit and fair dealing more essentially into our popular institutions and they can possibly do into your aristocratic old ones. Will you give me leave to answer that question by asking one myself. Sure. Do you conceive that good faith and confidence whether public or private necessarily go together. I do not quite understand the question. I am not confidence and good faith reciprocal can you expect a servant or a tradesmen to be honest. If you are constantly telling him that he is a cheat or treating him as if you well one I do not deny your position. Well then how can you expect genuine good faith in your public men in America when you never trust them. Do you know we don't trust them. Because I see you systematically changing them every year. Most of us have learned our history of England from American or from English liberal
historians. And so we are not ready to suppose that the conduct of the English Government in the 1820s in the years before the Reform Bill of 1832 was remarkable for its efficiency. It may not have been conspicuously competent but kept in the hall it was the proper sort of government because in it ministers and officials remained long enough at their post to learn the requirements and to pass on to their successors a matured body of wisdom and experience. On these grounds these were the grounds upon which in England the Tories kept in the hall could not acknowledge any merit. Indeed he could see only a menace to all good order in the American system of frequent elections. But his American friend would not admit that danger at all events although I fear no foreign they're going to ever understand our character or appreciate the value of our institutions. I trust you at least will admit that we are a great nation but we are treading close on the heels of the mother country and we are making gigantic strides in the way of every kind of improvement. You say nothing Captain
Aull at least I trust that you've seen enough to make a favorable report of us to your countrymen and that you will do what you can to bring the two countries together. I came away from England without express intention or at least to speak directly with the anxious hope that I should find sufficient materials to enable me with a safe conscience to make an effort towards the accomplishment of that object. And what is the result. I will not conceal from you that I have been somewhat disappointed and my opinion now is that while each of our governments retains its present character and the closer intimacy between us is not likely to spring up. Surely this is wanting in true philanthropy not to wit each of our countries loves its own institutions better than those of the other. You will prefer a democracy we choose to abide by our monarchy. You would love to be chopping and changing. We desire to continue in our present path which is best. Time will show.
Let us therefore in God's name long preserve our present friendly and useful relations leaving it to time and the course of events to regulate the terms of our future intimacy. Thus Captain Hall softly confessed the failure of his mission. He could see no way in which the democracy of America and the Tory Society of England could develop the slightest intimacy. Of course he also had no way of foreseeing the changes that the next century would bring in the British Constitution nor of the hollow lies against Still other forms of government. The similarities between England and America would eventually appear to be almost as close as he had at first hoped they might be. He lived long enough to see and to grieve over the British reform bill of 1832 which began the modernization. We may call it the democratization of Parliament but it is certain that he never changed his conviction that any closer relationship than a formal and strained diplomatic one
would be possible between America and England. The reason was all too clear. England could not expose itself to the cond contamination of that spirit of disloyalty which as all comprehended human society was a misjudgment work in the heart of the American democracy. But the issue we had raised was fundamental. He spoke for a long and solid tradition of English and European conservatism and his disappointment in this country was more than finnicky revulsion against boasting and swaggering. He was asking the democracy a question which viewed in the light of history ought to have been destructive. But though he was utterly bewildered by the American reply which seemed to him an utter disregard of history and of the accumulated wisdom of the ages he had the honesty and courage to put it in his final dialog once more the universe. American reaction to his penetrating question. I fear we are doomed in America to be perpetually mis understood. I trust however that there's national reserve which I earnestly desire to see removed does not
extend to individuals. You and I for instance may continue to enjoy each other's friendship without risk to this Captain Aull the gentleman. Putting aside all the caustic critic good hardily answer I have had the pleasure of becoming acquainted with many persons in America whose goodwill and good opinion I hope I shall never lose and for whose kindness to my family and myself I shall feel grateful to the last out of my life. Travelers to America. They bent our air. You have been listening to Captain Basil Hall's account of his journey to the United States adapted from his book travels in North America in the 27 28. Perry Miller. Professor of American look at Harvard University. The cast included Robert Evans Edward Finnegan and you're wrong as
Captain Harper. Professor M.O.s and I write original theme music by Raymond Wilding. This has been the first broadcast in the stories told by the host of travelers to America. The period from the 50s. In subsequent broadcast travellers. At all times they speak in their own words quoted directly from their writing. Next week Mrs. Francis trollop speaking from her book domestic manners of the American. They bend our ear is produced and directed by Allison would lay for the Lowell Institute co-operative broadcasting Council production supervisor Lawrence Cross call this series has been recorded in the studios of station WGBH FM and produced under a grant from the educational
television I'm Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end E.B. Radio Network.
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They bent our ear
Captain Basil Hall
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on Captain Basil Hall and his "Travels in North America."
Series Description
Dramatic readings of 14 travelers who came to the United States in 1820-1850 and wrote of what they saw.
Broadcast Date
Hall, Basil, 1788-1844. Travels in North America.
Media type
Host: Van Dusen, Henry P. (Henry Pitney), 1897-1975
Producer: Lowell Institute
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
Writer: Miller, Perry, 1905-1963
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 56-6-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:28:35
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Chicago: “They bent our ear; Captain Basil Hall,” 1963-12-16, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed May 28, 2024,
MLA: “They bent our ear; Captain Basil Hall.” 1963-12-16. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. May 28, 2024. <>.
APA: They bent our ear; Captain Basil Hall. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from