A gratifying American Reception vs. The Farce of Ceremony

Preface: The following article is a snippet from the book "Men and Manners in America," which was first published in 1833. The book was written by Cyril Thorton, but the subject of the book was Thomas Hamilton. Thomas traveled to America in 1830 to check out the new country and had the following observations and commentary about how we people introduced themselves may be of interest. Enjoy....

Having despatched my letters, and the morning being wet, I remained at home, busied in throwing together a few memoranda of such matters, as appeared worthy of record. My labours, however; were soon interrupted. Several gentlemen who had beard of my arrival through the medium of my fellow-passengers, but on whose civility I had no claim, did me the honour to call, tendering a welcome to their city, and the still more obliging offer of their services. My letters, too, did not fail of pro-curing me a plentiful influx of visitors. Numerous invitations followed, and by the extreme kindness of my new friends, free admission was at once afforded me to the best society in New York.

The first impression made by an acquaintance with the better educated order of American gentlemen, is certainly very pleasing. There is a sort of republican plainness and simplicity in their address, quite in harmony with the institutions of their country. An American bows less than an Englishman; he deals less in mere conventional forms and expressions of civility; he pays few or no compliments; makes no unmeaning or overstrained professions; but be takes you by the hand with a cordiality which at once intimates, that be is disposed to regard you as a friend. Of that higher grace of manner, inseparable perhaps from the artificial distinctions of European society, and of which even those most conscious of its hollowness, cannot always resist the attraction, few specimens are of course to be found, in a country like the United States; but of this I am sure, that such a reception as I have experienced in New York, is far more gratifying to a stranger, than the farce of ceremony, however gracefully it may be performed.

Perhaps I was the more flattered by the kindness of my reception, from having formed anticipations of a less pleasing character. The Americans I had met in Europe bad generally been distinguished by a certain reserve, and something even approaching to the offensive in manner, which had not contributed to create a prepossession in their favour. It seemed, as if each individual were impressed with the conviction that the whole dignity of his country was concentered in his person; and I imagined them too much given to disturb the placid current of social intercourse, by the obtrusion of national jealousies, and the cravings of a restless and inordinate vanity. It is indeed highly probable, that these unpleasant peculiarities were called into more frequent display, by that air of haughty repulsion, in which too many of my countrymen have the bad taste to indulge; but even from what I have already seen, I feel sure that an American at home, is a very different person from an American abroad.

With his foot on his native soil, he appears in his true character; he moves in the sphere, for which his habits and education have peculiarly adapted him, and surrounded by his fellow-citizens, he at once gets rid of the embarrassing conviction, that lie is regarded as an individual impersonation of the whole honour of the Union. In England, he is generally anxious to demonstrate by indifference of manner, that he is not dazzled by the splendour which surrounds him, and too solicitously forward in denying the validity of all pretensions, which he fears the world may consider as superior to his own. But in his own country, he stands confessedly on a footing with the highest. His national vanity remains unruffled by opposition or vexatious comparison, and his life passes on in a dreamy and complacent contemplation of the high part, which, in her growing greatness, the United States is soon to assume, in the mighty drama of the world. His imagination is no longer troubled with visions of -lords and palaces, and footmen in embroidery and cocked hats; or if he think of these things at all, it is in a spirit far more philosophical, than that with which he once regarded them. Connected with England by commercial relations, by community of literature, and a thousand ties, which it will still require centuries to obliterate, he cannot regard her destinies without deep interest. In the contests in which, by the calls of honour, or by the folly of her rulers, she may be engaged, the reason of an American may be against England, but his heart is always with her. He is ever ready to extend to her sons, the rites of kindness and hospitality, and is more flattered by their praise, and more keenly sensitive to their censure, than is perhaps quite consistent with a just estimate, of the true value of either.

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