THERE is a passion existing in the heart of man that I am at a loss whether to consider as proceeding from an excess of malevolence, or an excess of patriotism. This passion cannot suffer even that the Hero or Author of a rival nation should be found to merit praise, though an interval of a thousand years may have elapsed since their days! Whole histories have been written in this style, where the historian has set out with a resolution of detracting from, or denying, the merits of a rival nation. To give an instance in modern times—
A French writer has wilfully misrepresented the famous anecdote recorded of our Canute, and endeavoured to convey an idea that we have ever been a nation of haughty barbarians. It cannot be ignorance, but wilful misrepresentation. The anecdote was never related but in one manner, and which reflects great honour on our ancient monarch. The author attempts to prove, that the English nation have been overbearing from the remotest times; and this he instances by giving the anecdote of Canute in this senseless narration—
“Canute, King of England, imitating his predecessors, who called themselves lords and sovereigns of the sea, resolved to take possession of this title solemnly, that, in future times, it should not be contested. Persuaded that he could not render this act more authentic than by obliging the sea itself to come and pay him homage, as to its sovereign, about the time of the tide, he raised his throne by the sea-side; and there, apparelled in his royal robes, he held this language to the sea, when it rolled towards him—‘Know, that thou art subjected to me: the earth on which I sit is mine; and that, till now, none has ever dared to revolt from my will. I command thee, then, that thou remain where thou art, without daring to approach thy lord, and soil his robes!’ Scarce had he concluded this speech, when a wave overturned his throne; and, having wetted him from his head to his feet, taught him in what manner he was to rely on the obedience of this element.”
Who does not here immediately perceive, that, to throw out a satirical stroke on the English nation for their naval power, the author has wilfully disguised this famous reproof of Canute to his courtiers, and endeavoured to turn into ridicule the pride and the boast of the British nation?
It is thus, also, that the Spanish Literati have spread an uncandid report concerning the Gil Blas of Le Sage. Despairing of producing a composition of similar merit, yet seeming desirous of the honour, they have taken advantage of his Spanish characters and his mode of narration, and they have ventured to say, that, that celebrated work is a translation from the Spanish. They have contrived this absurd information in the following manner: the Spanish author having interspersed a variety of political passages throughout the original, which were highly offensive to the government, it remained, for this reason, unpublished. When Le Sage was secretary to the French ambassador, he, who knew the value of the work, rescinded the offending parts, and formed from the remains that agreeable romance. Similar reports prevail against every eminent person, in common life; but that they should so frequently occur in the republic of letters, can only be attributed to that dishonest patriotism which would level every merit of a rival nation.