Education and Religion; Boston to Washington

Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002
North America, Chs 18 - 19

Dear all

Here are a few thoughts on this week's chapters of 'North America'. Thanks again to Ellen for posting the alternative chapter numbers to help people keep track.

Volume 1 Chapter 19 (or 18): Education and Religion

Despite the chapter title, Trollope focuses here far more on education than on religion, which is almost tagged on as an afterthought. His admiration for American education has already come across sporadically in several previous chapters, including his accounts of West Point and the Lowell mills, but here he writes on the subject at more length.

He starts off by frankly saying that the US education system has excelled the British one, but is quick to make it clear that, in saying this, he wants to praise America rather than denigrating England. He argues that the Americans have had the opportunity to create a new state and so they could set out to organise education from the beginning, rather than letting it grow up piecemeal as it has in older countries like England and France. He feels that, by putting stress on education, they have achieved "unrivalled comfort and happiness" as regards the mass of the population.

As I remember, this is very different from the view taken by his mother in 'DMOTA'. Fanny argues that working people are happier and better off in England than in America, despite the better diet and in some ways better working conditions in the US. She takes a dim view of the pertness and answering back she experiences at the hands of maids and other people from the lower/ servant classes, and argues that the education of girls is largely wasted because they have no opportunity to use it when they are married.

By contrast, Anthony tries to looks at things slightly more from the point of view of the working people he meets. Like his mother, he is also irritated by people answering him back and (understandably!) by a railway porter laughing rudely when his desk is broken by careless handling. However, he recognises that the more free and easy behaviour of working people in America is due to the greater equality resulting from more widespread educational opportunities, and he welcomes this. I think as a reader you can't help but warm to Trollope's personality when he tells the sad story of his desk, but then adds: "But although I was badly off on that railway platform, - worse off than I should have been in England, - all that crowd of porters round me were better off than our English porters." He goes on to show the same acute psychology we see in his novels as he argues that the rudeness is intended as a statement of equality.

"...they are arguing in their minds that civility to you will be taken by you for subservience, or for an acknowledgement of superiority; and looking at your habits of life, - yours and mine together, - I am not quite sure that they are altogether wrong. Have you ever realized to yourself as a fact that the porter who carries your box has not made himself inferior to you by the very act of carrying that box?"

Reading this paragraph is making me wonder whether there are times when Trollope takes porters and other servants as important characters in his novels and shows that they are not inferior. I can think of quite a lot of servants who play minor roles, but nobody who is very central - however, I haven't read all the novels yet! Can anybody think of an example of this? At the end of the chapter he returns to this theme and insists that it is better for working people to be educated and to have a knowledge of politics, for their own sake and their personal dignity, whether their employers like it or not.

Trollope goes on to compare the amounts of money spent on free education in the US, taking Boston as his example, and in England. He shows that the amount spent in Boston is far greater in proportion to the population than in London. Trollope stops short of suggesting that England should spend the same amount, saying that it would be difficult to raise the money, which is raised by a separate tax in the US - but his account makes the under-spending in England all too clear.

His tone is slightly odd in the account of the girls studying Milton, as he cannot quite decide whether to scoff or to admire. He tells us "But the girls themselves were as easy in their demeanour as though they were stitching handkerchiefs at home." I suspect he might be easier himself if they were stitching handkerchiefs, but he shows how impressed he was by the lessons he observed, and says: "the total result on my mind was very greatly in their favour."

After a long discussion of the wording about educational rights in various constitutions, Trollope briefly discusses education in New York, with the throwaway line: "At New York there are separate free schools for coloured children." He doesn't tell us what he thinks of this and I'm not sure whether he was more struck by the segregation or the fact of provision being made for African-American children at all. Does anybody know any more about this and how usual it was for children to be segregated? I read a biography of Louisa May Alcott a while ago and her father, Bronson Alcott, was at one time involved in setting up a non-segregated school (unfortunately I don't remember exactly where or when) but only managed to get a handful of pupils.

There's an amusing description of the method of selling books and magazines on trains in the US at the time, by throwing them to passengers more or less at random, then collecting money on the way back through. I can't imagine a rail company being trusting enough to sell books by this method nowadays! Trollope mentions the huge readership for various popular authors in the US, but modestly doesn't list his own name. Does anybody know if his books also sold by "tens of thousands in the States", like those of Thackeray, Dickens and the other authors he mentions? I don't know who Hughes and Martin Tupper are, but the other British authors he lists are very famous. Out of the American authors he lists, I am not sure who Curtis is - any ideas or details from a footnote, anyone?

Trollope does not go into much detail about religion here, unlike his mother, who returns to the subject many times in 'DMOTA' - though of course we are still only halfway through his book, so he may well come back to it again. Like Fanny, Anthony expresses a certain unease at the "rowdiness" of some American religion, and wishes there was an established national church. He also acutely points out the problems with some of the constitutions which guarantee freedom of religious worship, but only for Christian denominations - ignoring other religions such as the Jewish faith.

I'll send a separate (shorter!) posting about Chapter 20.

Judy Geater

To Trollope-l

Re: North America: Education, Religion, Boston to Washington

April 23, 2002

Judy's questions about primary public school in the US, especially up north remind me of how little of this sort of thing is taught in the schools. Probably only someone going for a philosophical degree in education (perhaps a course on the Masters or Ph.D. level) would study the actual history of education in the kind of detail which would bring out how free African-American children were treated in northern cities. Hofstadter's famous books on education in the US (e.g., Anti-Intellectualism in American Life) don't go into this aspect of education. Speaking sheerly from memories of what I was told as a child by older people who themselves remembering what they were told my impression is that in the later 19th century there were separate schools for "coloured" children" in the City, but since at the time the migration of African-American ex-slaves up north had not reached the enormous numbers it began to reach in the 1930s (when they went to midwestern cities like Chicago and Detroit where they could find such better paying jobs and would not have to confront institutionalized racism), there were not sufficient numbers of African-American children to support separate schools. Harlem became a black area by default: New York City grew upwards, and towards the end of the 19th century the land up north was not built up so people emigrating from the south moved there where it was cheap. By the 1920s Harlem was an enclosed crowded black enclave rich enough in individuals and money to have a "Renaissance", but how fast this growth happened I don't know. Up north segregration in schools was "accomplished" simply by virtue of neighborhood segregation. Until today New York City is a place of ethnic and racially distinct neighborhoods which become this way because the rent or price of the apartments leads to this kind of segregation as well as the reality that people invite their relatives and friends who move into the city from elsewhere to live in places they know. Until today New York City is a place filled with people who have emigrated there from elsewhere.

Since Judy has so thoroughly covered the education commentary, I'll move on to say that although the religion section is small, it is significant. Trollope is afraid to offend and so keeps his discussion brief, somewhat general and never quite explains what he means by that odd word "rowdy." I take him from the context to mean a lack of decorum. The way in which people in the US worship in their churches lacks the controlled decorum he finds in Anglican churches. This would relate to the lack of deference he finds outside the churches. Again he seems to be struggling to come to an essence of what unites these churches and how they differ from the religious behavior he has seen in England and elsewhere. I have read part of Harold Bloom's perceptive and thick book called The American Religion and what Trollope writes there fits in as examples of what Bloom argues is a shared or mutual substratum found in American behavior in church (which reflects shared attitudes). In brief, Bloom argues that even in Catholicism where the doctrine and ritual are firmly anti-egalitarian and rooted in notions of obedience to authority, Americans found their beliefs and behavior on the individual conscience. The notion that the individual conscience is what actuates the believer becomes the nob of the organization of many Protestant churches and Bloom shows how the Baptist church today in governance as well as actual behavior in church can be traced back to the old Cromwellian Independents of the English Civil War. power to choose a minister and eject him is rooted in the congregation. Methodism can be traced back to the English methodist movement of the later 18th century which came out of the lower orders and disturbed the hierarchy (we see this in the novels very distinctly). Rituals in the American Lutheran church (my first husband was American Lutheran and I have real knowledge of this "sect" -- it's not the same as German Lutheran) are utterly shared by all and the notion that there is some numinous realm which certain people have access to and others don't is not there at all.

It is very interesting to see that Trollope perceives this -- he is psychologically very astute -- and is disturbed but misses what it means. He connects it simply to the money-is-the-measure of-all-things-and-individual-worth-and-power, anti-hierarchy egalitarian and practical experience-ethic he finds outside the church:

There is, I think, an unexpressed determination on the part of the people to abandon all reverence, and to regard religion from an altogether worldly point of view. They are willing to have religion, as they are willing to have laws; but they choose to make it for themselves. They do not object to pay for it; but they lke to have the handling of the article for which they pay (Knopf _NA_, p 281).

Trollope leaves out a central aspect of "The American Religion" as described by Bloom, one I have seen. It's the sort of thing that leads to "the Lord has moved me and I will speak." People get up and speak; they give testimony -- and suddenly. They have "conversion experiences" in front of one another (this is William James's term which he explains in his book -- very important for anyone who wants really to understand the US temperament). In African-American churches this conversation experience is central and becomes the basis for group chanting (something seen in Quaker religion in the 17th century so it also goes back to what was happening in England between the 17th and 18th centuries). It's a numinous conversion experience rooted in psychological apprehension. William James in his Varieties of Religious Experience describes and explains it beautifully. This kind of experience was at the root of 18th century Methodism and called evangelical. Trollope says Americans will no priestcraft; the response is they don't need it. There is a gut instinct (from the culture) that there needs no intercession.

Trollope also misses the Bible reading, the study groups. This connects back to the importance of universal education in US life at the time -- and still. Again, the history of early modern Europe is partly shaped by the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, the printing and distribution of such material, and an education which enabled people to read it for themselves -- and interpret it.

My guess is he didn't go into enough churches. It bothered him too much and he himself is such an empiricist, such a thorough sceptic he could not himself enter into, nor get enough chances to see the full nature of the culture of religion in American life at the time.

He is also bothered by the lack of a state religion. He may talk about the problem of having different sects, but he is still for some established church. This is fundamental to the US point of view, history, constitution (&c). That he could bring it up shows his Englishness. Separation of church and state is one of the founding cornerstones of the US state -- from the enlightenment philosophers who looked upon the church as an instrument of powerful people and did all they could in the constitution to keep the state small. The smallness of government is gone since it nowadays is seen as an instrument for social improvement, not just something to make war and protect private propery (administer justice). But the separation remains partly because the continent is so large and there are so many different religions and points of view about it in the US.

I agree with Judy that Trollope does go on about the American Civil War. It exercises his mind enormously, but then it was a burning and active movement while he was in the US. The story of the Kentucky senator provided the background for Trollope's short story "The Two Generals." He is right about Lincoln not being able to change his mind: I can add to that that for the couple of years I taught a course at "The American University" (a university in DC) which was called "American Literary Masterpieces", and included a middle phase on the civil war in which we read _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ I read a slew of Lincoln's speeches. What is striking about each one of them is that coded or uncoded he is ever on about the viciousness of slavery and he is continually telling those who can hear him that he will abolish it. "Four score and seven year ago our fathers brought upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." That's me typing from memory. I still have it by heart. The words "conceived in liberty" and "all men are created equal" were understood in the rhetoric of the time to mean emanicipation of the slaves. The man to read here is the journalist who also supported women's suffrage: William Lloyd Garrison. Too bad people like him aren't in office or writing today. The US would not be so involved in supporting real harm in this world.

As Trollope travels south, he becomes very aware of how divided US people are. There are some excellent books on the fugitive slave law, on how slaves managed to escape by the "underground railway" (when I was a child I used to imagine an actual railway underground); in the 19th century it was a whole subgenre of literature which is nowadays called "slave narratives". They were not always written by slaves. The story of Eliza's escape (and the famous scene of her jumping ice floes baby clasped against her chest) and its happy ending in Canada comes from just such typical narratives. Frederick Douglas's little book belongs to the species. In fact the success of Uncle Tom's Cabin may be attributed to Stowe's having instinctively combined the drama and trauma and power of two typical slave narratives (the other would be the story of Legree, told far far more frankly than was common) with the bourgeois white-middle class novel of an upper class family's trials and tribulations.

Trollope's depiction of Baltimore as a place where people are overly intensely enjoying themselves makes sense. With death around the corner, that's what people do. They did it during World War One and Two. Descriptions of nightclub life in Jerusalem describe the same response. Alas, war exhilarates people.


Date: Mon, 22 Apr 2002

Dear all

Here are a few comments on 'North America' Volume 1 Chapter 20: From Boston to Washington.

At this point in the journey Rose went home to England and Anthony continued his travels alone. Predictably, though, he doesn't tell us anything about how he felt at the parting, but immediately turns his attention to politics, once again going over the arguments about whether either side could possibly have avoided the outbreak of war.

In this chapter, to be honest, I feel Trollope gets rather repetitive, although this does show how deeply he kept thinking over the major issues of the war. It might have been better if he had put these thoughts together rather than continually returning to the theme and going over some of the same ground again.

I've just been reading about the Fugitive Slave Law in James McPherson's 'Battle Cry of Freedom' - I expect many US members of our list will know all about this, but I wasn't quite aware of how it worked, or didn't work, until reading his account. Trollope explains that it was the law of the US as a whole that a runaway slave was supposed to be returned across State boundaries to his owner, but it was not incumbent on any individual state to obey this law - and the non-slave states refused to do so. Towards the end of the chapter, it is clear that at this stage Trollope feared England would come into the war on the side of the South. He writes movingly about how horrifying it would be to see Britain becoming involved in the conflict.

I can't think of much to say about the rest of the chapter, which is very wide-ranging and rather bitty, discussing various aspects of life in Philadelphia, Baltimore and Maryland as a whole, from the war to canvas-back ducks. It's all interesting but doesn't always hang together very well.

Bye for now
Judy Geater
Looking forward to volume 2!

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