National Prejudices By Oliver Goldsmith

Introduction

In this essay, Goldsmith talks about prejudices which people have about other people from other countries. They consider their nation good in every respect and think that other nations are not as great as theirs. People no longer consider themselves general inhabitants of the globe, or members of that grand society which comprehends the whole humankind.

Outline of National Prejudice

Oliver Goldsmith’s essay “National Prejudice” is the writer’s own personal opinion regarding the people of Europe. This essay is about the stereotypes that we have towards people from other countries. Prejudice is an unreasonable and unjust feeling that has grown in us over a period of time. To some extent, every common man has a bias.

As the writer is one of the wanderers of Europe, he was given the opportunity to observe closely the characters of the Europeans. Suddenly, he reached a group of half a dozen gentlemen who were making a hot political dispute. They were equally divided, expressing their feelings. Each group was trying to convince the writer to support and share the conversation. He had been engaged in one of the companies. They talked about the different characters of a number of nations in Europe. One of the gentlemen of England showed his prejudice over the people of other nations. He said the Dutch were a bunch of greedy wretches, the French were flatterers, the Germans were drunkards, and the beastly gluttons, the Spaniards were proud, haughty and rude tyrants but in all other aspects, English were brave, generous, merciful and virtuous.
Almost all the participants agreed with the opinion, but when the writer was asked to express his feelings, he gave them more impartial judgment. He said that the Dutch were more frugal and industrious, the French were more temperate and polite, the Germans were hard and patient in labour and fatigue, the Spaniards were sober and peaceful, but the English were at the same time rash, headstrong and impetuous. When the writer made such a judgment among his friends, they began to see him with a jealous eye. Then the writer came to know that it was in vain to contend with men full of national prejudices. So he went back home thinking about the absurd and ridiculous nature of national prejudice.

To the writer, Philosophers regard a man of any country as “a citizen of the world.” They globalize all and have no regional bias, unlike the narrow-minded English gentlemen, who only thought about the particular country or small society.

The writer says national bias is infecting our minds and affecting our behaviour. It makes us obscene, disgusting, and proud of ourselves. We will love our nation but without prejudice towards other countries’ people. He says that the essence of faith is just like superstition and excitement. So we should be the world’s people, not the resident of a single nation or small community. He prefers the term “a world citizen” to that of an Englishman, a Frenchman, a German, a Spaniard, a European or so on.

Summary

The essay is about the narrator‘s encounter with some elderly people and a conversation about nationalism. He starts off by stating that he was drinking at a bar and was drawn into a conversation held by a group of elderly men about political affairs when one of the men stated that the English were better than the Dutch, the Germans, the French, and the Spaniards. He praised the English for their bravery, generosity, mercy and other virtues. When asked for an opinion, the narrator decided not to talk as he was sure to contradict that statement while the rest of the group agreed with the man. When directly asked, the narrator had to speak his thoughts reluctantly. He could not make such a broad statement about the characteristics of the other European nations unless he has made the tour of Europe and examined the manners of these several nations with great care and accuracy.

The narrator goes on to say that perhaps a more impartial judge would not hesitate to affirm that the Dutch were more frugal and industrious, the French more temperate and polite, the Germans more hardy and patient of labour and the Spaniards more sober and composed than the English who undoubtedly were brave and generous, but at the same time rash, headstrong, and impetuous and too apt to elated with prosperity, and to despond in adversity. He quotes a philosopher who says that we should not be “countrymen” but we should be “citizens of the world” meaning we should view ourselves as inhabitants of the world and not of a certain part of it.

If these prejudices prevail among the meanest and lowest of the people, they might be excused because they get few opportunities of correcting them by reading, travelling, or conversing with foreigners. But the misfortune is that they infect the minds, and influence the conduct, even of our gentlemen. The mark of a gentleman is that he should be free from national and other prejudices. There are some who are most apt to boast of national merit. It is just like a vine which twists around a sturdy oak, for no other reason in the world because it has not strength sufficient to support itself.

The essay concludes with saying that, it is okay to be proud of one‘s own land and country but that should not stop us from thinking outside the box. Narrowing our minds won‘t make anything useful. Instead, try to be a citizen of the whole world without the need to hate others.

Theme/Message

In this essay first published in the British Magazine in August 1760, Goldsmith argues that it is possible to love one’s own country “without hating the natives of other countries”. It is good that people have good opinions about their own countries, but at the same time, they should not think in negative terms about the people of other countries. We should not pass judgments about others without meeting these people. We can understand others only when we live with them. We come to know through the author that there is no doubt that The English who are brave and generous, is at the same time rash, headstrong, and impetuous; too elated with prosperity and to despond in adversity, On the other hand, the Dutch are more frugal and industrious, the French more temperate and polite, the Germans more hardy and patient of labour and fatigue, and the Spaniards soberer and composed than the English. People should not think at the national level but should think at the global level. They should consider themselves citizens of the world.

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