In public lectures delivered at the University of Pennsylvania in spring 1961, Toynbee reminded his audience of “the revolutionary tradition which the United States had inaugurated and which she needed to re-join if she were to continue to play a positive role in the world” (EWF Tomlin).
I am just old enough to remember the time when Britain was still rich and strong enough to be the principal target for poorer and weaker peoples’ malice. Baiting is one of mankind’s oldest games, but the victim has to be a substantial one if the game is to be fun. Twisting the lion’s tail ceases to be rewarding if the lion shrinks to the size of a cat; but if a buzzard swells to the size of an eagle, it then becomes worthwhile to pull out the bird’s tail-feathers. It is not easy to adjust oneself to a rapid decrease in one’s wealth and power, but the transition is eased by one consoling form of relief. In being relieved of power and wealth, one is automatically relieved from odium. Experto crede. I am speaking from my own country’s experience in my own lifetime. We have been released from the odium that used to hang round Britain’s neck like the Ancient Mariner’s murdered albatross. The neck that is now adorned by the corpse of that albatross is America’s. When we British look at America nowadays, our feelings are mixed. We feel consoled for the recent change in our position in the world; at the same time we sympathize with you for the change in your position. I do hope that the second of these two feelings will make itself obvious to you in this present course of lectures by a British speaker. In examining America’s situation in the World today, I can say, with my hand on my heart, that my feelings are sympathetic, not malicious. After all, mere regard for self-interest, apart from any more estimable considerations, would deter America’s allies from wishing America ill. If, absit omen, America were to be worsted by her present ordeal, this would be as great a misfortune for her friends and associates as it would be for America herself.
I suppose many of us in this room have stood, more than once in our lives, on the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, and have then crossed the bridge to read, engraved on a bronze plaque, a poem that we already knew by heart. As far as I remember, I first got to know this poem of Emerson’s through being given it, at school, to translate into Greek verse. The school was in England, not in America. The date must have been about 1905. That would be one hundred and thirty years after the day on which the historic shot had been fired by embattled American farmers. That was time enough to have made it possible for English schoolmasters and English schoolboys to look back at what had happened in April 1775 without having our vision blurred by irrelevant national sore feelings. What thrilled us, in England in 1905, at the sound of that shot, was the point that has been put inimitably by Emerson in the eight monosyllabic words of his immortal line. We forgot that the shot had been aimed at red-coats. We remembered that it had been heard round the world. That shot now meant for us, too, what it had meant for your ancestors. I myself, for instance, made my pilgrimage to the bridge at Concord the first time I visited the United States, which was in 1925.
A poet knows how to sum up in one line what it takes an historian at least several pages to recite. Within these last one hundred and eighty-six years the sound of that American shot has been travelling round and round the globe like a Russian sputnik. It had been heard in France before the eighteenth century was over. It was heard in Spanish America and in Greece while the nineteenth century was still young. In 1848, when the nineteenth century was not yet quite half spent, the sound reverberated, like a thunderclap, over the whole of Continental Europe. It was heard in Italy, and Italy arose from the dead. The Italian Risorgimento was evoked by that American shot. The sound was heard in Paris again in 1871; this time the Commune was Paris’s response to it. Travelling on eastward, the sound touched off the Russian revolution of 1905, the Persian revolution of 1906, and the Turkish revolution of 1908. By that date it had already roused the Founding Fathers of the Indian National Congress. I believe, by the way, that the original instigator of the Indian Congress Movement was an Englishman [he is thinking of Allan Octavian Hume or William Wedderburn]. If I am right about this, that Englishman launched a far bigger movement than he can have realized at the time. The Indian Congress Movement has been the mother of all the independence movements in all the Asian and African countries that, till recently, have been under the rule of West European colonial powers. But, anyway, whoever may deserve the credit for having started the Indian Congress Movement, the inspiration of it came from the sound of that American shot as this sound travelled over the Indian sub-continent on its eastward course. By this time it had gathered a speed that must have been greater than the speed of light. By 1911, the year in which the sound was heard in China, it had already been heard on the far side of the pacific, in Mexico. It had already touched off the Mexican Revolution of 1910.
By 1910, the eastward-travelling American sputnik had come round, full circle, to re-visit the New World. But it did not stop at that point. Its momentum was still unexhausted. It sped forward for the second time over the Atlantic to re-awaken the Old World’s seven sleepers with still more thunderous reverberations than it had detonated at its first visitation. In 1917 Russia heard that American sound for the second time, and this time she heard it with a vengeance. Turkey heard it for the second time after the end of the First World War, and this time the sound touched off the radical Westernizing Turkish revolution led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Compared with this second Turkish revolution of 1919-’28, the Turkish revolution of 1908 had been half-hearted. In April 1923, just one hundred and forty-eight years after the firing of that shot, far away, at the bridge at Concord, Massachusetts, I heard the sound reach Ankara, Turkey’s new capital, where I happened, at that moment, to find myself. There and then, I was given an inkling of what it must have felt like to be in the streets of Paris in 1789 or beside the bridge at Concord in 1775.
The sound did not flag or falter. It went on making its second circuit of the globe. In China, in 1948, its second visitation produced the same enormously enhanced effects as its previous second visitations in Russia and in Turkey. Speeding across the Pacific for the second time, the indefatigable sound called the Bolivian miners to arms and roused the Guatemalan peasants to demand a re-distribution of the land. In 1960 it roused the peasants of Cuba. Fidel Castro must have been surprised and gratified by the attention that he has won for himself in the United States. He has had the advantage of standing so close to the American people’s ear that, by shouting into it, he has been able to make it tingle. He wanted to annoy America, and he succeeded. But, if he had not had the luck to be so close to you, his oratory would have been drowned; for, before the end of 1960, the sound of the embattled American farmers’ shot had crossed the Atlantic for the third time and had roused up the whole of Africa from Sharpeville to Algiers.
At this moment at which I am speaking to you here in this room, I am surprised that I have succeeded, like Fidel Castro, in making my annoying words heard above that other sound’s roar. For, by now, the sound of the embattled farmers’ shot “is gone out through all the Earth”, to quote the Psalmist’s words. The noise has become world-wide and it has become deafening. Jefferson hit the mark when he said that “the disease of liberty is catching”.
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.”
Emerson wrote Concord Hymn in 1836 for the dedication of the Obelisk, a battle monument in Concord, Massachusetts that commemorated the contributions of area citizens at the Battle of Lexington and Concord, April 19 1775, the first battle of the American Revolution. The Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4 1776. Emerson’s grandfather was at the bridge on the day of the battle; their family home, The Old Manse, was next to the bridge; and Emerson is known to have written the hymn while living there. And in 1837, the hymn was sung during Concord’s Fourth of July celebration to one of the greatest tunes ever composed: the Old Hundredth.
America and the World Revolution, OUP, 1962