Valéry—whom I adore but who could say wonderfully stupid things—declared, “I’m told you can learn English in twenty hours. To that I respond that you can’t learn French in twenty thousand hours.” A silly quip, but it is, in fact, true—I have taught those languages. English can be learned fast, but there’s more: it contains a message of hope. How can I put it? In English there’s a flying carpet to tomorrow. English is full of promises; it tells us, “Things will be better tomorrow.” The American Declaration of Independence contains the famous expression “the pursuit of happiness.” It’s really something to say to humanity, “Go pursue happiness!” It’s not at all obvious. In English there’s no deep despair, none of the great apocalypses of Russian, French, that metaphysical vision of the damnation of humanity, of original sin. Anglo-American has never believed in that.

– George Steiner, A Long Saturday: Conversations (2014)

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