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Title: The American Mind - The E. T. Earl Lectures
Author: Perry, Bliss, 1860-1954
Language: English
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_The E. T. Earl Lectures_


By the Same Author

The American Mind
Park-Street Papers
John Greenleaf Whittier: A Memoir
Walt Whitman
The Amateur Spirit
A Study of Prose Fiction
The Powers at Play
The Plated City
Salem Kittredge and Other Stories
The Broughton House

The American Mind

By Bliss Perry

[Illustration: The Riverside Press]

Boston and New York

Houghton Mifflin Company




_Published October 1912_




_The material for this book was delivered as the E. T. Earl Lectures
for 1912 at the Pacific Theological Seminary, Berkeley, California, and
I wish to take this opportunity to express to the President and Faculty
of that institution my appreciation of their generous hospitality._

_The lectures were also given at the Lowell Institute, Boston, the
Brooklyn Institute, and elsewhere, under the title "American Traits in
American Literature." In revising them for publication a briefer title
has seemed desirable, and I have therefore availed myself of
Jefferson's phrase "The American Mind," as suggesting, more accurately
perhaps than the original title, the real theme of discussion._

                              B. P.



I.   RACE, NATION, AND BOOK              3

II.  THE AMERICAN MIND                  47

III. AMERICAN IDEALISM                  86

IV.  ROMANCE AND REACTION              128

V.   HUMOR AND SATIRE                  166




Race, Nation, and Book

Many years ago, as a student in a foreign university, I remember
attacking, with the complacency of youth, a German history of the
English drama, in six volumes. I lost courage long before the author
reached the age of Elizabeth, but I still recall the subject of the
opening chapter: it was devoted to the physical geography of Great
Britain. Writing, as the good German professor did, in the triumphant
hour of Taine's theory as to the significance of place, period, and
environment in determining the character of any literary production,
what could be more logical than to begin at the beginning? Have not the
chalk cliffs guarding the southern coast of England, have not the
fatness of the midland counties and the soft rainy climate of a North
Atlantic island, and the proud, tenacious, self-assertive folk that are
bred there, all left their trace upon _A Midsummer Night's Dream_, and
_Every Man in his Humour_ and _She Stoops to Conquer_? Undoubtedly.
Latitude and longitude, soil and rainfall and food-supply, racial
origins and crossings, political and social and economic conditions,
must assuredly leave their marks upon the mental and artistic
productiveness of a people and upon the personality of individual

Taine, who delighted to point out all this, and whose _English
Literature_ remains a monument of the defects as well as of the
advantages of his method, was of course not the inventor of the
climatic theory. It is older than Aristotle, who discusses it in his
treatise on _Politics_. It was a topic of interest to the scholars of
the Renaissance. Englishmen of the seventeenth century, with an unction
of pseudo-science added to their natural patriotism, discovered in the
English climate one of the reasons of England's greatness. Thomas
Sprat, writing in 1667 on the History of the Royal Society, waxes bold
and asserts: "If there can be a true character given of the Universal
Temper of any Nation under Heaven, then certainly this must be ascribed
to our countrymen, that they have commonly an unaffected sincerity,
that they love to deliver their minds with a sound simplicity, that
they have the middle qualities between the reserved, subtle southern
and the rough, unhewn northern people, that they are not extremely
prone to speak, that they are more concerned what others will think of
the strength than of the fineness of what they say, and that a
universal modesty possesses them. These qualities are so conspicuous
and proper to the soil that we often hear them objected to us by some
of our neighbor Satyrists in more disgraceful expressions.... Even the
position of our climate, the air, the influence of the heaven, the
composition of the English blood, as well as the embraces of the Ocean,
seem to join with the labours of the _Royal Society_ to render our
country a Land of Experimental Knowledge."

The excellent Sprat was the friend and executor of the poet Cowley, who
has in the Preface to his _Poems_ a charming passage about the relation
of literature to the external circumstances in which it is written.

"If _wit_ be such a _Plant_ that it scarce receives heat enough to keep
it alive even in the _summer_ of our cold _Clymate_, how can it choose
but wither in a long and a sharp _winter_? a warlike, various and a
tragical age is best to write _of_, but worst to write _in_." And he
adds this, concerning his own art of poetry: "There is nothing that
requires so much serenity and chearfulness of _spirit_; it must not be
either overwhelmed with the cares of _Life_, or overcast with the
_Clouds_ of _Melancholy_ and _Sorrow_, or shaken and disturbed with the
storms of injurious _Fortune_; it must, like the _Halcyon_, have fair
weather to breed in. The Soul must be filled with bright and delightful
_Idaeas_, when it undertakes to communicate delight to others, which is
the main end of _Poesie_. One may see through the stile of _Ovid de
Trist._, the humbled and dejected condition of _Spirit_ with which he
wrote it; there scarce remains any footstep of that _Genius_, _Quem nec
Jovis ira, nec ignes_, etc. The _cold_ of the country has strucken
through all his faculties, and benummed the very _feet_ of his

Madame de Staël's _Germany_, one of the most famous of the "national
character" books, begins with a description of the German landscape.
But though nobody, from Ovid in exile down to Madame de Staël,
questions the general significance of place, time, and circumstances as
affecting the nature of a literary product, when we come to the exact
and as it were mathematical demonstration of the precise workings of
these physical influences, our generation is distinctly more cautious
than were the literary critics of forty years ago. Indeed, it is a
hundred years since Fisher Ames, ridiculing the theory that climate
acts directly upon literary products, said wittily of Greece: "The figs
are as fine as ever, but where are the Pindars?" The theory of race, in
particular, has been sharply questioned by the experts. "Saxon" and
"Norman," for example, no longer seem to us such simple terms as
sufficed for the purpose of Scott's _Ivanhoe_ or of Thierry's _Norman
Conquest_, a book inspired by Scott's romance. The late Professor
Freeman, with characteristic bluntness, remarked of the latter book:
"Thierry says at the end of his work that there are no longer either
Normans or Saxons except in history.... But in Thierry's sense of the
word, it would be truer to say that there never were 'Normans' or
'Saxons' anywhere, save in the pages of romances like his own."

There is a brutal directness about this verdict upon a rival historian
which we shall probably persist in calling "Saxon"; but it is no worse
than the criticisms of Matthew Arnold's essay on "The Celtic Spirit"
made to-day by university professors who happen to know Old Irish at
first hand, and consequently consider Arnold's opinion on Celtic
matters to be hopelessly amateurish.

The wiser scepticism of our day concerning all hard-and-fast racial
distinctions has been admirably summed up by Josiah Royce. "A race
psychology," he declares, "is still a science for the future to
discover.... We do not scientifically know what the true racial
varieties of mental type really are. No doubt there are such varieties.
The judgment day, or the science of the future, may demonstrate what
they are. We are at present very ignorant regarding the whole matter."

Nowhere have the extravagances of the application of racial theories to
intellectual products been more pronounced than in the fields of art
and literature. Audiences listen to a waltz which the programme
declares to be an adaptation of a Hungarian folk-song, and though they
may be more ignorant of Hungary than Shakespeare was of Bohemia, they
have no hesitation in exclaiming: "How truly Hungarian this is!" Or,
it may be, how truly "Japanese" is this vase which was made in
Japan--perhaps for the American market; or how intensely "Russian" is
this melancholy tale by Turgenieff. This prompt deduction of racial
qualities from works of art which themselves give the critic all the
information he possesses about the races in question,--or, in other
words, the enthusiastic assertion that a thing is like itself,--is one
of the familiar notes of amateur criticism. It is travelling in a
circle, and the corregiosity of Corregio is the next station.

Blood tells, no doubt, and a masterpiece usually betrays some token of
the place and hour of its birth. A knowledge of the condition of
political parties in Athens in 416 B.C. adds immensely to the enjoyment
of the readers of Aristophanes; the fun becomes funnier and the daring
even more splendid than before. Molière's training as an actor does
affect the dramaturgic quality of his comedies. All this is
demonstrable, and to the prevalent consciousness of it our generation
is deeply indebted to Taine and his pupils. But before displaying
dogmatically the inevitable brandings of racial and national traits on
a national literature, before pointing to this and that unmistakable
evidence of local or temporal influence on the form or spirit of a
masterpiece, we are now inclined to make some distinct reservations.
These reservations are not without bearing upon our own literature in

There are, for instance, certain artists who seem to escape the
influences of the time-spirit. The most familiar example is that of
Keats. He can no doubt be assigned to the George the Fourth period by a
critical examination of his vocabulary, but the characteristic
political and social movements of that epoch in England left him almost
untouched. Edgar Allan Poe might have written some of his tales in the
seventeenth century or in the twentieth; he might, like Robert Louis
Stevenson, have written in Samoa rather than in the Baltimore,
Philadelphia, or New York of his day; his description of the Ragged
Mountains of Virginia, within very sight of the university which he
attended, was borrowed, in the good old convenient fashion, from
Macaulay; in fact, it requires something of Poe's own ingenuity to find
in Poe, who is one of the indubitable assets of American literature,
anything distinctly American.

Wholly aside from such spiritual insulation of the single writer,
there is the obvious fact that none of the arts, not even literature,
and not all of them together, can furnish a wholly adequate
representation of racial or national characteristics. It is well known
to-day that the so-called "classic" examples of Greek art, most of
which were brought to light and discoursed upon by critics from two to
four centuries ago, represent but a single phase of Greek feeling; and
that the Greeks, even in what we choose to call their most
characteristic period, had a distinctly "romantic" tendency which their
more recently discovered plastic art betrays. But even if we had all
the lost statues, plays, poems, and orations, all the Greek paintings
about which we know so little, and the Greek music about which we know
still less, does anybody suppose that this wealth of artistic
expression would furnish a wholly satisfactory notion of the racial and
psychological traits of the Greek people?

One may go even further. Does a truly national art exist anywhere,--an
art, that is to say, which conveys a trustworthy and adequate
expression of the national temper as a whole? We have but to reflect
upon the European and American judgments, during the last thirty
years, concerning the representative quality of the art of Japan, and
to observe how many of those facile generalizations about the Japanese
character, deduced from vases and prints and enamel, were smashed to
pieces by the Russo-Japanese War. This may illustrate the blunders of
foreign criticism, perhaps, rather than any inadequacy in the racially
representative character of Japanese art. But it is impossible that
critics, and artists themselves, should not err, in the conscious
endeavor to pronounce upon the infinitely complex materials with which
they are called upon to deal. We must confess that the expression of
racial and national characteristics, by means of only one art, such as
literature, or by all the arts together, is at best imperfect, and is
always likely to be misleading unless corroborated by other evidence.

For it is to be remembered that in literature, as in the other fields
of artistic activity, we are dealing with the question of form; of
securing a concrete and pleasurable embodiment of certain emotions. It
may well happen that literature not merely fails to give an adequate
report of the racial or national or personal emotions felt during a
given epoch, but that it fails to report these emotions at all. Not
only the "old, unhappy, far-off" things of racial experience, but the
new and delight-giving experiences of the hour, may lack their poet.
Widespread moods of public elation or wistfulness or depression have
passed without leaving a shadow upon the mirror of art. There was no
one to hold the mirror or even to fashion it. No note of Renaissance
criticism, whether in Italy, France, or England, is more striking, and
in a way more touching, than the universal feeling that in the
rediscovery of the classics men had found at last the "terms of art,"
the rules and methods of a game which they had long wished to be
playing. Englishmen and Frenchmen of the sixteenth century will not
allow that their powers are less virile, their emotions less eager,
than those of the Greeks and Romans. Only, lacking the very terms of
art, they had not been able to arrive at fit expression; the soul had
found no body wherewith to clothe itself into beauty. As they avowed in
all simplicity, they needed schoolmasters; the discipline of Aristotle
and Horace and Virgil; a body of critical doctrine, to teach them how
to express the France and England or Italy of their day, and thus give
permanence to their fleeting vision of the world. Naïve as may have
been the Renaissance expression of this need of formal training, blind
as it frequently was to the beauty which we recognize in the
undisciplined vernacular literatures of mediæval Europe, those groping
scholars were essentially right. No one can paint or compose by nature.
One must slowly master an art of expression.

Now through long periods of time, and over many vast stretches of
territory, as our own American writing abundantly witnesses, the whole
formal side of expression may be neglected. "Literature," in its
narrower sense, may not exist. In that restricted and higher meaning of
the term, literature has always been uncommon enough, even in Athens or
Florence. It demands not merely personal distinction or power, not
merely some uncommon height or depth or breadth of capacity and
insight, but a purely artistic training, which in the very nature of
the case is rare. Millions of Russians, perhaps, have felt about the
general problems of life much as Turgenieff felt, but they lacked the
sheer literary art with which the _Notes of a Sportsman_ was written.
Thousands of frontier lawyers and politicians shared Lincoln's hard
and varied and admirable training in the mastery of speech, but in his
hands alone was the weapon wrought to such perfection of temper and
weight and edge that he spoke and wrote literature without knowing it.

Such considerations belong, I am aware, to the accepted
commonplaces,--perhaps to what William James used to call "the
unprofitable delineation of the obvious." Everybody recognizes that
literary gifts imply an exceptionally rich development of general human
capacities, together with a professional aptitude and training of which
but few men are capable. There is but one lumberman in camp who can
play the fiddle, though the whole camp can dance. Thus the great book,
we are forever saying, is truly representative of myriads of minds in a
certain degree of culture, although but one man could have written it.
The writing member of a family is often the one who acquires notoriety
and a bank account, but he is likely to have candid friends who admit,
though not always in his presence, that, aside from this one
professional gift and practice, he is not intellectually or emotionally
or spiritually superior to his brothers and sisters. Waldo Emerson
thought himself the intellectual inferior of his brother Charles; and
good observers loved to maintain that John Holmes was wittier than
Oliver Wendell, and Ezekiel Webster a better lawyer than Daniel.

Applied to the literary history of a race, this principle is
suggestive. We must be slow to affirm that, because certain ideas and
feelings did not attain, in this or that age or place, to purely
literary expression, they were therefore not in existence. The men and
women of the colonial period in our own country, for instance, have
been pretty uniformly declared to have been deficient in the sense of
beauty. What is the evidence? It is mostly negative. They produced no
poetry, fiction, painting, sculpture, or music worthy of the name. They
were predominantly Puritan, and the whole world has been informed that
English Puritanism was hostile to Art. They were preoccupied with
material and moral concerns. Even if they had remained in England,
Professor Trent affirms, these contemporaries of Milton and Bunyan
would have produced no art or literature. Now it is quite true that for
nearly two hundred years after the date of the first settlement of the
American colonists, opportunities for cultivating the arts did not
exist. But that the sense of beauty was wholly atrophied, I, for one,
do not believe. The passionate eagerness with which the forefathers
absorbed the noblest of all poetry and prose in the pages of their one
book, the Bible; the unwearied curiosity and care with which those
farmers and fishermen and woodsmen read the signs of the sky; their awe
of the dark wilderness and their familiar traffic with the great deep;
the silences of lonely places; the opulence of primeval meadows by the
clear streams; the English flowers that were made to bloom again in
farmhouse windows and along garden walks; the inner visions, more
lovely still, of duty and of moral law; the spirit of sacrifice; the
daily walk with God, whether by green pastures of the spirit or through
ways that were dark and terrible;--is there in all this no discipline
of the soul in moral beauty, and no training of the eye to perceive the
exquisite harmonies of the visible earth? It is true that the Puritans
had no professional men of letters; it is true that doctrinal sermons
provided their chief intellectual sustenance; true that their lives
were stern, and that many of the softer emotions were repressed. But
beauty may still be traced in the fragments of their recorded speech,
in their diaries and letters and phrases of devotion. You will search
the eighteenth century of old England in vain for such ecstasies of
wonder at the glorious beauty of the universe as were penned by
Jonathan Edwards in his youthful _Diary_. There is every presumption,
from what we know of the two men, that Whittier's father and
grandfather were peculiarly sensitive to the emotions of home and
neighborhood and domesticity which their gifted descendant--too
physically frail to be absorbed in the rude labor of the farm--has
embodied in _Snow-Bound_. The Quaker poet knew that he surpassed his
forefathers in facility in verse-making, but he would have been amused
(as his _Margaret Smith's Journal_ proves) at the notion that his
ancestors were without a sense of beauty or that they lacked
responsiveness to the chords of fireside sentiment. He was simply the
only Whittier, except his sister Elizabeth, who had ever found leisure,
as old-fashioned correspondents used to say, "to take his pen in hand."
This leisure developed in him the sense--latent no doubt in his
ancestors--of the beauty of words, and the excitement of rhythm.
Emerson's _Journal_ in the eighteen-thirties glows with a Dionysiac
rapture over what he calls "delicious days"; but did the seven
generations of clergymen from whom Emerson descended have no delicious
and haughty and tender days that passed unrecorded? Formal literature
perpetuates and glorifies many aspects of individual and national
experience; but how much eludes it wholly, or is told, if at all, in
broken syllables, in Pentecostal tongues that seem to be our own and
yet are unutterably strange!

To confess thus that literature, in the proper sense of the word,
represents but a narrow segment of personal or racial experience, is
very far from a denial of the genuineness and the significance of the
affirmations which literature makes. We recognize instinctively that
Whittier's _Snow-Bound_ is a truthful report, not merely of a certain
farmhouse kitchen in East Haverhill, Massachusetts, during the early
nineteenth century, but of a mode of thinking and feeling which is
widely diffused wherever the Anglo-Saxon race has wandered. Perhaps
_Snow-Bound_ lacks a certain universality of suggestiveness which
belongs to a still more famous poem, _The Cotter's Saturday Night_ of
Burns, but both of these portrayals of rustic simplicity and peace owe
their celebrity to their truly representative character. They are
evidence furnished by a single art, as to a certain mode and coloring
of human existence; but every corroboration of that evidence heightens
our admiration for the artistic sincerity and insight of the poet. To
draw an illustration from a more splendid epoch, let us remind
ourselves that the literature of the "spacious times of great
Elizabeth"--a period of strong national excitement, and one deeply
representative of the very noblest and most permanent traits of English
national character--was produced within startlingly few years and in a
local territory extremely limited. The very language in which that
literature is clothed was spoken only by the court, by a couple of
counties, and at the two universities. Its prose and verse were frankly
experimental. It is true that such was the emotional ferment of the
score of years preceding the Armada, that great captains and voyagers
who scarcely wrote a line were hailed as kings of the realm of
imagination, and that Puttenham, in phrases which that generation
could not have found extravagant, inscribes his book on Poetry to Queen
Elizabeth as the "most excellent Poet" of the age. Well, the glorified
political images may grow dim or tawdry with time, but the poetry has
endured, and it is everywhere felt to be a truly national, a deeply
racial product. Its time and place and hour were all local; but the
Canadian and the American, the South African and Australasian
Englishman feels that that Elizabethan poetry is his poetry still.

When we pass, therefore, as we must shortly do, to the consideration of
this and that literary product of America, and to the scrutiny of the
really representative character of our books, we must bear in mind that
the questions concerning the race, the place, the hour, the
man,--questions so familiar to modern criticism,--remain valid and
indeed essential; but that in applying them to American writing there
are certain allowances, qualifications, adjustments of the scale of
values, which are no less important to an intelligent perception of the
quality of our literature. This task is less simple than the critical
assessment of a typical German or French or Scandinavian writer, where
the strain of blood is unmixed, the continuity of literary tradition
unbroken, the precise impact of historical and personal influences more
easy to estimate. I open, for example, any one of half a dozen French
studies of Balzac. Here is a many-sided man, a multifarious writer, a
personality that makes ridiculous the merely formal pigeon-holing and
labelling processes of professional criticism. And yet with what
perfect precision of method and certainty of touch do Le Breton, for
example, or Brunetière, in their books on Balzac, proceed to indicate
those impulses of race and period and environment which affected the
character of Balzac's novels! The fact that he was born in Tours in
1799 results in the inevitable and inevitably expert paragraphs about
Gallic blood, and the physical exuberance of the Touraine surroundings
of his youth, and the post-revolutionary tendency to disillusion and
analysis. And so with Balzac's education, his removal to Paris in the
Restoration period, his ventures in business and his affairs of love,
his admiration for Shakespeare and for Fenimore Cooper; his mingled
Romanticism and Realism; his Titanism and his childishness; his
stupendous outline for the Human Comedy; and his scarcely less
astounding actual achievement. All this is discussed by his biographers
with the professional dexterity of critics trained intellectually in
the Latin traditions and instinctively aware of the claims of race,
biographers familiar with every page of French history, and profoundly
interested, like their readers, in every aspect of French life. Alas,
we may say, in despairing admiration of such workmanship, "they order
these things better in France." And they do; but racial unity, and long
lines of national literary tradition, make these things easier to order
than they are with us. The intellectual distinction of American
critical biographies like Lounsbury's _Cooper_ or Woodberry's
_Hawthorne_ is all the more notable because we possess such a slender
body of truly critical doctrine native to our own soil; because our
national literary tradition as to available material and methods is
hardly formed; because the very word "American" has a less precise
connotation than the word "New Zealander."

Let us suppose, for instance, that like Professor Woodberry a few years
ago, we were asked to furnish a critical study of Hawthorne. The author
of _The Scarlet Letter_ is one of the most justly famous of American
writers. But precisely what national traits are to be discovered in
this eminent fellow-countryman of ours? We turn, like loyal disciples
of Taine and Sainte-Beuve, to his ancestral stock. We find that it is
English as far back as it can be traced; as purely English as the
ancestry of Dickens or Thackeray, and more purely English than the
ancestry of Browning or Burke or His Majesty George the Fifth. Was
Hawthorne, then, simply an Englishman living in America? He himself did
not think so,--as his _English Note-Books_ abundantly prove. But just
what subtle racial differentiation had been at work, since William
Hawthorne migrated to Massachusetts with Winthrop in 1630? Here we
face, unless I am mistaken, that troublesome but fascinating question
of Physical Geography. Climate, soil, food, occupation, religious or
moral preoccupation, social environment, Salem witchcraft and Salem
seafaring had all laid their invisible hands upon the physical and
intellectual endowment of the child born in 1804. Does this make
Nathaniel Hawthorne merely an "Englishman with a difference," as Mr.
Kipling, born in India, is an "Englishman with a difference"?
Hawthorne would have smiled, or, more probably, he would have sworn, at
such a question. He considered himself an American Democrat; in fact a
_contra mundum_ Democrat, for good or for ill. Is it, then, a political
theory, first put into full operation in this country a scant
generation before Hawthorne's birth, which made him un-English? We must
walk warily here. Our Canadian neighbors of English stock have much the
same climate, soil, occupations, and preoccupations as the inhabitants
of the northern territory of the United States. They have much the same
courts, churches, and legislatures. They read the same books and
magazines. They even prefer baseball to cricket. They are loyal
adherents of a monarchy, but they are precisely as free, as
self-governing, and--in the social sense of the word--as
"democratic"--in spite of the absence of a republican form of
government--as the citizens of that "land of the free and home of the
brave" which lies to the south of them. Yet Canadian literature, one
may venture to affirm, has remained to this hour a "colonial"
literature, or, if one prefers the phrase, a literature of "Greater
Britain." Was Hawthorne possibly right in his instinct that politics
did make a difference, and that in writing _The Marble Faun_,--the
scene of which is laid in Rome,--or _The House of the Seven
Gables_,--which is a story of Salem,--he was consistently engaged in
producing, not "colonial" or "Greater-British" but distinctly American
literature? We need not answer this question prematurely, if we wish to
reserve our judgment, but it is assuredly one of the questions which
the biographers and critics of our men of letters must ultimately face
and answer.

Furthermore, the student of literature produced in the United States of
America must face other questions almost as complicated as this of
race. In fact, when we choose Hawthorne as a typical case in which to
observe the American refashioning of the English temper into something
not English, we are selecting a very simple problem compared with the
complexities which have resulted from the mingling of various European
stocks upon American soil. But take, for the moment, the mere obvious
matter of expanse of territory. We are obliged to reckon, not with a
compact province such as those in which many Old World literatures
have been produced, but with what our grandfathers considered a
"boundless continent." This vast national domain was long ago
"organized" for political purposes: but so far as literature is
concerned it remains unorganized to-day. We have, as has been
constantly observed, no literary capital, like London or Paris, to
serve as the seat of centralized authority; no code of literary
procedure and conduct; no "lawgivers of Parnassus"; no supreme court of
letters, whose judgments are recognized and obeyed. American public
opinion asserts itself with singular unanimity and promptness in the
field of politics. In literary matters we remain in the stage of
anarchic individualism, liable to be stampeded from time to time by
mob-excitement over a popular novel or moralistic tract, and then
disintegrating, as before, into an incoherent mass of individually
intelligent readers.

The reader who has some personal acquaintance with the variations of
type in different sections of this immense territory of ours finds his
curiosity constantly stimulated by the presence of sectional and local
characteristics. There are sharply cut provincial peculiarities, of
course, in Great Britain and in Germany, in Italy and Spain, and in
all of the countries a corresponding "regional" literature has been
developed. Our provincial variations of accent and vocabulary, in
passing from North to South or East to West, are less striking, on the
whole, than the dialectical differences found in the various English
counties. But our general uniformity of grammar and the comparatively
slight variations in spoken accent cover an extraordinary variety of
local and sectional modes of thinking and feeling. The reader of
American short stories and lyrics must constantly ask himself: Is this
truth to local type consistent with the main trend of American
production? Is this merely a bit of Virginia or Texas or California, or
does it, while remaining no less Southern or Western in its local
coloring, suggest also the ampler light, the wide generous air of the
United States of America?

The observer of this relationship between local and national types will
find some American communities where all the speech or habitual thought
is of the future. Foreigners usually consider such communities the most
typically "American," as doubtless they are; but there are other
sections, still more faithfully exploited by local writers, where the
mood is wistful and habitually regards the past. America, too, like the
Old World,--and in New England more than elsewhere,--has her note of
decadence, of disillusion, of autumnal brightness and transiency. Some
sections of the country, and notably the slave-holding states in the
forty years preceding the Civil War, have suffered widespread
intellectual blight. The best talent of the South, for a generation,
went into politics, in the passionately loyal endeavor to prop up a
doomed economic and social system; and the loss to the intellectual
life of the country cannot be reckoned. Over vast sections of our
prosperous and intelligent people of the Mississippi Basin to-day the
very genius of commonplaceness seems to hover. Take the great State of
Iowa, with its well-to-do and homogeneous population, its fortunate
absence of perplexing city-problems, its general air of prosperity and
content. It is a typical state of the most typically American portion
of the country; but it breeds no books. Yet in Indiana, another state
of the same general conditions as to population and prosperity, and
only one generation further removed than Iowa from primitive pioneer
conditions, books are produced at a rate which provokes a universal
American smile. I do not affirm that the literary critic is bound to
answer all such local puzzles as this. But he is bound at least to
reflect upon them, and to demand of every local literary product
throughout this varied expanse of states: Is the root of the
"All-American" plant growing here, or is it not?

Furthermore, the critic must pursue this investigation of national
traits in our writing, not only over a wide and variegated territory,
but through a very considerable sweep of time. American literature is
often described as "callow," as the revelation of "national
inexperience," and in other similar terms. It is true that we had no
professional men of letters before Irving and that the blossoming time
of the notable New England group of writers did not come until nearly
the middle of the nineteenth century. But we have had time enough,
after all, to show what we wish to be and what we are. There have been
European books about America ever since the days of Columbus; it is
three hundred years since the first books were written in America.
Modern English prose, the language of journalism, of science, of social
intercourse, came into being only in the early eighteenth century, in
the age of Queen Anne. But Cotton Mather's _Magnalia_, a vast book
dealing with the past history of New England, was printed in 1702, only
a year later than Defoe's _True-Born Englishman_. For more than two
centuries the development of English speech and English writing on this
side of the Atlantic has kept measurable pace--now slower, now
swifter--with the speech of the mother country. When we recall the
scanty term of years within which was produced the literature of the
age of Elizabeth, it seems like special pleading to insist that America
has not yet had time to learn or recite her bookish lessons.

This is not saying that we have had a continuous or adequate
development, either of the intellectual life, or of literary
expression. There are certain periods of strong intellectual movement,
of heightened emotion, alike in the colonial epoch and since the
adoption of our present form of government, in which it is natural to
search for revelations of those qualities which we now feel to be
essential to our national character. Certain epochs of our history, in
other words, have been peculiarly "American," and have furnished the
most ideal expression of national tendencies.

If asked to select the three periods of our history which in this sense
have been most significant, most of us, I imagine, would choose the
first vigorous epoch of New England Puritanism, say from 1630 to 1676;
then, the epoch of the great Virginians, say from 1766 to 1789; and
finally the epoch of distinctly national feeling, in which New England
and the West were leaders, between 1830 and 1865. Those three
generations have been the most notable in the three hundred years since
the permanent settlements began. Each of them has revealed, in a noble
fashion, the political, ethical, and emotional traits of our people;
and although the first two of the three periods concerned themselves
but little with literary expression of the deep-lying characteristics
of our stock, the expression is not lacking. Thomas Hooker's sermon on
the "Foundation of Political Authority," John Winthrop's grave advice
on the "Nature of Liberty," Jefferson's "Declaration," Webster's "Reply
to Hayne," Lincoln's "Inaugurals," are all fundamentally American.
They are political in their immediate purpose, but, like the speeches
of Edmund Burke, they are no less literature because they are concerned
with the common needs and the common destiny. Hooker and Winthrop wrote
before our formal national existence began; Jefferson, at the hour of
the nation's birth; and Lincoln, in the day of its sharpest trial. Yet,
though separated from one another by long intervals of time, the
representative figures of the three epochs, English in blood and
American in feeling, are not so unlike as one might think. A thorough
grasp of our literature thus requires--and in scarcely less a degree
than the mastery of one of the literatures of Europe--a survey of a
long period, the search below the baffling or contradictory surface of
national experience for the main drift of that experience, and the
selection of the writers, of one generation after another, who have
given the most fit and permanent and personalized expression to the
underlying forces of the national life.

There is another preliminary word which needs no less to be said. It
concerns the question of international influences upon national
literature. Our own generation has been taught by many events that no
race or country can any longer live "to itself." Internationalism is in
the very atmosphere: and not merely as regards politics in the narrowed
sense, but with reference to questions of economics, sociology, art,
and letters. The period of international isolation of the United
States, we are rather too fond of saying, closed with the
Spanish-American War. It would be nearer the truth to say that so far
as the things of the mind and the spirit are concerned, there has never
been any absolute isolation. The Middle West, from the days of Jackson
to Lincoln, that raw West described by Dickens and Mrs. Trollope, comes
nearer isolation than any other place or time. The period of the most
eloquent assertions of American independence in artistic and literary
matters was the epoch of New England Transcendentalism, which was
itself singularly cosmopolitan in its literary appetites. The letters
and journals of Emerson, Whitman, and Thoreau show the strong European
meat on which these men fed, just before their robust declarations of
our self-sufficiency. But there is no real self-sufficiency, and
Emerson and Whitman themselves, in other moods, have written most
suggestive passages upon our European inheritances and affiliations.

The fortunes of the early New England colonies, in fact, were followed
by Protestant Europe with the keen solicitude and affection of kinsmen.
Oliver Cromwell signs his letter to John Cotton in 1651, "Your
affectionate friend to serve you." The settlements were regarded as
outposts of European ideas. Their Calvinism, so cheaply derided and so
superficially understood, even to-day, was the intellectual platform of
that portion of Europe which was mentally and morally awake to the vast
issues involved in individual responsibility and self-government.
Contemporary European democracy is hardly yet aware that Calvin's
_Institutes_ is one of its great charters. Continental Protestantism of
the seventeenth century, like the militant Republicanism of the English
Commonwealth, thus perused with fraternal interest the letters from
Massachusetts Bay. And if Europe watched America in those days, it was
no less true that America was watching Europe. Towards the end of the
century, Cotton Mather, "prostrate in the dust" before the Lord, as
his newly published _Diary_ tells us, is wrestling "on the behalf of
whole nations." He receives a "strong Persuasion that very overturning
Dispensations of Heaven will quickly befal the French Empire"; he
"lifts up his Cries for a mighty and speedy Revolution" there. "I
spread before the Lord the Condition of His Church abroad ...
especially in Great Britain and in France. And I prayed that the poor
Vaudois may not be ruined by the Peace now made between France and
Savoy. I prayed likewise for further Mortifications upon the Turkish
Empire." Here surely was one colonial who was trying, in Cecil Rhodes's
words, to "think continentally!"

Furthermore, the leaders of those early colonies were in large measure
university men, disciplined in the classics, fit representatives of
European culture. It has been reckoned that between the years 1630 and
1690 there were in New England as many graduates of Cambridge and
Oxford as could be found in any population of similar size in the
mother country. At one time during those years there was in
Massachusetts and Connecticut alone a Cambridge graduate for every two
hundred and fifty inhabitants. Like the exiled Greeks in Matthew
Arnold's poem, they "undid their corded bales"--of learning, it is
true, rather than of merchandise--upon these strange and inhospitable
shores: and the traditions of Greek and Hebrew and Latin scholarship
were maintained with no loss of continuity. To the lover of letters
there will always be something fine in the thought of that narrow
seaboard fringe of faith in the classics, widening slowly as the
wilderness gave way, making its invisible road up the rivers, across
the mountains, into the great interior basin, and only after the Civil
War finding an enduring home in the magnificent state universities of
the West. Lovers of Greek and Roman literature may perhaps always feel
themselves pilgrims and exiles in this vast industrial democracy of
ours, but they have at least secured for us, and that from the very
first day of the colonies, some of the best fruitage of
internationalism. For that matter, what was, and is, that one Book--to
the eyes of the Protestant seventeenth century infallible and
inexpressively sacred--but the most potent and universal commerce of
ideas and spirit, passing from the Orient, through Greek and Roman
civilization, into the mind and heart of Western Europe and America?

    "Oh, East is East, and West is West,
    And never the twain shall meet,"

declares a confident poet of to-day. But East and West met long ago in
the matchless phrases translated from Hebrew and Greek and Latin into
the English Bible; and the heart of the East there answers to the heart
of the West as in water face answereth to face. That the colonizing
Englishmen of the seventeenth century were Hebrews in spiritual
culture, and heirs of Greece and Rome without ceasing to be Anglo-Saxon
in blood, is one of the marvels of the history of civilization, and it
is one of the basal facts in the intellectual life of the United States
of to-day.

Yet that life, as I have already hinted, is not so simple in its terms
as it might be if we had to reckon merely with the men of a single
stock, albeit with imaginations quickened by contact with an Oriental
religion, and minds disciplined, directly or indirectly, by the methods
and the literatures which the Revival of Learning imposed upon modern
Europe. American formal culture is, and has been, from the beginning,
predominantly English. Yet it has been colored by the influences of
other strains of race, and by alien intellectual traditions. Such
international influences as have reached us through German and
Scandinavian, Celtic and Italian, Russian and Jewish immigration, are
well marked in certain localities, although their traces may be
difficult to follow in the main trend of American writing. The presence
of Negro, Irishman, Jew, and German, has affected our popular humor and
satire, and is everywhere to be marked in the vocabulary and tone of
our newspapers. The cosmopolitan character of the population of such
cities as New York and Chicago strikes every foreign observer. Each one
of the manifold races now transplanted here and in process of
Americanization has for a while its own newspapers and churches and
social life carried on in a foreign dialect. But this stage of
evolution passes swiftly. The assimilative forces of American schools,
industry, commerce, politics, are too strong for the foreign immigrant
to resist. The Italian or Greek fruit pedler soon prefers to talk
English, and his children can be made to talk nothing else. This
extraordinary amalgamating power of English culture explains, no
doubt, why German and Scandinavian immigration--to take examples from
two of the most intelligent and educated races that have contributed to
the up-building of the country--have left so little trace, as yet, upon
our more permanent literature.

But blood will have its say sooner or later. No one knows how
profoundly the strong mentality of the Jew, already evident enough in
the fields of manufacturing and finance, will mould the intellectual
life of the United States. The mere presence, to say nothing of the
rapid absorption, of these millions upon millions of aliens, as the
children of the Puritans regard them, is a constant evidence of the
subtle ways in which internationalism is playing its part in the
fashioning of the American temper. The moulding hand of the German
university has been laid upon our higher institutions of learning for
seventy years, although no one can demonstrate in set terms whether the
influence of Goethe, read now by three generations of American scholars
and studied by millions of youth in the schools, has left any real mark
upon our literature. Abraham Lincoln, in his store-keeping days, used
to sit under a tree outside the grocery store of Lincoln and Berry,
reading Voltaire. One would like to think that he then and there
assimilated something of the incomparable lucidity of style of the
great Frenchman. But Voltaire's influence upon Lincoln's style cannot
be proved, any more than Rousseau's direct influence upon Jefferson.
Tolstoï and Ibsen have, indeed, left unmistakable traces upon American
imaginative writing during the last quarter of a century. Frank Norris
was indebted to Zola for the scheme of that uncompleted trilogy, the
prose epic of the Wheat; and Owen Wister has revealed a not uncommon
experience of our younger writing men in confessing that the impulse
toward writing his Western stories came to him after reading the
delightful pages of a French romancer. But all this tells us merely
what we knew well enough before: that from colonial days to the present
hour the Atlantic has been no insuperable barrier between the thought
of Europe and the mind of America; that no one race bears aloft all the
torches of intellectual progress; and that a really vital writer of any
country finds a home in the spiritual life of every other country, even
though it may be difficult to find his name in the local directory.

Finally, we must bear in mind that purely literary evidence as to the
existence of certain national traits needs corroboration from many
non-literary sources. If it is dangerous to judge modern Japan by the
characteristics of a piece of pottery, it is only less misleading to
select half a dozen excellent New England writers of fifty years ago as
sole witnesses to the qualities of contemporary America. We must
broaden the range of evidence. The historians of American literature
must ultimately reckon with all those sources of mental and emotional
quickening which have yielded to our pioneer people a substitute for
purely literary pleasures: they must do justice to the immense mass of
letters, diaries, sermons, editorials, speeches, which have served as
the grammar and phrase-book of national feeling. A history of our
literature must be flexible enough, as I have said elsewhere, to
include "the social and economic and geographical background of
American life; the zest of the explorer, the humor of the pioneer; the
passion of old political battles; the yearning after spiritual truth
and social readjustment; the baffled quest of beauty. Such a history
must be broad enough for the _Federalist_ and for Webster's oratory,
for Beecher's sermons and Greeley's editorials, and the Lincoln-Douglas
debates. It must picture the daily existence of our citizens from the
beginning; their working ideas, their phrases and shibboleths and all
their idols of the forum and the cave. It should portray the misspelled
ideals of a profoundly idealistic people who have been usually immersed
in material things."

Our most characteristic American writing, as must be pointed out again
and again, is not the self-conscious literary performance of a Poe or a
Hawthorne. It is civic writing; a citizen literature, produced, like
the _Federalist_, and Garrison's editorials and Grant's _Memoirs_,
without any stylistic consciousness whatever; a sort of writing which
has been incidental to the accomplishment of some political, social, or
moral purpose, and which scarcely regards itself as literature at all.
The supreme example of it is the "Gettysburg Address." Homeliness,
simplicity, directness, preoccupation with moral issues, have here been
but the instrument of beauty; phrase and thought and feeling have a
noble fitness to the national theme. "Nothing of Europe here," we may
instinctively exclaim, and yet the profounder lesson of this citizen
literature of ours is in the universality of the fundamental questions
which our literature presents. The "Gettysburg Address" would not
to-day have a secure fame in Europe if it spoke nothing to the ear and
the heart of Europe. And this brings us back to our main theme.
Lincoln, like Franklin, like many another lesser master of our citizen
literature, is a typical American. In the writing produced by such men,
there cannot but be a revelation of American characteristics. We are
now to attempt an analysis of these national traits, as they have been
expressed by our representative writers.

Simple as the problem seems, when thus stated, its adequate performance
calls for a constant sensitiveness to the conditions prevalent, during
a long period, in English and Continental society and literature. The
most rudimentary biographical sketch of such eminent contemporary
American authors as Mr. Henry James and Mr. Howells shows that Europe
is an essential factor in the intellectual life and in the artistic
procedure of these writers. Yet in their racial and national
relationships they are indubitably American. In their local variations
from type they demand from the critic an understanding of the culture
of the Ohio Valley, and of Boston and New York. The analysis of the
mingled racial, psychological, social, and professional traits in these
masters of contemporary American fiction presents to the critic a
problem as fascinating as, and I think more complex than, a
corresponding study of Meredith or Hardy, of Daudet or D'Annunzio. In
the three hundred years that have elapsed since Englishmen who were
trained under Queen Elizabeth settled at Jamestown, Virginia, we have
bred upon this soil many a master of speech. They have been men of
varied gifts: now of clear intelligence, now of commanding power; men
of rugged simplicity and of tantalizing subtlety; poets, novelists,
orators, essayists, and publicists, who have interpreted the soul of
America to the mind of the world. Our task is to exhibit the essential
Americanism of these spokesmen of ours, to point out the traits which
make them most truly representative of the instincts of the tongue-tied
millions who work and plan and pass from sight without the gift and
art of utterance; to find, in short, among the books which are
recognized as constituting our American literature, some vital and
illuminating illustrations of our national characteristics. For a truly
"American" book--like an American national game, or an American
city--is that which reveals, consciously or unconsciously, the American


The American Mind

The origin of the phrase, "the American mind," was political. Shortly
after the middle of the eighteenth century, there began to be a
distinctly American way of regarding the debatable question of British
Imperial control. During the period of the Stamp Act agitation our
colonial-bred politicians and statesmen made the discovery that there
was a mode of thinking and feeling which was native--or had by that
time become a second nature--to all the colonists. Jefferson, for
example, employs those resonant and useful words "the American mind" to
indicate that throughout the American colonies an essential unity of
opinion had been developed as regards the chief political question of
the day.

It is one of the most striking characteristics of the present United
States that this instinct of political unity should have endured,
triumphing over every temporary motive of division. The inhabitants of
the United States belong to a single political type. There is scarcely
a news-stand in any country of Continental Europe where one may not
purchase a newspaper openly or secretly opposed to the government,--not
merely attacking an unpopular administration or minister or ruler,--but
desiring and plotting the overthrow of the entire political system of
the country. It is very difficult to find such a newspaper anywhere in
the United States. I myself have never seen one. The opening sentence
of President Butler's admirable little book, _The American as He Is_,
originally delivered as lectures before the University of Copenhagen,
runs as follows:

    "The most impressive fact in American life is the substantial
    unity of view in regard to the fundamental questions of
    government and of conduct among a population so large,
    distributed over an area so wide, recruited from sources so
    many and so diverse, living under conditions so widely

But the American type of mind is evident in many other fields than that
of politics. The stimulating book from which I have just quoted,
attempts in its closing paragraph, after touching upon the more salient
features of our national activity, to define the typical American in
these words:--

    "The typical American is he who, whether rich or poor,
    whether dwelling in the North, South, East, or West, whether
    scholar, professional man, merchant, manufacturer, farmer, or
    skilled worker for wages, lives the life of a good citizen
    and good neighbor; who believes loyally and with all his
    heart in his country's institutions, and in the underlying
    principles on which these institutions are built; who directs
    both his private and his public life by sound principles; who
    cherishes high ideals; and who aims to train his children for
    a useful life and for their country's service."

This modest and sensible statement indicates the existence of a
national point of view. We have developed in the course of time, as a
result of certain racial inheritances and historic experiences, a
national "temper" or "ethos"; a more or less settled way of considering
intellectual, moral, and social problems; in short, a peculiarly
national attitude toward the universal human questions.

In a narrower sense, "the American mind" may mean the characteristics
of the American intelligence, as it has been studied by Mr. Bryce, De
Tocqueville, and other trained observers of our methods of thinking. It
may mean the specific achievements of the American intelligence in
fields like science and scholarship and history. In all these
particular departments of intellectual activity the methods and the
results of American workers have recently received expert and by no
means uniformly favorable assessment from investigators upon both sides
of the Atlantic. But the observer of literary processes and productions
must necessarily take a somewhat broader survey of national tendencies.
He must study what Nathaniel Hawthorne, with the instinct of a romance
writer, preferred to call the "heart" as distinguished from the mere
intellect. He must watch the moral and social and imaginative impulses
of the individual; the desire for beauty; the hunger for
self-expression; the conscious as well as the unconscious revelation of
personality; and he must bring all this into relation--if he can, and
knowing that the finer secrets are sure to elude him!--with the
age-long impulses of the race and with the mysterious tides of feeling
that flood or ebb with the changing fortunes of the nation.

One way to begin to understand the typical American is to take a look
at him in Europe. It does not require a professional beggar or a
licensed guide to identify him. Not that the American in Europe need
recall in any particular the familiar pictorial caricature of "Uncle
Sam." He need not bear any outward resemblances to such stage types as
that presented in "The Man From Home." He need not even suggest, by
peculiarities of speech or manner, that he has escaped from the pages
of those novels of international observation in which Mr. James and Mr.
Howells long ago attained an unmatched artistry. Our "American Abroad,"
at the present hour, may be studied without the aid of any literary
recollections whatever. There he is, with his wife and daughters, and
one may stare at him with all the frankness of a compatriot. He is
obviously well-to-do,--else he would not be there at all,--and the wife
and daughters seem very well-to-do indeed. He is kindly;
considerate--sometimes effusively considerate--of his fellow
travellers; patient with the ladies of his family, who in turn are
noticeably patient with him. He is genial--very willing to talk with
polyglot headwaiters and chauffeurs; in fact the wife and daughters are
also practised conversationalists, although their most loyal admirers
must admit that their voices _are_ a trifle sharp or flat. These ladies
are more widely read than "papa." He has not had much leisure for
Ruskin and Symonds and Ferrero. His lack of historical training limits
his curiosity concerning certain phases of his European surroundings;
but he uses his eyes well upon such general objects as trains,
hotel-service, and Englishmen. In spite of his habitual geniality, he
is rather critical of foreign ways, although this is partly due to his
lack of acquaintance with them. Intellectually, he is really more
modest and self-distrustful than his conversation or perhaps his
general bearing would imply; in fact, his wife and daughters,
emboldened very likely by the training of their women's clubs, have a
more commendable daring in assaulting new intellectual positions.

Yet the American does not lack quickness, either of wits or emotion.
His humor and sentiment make him an entertaining companion. Even when
his spirits run low, his patriotism is sure to mount in proportion, and
he can always tell you with enthusiasm in just how many days he expects
to be back again in what he calls "God's country."

This, or something like this, is the "American" whom the European
regards with curiosity, contempt, admiration, or envy, as the case may
be, but who is incontestably modifying Western Europe, even if he is
not, as many journalists and globe-trotters are fond of asserting,
"Americanizing" the world. Interesting as it is to glance at him
against that European background which adds picturesqueness to his
qualities, the "Man from Home" is still more interesting in his native
habitat. There he has been visited by hundreds of curious and observant
foreigners, who have left on record a whole literature of bewildered
and bewildering, irritating and flattering and amusing testimony
concerning the Americans. Settlers like Crèvecoeur in the glowing dawn
of the Republic, poets like Tom Moore, novelists like Charles
Dickens,--other novelists like Mr. Arnold Bennett,--professional
travellers like Captain Basil Hall, students of contemporary sociology
like Paul Bourget and Mr. H. G. Wells, French journalists, German
professors, Italian admirers of Colonel Roosevelt, political theorists
like De Tocqueville, profound and friendly observers like Mr. Bryce,
have had, and will continue to have, their say.

The reader who tries to take all this testimony at its face value, and
to reconcile its contradictions, will be a candidate for the insane
asylum. Yet the testimony is too amusing to be neglected and some of it
is far too important to be ignored. Mr. John Graham Brooks, after long
familiarity with these foreign opinions of America, has gathered some
of the most representative of them into a delightful and stimulating
volume entitled _As Others See Us_. There one may find examples of what
the foreigner has seen, or imagined he has seen, during his sojourn in
America, and what he has said about it afterwards. Mr. Brooks is too
charitable to our visitors to quote the most fantastic and highly
colored of their observations; but what remains is sufficiently

The real service of such a volume is to train us in discounting the
remarks made about us in a particular period like the
eighteen-thirties, or from observations made in a special place, like
Newport, or under special circumstances, like a Bishop's private car.
It helps us to make allowances for the inevitable angle of nationality,
the equally inevitable personal equation. A recent ambitious book on
America, by a Washington journalist of long residence here, although of
foreign birth, declares that "the chief trait of the American people is
the love of gain and the desire of wealth acquired through commerce."
That is the opinion of an expert observer, who has had extraordinary
chances for seeing precisely what he has seen. I think it,
notwithstanding, a preposterous opinion, fully as preposterous as
Professor Muensterberg's notion that America has latterly grown more
monarchical in its tendencies,--but I must remember that, in my own
case, as in that of the journalist under consideration, there are
allowances to be made for race, and training, and natural idiosyncracy
of vision.

The native American, it may be well to remember, is something of an
observer himself. If his observations upon the characteristics of his
countrymen are less piquant than the foreigner's, it is chiefly
because the American writes, upon the whole, less incisively than he
talks. But incisive native writing about American traits is not
lacking. If a missionary, say in South Africa, has read the New York
_Nation_ every week for the past forty years, he has had an
extraordinary "moving picture" of American tendencies, as interpreted
by independent, trenchant, and high-minded criticism. That a file of
the _Nation_ will convey precisely the same impression of American
tendencies as a file of the _Sun_, for instance, or the _Boston Evening
Transcript_, is not to be affirmed. The humor of the London _Punch_ and
the New York _Life_ does not differ more radically than the aspects of
American civilization as viewed by two rival journals in Newspaper Row.
The complexity of the material now collected and presented in daily
journalism is so great that adequate editorial interpretation is
obviously impossible. All the more insistently does this heterogeneous
picture of American life demand the impartial interpretation of the
historian, the imaginative transcription of the novelist. Humorist and
moralist, preacher and mob orator and social essayist, shop-talk and
talk over the tea-cup or over the pipe, and the far more illuminating
instruction of events, are fashioning day by day the infinitely
delicate processes of our national self-assessment. Scholars like Mr.
Henry Adams or Mr. James Ford Rhodes will explain to us American life
as it was during the administrations of Jefferson or in the
eighteen-fifties. Professor Turner will expound the significance of the
frontier in American history. Mr. Henry James will portray with
unrivalled psychological insight the Europeanized American of the
eighteen-seventies and eighties. Literary critics like Professor
Wendell or Professor Trent will deduce from our literature itself
evidence concerning this or that national quality; and all this mass of
American expert testimony, itself a result and a proof of national
self-awareness and self-respect, must be put into the scales to
balance, to confirm, or to outweigh the reports furnished by

I do not pretend to be able, like an expert accountant, to draw up a
balance-sheet of national qualities, to credit or debit the American
character with this or that precise quantity of excellence or defect.
But having turned the pages of many books about the United States, and
listened to many conversations about its inhabitants in many states of
the Union, I venture to collect a brief list of the qualities which
have been assigned to us, together with a few, but not, I trust, too
many, of our admitted national defects.

Like that excellent German who wrote the History of the English Drama
in six volumes, I begin with Physical Geography. The differentiation of
the physical characteristics of our branch of the English race is
admittedly due, in part, to climate. In spite of the immense range of
climatic variations as one passes from New England to New Orleans, from
the Mississippi Valley to the high plains of the Far West, or from the
rainy Oregon belt southward to San Diego, the settlers of English stock
find a prevalent atmospheric condition, as a result of which they
begin, in a generation or two, to change in physique. They grow thinner
and more nervous, they "lean forward," as has been admirably said of
them, while the Englishman "leans back"; they are less heavy and less
steady; their voices are higher, sharper; their athletes get more
easily "on edge"; they respond, in short, to an excessively
stimulating climate. An old-fashioned sea-captain put it all into a
sentence when he said that he could drink a bottle of wine with his
dinner in Liverpool and only a half a bottle in New York. Explain the
cause as we may, the fact seems to be that the body of John Bull
changes, in the United States, into the body of Uncle Sam.

There are mental differences no less pronounced. No adjective has been
more frequently applied to the Anglo-Saxon than the word "dull." The
American mind has been accused of ignorance, superficiality, levity,
commonplaceness, and dozens of other defects, but "dulness" is not one
of them. "Smartness," rather, is the preferred epithet of derogation;
or, to rise a little in the scale of valuation, it is the word
"cleverness," used with that lurking contempt for cleverness which is
truly English and which long survived in the dialect of New England,
where the village ne'er-do-well or Jack-of-all-trades used to be
pronounced a "clever" fellow. The variety of employments to which the
American pioneers were obliged to betake themselves has done something,
no doubt, to produce a national versatility, a quick assimilation of
new methods and notions, a ready adaptability to novel emergencies. An
invaluable pioneer trait is curiosity; the settler in a new country,
like Moses in the wilderness of Arabia, must "turn aside to see"; he
must look into things, learn to read signs,--or else the Indians or
frost or freshet will soon put an end to his pioneering. That curiosity
concerning strangers which so much irritated Dickens and Mrs. Trollope
was natural to the children of Western emigrants to whom the difference
between Sioux and Pawnee had once meant life or death. "What's your
business, stranger, in these parts?" was an instinctive, because it had
once been a vital, question. That it degenerates into mere
inquisitiveness is true enough; just as the "acuteness," the
"awareness," essential to the existence of one generation becomes only
"cuteness," the typical tin-pedler's habit of mind, in the generation

American inexperience, the national rawness and unsophistication which
has impressed so many observers, has likewise its double significance
when viewed historically. We have exhibited, no doubt, the
amateurishness and recklessness which spring from relative isolation,
from ignorance as to how they manage elsewhere this particular sort of
thing,--the conservation of forests, let us say, or the government of
colonial dependencies. National smugness and conceit, the impatience
crystallized in the phrase, "What have we got to do with abroad?" have
jarred upon the nerves of many cultivated Americans. But it is no less
true that a nation of pioneers and settlers, like the isolated
individual, learns certain rough-and-ready Robinson Crusoe ways of
getting things done. A California mining-camp is sure to establish law
and order in due time, though never, perhaps, a law and order quite
according to Blackstone. In the most trying crises of American
political history, it was not, after all, a question of profiting by
European experience. Washington and Lincoln, in their sorest struggles,
had nothing to do with "abroad"; the problem had first to be thought
through, and then fought through, in American and not in European
terms. Not a half-dozen Englishmen understood the bearings of the
Kansas-Nebraska Bill, or, if they did, we were little the wiser. We had
to wait until a slow-minded frontier lawyer mastered it in all its
implications, and then patiently explained it to the farmers of
Illinois, to the United States, and to the world.

It is true that the unsophisticated mode of procedure may turn out to
be sheer folly,--a "sixteen to one" triumph of provincial barbarism.
But sometimes it is the secret of freshness and of force. Your
cross-country runner scorns the highway, but that is because he has
confidence in his legs and loins, and he likes to take the fences.
Fenimore Cooper, when he began to write stories, knew nothing about the
art of novel-making as practised in Europe, but he possessed something
infinitely better for him, namely, instinct, and he took the right road
to the climax of a narrative as unerringly as the homing bee follows
its viewless trail.

No one can be unaware how easily this superb American confidence may
turn to over-confidence, to sheer recklessness. We love to run past the
signals, in our railroading and in our thinking. Emerson will "plunge"
on a new idea as serenely as any stock-gambler ever "plunged" in Wall
Street, and a pretty school-teacher will tell you that she has become
an advocate of the "New Thought" as complacently as an old financier
will boast of having bought Calumet and Hecla when it was selling at
25. (Perhaps the school-teacher may get as good a bargain. I cannot
say.) Upon the whole, Americans back individual guesswork and pay
cheerfully when they lose. A great many of them, as it happens, have
guessed right. Even those who continue to guess wrong, like Colonel
Sellers, have the indefeasible romantic appetite for guessing again.
The American temperament and the chances of American history have
brought constant temptation to speculation, and plenty of our people
prefer to gamble upon what they love to call a "proposition," rather
than to go to the bottom of the facts. They would rather speculate than

Doubtless there are purely physical causes that have encouraged this
mental attitude, such as the apparently inexhaustible resources of a
newly opened country, the consciousness of youthful energy, the feeling
that any very radical mistake in pitching camp to-day can easily be
rectified when we pitch camp to-morrow. The habit of exaggeration
which was so particularly annoying to English visitors in the middle
of the last century--annoying even to Charles Dickens, who was himself
something of an expert in exuberance--is a physical and moral no less
than a mental quality. That monstrous braggadocio which Dickens
properly satirized in _Martin Chuzzlewit_ was partly, of course, the
product of provincial ignorance. Doubtless there were, and there are
still, plenty of Pograms who are convinced that Henry Clay and Daniel
Webster overtop all the intellectual giants of the Old World. But that
youthful bragging, and perhaps some of the later bragging as well, has
its social side. It is a perverted idealism. It springs from group
loyalty, from sectional fidelity. The settlement of "Eden" may be
precisely what Dickens drew it: a miasmatic mud-hole. Yet we who are
interested in the new town do not intend, as the popular phrase has it,
"to give ourselves away." We back our own "proposition," so that to
this day Chicago cannot tell the truth to St. Louis, nor Harvard to
Yale. Braggadocio thus gets glorified through its rootage in loyalty;
and likewise extravagance--surely one of the worst of American mental
vices--is often based upon a romantic confidence in individual opinion
or in the righteousness of some specific cause. Convince a blue-blooded
American like Wendell Phillips that the abolition of slavery is right,
and, straightway, words and even facts become to him mere weapons in a
splendid warfare. His statements grow rhetorical, reckless, virulent.
Proof seems to him, as it did to the contemporary Transcendentalist
philosophers, an impertinence. The sole question is, "Are you on the
Lord's side?" i.e., on the side of Wendell Phillips.

Excuse as we may the faults of a gifted combatant in a moral crisis
like the abolition controversy, the fact remains that the intellectual
dangers of the oratorical temperament are typically American. What is
commonly called our "Fourth of July" period has indeed passed away. It
has few apologists, perhaps fewer than it really deserves. It is
possible to regret the disappearance of that old-fashioned assertion of
patriotism and pride, and to question whether historical pageants and a
"noiseless Fourth" will develop any better citizens than the fathers
were. But on the purely intellectual side, the influence of that
spread-eagle oratory was disastrous. Throughout wide-extended regions
of the country, and particularly in the South and West, the "orator"
grew to be, in the popular mind, the normal representative of
intellectual ability. Words, rather than things, climbed into the
saddle. Popular assemblies were taught the vocabulary and the logic of
passion, rather than of sober, lucid reasoning. The "stump" grew more
potent than school-house and church and bench; and it taught its
reckless and passionate ways to more than one generation. The
intellectual leaders of the newer South have more than once suffered
ostracism for protesting against this glorification of mere oratory.
But it is not the South alone that has suffered. Wherever a mob can
gather, there are still the dangers of the old demagogic vocabulary and
rhetoric. The mob state of mind is lurking still in the excitable
American temperament.

The intellectual temptations of that temperament are revealed no less
in our popular journalism. This journalism, it is needless to say, is
extremely able, but it is reckless to the last degree. The
extravagance of its head-lines and the over-statements of its news
columns are direct sources of profit, since they increase the
circulation and it is circulation which wins advertising space. I think
it is fair to say that the American people, as a whole, like precisely
the sort of journalism which they get. The tastes of the dwellers in
cities control, more and more, the character of our newspapers. The
journals of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are steadily gaining
in circulation, in resourcefulness, and in public spirit, but they are,
for the most part, unscrupulous in attack, sophistical, and passionate.
They outvie the popular pulpit in sentimentality. They play with fire.

The note of exaggeration which is heard in American oratory and
journalism is struck again in the popular magazines. Their campaign of
"exposure," during the last decade, has been careless of individual and
corporate rights and reputations. Even the magazine sketches and short
stories are keyed up to a hysteric pitch. So universally is this
characteristic national tension displayed in our periodical literature
that no one is much surprised to read in his morning paper that some
one has called the President of the United States a liar,--or that some
one has been called a liar by the President of the United States.

For an explanation of these defects, shall we fall back upon a
convenient maxim of De Tocqueville's and admit with him that "a
democracy is unsuited to meditation"? We are forced to do so. But then
comes the inevitable second thought that a democracy must needs have
other things than meditation to attend to. Athenian and Florentine and
Versailles types of political despotism have all proved highly
favorable to the lucubrations of philosophers and men of letters who
enjoyed the despot's approbation. For that matter, no scheme of life
was ever better suited to meditation than an Indian reservation in the
eighteen-seventies, with a Great Father in Washington to furnish
blankets, flour, and tobacco. Yet that is not quite the American ideal
of existence, and it even failed to produce the peaceable fruits of
meditation in the Indian himself.

One may freely admit the shortcomings of the American intelligence; the
"commonness of mind and tone" which Mr. Bryce believes to be
inseparable from the presence of such masses of men associated under
modern democratic government; the frivolity and extravagance which
represent the gasconading of the romantic temper in face of the grey
practicalities of everyday routine; the provincial boastfulness and bad
taste which have resulted from intellectual isolation; the lack, in
short, of a code, whether for thought or speech or behavior. And
nevertheless, one's instinctive Americanism replies, May it not be
better, after all, to have gone without a code for a while, to have
lacked that orderly and methodized and socialized European
intelligence, and to have had the glorious sense of bringing things to
pass in spite of it? There is just one thing that would have been fatal
to our democracy. It is the feeling expressed in La Bruyère's famous
book: "Everything has been said, everything has been written,
everything has been done." Here in America everything was to do; we
were forced to conjugate our verbs in the future tense. No doubt our
existence has been, in some respects, one of barbarism, but it has been
the barbarism of life and not of death. A rawboned baby sprawling on
the mud floor of a Kentucky log cabin is a more hopeful spectacle than
a wholly civilized funeral.

"Perhaps it is," rejoins the European critic, somewhat impatiently,
"but you are confusing the issue. We find certain grave defects in the
American mind, defects which, if you had not had what Thomas Carlyle
called 'a great deal of land for a very few people,' would long ago
have involved you in disaster. You admit the mental defects, but you
promptly shift the question to one of moral qualities, of practical
energy, of subduing your wilderness, and so forth. You have too often
absented yourself from the wedding banquet, from the European symposium
of wit and philosophy, from the polished and orderly and delightful
play and interplay of civilized mind,--and your excuse is the old one:
that you are trying your yoke of oxen and cannot come. We charge you
with intellectual sins, and you enter the plea of moral preoccupation.
If you will permit personal examples, you Americans have made ere now
your national heroes out of men whose reasoning powers remained those
of a college sophomore, who were unable to state an opponent's position
with fairness, who lacked wholly the judicial quality, who were
vainglorious and extravagant, who had, in short, the mind of an
exuberant barbarian; but you instantly forget their intellectual
defects in the presence of their abounding physical and moral energy,
their freedom from any taint of personal corruption, their whole-souled
desire and effort for the public good. Were not such heroes, impossible
as they would have been in any other civilized country, perfectly
illuminative of your national state of mind?"

For one, I confess that I do not know what reply to make to my
imaginary European critic. I suspect that he is right. At any rate, we
stand here at the fork of the road. If we do not wish to linger any
longer over a catalogue of intellectual sins, let us turn frankly to
our moral preoccupations, comforting ourselves, if we like, as we
abandon the field of purely intellectual rivalry with Europe, in the
reflection that it is the muddle-headed Anglo-Saxon, after all, who is
the dominant force in the modern world.

The moral temper of the American people has been analyzed no less
frequently than their mental traits. Foreign and native observers are
alike agreed in their recognition of the extraordinary American
energy. The sheer power of the American bodily machine, driven by the
American will, is magnificent. It is often driven too hard, and with
reckless disregard of anything save immediate results. It wears out
more quickly than the bodily machine of the Englishman. It is typical
that the best distance runners of Great Britain usually beat ours,
while we beat them in the sprints. Our public men are frequently--as
the athletes say--"all in" at sixty. Their energy is exhausted at just
the time that many an English statesman begins his best public service.
But after making every allowance for wasteful excess, for the restless
and impatient consumption of nervous forces which nature intended that
we should hold in reserve, the fact remains that American history has
demonstrated the existence of a dynamic national energy, physical and
moral, which is still unabated. Immigration has turned hitherward the
feet of millions upon millions of young men from the hardiest stocks of
Europe. They replenish the slackening streams of vigor. When the
northern New Englander cannot make a living on the old farm, the French
Canadian takes it off his hands, and not only improves the farm, but
raises big crops of boys. So with Italians, Swedes, Germans, Irish,
Jews, and Portuguese, and all the rest. We are a nation of immigrants,
a digging, hewing, building, breeding, bettering race, of mixed blood
and varying creeds, but of fundamental faith in the wages of going on;
a race compounded of materials crude but potent; raw, but with blood
that is red and bones that are big; a race that is accomplishing its
vital tasks, and, little by little, transmuting brute forces and
material energies into the finer play of mind and spirit.

From the very beginning, the American people have been characterized by
idealism. It was the inner light of Pilgrim and Quaker colonists; it
gleams no less in the faces of the children of Russian Jew immigrants
to-day. American irreverence has been noted by many a foreign critic,
but there are certain subjects in whose presence our reckless or
cynical speech is hushed. Compared with current Continental humor, our
characteristic American humor is peculiarly reverent. The purity of
woman and the reality of religion are not considered topics for
jocosity. Cleanness of body and of mind are held by our young men to be
not only desirable but attainable virtues. There is among us, in
comparison with France or Germany, a defective reverence for the State
as such; and a positive irreverence towards the laws of the
Commonwealth, and towards the occupants of high political positions.
Mayor, Judge, Governor, Senator, or even President, may be the butt of
such indecorous ridicule as shocks or disgusts the foreigner; but
nevertheless the personal joke stops short of certain topics which
Puritan tradition disapproves. The United States is properly called a
Christian nation, not merely because the Supreme Court has so affirmed
it, but because the phrase "a Christian nation" expresses the
historical form which the religious idealism of the country has made
its own. The Bible is still considered, by the mass of the people, a
sacred book; oaths in courts of law, oaths of persons elected to great
office, are administered upon it. American faith in education, as all
the world knows, has from the beginning gone hand in hand with faith in
religion; the school-house was almost as sacred a symbol as the
meeting-house; and the munificence of American private benefactions to
the cause of education furnishes to-day one of the most striking
instances of idealism in the history of civilization.

The ideal passions of patriotism, of liberty, of loyalty to home and
section, of humanitarian and missionary effort, have all burned with a
clear flame in the United States. The optimism which lies so deeply
embedded in the American character is one phase of the national mind.
Charles Eliot Norton once said to me, with his dry humor, that there
was an infallible test of the American authorship of any anonymous
article or essay: "Does it contain the phrase 'After all, we need not
despair'? If it does, it was written by an American." In spite of all
that is said about the practicality of the American, his love of gain
and his absorption in material interests, those who really know him are
aware how habitually he confronts his practical tasks in a spirit of
romantic enthusiasm. He marches downtown to his prosaic day's job and
calls it "playing the game"; to work as hard as he can is to "get into
the game," and to work as long as he can is to "stay in the game"; he
loves to win fully as much as the Jew and he hates to lose fully as
much as the Englishman, but losing or winning, he carries into his
business activity the mood of the idealist.

It is easy to think of all this as self-deception as the emotional
effusiveness of the American temperament; but to refuse to see its
idealism is to mistake fundamentally the character of the American man.
No doubt he does deceive himself often as to his real motives: he is a
mystic and a bargain-hunter by turns. Divided aims, confused ideals,
have struggled for the mastery among us, ever since Challon's _Voyage_,
in 1606, announced that the purpose of the first colonists to Virginia
was "both to seek to convert the savages, as also to seek out what
benefits or commodities might be had in those parts." How that
"both"--"as also" keeps echoing in American history: "both" to
christianize the Negro and work him at a profit, "both" duty and
advantage in retaining the Philippines; "both" international good will
and increased armaments; "both" Sunday morning precepts and Monday
morning practice; "both" horns of a dilemma; "both God and mammon"; did
ever a nation possess a more marvellous water-tight compartment method
of believing and honoring opposites! But in all this unconscious
hypocrisy the American is perhaps not worse--though he may be more
absurd!--than other men.

Another aspect of the American mind is found in our radicalism. "To be
an American," it has been declared, "is to be a radical." That
statement needs qualification. Intellectually the American is inclined
to radical views; he is willing to push certain social theories very
far; he will found a new religion, a new philosophy, a new socialistic
community, at the slightest notice or provocation; but he has at bottom
a fund of moral and political conservatism. Thomas Jefferson, one of
the greatest of our radical idealists, had a good deal of the English
squire in him after all. Jeffersonianism endures, not merely because it
is a radical theory of human nature, but because it expresses certain
facts of human nature. The American mind looks forward, not back; but
in practical details of land, taxes, and governmental machinery we are
instinctively cautious of change. The State of Connecticut knows that
her constitution is ill adapted to the present conditions of her
population, but the difficulty is to persuade the rural legislators to
amend it. Yet everybody admits that amendment will come "some day."
This admission is a characteristic note of American feeling; and every
now and then come what we call "uplift" movements, when radicalism is
in the very air, and a thousand good "causes" take fresh vigor.

One such period was in the New England of the eighteen-forties. We are
moving in a similar--only this time a national--current of radicalism,
to-day. But a change in the weather or the crops has before now turned
many of our citizens from radicalism into conservatism. There is, in
fact, conservatism in our blood and radicalism in our brains, and now
one and now the other rules. Very typical of American radicalism is
that story of the old sea-captain who was ignorant, as was supposed, of
the science of navigation, and who cheerfully defended himself by
saying that he could work his vessel down to Boston Light without
knowing any navigation, and after that he could go where he "dum
pleased." I suspect the old fellow pulled his sextant and chronometer
out of his chest as soon as he really needed them. American radicalism
is not always as innocent of the world's experience as it looks. In
fact, one of the most interesting phases of this twentieth century
"uplift" movement is its respect and even glorification of expert
opinion. A German expert in city-planning electrifies an audience of
Chicago club-women by talking to them about drains, ash-carts, and
flower-beds. A hundred other experts, in sanitation, hygiene,
chemistry, conservation of natural resources, government by commission,
tariffs, arbitration treaties, are talking quite as busily; and they
have the attention of a national audience that is listening with
genuine modesty, and with a real desire to refashion American life on
wiser and nobler plans. In this national forward movement in which we
are living, radicalism has shown its beneficent aspect of constructive

No catalogue of American qualities and defects can exclude the trait of
individualism. We exalt character over institutions, says Mr. Brownell;
we like our institutions because they suit us, and not because we
admire institutions. "Produce great persons," declares Walt Whitman,
"the rest follows." Whether the rest follows or not, there can be no
question that Americans, from the beginning, have laid singular stress
upon personal qualities. The religion and philosophy of the Puritans
were in this respect at one with the gospel of the frontier. It was the
principle of "every man for himself"; solitary confrontation of his
God, solitary struggle with the wilderness. "He that will not work,"
declared John Smith after that first disastrous winter at Jamestown,
"neither let him eat." The pioneer must clear his own land, harvest his
own crops, defend his own fireside; his temporal and eternal salvation
were strictly his own affair. He asked, and expected, no aid from the
community; he could at most "change works" in time of harvest, with a
neighbor, if he had one. It was the sternest school of self-reliance,
from babyhood to the grave, that human society is ever likely to
witness. It bred heroes and cranks and hermits; its glories and its
eccentricities are written in the pages of Emerson, Thoreau, and
Whitman; they are written more permanently still in the instinctive
American faith in individual manhood. Our democracy idolizes a few
individuals; it ignores their defective training, or, it may be, their
defective culture; it likes to think of an Andrew Jackson who was a
"lawyer, judge, planter, merchant, general, and politician," before he
became President; it asks only that the man shall not change his
individual character in passing from one occupation or position to
another; in fact, it is amused and proud to think of Grant hauling
cordwood to market, of Lincoln keeping store or Roosevelt rounding-up
cattle. The one essential question was put by Hawthorne into the mouth
of Holgrave in the _House of the Seven Gables_. Holgrave had been by
turns a schoolmaster, clerk in a store, editor, pedler, lecturer on
Mesmerism, and daguerreotypist, but "amid all these personal
vicissitudes," says Hawthorne, "he had never lost his identity.... He
had never violated the innermost man, but had carried his conscience
along with him." There speaks the local accent of Puritanism, but the
voice insisting upon the moral integrity of the individual is the
undertone of America.

Finally, and surely not the least notable of American traits, is public
spirit. Triumphant individualism checks itself, or is rudely checked
in spite of itself, by considerations of the general good. How often
have French critics confessed, with humiliation, that in spite of the
superior socialization of the French intelligence, France has yet to
learn from America the art and habit of devoting individual fortunes to
the good of the community. Our American literature, as has been already
pointed out, is characteristically a citizen literature, responsive to
the civic note, the production of men who, like the writers of the
_Federalist_, applied a vigorous practical intelligence, a robust
common sense, to questions affecting the interest of everybody. The
spirit of fair play in our free democracy has led Americans to ask not
merely what is right and just for one, the individual, but what are
righteousness and justice and fair play for all. Democracy, as embodied
in such a leader as Lincoln, has meant Fellowship. Nothing finer can be
said of a representative American than to say of him, as Mr. Norton
said of Mr. Lowell, that he had a "most public soul."

No one can present such a catalogue of American qualities as I have
attempted without realizing how much escapes his classification.
Conscious criticism and assessment of national characteristics is
essential to an understanding of them; but one feels somehow that the
net is not holding. The analysis of English racial inheritances, as
modified by historical conditions, yields much, no doubt; but what are
we to say of such magnificent embodiments of the American spirit as are
revealed in the Swiss immigrant Agassiz, the German exile Carl Schurz,
the native-born mulatto Booker Washington? The Americanism of
representative Americans is something which must be felt; it is to be
reached by imaginative perception and sympathy, no less than by the
process of formal analysis. It would puzzle the experts in racial
tendencies to find arithmetically the common denominator of such
American figures as Franklin, Washington, Jackson, Webster, Lee,
Lincoln, Emerson, and "Mark Twain"; yet the countrymen of those typical
Americans instinctively recognize in them a sort of largeness,
genuineness, naturalness, kindliness, humor, effectiveness, idealism,
which are indubitably and fundamentally American.

There are certain sentiments of which we ourselves are conscious,
though we can scarcely translate them into words, and these vaguely
felt emotions of admiration, of effort, of fellowship and social faith
are the invisible America. Take, for a single example, the national
admiration for what we call a "self-made" man: here is a boy selling
candy and newspapers on a Michigan Central train; he makes up his mind
to be a lawyer; in twelve years from that day he is general counsel for
the Michigan Central road; he enters the Senate of the United States
and becomes one of its leading figures. The instinctive flush of
sympathy and pride with which Americans listen to such a story is far
more deeply based than any vulgar admiration for money-making
abilities. No one cares whether such a man is rich or poor. He has
vindicated anew the possibilities of manhood under American conditions
of opportunity; the miracle of our faith has in him come true once

No one can understand America with his brains. It is too big, too
puzzling. It tempts, and it deceives. But many an illiterate immigrant
has felt the true America in his pulses before he ever crossed the
Atlantic. The descendant of the Pilgrims still remains ignorant of our
national life if he does not respond to its glorious zest, its
throbbing energy, its forward urge, its uncomprehending belief in the
future, its sense of the fresh and mighty world just beyond to-day's
horizon. Whitman's "Pioneers, O Pioneers" is one of the truest of
American poems because it beats with the pulse of this onward movement,
because it is full of this laughing and conquering fellowship and of
undefeated faith.


American Idealism

Our endeavor to state the general characteristics of the American mind
has already given us some indication of what Americans really care for.
The things or the qualities which they like, the objects of their
conscious or unconscious striving, are their ideals. "There is what I
call the American idea," said Theodore Parker in the Anti-Slavery
Convention of 1850. "This idea demands, as the proximate organization
thereof, a democracy--that is, a government of all the people, by all
the people, for all the people; of course, a government on the
principle of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness'
sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom." That is one of a thousand
definitions of American idealism. Books devoted to the "Spirit of
America"--like the volume by Henry van Dyke which bears that very
title--give a programme of national accomplishments and aspirations.
But our immediate task is more specific. It is to point out how
adequately this idealistic side of the national temperament has been
expressed in American writing. Has our literature kept equal pace with
our thinking and feeling?

We do not need, in attempting to answer this question, any definition
of idealism, in its philosophical or in its more purely literary sense.
There are certain fundamental human sentiments which lift men above
brutes, Frenchmen above "frog-eaters," and Englishmen above
"shop-keepers." These ennobling sentiments or ideals, while universal
in their essential nature, assume in each civilized nation a somewhat
specific coloring. The national literature reveals the myriad shades
and hues of private and public feeling, and the more truthful this
literary record, the more delicate and noble become the harmonies of
local and national thought or emotion with the universal instincts and
passions of mankind. On the other hand, when the literature of Spain,
for instance, or of Italy, fails, within a given period, in range and
depth of human interest, we are compelled to believe either that the
Spain or Italy of that age was wanting in the nobler ideals, or that
it lacked literary interpretation.

In the case of America we are confronted by a similar dilemma. Since
the beginning of the seventeenth century this country has been, in a
peculiar sense, the home of idealism; but our literature has remained
through long periods thin and provincial, barren in cosmopolitan
significance; and the hard fact faces us to-day that only three or four
of our writers have aroused any strong interest in the cultivated
readers of continental Europe. Evidently, then, either the torch of
American idealism does not burn as brightly as we think, or else our
writers, with but few exceptions, have not hitherto possessed the
height and reach and grasp to hold up the torch so that the world could
see it. Let us look first at the flame, and then at the torch-bearers.

Readers of Carlyle have often been touched by the humility with which
that disinherited child of Calvinism speaks of Goethe's doctrine of the
"Three Reverences," as set forth in _Wilhelm Meister_. Again and again,
in his correspondence and his essays, does Carlyle recur to that
teaching of the threefold Reverence: Reverence for what is above us,
for what is around us and for what is under us; that is to say, the
ethnic religion which frees us from debasing fear, the philosophical
religion which unites us with our comrades, and the Christian religion
which recognizes humility and poverty and suffering as divine.

"To which of these religions do you specially adhere?" inquired

"To all the three," replied the sages; "for in their union they produce
what may properly be called the true Religion. Out of those three
Reverences springs the highest Reverence, Reverence for Oneself."

An admirable symbolism, surely; vaguer, no doubt, than the old symbols
which Carlyle had learned in the Kirk at Ecclefechan, but less vague,
in turn, than that doctrine of reverence for the Oversoul, which was
soon to be taught at Concord.

As one meditates upon the idealism of the first colonists in America,
one is tempted to ask what their "reverences" were. Toward what
tangible symbols of the invisible did their eyes instinctively turn?

For New England, at least, the answer is relatively simple. One form
of it is contained in John Adams's well-known prescription for
Virginia, as recorded in his _Diary_ for July 21, 1786. "Major
Langbourne dined with us again. He was lamenting the difference of
character between Virginia and New England. I offered to give him a
receipt for making a New England in Virginia. He desired it; and I
recommended to him town-meetings, training-days, town-schools, and

The "ministers," it will be noticed, come last on the Adams list. But
the order of precedence is unimportant.

Here are four symbols, or, if you like, "reverences." Might not the
Virginia planters, loyal to their own specific symbol of the
"gentleman,"--no unworthy ideal, surely; one that had been glorified in
European literature ever since Castiligione wrote his _Courtier_, and
one that had been transplanted from England to Virginia as soon as Sir
Walter Raleigh's men set foot on the soil which took its name from the
Virgin Queen,--might not the Virginia gentlemen have pondered to their
profit over the blunt suggestion of the Massachusetts commoner? No
doubt; and yet how much picturesqueness and nobility--and tragedy,
too--we should have missed, if our history had not been full of these
varying symbols, clashing ideals, different Reverences!

One Reverence, at least, was common to the Englishman of Virginia and
to the Englishman of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay. They were joint
heirs of the Reformation, children of that waxing and puissant England
which was a nation of one book, the Bible; a book whose phrases color
alike the _Faerie Queen_ of Spenser and the essays of Francis Bacon; a
book rich beyond all others in human experience; full of poetry,
history, drama; the test of conduct; the manual of devotion; and above
all, and blinding all other considerations by the very splendor of the
thought, a book believed to be the veritable Word of the unseen God.
For these colonists in the wilderness, as for the Protestant Europe
which they had left irrevocably behind them, the Bible was the plainest
of all symbols of idealism: it was the first of the "Reverences."

The Church was a symbol likewise, but to the greater portion of
colonial America the Church meant chiefly the tangible band of
militant believers within the limits of a certain township or parish,
rather than the mystical Bride of Christ. Except in Maryland and
Virginia, whither the older forms of Church worship were early
transplanted, there was scanty reverence for the Establishment. There
was neither clergyman nor minister on board the Mayflower. In Rufus
Choate's oration on the Pilgrims before the New England Society of New
York in 1843, occurred the famous sentence about "a church without a
bishop and a state without a King"; to which Dr. Wainwright, rector of
St. John's, replied wittily at the dinner following the oration that
there "can be no church without a bishop." This is perhaps a question
for experts; but Thomas Hooker, Thomas Shepard, and John Cotton would
have sided with Rufus Choate. The awe which had once been paid to the
Establishment was transferred, in the seventeenth-century New England,
to the minister. The minister imposed himself upon the popular
imagination, partly through sheer force of personal ascendency, and
partly as a symbol of the theocracy,--the actual governing of the
Commonwealth by the laws and spirit of the sterner Scriptures. The
minister dwelt apart as upon an awful Sinai. It was no mere romantic
fancy of Hawthorne that shadowed his countenance with a black veil. The
church organization, too,--though it may have lacked its bishop,--had a
despotic power over its communicants; to be cast out of its fellowship
involved social and political consequences comparable to those
following excommunication by the Church of Rome. Hawthorne and Whittier
and Longfellow--all of them sound antiquarians, though none of them in
sympathy with the theology of Puritanism--have described in fit terms
the bareness of the New England meeting-house. What intellectual
severity and strain was there; what prodigality of learning; what
blazing intensity of devotion; what pathos of women's patience, and of
children, prematurely old, stretched upon the rack of insoluble
problems! What dramas of the soul were played through to the end in
those barn-like buildings, where the musket, perhaps, stood in the
corner of the pew! "How aweful is this place!" must have been murmured
by the lips of all; though there were many who have added, "This is the
gate of Heaven."

The gentler side of colonial religion is winningly portrayed in
Whittier's _Pennsylvania Pilgrim_ and in his imaginary journal of
Margaret Smith. There were sunnier slopes, warmer exposures for the
ripening of the human spirit, in the Southern colonies. Even in New
England there was sporadic revolt from the beginning. The number of
non-church-members increased rapidly after 1700; Franklin as a youth in
Boston admired Cotton Mather's ability, but he did not go to church,
"Sunday being my studying day." Doubtless there were always humorous
sceptics like Mrs. Stowe's delightful Sam Lawson in _Oldtown Folks_.
Lawson's comment on Parson Simpson's service epitomizes two centuries
of New England thinking. "Wal," said Sam, "Parson Simpson's a smart
man; but I tell ye, it's kind o' discouragin'. Why, he said our state
and condition by natur was just like this. We was clear down in a well
fifty feet deep, and the sides all round nothin' but glare ice; but we
was under immediate obligations to get out, 'cause we was free,
voluntary agents. But nobody ever had got out, and nobody would, unless
the Lord reached down and took 'em. And whether he would or not nobody
could tell; it was all sovereignty. He said there wan't one in a
hundred, not one in a thousand,--not one in ten thousand,--that would
be saved. Lordy massy, says I to myself, ef that's so they're any of
'em welcome to my chance. _And so I kind o' ris up and come out._"

Mrs. Stowe's novel is fairly representative of a great mass of
derivative literature which draws its materials from the meeting-house
period of American history. But the direct literature of that period
has passed almost wholly into oblivion. Jonathan Edwards had one of the
finest minds of his century; no European standard of comparison is too
high for him; he belongs with Pascal, with Augustine, if you like, with
Dante. But his great treatises written in the Stockbridge woods are
known only to a few technical students of philosophy. One terrible
sermon, preached at Enfield in 1741, is still read by the curious; but
scarcely anybody knows of the ineffable tenderness, dignity, and pathos
of his farewell sermon to his flock at Northampton: and the Yale
Library possesses nearly twelve hundred of Edwards's sermons which have
never been printed at all. Nor does anybody, save here and there an
antiquarian, read Shepard and Hooker and Mayhew. And yet these
preachers and their successors furnished the emotional equivalents of
great prose and verse to generations of men. "That is poetry," says
Professor Saintsbury (in a dangerous latitudinarianism, perhaps!),
"which gives the reader the feeling of poetry." Here we touch one of
the fundamental characteristics of our national state of mind, in its
relation to literature. We are careless of form and type, yet we crave
the emotional stimulus. Milton, greatest of Puritan poets, was read and
quoted all too seldom in the Puritan colonies, and yet those colonists
were no strangers to the emotions of sublimity and awe and beauty. They
found them in the meeting-house instead of in a book; precisely as, in
a later day, millions of Americans experienced what was for them the
emotional equivalent of poetry in the sermons of Henry Ward Beecher and
Phillips Brooks. French pulpit oratory of the seventeenth century wins
recognition as a distinct type of literature; its great practitioners,
like Massillon, Bourdaloue, Bossuet, are appraised in all the histories
of the national literature and in books devoted to the evolution of
literary species. In the American colonies the great preachers
performed the functions of men of letters without knowing it. They have
been treated with too scant respect in the histories of American
literature. It is one of the penalties of Protestantism that the
audiences, after a while, outgrow the preacher. The development of the
historic sense, of criticism, of science, makes an impassable gulf
between Jonathan Edwards and the American churches of the twentieth
century. A sense of profound changes in theology has left our
contemporaries indifferent to the literature in which the old theology
was clothed.

There is one department of American literary production, of which
Bossuet's famous sermon on Queen Henrietta Maria of England may serve
to remind us, which illustrates significantly the national idealism. I
mean the commemorative oration. The addresses upon the Pilgrim Fathers
by such orators as Everett, Webster, and Choate; the countless orations
before such organizations as the New England Society of New York and
the Phi Beta Kappa; the papers read before historical and patriotic
societies; the birthday and centenary discourses upon national figures
like Washington or Lincoln, have all performed, and are still
performing, an inestimable service in stimulating popular loyalty to
the idealism of the fathers. As literature, most of this production is
derivative: we listen to eloquence about the Puritans, but we do not
read the Puritans; the description of Arthur Dimmesdale's election
sermon in _The Scarlet Letter_, moving as it may be, tempts no one to
open the stout collections of election sermons in the libraries. Yet
the original literature of mediæval chivalry is known only to a few
scholars: Tennyson's _Idylls_ outsell the _Mabinogion_ and Malory. The
actual world of literature is always shop-worn; a world chiefly of
second-hand books, of warmed-over emotions and it is not surprising
that many listeners to orations about Lincoln do not personally emulate
Lincoln, and that many of the most enthusiastic dealers in the
sentiment of the ancestral meeting-house do not themselves attend

The other ingredients of John Adams's ideal Commonwealth are no less
significant of our national disposition. Take the school-house. It was
planted in the wilderness for the training of boys and girls and for a
future "godly and learned ministry." The record of American education
is a long story of idealism which has touched literature at every turn.
The "red school-house" on the hill-top or at the cross-roads, the
"log-colleges" in forgotten hamlets, the universities founded by great
states, are all a record of the American faith--which has sometimes
been called a fetich--in education. In its origin, it was a part of the
essential programme of Calvinism to make a man able to judge for
himself upon the most momentous questions; a programme, too, of that
political democracy which lay embedded in the tenets of Calvinism, a
democracy which believes and must continue to believe that an educated
electorate can safeguard its own interests and train up its own
leaders. The poetry of the American school-house was written long ago
by Whittier, in describing Joshua Coffin's school under the big elm on
the cross-road in East Haverhill; its humor and pathos and drama have
been portrayed by innumerable story-writers and essayists. Mrs. Martha
Baker Dunn's charming sketches, entitled "Cicero in Maine" and "Virgil
in Maine," indicate the idealism once taught in the old rural
academies,--and it is taught there still. City men will stop wistfully
on the street, in the first week of September, to watch the boys and
girls go trudging off to their first day of school; men who believe in
nothing else at least believe in that! And school and college and
university remain, as in the beginning, the first garden-ground and the
last refuge of literature.

That "town-meeting" which John Adams thought Virginia might do well to
adopt has likewise become a symbol of American idealism. Together with
the training-day, it represented the rights and duties and privileges
of free men; the machinery of self-government. It was democracy, rather
than "representative" government, under its purest aspect. Sentiments
of responsibility to the town, the political unit, and to the
Commonwealth, the group of units, were bred there. Likewise, it was a
training-school for sententious speech and weighty action; its roots,
as historians love to demonstrate, run back very far; and though the
modern drift to cities has made its machinery ineffective in the larger
communities, it remains a perpetual spring or feeding stream to the
broader currents of our national life. Without an understanding of the
town-meeting and its equivalents, our political literature loses much
of its significance. Like the school-house and meeting-house, it has
become glorified by our men of letters. John Fiske and other historians
have celebrated it in some of the most brilliant pages of our political
writing; and that citizen literature, so deeply characteristic of us,
found in the plain, forthright, and public-spirited tone of
town-meeting discussions its keynote. The spectacular debates of our
national history, the dramatic contests in the great arena of the
Senate Chamber, the discussions before huge popular audiences in the
West, have maintained the civic point of view, have developed and
dignified and enriched the prose style first employed by American
freemen in deciding their local affairs in the presence of their
neighbors. "I am a part of this people," said Lincoln proudly in one of
his famous debates of 1858; "I was raised just a little east of here";
and this nearness to the audience, this directness and simplicity and
genuineness of our best political literature, its homely persuasiveness
and force, is an inheritance of the town-meeting.

Bible and meeting-house, school-house and town-meeting, thus illustrate
concretely the responsiveness of the American character to idealistic
impulses. They are external symbols of a certain state of mind. It may
indeed be urged that they are primarily signs of a moral and social or
institutional trend, and are therefore non-literary evidence of
American idealism. Nevertheless, institutional as they may be deemed,
they lie close to that poetry of daily duty in which our literature has
not been poor. They are fundamentally related to that attitude of mind,
that habitual temper of the spirit, which has produced, in all
countries of settled use and wont, the literature of idealism.
Brunetière said of Flaubert's most famous woman character that poor
Emma Bovary, the prey and the victim of Romantic desires, was after all
much like the rest of us except that she lacked the intelligence to
perceive the charm and poetry of the daily task. We have already
touched upon the purely romantic side of American energy and of
American imagination, and we must shortly look more closely still at
those impulses of daring, those moods of heightened feeling, that
intensified individualism, the quest of strangeness and terror and
wild beauty, which characterize our romantic writing. But this
romanticism is, as it were, a segment of the larger circle of idealism.
It is idealism accentuated by certain factors, driven to
self-expression by the passions of scorn or of desire; it exceeds, in
one way or another, the normal range of experience and emotion. Our
romantic American literature is doubtless our greatest. And yet some of
the most characteristic tendencies of American writing are to be found
in the poetry of daily experience, in the quiet accustomed light that
falls upon one's own doorway and garden, in the immemorial charm of
going forth to one's labor and returning in the evening,--poetry old as
the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Let us see how this glow of idealism touches some of the more intimate
aspects of human experience. "Out of the three Reverences," says
Wilhelm Meister, "springs the highest Reverence, Reverence for
Oneself." Open the pages of Hawthorne. Moving wholly within the
framework of established institutions, with no desire to shatter the
existing scheme of social order, choosing as its heroes men of the
meeting-house, town-meeting, and training-day, how intensely
nevertheless does the imagination of this fiction-writer illuminate the
Body and the Soul!

Take first the Body. The inheritance of English Puritanism may be
traced throughout our American writing, in its reverence for physical
purity. The result is something unique in literary history. Continental
critics, while recognizing the intellectual and artistic powers
revealed in _The Scarlet Letter_, have seldom realized the awfulness,
to the Puritan mind, of the very thought of an adulterous minister.
That a priest in southern Europe should break his vows is indeed
scandalous; but the sin is regarded as a failure of the natural man to
keep a vow requiring supernatural grace for its fulfilment; it may be
that the priest had no vocation for his sacred office; he is unfrocked,
punished, forgotten, yet a certain mantle of human charity still covers
his offence. But in the Puritan scheme (and _The Scarlet Letter_, save
for that one treacherous, warm human moment in the woodland where "all
was spoken," lies wholly within the set framework of Puritanism) there
is no forgiveness for a sin of the flesh. There is only Law, Law
stretching on into infinitude until the mind shudders at it. Hawthorne
knew his Protestant New England through and through. _The Scarlet
Letter_ is the most striking example in our national literature of that
idealization of physical purity, but hundreds of other romances and
poems, less morbid if less great, assert in unmistakable terms the same
moral conviction, the same ideal.

Yet, in spite of its theme, there was never a less adulterous novel
than this book which plays so artistically with the letter A. The body
is branded, is consumed, is at last, perhaps, transfigured by the
intense rays of light emitted from the suffering soul.

    "The soul is form and doth the body make."

In this intense preoccupation with the Soul, Hawthorne's romance is in
unison with the more mystical and spiritual utterances of Catholicism
as well as of Protestantism. It was in part a resultant of that early
American isolation which contributed so effectively to the artistic
setting of _The Scarlet Letter_. But in his doctrine of spiritual
integrity, in the agonized utterance, "Be true--be true!" as well as
in his reverence for purity of the body, our greatest romancer was
typical of the imaginative literature of his countrymen. The restless
artistic experiments of Poe presented the human body in many a ghastly
and terrifying aspect of illness and decay, and distorted by all
passions save one. His imagination was singularly sexless. Pathological
students have pointed out the relation between this characteristic of
Poe's writing, and his known tendencies toward opium-eating,
alcoholism, and tuberculosis. But no such explanation is at hand to
elucidate the absence of sexual passion from the novels of the
masculine-minded Fenimore Cooper. One may say, indeed, that Cooper's
novels, like Scott's, lack intensity of spiritual vision; that their
tone is consonant with the views of a sound Church of England parson in
the eighteenth century; and that the absence of physical passion, like
the absence of purely spiritual insight, betrays a certain defect in
Cooper's imaginative grasp and depth. But it is better criticism, after
all, to remember that these three pioneers in American fiction-writing
were composing for an audience in which Puritan traditions or tastes
were predominant. Not one of the three men but would have instantly
sacrificed an artistic effect, legitimate in the eyes of Fielding or
Goethe or Balzac, rather than--in the phrase so often satirized--"bring
a blush to the cheek of innocence." In other words, the presence of a
specific audience, accustomed to certain Anglo-Saxon and Puritanic
restraint of topic and of speech, has from the beginning of our
imaginative literature coöperated with the instinct of our writers.
That Victorian reticence which is so plainly seen even in such
full-bodied writers as Dickens or Thackeray--a reticence which men like
Mr. Bernard Shaw and Mr. Galsworthy and Mr. Wells think so hypocritical
and dangerous to society and which they have certainly done their
utmost to abolish--has hitherto dominated our American writing. The
contemporary influence of great Continental writers to whom reticence
is unknown, combined with the influence of a contemporary opera and
drama to which reticence would be unprofitable, are now assaulting this
dominant convention. Very possibly it is doomed. But it is only within
recent years that its rule has been questioned.

One result of it may, I think, be fairly admitted. While very few
writers of eminence, after all, in any country, wish to bring a "blush
to the cheek of innocence," they naturally wish, as Thackeray put it in
one of the best-known of his utterances, to be permitted to depict a
man to the utmost of their power. American literary conventions, like
English conventions, have now and again laid a restraining and
compelling hand upon the legitimate exercise of this artistic instinct;
and this fact has coöperated with many social, ethical, and perhaps
physiological causes to produce a thinness or bloodlessness in our
books. They are graceful, pleasing, but pale, like one of those cool
whitish uncertain skies of an American spring. They lack "body," like
certain wines. It is not often that we can produce a real Burgundy. We
have had many distinguished fiction-writers, but none with the physical
gusto of a Fielding, a Smollett, or even a Dickens, who, idealist and
romanticist as he was, and Victorian as were his artistic preferences,
has this animal life which tingles upon every page. We must confess
that there is a certain quality of American idealism which is covertly
suspicious or openly hostile to the glories of bodily sensation.
Emerson's thin high shoulders peep up reproachfully above the desk;
Lanier is playing his reproachful flute; Longfellow reads Frémont's
Rocky Mountain experiences while lying abed, and sighs "But, ah, the
discomforts!"; Irving's _Astoria_, superb as were the possibilities of
its physical background, tastes like parlor exploration. Even Dana's
_Before the Mast_ and Parkman's _Oregon Trail_, transcripts of robust
actual experience, and admirable books, reveal a sort of physical
paleness compared with Turgenieff's _Notes of a Sportsman_ and
Tolstoï's _Sketches_ of Sebastopol and the Crimea. They are Harvard
undergraduate writing, after all!

These facts illustrate anew that standing temptation of the critic of
American literature to palliate literary shortcomings by the plea that
we possess certain admirable non-literary qualities. The dominant
idealism of the nation has levied, or seemed to levy, a certain tax
upon our writing. Some instincts, natural to the full-blooded utterance
of Continental literature, have been starved or eliminated here. Very
well. The characteristic American retort to this assertion would be:
Better our long record and habit of idealism than a few masterpieces
more or less. As a people, we have cheerfully accepted the Puritan
restraint of speech, we have respected the shamefaced conventions of
decent and social utterance. Like the men and women described in
Locker-Lampson's verses, Americans

        "eat, and drink, and scheme, and plod,--
    They go to church on Sunday;
    And many are afraid of God--
    And more of Mrs. Grundy."

Now Mrs. Grundy is assuredly not the most desirable of literary
divinities, but the student of classical literature can easily think of
other divinities, celebrated in exquisite Greek and Roman verse, who
are distinctly less desirable still.

"Not passion, but sentiment," said Hawthorne, in a familiar passage of
criticism of his own _Twice-Told Tales_. How often must the student of
American literature echo that half-melancholy but just verdict, as he
surveys the transition from the spiritual intensity of a few of our
earlier writers to the sentimental qualities which have brought popular
recognition to the many. Take the word "soul" itself. Calvinism
shadowed and darkened the meaning, perhaps, and yet its spiritual
passion made the word "soul" sublime. The reaction against Calvinism
has made religion more human, natural, and possibly more Christlike,
but "soul" has lost the thrilling solemnity with which Edwards
pronounced the word. Emerson and Hawthorne, far as they had escaped
from the bonds of their ancestral religion, still utter the word "soul"
with awe. But in the popular sermon and hymn and story of our
day,--with their search after the sympathetic and the sentimental,
after what is called in magazine slang "heart-interest,"--the word has
lost both its intellectual distinction and its literary magic. It will
regain neither until it is pronounced once more with spiritual passion.

But in literature, as in other things, we must take what we can get.
The great mass of our American writing is sentimental, because it has
been produced by, and for, an excessively sentimental people. The poems
in Stedman's carefully chosen _Anthology_, the prose and verse in the
two volume Stedman-Hutchinson collection of American Literature, the
Library of Southern Literature, and similar sectional anthologies, the
school Readers and Speakers,--particularly in the half-century between
1830 and 1880,--our newspapers and magazines,--particularly the
so-called "yellow" newspapers and the illustrated magazines typified by
_Harper's Monthly_,--are all fairly dripping with sentiment. American
oratory is notoriously the most sentimental oratory of the civilized
world. The _Congressional Record_ still presents such specimens of
sentiment--delivered or given leave to be printed, it is true, for
"home consumption" rather than to affect the course of legislation--as
are inexplicable to an Englishman or a Frenchman or an Italian.

Immigrants as we all are, and migratory as we have ever been,--so much
so that one rarely meets an American who was born in the house built by
his grandfather,--we cling with peculiar fondness to the sentiment of
"Home." The best-known American poem, for decades, was Samuel
Woodworth's "Old Oaken Bucket," the favorite popular song was Stephen
Foster's "My Old Kentucky Home," the favorite play was Denman
Thompson's "Old Homestead." Without that appealing word "mother" the
American melodrama would be robbed of its fifth act. Without pictures
of "the child" the illustrated magazines would go into bankruptcy. No
country has witnessed such a production of periodicals and books for
boys and girls: France and Germany imitate in vain _The Youth's
Companion_ and _St. Nicholas_, as they did the stories of "Oliver
Optic" and _Little Women_ and _Little Lord Fauntleroy_.

The sentimental attitude towards women and children, which is one of
the most typical aspects of American idealism, is constantly
illustrated in our short stories. Bret Harte, disciple of Dickens as he
was, and Romantic as was his fashion of dressing up his miners and
gamblers, was accurately faithful to the American feeling towards the
"kid" and the "woman." "Tennessee's Partner," "The Luck of Roaring
Camp," "Christmas at Sandy Bar," are obvious examples. Owen Wister's
stories are equally faithful and admirable in this matter. The American
girl still does astonishing things in international novels, as she has
continued to do since the eighteen-sixties, but they are astonishing
mainly to the European eye and against the conventionalized European
background. She does the same things at home, and neither she nor her
mother sees why she should not, so universal among us is the chivalrous
interpretation of actions and situations which amaze the European
observer. The popular American literature which recognizes and
encourages this position of the "young girl" in our social structure is
a literature primarily of sentiment. The note of passion--in the
European sense of that word--jars and shatters it. The imported
"problem-play," written for an adult public in Paris or London,
introduces social facts and intellectual elements almost wholly alien
to the experience of American matinée audiences. Disillusioned
historians of our literature have instanced this unsophistication as a
proof of our national inexperience; yet it is often a sort of radiant
and triumphant unsophistication which does not lose its innocence in
parting with its ignorance.

That sentimental idealization of classes, whether peasant, bourgeois,
or aristocratic, which has long been a feature of Continental and
English poetry and fiction, is practically absent from American
literature. Whatever the future may bring, there have hitherto been no
fixed classes in American society. Webster was guilty of no
exaggeration when he declared that the whole North was made up of
laborers, and Lincoln spoke in the same terms in his well-known
sentences about "hired laborers": "twenty-five years ago I was a hired
laborer." The relative uniformity of economic and social conditions,
which prevailed until toward the close of the nineteenth century, made,
no doubt, for the happiness of the greatest number, but it failed,
naturally, to afford that picturesqueness of class contrast and to
stimulate that sentiment of class distinction, in which European
literature is so rich.

Very interesting, in the light of contemporary economic conditions, is
the effort made by American poets in the middle of the last century to
glorify labor. They were not so much idealizing a particular laboring
class, as endeavoring, in Whitman's words, "To teach the average man
the glory of his walk and trade." Whitman himself sketched the American
workman in almost every attitude which appealed to his own sense of the
picturesque and heroic. But years before _Leaves of Grass_ was
published, Whittier had celebrated in his _Songs of Labor_ the
glorified images of lumberman and drover, shoemaker and fisherman. Lucy
Larcom and the authors of _The Lowell Offering_ portrayed the fine
idealism of the young women--of the best American stock--who went
enthusiastically to work in the cotton-mills of Lowell and Lawrence, or
who bound shoes by their own firesides on the Essex County farms. That
glow of enthusiasm for labor was chiefly moral, but it was poetical as
well. The changes which have come over the economic and social life of
America are nowhere more sharply indicated than in that very valley of
the Merrimac where, sixty and seventy years ago, one could "hear
America singing." There are few who are singing to-day in the
cotton-mills; the operators, instead of girls from the hill-farms, are
Greeks, Lithuanians, Armenians, Italians. Whittier's drovers have gone
forever; the lumbermen and deep-sea fishermen have grown fewer, and the
men who still swing the axes and haul the frozen cod-lines are mostly
aliens. The pride that once broke into singing has turned harsh and
silent. "Labor" looms vast upon the future political and social
horizon, but the songs of labor have lost the lyric note. They have
turned into the dramas and tragedies of labor, as portrayed with the
swift and fierce insistence of the short story, illustrated by the
Kodak. In the great agricultural sections of the West and South the
old bucolic sentiment still survives,--that simple joy of seeing the
"frost upon the pumpkin" and "the fodder in the stock" which Mr. James
Whitcomb Riley has sung with such charming fidelity to the type. But
even on the Western farms toil has grown less manual. It is more a
matter of expert handling of machinery. Reaping and binding may still
have their poet, but he needs to be a Kipling rather than a Burns.

Our literature, then, reveals few traces of idealization of a class,
and but little idealization of trades or callings. Neither class nor
calling presents anything permanent to the American imagination, or
stands for anything ultimate in American experience. On the other hand,
our writing is rich in local sentiment and sectional loyalty. The short
story, which has seized so greedily the more dramatic aspects of
American energy, has been equally true to the quiet background of rural
scenery and familiar ways. American idealism, as shown in the
transformation of the lesser loyalties of home and countryside into the
larger loyalties of state and section, and the absorption of these, in
turn, into the emotions of nationalism, is particularly illustrated in
our political verse. A striking example of the imaginative
visualization of the political units of a state is the spirited
roll-call of the counties in Whittier's "Massachusetts to Virginia."
But the burden of that fine poem, after all, is the essential unity of
Massachusetts as a sovereign state, girding herself to repel the attack
of another sovereign state, Virginia. Now the evolution of our
political history, both local and national, has tended steadily, for
half a century, to the obliteration, for purposes of the imagination,
of county lines within state lines. At the last Republican state
convention held in Massachusetts, there were no county banners
displayed, for the first time in half a century. Many a city-dweller
to-day cannot tell in what county he is living unless he has happened
to make a transfer of real estate. State lines themselves are fading
away. The federal idea has triumphed. Doubtless the majority of the
fellow citizens of John Randolph of Roanoke were all the more proud of
him because the poet could say of him, in writing an admiring and
mournful epitaph:--

    "Beyond Virginia's border line
     His patriotism perished."

The great collections of Civil War verse, which are lying almost
unread in the libraries, are store-houses of this ancient state pride
and jealousy, which was absorbed so fatally into the larger sectional
antagonism. "Maryland, my Maryland" gave place to "Dixie," just as
Whittier's "Massachusetts to Virginia" was forgotten when marching men
began to sing "John Brown's Body" and "The Battle Hymn of the
Republic." The literature of sectionalism still lingers in its more
lovable aspect in the verse and fiction which still celebrates the
fairer side of the civilization of the Old South: its ideals of
chivalry and local loyalty, its gracious women and gallant men. Our
literature needs to cultivate this provincial affection for the past,
as an offset to the barren uniformity which the federal scheme allows.
But the ultimate imaginative victory, like the actual political victory
of the Civil War, is with the thought and feeling of Nationalism. It is
foreshadowed in that passionate lyric cry of Lowell, which sums up so
much and, like all true passion, anticipates so much:--

    "O Beautiful! my Country!"

The literary record of American idealism thus illustrates how deeply
the conception of Nationalism has affected the imagination of our
countrymen. The literary record of the American conception of liberty
runs further back. Some historians have allowed themselves to think
that the American notion of liberty is essentially declamatory, a sort
of futile echo of Patrick Henry's "Give me Liberty or give me Death";
and not only declamatory, but hopelessly theoretical and abstract. They
grant that it was a trumpet-note, no doubt, for agitators against the
Stamp Act, and for pamphleteers like Thomas Paine; that it may have
been a torch for lighting dark and weary ways in the Revolutionary War;
but they believe it likewise to be a torch which gleams with the fire
caught from France and which was passed back to France in turn when her
own great bonfire was ready for lighting. The facts, however, are
inconsistent with this picturesque theory of contemporary reactionists.
It is true that the word "liberty" has been full of temptation for
generations of American orators, that it has become an idol of the
forum, and often a source of heat rather than of light. But to treat
American Liberty as if she habitually wore the red cap is to nourish a
Francophobia as absurd as Edmund Burke's. The sober truth is that the
American working theory of Liberty is singularly like St. Paul's. "Ye
have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to
the flesh." A few sentences from John Winthrop, written in 1645, are
significant: "There is a twofold liberty, natural ... and civil or
federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By
this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do
what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good. This liberty
is incompatible and inconsistent with authority.... The other kind of
liberty I call civil or federal, it may also be termed moral.... This
liberty is the proper end and object of authority, and cannot subsist
without it; and it is a liberty to that only which is good, just, and
honest. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard (not only of
your goods, but) of your lives, if need be.... This liberty is
maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority; it is of
the same kind of liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free."

There speaks the governor, the man of affairs, the typical citizen of
the future republic. The liberty to do as one pleases is a dream of
the Renaissance; but out of dreamland it does not work. Nobody, even in
revolutionary France, imagines that it will work. Jefferson, who is
popularly supposed to derive his notion of liberty from French
theorists, is to all practical purposes nearer to John Winthrop than he
is to Rousseau. The splendid phrases of his "Declaration" are sometimes
characterized as abstractions. They are really generalizations from
past political experience. An arbitrary king, assuming a liberty to do
as he liked, had encroached upon the long-standing customs and
authority of the colonists. Jefferson, at the bidding of the
Continental Congress, served notice of the royal trespass, and
incidentally produced (as Lincoln said) a "standard maxim for free

It is true, no doubt, that the word "liberty" became in Jefferson's
day, and later, a mere partisan or national shibboleth, standing for no
reality, degraded to a catchword, a symbol of antagonism to Great
Britain. In the political debates and the impressive prose and verse of
the anti-slavery struggle, the word became once more charged with vital
meaning; it glowed under the heat and pressure of an idea. Towards the
end of the nineteenth century it went temporarily out of fashion. The
late Colonel Higginson, an ideal type of what Europeans call an "1848"
man, attended at the close of the century some sessions of the American
Historical Association. In his own address, at the closing dinner, he
remarked that there was one word for which he had listened in vain
during the reading of the papers by the younger men. It was the word
"liberty." One of the younger school retorted promptly that since we
had the thing liberty, we had no need to glorify the word. But Colonel
Higginson, stanch adherent as he was of the "good old cause," was not
convinced. Like many another lover of American letters, he thought that
William Vaughn Moody's "Ode in Time of Hesitation" deserved a place by
the side of Lowell's "Commemoration Ode," and that when the ultimate
day of reckoning comes for the whole muddled Imperialistic business,
the standard of reckoning must be "liberty" as Winthrop and Jefferson
and Lincoln and Lowell and Vaughn Moody understood the word.

In the mean time we must confess that the history of our literature,
with a few noble exceptions, shows a surprising defect in the passion
for freedom. Tennyson's famous lines about "Freedom broadening slowly
down from precedent to precedent" are perfectly American in their
conservative tone; while it is Englishmen like Byron and Landor and
Shelley and Swinburne who have written the most magnificent republican
poetry. The "land of the free" turns to the monarchic mother country,
after all, for the glow and thunder and splendor of the poetry of
freedom. It is one of the most curious phenomena in the history of
literature. Shall we enter the preoccupation plea once more? Enjoying
the thing liberty, have we been therefore less concerned with the idea?
Or is it simply another illustration of the defective passion of
American literature?

Yet there is one phase of political loyalty which has been cherished by
the imagination of Americans, and which has inspired noteworthy oratory
and noble political prose. It is the sentiment of Union. In one sense,
of course, this dates back to the period of Franklin's _bon mot_ about
our all hanging together, or hanging separately. It is found in
Hamilton's pamphlets, in Paine's _Crisis_, in the _Federalist_, in
Washington's "Farewell Address." It is peculiarly associated with the
name and fame of Daniel Webster, and, to a less degree, with the career
of Henry Clay. In the stress of the debate over slavery, many a
Northerner with abolitionist convictions, like the majority of
Southerners with slave-holding convictions, forgot the splendid
peroration of Webster's "Reply to Hayne" and were willing to "let the
Union go." But in the four tragic and heroic years that followed the
firing upon the American flag at Fort Sumter the sentiment of Union was
made sacred by such sacrifices as the patriotic imagination of a Clay
or a Webster had never dreamed. A new literature resulted. A lofty
ideal of indissoluble Union was preached in pulpits, pleaded for in
editorials, sung in lyrics, and woven into the web of fiction. Edward
Everett Hale's _Man Without a Country_ became one of the most
poignantly moving of American stories. In Walt Whitman's _Drum-Taps_
and his later poems, the "Union of these States" became transfigured
with mystical significance: no longer a mere political compact,
dissoluble at will, but a spiritual entity, a new incarnation of the
soul of man.

We must deal later with that American instinct of fellowship which
Whitman believed to have been finally cemented by the Civil War, and
which has such import for the future of our democracy. There are
likewise communal loyalties, glowing with the new idealism which has
come with the twentieth century: ethical, municipal, industrial, and
artistic movements which are full of promise for the higher life of the
country, but which have not yet had time to express themselves
adequately in literature. There are stirrings of racial loyalty among
this and that element of our composite population,--as for instance
among the gifted younger generation of American Jews,--a racial loyalty
not antagonistic to the American current of ideas, but rather in full
unison with it. Internationalism itself furnishes motives for the
activity of the noblest imaginations, and the true literature of
internationalism has hardly yet begun. It is in the play and
counterplay of these new forces that the American literature of the
twentieth century must measure itself. Communal feelings novel to
Americans bred under the accepted individualism will doubtless assert
themselves in our prose and verse. But it is to be remembered that the
best writing thus far produced on American soil has been a result of
the old conditions: of the old "Reverences"; of the pioneer training of
mind and body; of the slow tempering of the American spirit into an
obstinate idealism. We do not know what course the ship may take in the
future, but

    "We know what Master laid thy keel,
    What Workman wrought thy ribs of steel,
    Who made each mast and sail and rope,
    What anvil rang, what hammers beat,
    In what a forge and what a heat
    Were shaped the anchors of thy hope!"


Romance and Reaction

The characteristic attitude of the American mind, as we have seen, is
one of idealism. We may now venture to draw a smaller circle within
that larger circle of idealistic impulses, and to label the smaller
circle "romance." Here, too, as with the word "idealism," although we
are to make abundant use of literary illustrations of national
tendencies, we have no need of a severely technical definition of
terms. When we say, "Tom is an idealist" and "Lorenzo is a romantic
fellow," we convey at least one tolerably clear distinction between Tom
and Lorenzo. The idealist has a certain characteristic habit of mind or
inclination of spirit. When confronted by experience, he reacts in a
certain way. In his individual and social impulses, in the travail of
his soul, or in his commerce with his neighbors and the world, he
behaves in a more or less well-defined fashion. The romanticist, when
confronted by the same objects and experiences, exhibits another type
of behavior. Lorenzo, though he be Tom's brother, is a different
fellow; he is--in the opinion of his friends, at least--a rather more
peculiar person, a creature of more varying moods, of heightened
feelings, of stranger ways. Like Tom, he is a person of sentiment, but
his sentiment attaches itself, not so much to everyday aspects of
experience, as to that which is unusual or terrifying, lovely or far
away; he possesses, or would like to possess, bodily or spiritual
daring. He has the adventurous heart. He is of those who love to go
down to the sea in ships and do business in great waters. Lorenzo the
romanticist is made of no finer clay than Tom the idealist, but his
nerves are differently tuned. Your deep-sea fisherman, after all, is
only a fisherman at bottom. That is to say, he too is an idealist, but
he wants to catch different species of fish from those which drop into
the basket of the landsman. Precisely what he covets, perhaps he does
not know. I was once foolish enough to ask an old Alsatian soldier who
was patiently holding his rod over a most unpromising canal near
Strassburg, what kind of fish he was fishing for. "All kinds," was his
rebuking answer, and I took off my hat to the veteran romanticist.

The words "romance" and "romanticism" have been repeated to the ears of
our generation with wearisome iteration. Not the least of the good luck
of Wordsworth and Coleridge lay in the fact that they scarcely knew
that they were "romanticists." Middle-aged readers of the present day
may congratulate themselves that in their youth they read Wordsworth
and Coleridge simply because it was Wordsworth and Coleridge and not
documents illustrating the history of the romantic movement. But the
rising generation is sophisticated. For better or worse it has been
taught to distinguish between the word "romance" on the one side, and
the word "romanticism" on the other. "Romantic" is a useful but
overworked adjective which attaches itself indiscriminately to both
"romance" and "romanticism." Professor Vaughan, for example, and a
hundred other writers, have pointed out that in the narrower and more
usual sense, the words "romance" and "romanticism" point to a love of
vivid coloring and strongly marked contrasts; to a craving for the
unfamiliar, the marvellous, and the supernatural. In the wider and
less definite sense, they signify a revolt from the purely intellectual
view of man's nature; a recognition of the instincts and the passions,
a vague intimation of sympathy between man and the world around
him,--in one word, the sense of mystery. The narrower and the broader
meanings pass into one another by imperceptible shades. They are
affected by the well-known historic conditions for romantic feeling in
the different European countries. The common factor, of course, is the
man with the romantic world set in his heart. It is Gautier with his
love of color, Victor Hugo enraptured with the sound of words, Heine
with his self-destroying romantic irony, Novalis with his blue flower,
and Maeterlinck with his _Blue Bird_.

But these romantic men of letters, writing in epochs of romanticism,
are by no means the only children of romance. Sir Humphrey Gilbert and
Sir Walter Raleigh were as truly followers of "the gleam" as were
Spenser or Marlowe. The spirit of romance is found wherever and
whenever men say to themselves, as Don Quixote's niece said of her
uncle, that "they wish better bread than is made of wheat," or when
they look within their own hearts, and assert, as the poet Young said
in 1759, long before the English romantic movement had begun, "there is
more in the spirit of man than mere prose-reason can fathom."

We are familiar, perhaps too remorsefully familiar, with the fact that
romance is likely to run a certain course in the individual and then to
disappear. Looking back upon it afterward, it resembles the upward and
downward zigzag of a fever chart. It has in fact often been described
as a measles, a disease of which no one can be particularly proud,
although he may have no reason to blush for it. Southey said that he
was no more ashamed of having been a republican than of having been a
boy. Well, people catch Byronism, and get over it, much as Southey got
over his republicanism. In fact Byron himself lived long enough--though
he died at thirty-six--to outgrow his purely "Byronic" phase, and to
smile at it as knowingly as we do. Coleridge's blossoming period as a
romantic poet was tragically brief. Keats and Shelley had the good
fortune to die in the fulness of their romantic glory. They did not
outlive their own poetic sense of the wonder and mystery of the world.
Yet many an old poet like Tennyson and Browning has preserved his
romance to the end. Tennyson dies at eighty-three with the full
moonlight streaming through the oriel window upon his bed, and with his
fingers clasping Shakespeare's _Cymbeline_.

With most of us commonplace persons, however, a reaction from the
romantic is almost inevitable. The romantic temperament cannot long
keep the pitch. Poe could indeed do it, although he hovered at times
near the border of insanity. Hawthorne went for relief to his profane
sea-captains and the carnal-minded superannuated employees of the Salem
Custom House. "The weary weight of all this unintelligible world"
presses too hard on most of those who stop to think about it. The
simplest way of relief is to shrug one's shoulders and let the weight
go. That is to say, we cease being poets, we are no longer the children
of romance, although we may remain idealists. Perhaps it is external
events that change, rather than we ourselves. The restoration of the
Bourbons, the Revolutions of 1830 and 1848, make and unmake romantics.
Often society catches up with the romanticist; he is no longer a
soldier of revolt; he has become a "respectable." Or, while remaining a
poet, he shifts his attention to some more familiar segment of the
idealistic circle. He sings about his wife instead of the wife of
somebody else. Like Wordsworth, he takes for his theme a Mary
Hutchinson instead of the unknown and hauntingly alluring figure of
Lucy. To put it differently, the high light, the mysterious color of
dawn or sunset disappears from his picture of human life. Or, the high
light may be diffused in a more tranquil radiance over the whole
surface of experience. Such an artist may remain a true painter or
poet, but he is not a romantic poet or painter any longer. He has, like
the aging Emerson, taken in sail; the god Terminus has said to him, "no

One must of course admit that the typical romanticist has often been
characterized by certain intellectual and moral weaknesses. But the
great romance men, like Edmund Spenser, for example, may not possess
these weaknesses at all. Robert Louis Stevenson was passionately in
love with the romantic in life and with romanticism in literature; but
it did not make him eccentric, weak, or empty. His instinct for
enduring romance was so admirably fine that it brought strength to the
sinews of his mind, light and air and fire to his soul. Among the
writers of our own day, it is Mr. Kipling who has written some of the
keenest satire upon romantic foibles, while never ceasing to salute his
real mistress, the true romance.

    "Who wast, or yet the Lights were set,
      A whisper in the void,
    Who shalt be sung through planets young
      When this is clean destroyed."

What are the causes of American romance, the circumstances and
qualities that have produced the romantic element in American life and
character? Precisely as with the individual artist or man of letters,
we touch first of all upon certain temperamental inclinations. It is a
question again of the national mind, of the differentiation of the race
under new climatic and physical conditions. We have to reckon with the
headiness and excitability of youth. It was young men who emigrated
hither, just as in the eighteen-sixties it was young men who filled the
Northern and the Southern armies. The first generations of American
immigration were made up chiefly of vigorous, imaginative, and daring
youth. The incapables came later. It is, I think, safe to assert that
the colonists of English stock, even as late as 1790,--when more than
ninety per cent of the population of America had in their veins the
blood of the British Isles,--were more responsive to romantic impulses
than their English cousins. For that matter, an Irishman or a Welshman
is more romantic than an Englishman to-day.

From the very beginning of the American settlements, likewise, there
were evidences of the weaker, the over-excitable side of the romantic
temper. There were volatile men like Morton of Merrymount; there were
queer women like Anne Hutchinson, admirable woman as she was; among the
wives of the colonists there were plenty of Emily Dickinsons in the
germ. Among the men, there were schemes that came to nothing. There
were prototypes of Colonel Sellers; a temperamental tendency toward
that recklessness and extravagance which later historical conditions
stimulated and confirmed. The more completely one studies the history
of our forefathers on American soil, the more deeply does one become
conscious of the prevailing atmosphere of emotionalism.

Furthermore, as one examines the historic conditions under which the
spirit of American romance has been preserved and heightened from time
to time, one becomes aware that although ours is rather a romance of
wonder than of beauty, the spirit of beauty is also to be found. The
first fervors of the romance of discovery were childlike in their
eagerness. Hakluyt's _Voyages_, John Smith's _True Relation of
Virginia_, Thomas Morton's _New England's Canaan_, all appeal to the
sense of the marvellous.

Listen to Morton's description of Cape Ann. I can never read it without
thinking of Botticelli's picture of Spring, so naïvely does this
picturesque rascal suffuse his landscape with the feeling for beauty:--

     "In the Moneth of June, Anno Salutis 1622, it was my chaunce
     to arrive in the parts of New England with 30. Servants, and
     provision of all sorts fit for a plantation: and whiles our
     howses were building, I did indeavour to take a survey of
     the Country: The more I looked, the more I liked it. And
     when I had more seriously considered of the bewty of the
     place, with all her faire indowments, I did not thinke that
     in all the knowne world it could be paralel'd, for so many
     goodly groves of trees, dainty fine round rising hillucks,
     delicate faire large plaines, sweete cristall fountaines,
     and cleare running streames that twine in fine meanders
     through the meads, making so sweete a murmering noise to
     heare as would even lull the sences with delight a sleepe,
     so pleasantly doe they glide upon the pebble stones, jetting
     most jocundly where they doe meete and hand in hand runne
     downe to Neptunes Court, to pay the yearely tribute which
     they owe to him as soveraigne Lord of all the springs.
     Contained within the volume of the Land, Fowles in
     abundance, Fish in multitude; and discovered, besides,
     Millions of Turtledoves on the greene boughes, which sate
     pecking of the full ripe pleasant grapes that were supported
     by the lusty trees, whose fruitful loade did cause the armes
     to bend: while here and there dispersed, you might see
     Lillies and the Daphnean-tree: which made the Land to mee
     seeme paradice: for in mine eie t'was Natures Masterpeece;
     Her cheifest Magazine of all where lives her store: if this
     Land be not rich, then is the whole world poore."

This is the Morton who, a few years later, settled at Merrymount. Let
me condense the story of his settlement, from the narrative of the
stout-hearted Governor William Bradford's _History of Plymouth

    "And Morton became lord of misrule, and maintained (as it
    were) a schoole of Athisme. And after they had gott some good
    into their hands, and gott much by trading with the Indeans,
    they spent it as vainly, in quaffing & drinking both wine &
    strong waters in great exsess, and, as some reported 10£.
    worth in a morning. They allso set up a May-pole, drinking
    and dancing aboute it many days togeather, inviting the
    Indean women, for their consorts, dancing and frisking
    togither, (like so many fairies, or furies rather,) and worse
    practises. As if they had anew revived & celebrated the
    feasts of the Roman Goddes Flora, or the beasly practieses of
    the madd Bacchinalians. Morton likewise (to shew his poetrie)
    composed sundry rimes & verses, some tending to
    lasciviousnes, and others to the detraction & scandall of
    some persons, which he affixed to this idle or idoll
    May-polle. They chainged allso the name of their place, and
    in stead of calling it Mounte Wollaston, they call it
    Merie-mounte, as if this joylity would have lasted ever."

But it did not last long. Bradford and other leaders of the plantations
"agreed by mutual consent" to "suppress Morton and his consorts." "In a
friendly and neighborly way" they admonished him. "Insolently he
persisted." "Upon which they saw there was no way but to take him by
force." "So they mutually resolved to proceed," and sent Captain
Standish to summon him to yield. But, says Bradford, Morton and some of
his crew came out, not to yield, but to shoot; all of them rather
drunk; Morton himself, with a carbine almost half filled with powder
and shot, had thought to have shot Captain Standish, "_but he stepped
to him and put by his piece and took him_."

It is not too fanciful to say that with those stern words of Governor
Bradford the English Renaissance came to an end. The dream of a lawless
liberty which has been dreamed and dreamed out so many times in the
history of the world was over, for many a day. It was only a hundred
years earlier that Rabelais had written over the doors of his ideal
abbey, the motto "Do what thou wilt." It is true that Rabelais proposed
to admit to his Abbey of Thélème only such men and women as were
virtuously inclined. We do not know how many persons would have been
able and willing to go into residence there. At any rate, two hundred
years went by in New England after the fall of Morton before any
notable spirit dared to cherish once more the old Renaissance ideal. At
last, in Emerson's doctrine that all things are lawful because Nature
is good and human nature is divine, we have a curious parallel to the
doctrine of Rabelais. It was the old romance of human will under a new
form and voiced in new accents. Yet in due time the hard facts of human
nature reasserted themselves and put this romantic transcendentalism
by, even as the implacable Myles Standish put by that heavily loaded
fowling-piece of the drunken Morton.

But men believed in miracles in the first century of colonization, and
they will continue at intervals to believe in them until human nature
is no more. The marvellous happenings recorded in Cotton Mather's
_Magnalia_ no longer excite us to any "suspension of disbelief." We
doubt the story of Pocahontas. The fresh romantic enthusiasm of a
settler like Crèvecoeur seems curiously juvenile to-day, as does the
romantic curiosity of Chateaubriand concerning the Mississippi and the
Choctaws, or the zeal of Wordsworth and Coleridge over their dream of a
"panti-Socratic" community in the unknown valley of the
musically-sounding Susquehanna. Inexperience is a perpetual feeder of
the springs of romance. John Wesley, it will be remembered, went out to
the colony of Georgia full of enthusiasm for converting the Indians;
but as he naïvely remarks in his _Journal_, he "neither found or heard
of any Indians on the continent of America, who had the least desire of
being instructed." The sense of fact, in other words, supervenes, and
the glory disappears from the face of romance. The humor of Mark
Twain's _Innocents Abroad_ turns largely upon this sense of remorseless
fact confronting romantic inexperience.

American history, however, has been marked by certain great romantic
passions that seem endowed with indestructible vitality. The romance of
discovery, the fascination of the forest and sea, the sense of danger
and mystery once aroused by the very word "redskin," have all moulded
and will continue to mould the national imagination. How completely
the romance of discovery may be fused with the glow of humanitarian
and religious enthusiasm has been shown once for all in the brilliant
pages of Parkman's story of the Jesuit missions in Canada. Pictorial
romance can scarcely go further than this. In the crisis of
Chateaubriand's picturesque and passionate tale of the American
wilderness, no one can escape the thrilling, haunting sound of the bell
from the Jesuit chapel, as it tolls in the night and storm that were
fatal to the happiness of Atala. One scarcely need say that the romance
of missions has never faded from the American mind. I have known a
sober New England deacon aged eighty-five, who disliked to die because
he thought he should miss the monthly excitement of reading the
_Missionary Herald_. The deacon's eyes, like the eyes of many an old
sea-captain in Salem or Newburyport, were literally upon the ends of
the earth. No one can reckon how many starved souls, deprived of normal
outlet for human feeling, have found in this passionate curiosity and
concern for the souls of black and yellow men and women in the
antipodes, a constant source of beneficent excitement.

Nor is there any diminution of interest in the mere romance of
adventure, in the stories of hunter and trapper, the journals of Lewis
and Clarke, the narratives of Boone and Crockett. In writing his superb
romances of the Northern Lakes, the prairie and the sea, Fenimore
Cooper had merely to bring to an artistic focus sentiments that lay
deep in the souls of the great mass of his American readers. Students
of our social life have pointed out again and again how deeply our
national temperament has been affected by the existence, during nearly
three hundred years, of an alien aboriginal race forever lurking upon
the borders of our civilization. "Playing Indian" has been immensely
significant, not merely in stimulating the outdoor activity of
generations of American boys, but in teaching them the perennial
importance of certain pioneer qualities of observation,
resourcefulness, courage, and endurance which date from the time when
the Indians were a daily and nightly menace. Even when the Indian has
been succeeded by the cowboy, the spirit of romance still lingers,--as
any collection of cowboy ballads will abundantly prove. And when the
cowboys pass, and the real-estate dealers take possession of the
field, one is tempted to say that romance flourishes more than ever.

In short, things are what we make them at the moment, what we believe
them to be. In my grandfather's youth the West was in the neighborhood
of Port Byron, New York, and when he journeyed thither from
Massachusetts in the eighteen-twenties, the glory of adventure enfolded
him as completely as the boys of the preceding generation had been
glorified in the War of the Revolution, or the boys of the next
generation when they went gold-seeking in California in 1849. The West,
in short, means simply the retreating horizon, the beckoning finger of
opportunity. Like Boston, it has been not a place, but a "state of

    "We must go, go, go away from here,
    On the other side the world we're overdue."

That is the song which sings itself forever in the heart of youth.
Champlain and Cartier heard it in the sixteenth century, Bradford no
less than Morton in the seventeenth. Some Eldorado has always been
calling to the more adventurous spirits upon American soil. The
passion of the forty-niner neither began nor ended with the discovery
of gold in California. It is within us. It transmutes the harsh or
drab-colored everyday routine into tissue of fairyland. It makes our
"winning of the West" a magnificent national epic. It changes to-day
the black belt of Texas, or the wheat-fields of Dakota, into pots of
gold that lie at the end of rainbows, only that the pot of gold is
actually there. The human hunger of it all, the gorgeous dream-like
quality of it all, the boundlessness of the vast American spaces, the
sense of forest and prairie and sky, are all inexplicably blended with
our notion of the ideal America. Henry James once tried to explain the
difference between Turgenieff and a typical French novelist by saying
that the back door of the Russian's imagination was always open upon
the endless Russian steppe. No one can understand the spirit of
American romance if he is not conscious of this ever-present hinterland
in which our spirits have, from the beginning, taken refuge and found

We have already noticed, in the chapter on idealism, how swiftly the
American imagination modifies the prosaic facts of everyday
experience. The idealistic glamour which falls upon the day's work
changes easily, in the more emotional temperaments, and at times,
indeed, in all of us, into the fervor of true romance. Then, the
prosaic buying and selling becomes the "game." A combination of buyers
and sellers becomes the "system." The place where these buyers and
sellers most do congregate and concentrate becomes "Wall Street"--a
sort of anthropomorphic monster which seems to buy and sell the bodies
and souls of men. Seen half a continent away, through the mists of
ignorance and prejudice and partisan passion, "Wall Street" has loomed
like some vast Gibraltar. To the broker's clerk who earns his weekly
salary in that street, the Nebraska notion of "Wall Street" is too
grotesque for discussion.

How easily every phase of American business life may take on the hues
of romance is illustrated by the history of our railroads. No wonder
that Bret Harte wrote a poem about the meeting of the eastward and
westward facing engines when the two sections of the Union Pacific
Railroad at last drew near each other on the interminable plains and
the two engines could talk. Of course what they said was poetry. There
was a time when even the Erie Canal was poetic. The Panama Canal
to-day, in the eyes of most Americans, is something other than a mere
feat of engineering. We are doing more than making "the dirt fly." The
canal represents victory over hostile forces, conquest of unwilling
Nature, achievement of what had long been deemed impossible, the making
not of a ditch, but of History.

So with all that American zest for camping, fishing, sailing, racing,
which lies deep in the Anglo-Saxon, and which succeeds to the more
primitive era of actual struggle against savage beasts or treacherous
men or mysterious forests. It is at once an outlet and a nursery for
romantic emotion. The out-of-doors movement which began with Thoreau's
hut on Walden Pond, and which has gone on broadening and deepening to
this hour, implies far more than mere variation from routine. It
furnishes, indeed, a healthful escape from the terrific pressure of
modern social and commercial exigencies. Yet its more important
function is to provide for grown-ups a chance to "play Indian" too.

But outdoors and indoors, after all, lie in the heart and mind, rather
than in the realm of actual experience. The romantic imagination
insists upon taking its holiday, whether the man who possesses it gets
his holiday or not. I have never known a more truly romantic figure
than a certain tin-pedler in Connecticut who, in response to the
question, "Do you do a good business?" made this perfectly Stevensonian
reply: "Well, I make a living selling crockery and tinware, but my
_business_ is the propagation of truth."

This wandering idealist may serve to remind us again of the difference
between romance and romanticism. The true romance is of the spirit.
Romanticism shifts and changes with external fortunes, with altering
emotions, with the alternate play of light and shade over the vast
landscape of human experience. The typical romanticist, as we have
seen, is a man of moods. It is only a Poe who can keep the pitch
through the whole concert of experience. But the deeper romance of the
spirit is oblivious of these changes of external fortune, this rising
or falling of the emotional temperature. The moral life of America
furnishes striking illustrations of the steadfastness with which
certain moral causes have been kept, as it were, in the focus of
intense feeling. Poetry, undefeated and unwavering poetry, has
transfigured such practical propaganda as the abolition of slavery, the
emancipation of woman, the fight against the liquor traffic, the
emancipation of the individual from the clutches of economic and
commercial despotism. Men like Colonel Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
women like Julia Ward Howe, fought for these causes throughout their
lives. Colonel Higginson's attitude towards women was not merely
chivalric (for one may be chivalrous without any marked predisposition
to romance), but nobly romantic also. James Russell Lowell, poet as he
was, outlived that particular phase of romantic moral reform which he
had been taught by Maria White. But in other men and women bred in that
old New England of the eighteen-forties, the moral fervor knew no
restraint. Garrison, although in many respects a most unromantic
personality, was engaged in a task which gave him all the inspiration
of romance. A romantic "atmosphere," fully as highly colored as any of
the romantic atmospheres that we are accustomed to mark in literature,
surrounded as with a luminous mist the figures of the New England
transcendentalists. They, too, as Heine said of himself, were soldiers.
They felt themselves enlisted for a long but ultimately victorious
campaign. They were willing to pardon, in their comrades and in
themselves, those imaginative excesses which resemble the physical
excesses of a soldier's camp. Transcendentalism was thus a militant
philosophy and religion, with both a destructively critical and a
positively constructive creed. Channing, Parker, Alcott, Margaret
Fuller, were warrior-priests, poets and prophets of a gallant campaign
against inherited darkness and bigotry, and for the light.

The atmosphere of that score of years in New England was now
superheated, now rarefied, thin, and cold; but it was never quite the
normal atmosphere of every day. On the purely literary side, it is
needless to say, these men and women sought inspiration in Coleridge
and Carlyle and other English and German romanticists. In fact, the
most enduring literature of New England between 1830 and 1865 was
distinctly a romantic literature. It was rooted, however, not so much
in those swift changes of historic condition, those startling
liberations of the human spirit which gave inspiration to the
romanticism of the Continent, as it was in the deep and vital fervor
with which these New Englanders envisaged the problems of the moral

Other illustrations of the American capacity for romance lie equally
close at hand. Take, for instance, the stout volume in which Mr. Burton
Stevenson has collected the _Poems of American History_. Here are
nearly seven hundred pages of closely printed patriotic verse. While
Stedman's _Anthology_ reveals no doubt national aspirations and
national sentiment, as well as the emotional fervor of individuals, Mr.
Stevenson's collection has the advantage of focussing this national
feeling upon specific events. Stedman's _Anthology_ is an enduring
document of American idealism, touching in the sincerity of its poetic
moods, pathetic in its long lists of men and women who are known by one
poem only, or who have never, for one reason or another, fulfilled
their poetic promise. The thousand poems which it contains are more
striking, in fact, for their promise than for their performance. They
are intimations of what American men and women would have liked to do
or to be. In this sense, it is a precious volume, but it is certainly
not commensurate, either in passion or in artistic perfection, with the
forces of that American life which it tries to interpret. Indeed, Mr.
Stedman, after finishing his task of compilation, remarked to more than
one of his friends that what this country needed was some "adult male

The _Poems of American History_ collected by Mr. Stevenson are at least
vigorous and concrete. One aspect of our history which especially lends
itself to Mr. Stevenson's purpose is the romance which attaches itself
to war. It is scarcely necessary to say nowadays that all wars, even
the noblest, have had their sordid, grimy, selfish, bestial aspect; and
that the intelligence and conscience of our modern world are more and
more engaged in the task of making future wars impossible. But the
slightest acquaintance with American history reveals the immense
reservoir of romantic emotion which has been drawn upon in our national
struggles. War, of course, is an immemorial source of romantic feeling.
William James's notable essay on "A Moral Substitute for War"
endeavored to prove that our modern economic and social life, if
properly organized, would give abundant outlet and satisfaction to
those romantic impulses which formerly found their sole gratification
in battle. Many of us believe that he was right; but for the moment we
must look backward and not forward. We must remember the stern if rude
poetry inspired by our Revolutionary struggle, the romantic halo that
falls upon the youthful figure of Nathan Hale, the baleful light that
touches the pale face of Benedict Arnold, the romance of the Bennington
fight to the followers of Stark and Ethan Allen, the serene voice of
the "little captain," John Paul Jones:--"We have not struck, we have
just begun our part of the fighting." The colors of romance still drape
the Chesapeake and the Shannon, Tecumseh and Tippecanoe. The hunters of
Kentucky, the explorers of the Yellowstone and the Columbia, the
emigrants who left their bones along the old Santa Fé Trail, are our
Homeric men.

The Mexican War affords pertinent illustration, not only of romance,
but of reaction. The earlier phases of the Texan struggle for
independence have much of the daring, the splendid rashness, the
glorious and tragic catastrophes of the great romantic adventures of
the Old World. It is not the Texans only who still "remember the
Alamo," but when those brilliant and dramatic adventures of border
warfare became drawn into the larger struggle for the extension of
slavery, the poetic reaction began. The physical and moral pretence of
warfare, the cheap splendors of epaulets and feathers, shrivelled at
the single touch of the satire of the _Biglow Papers_. Lowell, writing
at that moment with the instinct and fervor of a prophet, brought the
whole vainglorious business back to the simple issue of right and

    "'Taint your eppyletts an' feathers
      Make the thing a grain more right;
    'Taint afollerin' your bell-wethers
      Will excuse ye in His sight;
    Ef you take a sword an' dror it,
      An' go stick a feller thru,
    Guv'ment aint to answer for it,
      God'll send the bill to you."

But far more interesting is the revelation of the American capacity for
romance which was made possible by the war between the States.
Stevenson's _Poems of American History_ and Stedman's _Anthology_ give
abundant illustration of almost every aspect of that epical struggle.
The South was in a romantic mood from the very beginning. The North
drifted into it after Sumter. I have already said that no one can
examine a collection of Civil War verse without being profoundly moved
by its evidence of American idealism. In specific phases of the
struggle, in connection with certain battle-fields and certain leaders
of both North and South, this idealism is heightened into pure romance,
so that even our novelists feel that they can give no adequate picture
of the war without using the colors of poetry. Most critics, no doubt,
agree in feeling that we are still too near to that epoch-making crisis
of our national existence to do it any justice in the terms of
literature. Perhaps we must wait for the perfected romance of the years
1861-65, until the men and the events of that struggle are as remote as
the heroes of Greece and Troy. Certainly no one can pass a final
judgment upon the verse occasioned by recent struggles in arms. Any one
who has studied the English poetry inspired by the South-African War
will be painfully conscious of the emotional and moral complexity of
all such issues, of the bitter injustice which poets, as well as other
men, render to one another, of the impossibility of transmuting into
the pure gold of romance the emotions originating in the stock market,
in race-hatred, and in national vainglory.

We have lingered too long, perhaps, over these various evidences of the
romantic temper of America. We must now glance at the forces of
reaction, the recoil to fact. What is it which contradicts, inhibits,
or negatives the romantic tendency? Among other forces, there is
certainly humor. Humor and romance often go hand in hand, but humor is
commonly fatal to romanticism. There is satire, which rebukes both
romanticism and romance, which exposes the fallacies of the one, and
punctures the exuberance of the other. More effective, perhaps, than
either humor or satire as an antiseptic against romance, is the
overmastering sense of fact. This is what Emerson called the instinct
for the milk in the pan, an instinct which Emerson himself possessed
extraordinarily on his purely Yankee side, and which a pioneer country
is forced continually to develop and to recognize. Camping, for
instance, develops both the romantic sense and the fact sense. Supper
must be cooked, even at Walden Pond. There must be hewers of wood and
drawers of water, and the dishes ought to be washed.

On a higher plane, also, than this mere sense of physical necessity,
there are forces limiting the influence of romance. Schiller put it all
into one famous line:--

    "Und was uns alle bändigt, das Gemeine."

Or listen to Keats:--

    "'T is best to remain aloof from people, and like their good
    parts, without being eternally troubled with the dull process
    of their everyday lives.... All I can say is that standing at
    Charing Cross, and looking East, West, North and South, I can
    see nothing but dullness."

And Henry James, describing New York in his book, _The American Scene_,
speaks of "the overwhelming preponderance of the unmitigated
'business-man' face ... the consummate monotonous commonness of the
pushing male crowd, moving in its dense mass--with the confusion
carried to chaos for any intelligence, any perception; a welter of
objects and sounds in which relief, detachment, dignity, meaning,
perished utterly and lost all rights ... the universal _will to
move_--to move, move, move, as an end in itself, an appetite at any

One need not be a poet like Keats or an inveterate psychologist like
Henry James, in order to become aware how the commonplaceness of the
world rests like a fog upon the mind and heart. No one goes to his
day's work and comes home again without a consciousness of contact with
an unspiritual atmosphere, or incompletely spiritualized forces, not
merely with indifference, to what Emerson would term "the over-soul,"
but with a lack of any faith in the things which are unseen. Take those
very forces which have limited the influence of Emerson throughout the
United States; they illustrate the universal forces which clip the
wings of romance. The obstacles in the path of Emerson's influence are
not merely the religious and denominational differences which Dr.
George A. Gordon portrayed in a notable article at the time of the
Emerson Centenary. The real obstacles are more serious. It is true
that Dr. Park of Andover, Dr. Bushnell of Hartford, and Dr. Hodge of
Princeton, could say in Emerson's lifetime: "We know a better, a more
Scriptural and certificated road toward the very things which Emerson
is seeking for. We do not grant that we are less idealistic than he. We
think him a dangerous guide, following wandering fires. It is better to
journey safely with us."

But I have known at least two livery-stable keepers and many college
professors who would unite in saying: "Hodge and Park and Bushnell and
Emerson are all following after something that does not exist. One is
not much more mistaken than the others. We can get along perfectly well
in our business without any of those ideas at all. Let us stick to the
milk in the pan, the horse in the stall, the documents which you will
find in the library."

There exists, in other words, in all classes of American society
to-day, just as there existed during the Revolution, during the
transcendental movement, or the Civil War, an immense mass of
unspiritualized, unvitalized American manhood and womanhood. No
literature comes from it and no religion, though there is much human
kindness, much material progress, and some indestructible residuum of
that idealism which lifts man above the brute.

Yet the curious and the endlessly fascinating thing about these forces
of reaction is that they themselves shift and change. We have seen that
external romance depending upon strangeness of scene, novelty of
adventure, rich atmospheric distance of space or time, disappears with
the changes of civilization. The farm expands over the wolf's den, the
Indian becomes a blacksmith, but do the gross and material instincts
ultimately triumph? He would be a hardy prophet who should venture to
assert it. We must reckon always with the swing of the human pendulum,
with the reaction against reaction. Here, for example, during the last
decade, has been book after book written about the reaction against
democracy. All over the world, it is asserted, there are unmistakable
signs that democracy will not practically work in the face of the
modern tasks to which the world has set itself. One reads these books,
one persuades himself that the hour for democracy is passing, and then
one goes out on the street and buys a morning newspaper and discovers
that democracy has scored again. So is it with the experience of the
individual. You may fancy that the romance of the seas passes, for you,
with the passing of the square-sailed ship. If Mr. Kipling's poetry
cannot rouse you from that mood of reaction, walk down to the end of
the pier to-morrow and watch the ocean liner come up the harbor. If
there is no romance there, you do not know romance when you see it!

Take the case of the farmer; his prosaic life is the butt of the
newspaper paragraphers from one end of the country to the other. But
does romance disappear from the farm with machinery and scientific
agriculture? There are farmers who follow Luther Burbank's experiments
with plants, with all the fascination which used to attach to alchemy
and astrology. The farmer has no longer Indians to fight or a
wilderness to subdue, but the soils of his farm are analyzed at his
state university by men who live in the daily atmosphere of the romance
of science, and who say, as a professor in the University of Chicago
said once, that "a flower is so wonderful that if you knew what was
going on within its cell-structure, you would be afraid to stay alone
with it in the dark."

The reaction from romance, therefore, real as it is, and dead weight as
it lies upon the soul of the nation, often breeds the very forces which
destroy it. In other words, the reaction against one type of romance
produces inevitably another type of romance, other aspects of wonder,
terror, and beauty. Following the romance of adventure comes, after
never so deep a trough in the sea, the romance of science, like the
crest of another wave; and then comes what we call, for lack of a
better word, the psychological romance, the old mystery and strangeness
of the human soul, Æschylus and Job, as Victor Hugo says, in the poor
crawfish gatherer on the rocks of Brittany.

We must remember that we are endeavoring to measure great spaces and to
take account of the "amplitude of time." The individual "fact-man," as
Coleridge called him, remains perhaps a fact-man to the end, just as
the dreamer may remain a dreamer. But no single generation is
compounded all of fact or all of dream. Longfellow felt, no doubt, that
there was an ideal United States, which Dickens did not discover
during that first visit of 1842; he would have set the Cambridge which
he knew over against the Cincinnati viewed by Mrs. Trollope; he would
have asserted that the homes characterized by refinement, by
cultivation, by pure and simple sentiment, made up the true America.
But even among Longfellow's own contemporaries there was Whitman, who
felt that the true America was something very different from that
exquisitely tempered ideal of Longfellow. There was Thoreau, who, over
in Concord, had been pushing forward the frontier of the mind and
senses, who had opened his back-yard gate, as it were, upon the
boundless and mysterious territory of Nature. There was Emerson, who
was preaching an intellectual independence of the Old World which
should correspond to the political and social independence of the
Western Hemisphere. There was Parkman, whose hatred of philanthropy,
whose lack of spirituality, is a striking illustration of the rebound
of New England idealism against itself, of the reaction into stoicism.
What different worlds these men lived in, and yet they were all
inhabitants, so to speak, of the same parish; most of them met often
around the same table! The lesson of their variety of experience and
differences of gifts as workmen in that great palace of literature
which is so variously built, is that no action and reaction in the
imaginative world is ever final. Least of all do these actions and
reactions affect the fortunes of true romance. The born dreamer may
fall from one dream into another, but he still murmurs, in the famous
line of William Ellery Channing,--

     "If my bark sinks, 't is to another sea."

No line in our literature is more truly American,--unless it be that
other splendid metaphor, by David Wasson, which says the same thing in
other words:--

    "Life's gift outruns my fancies far,
       And drowns the dream
       In larger stream,
     As morning drinks the morning-star."


Humor and Satire

A distinguished professor in the Harvard Divinity School once began a
lecture on Comedy by saying that the study of the comic had made him
realize for the first time that a joke was one of the most solemn
things in the world. The analysis of humor is no easy matter. It is
hard to say which is the more dreary: an essay on humor illustrated by
a series of jokes, or an exposition of humor in the technical terms of
philosophy. No subject has been more constantly discussed. But it
remains difficult to decide what humor is. It is easier to declare what
seemed humorous to our ancestors, or what seems humorous to us to-day.
For humor is a shifting thing. The well-known collections of the
writings of American humorists surprise us by their revelation of the
changes in public taste. Humor--or the sense of humor--alters while we
are watching. What seemed a good joke to us yesterday seems but a poor
joke to-day. And yet it is the same joke! What is true of the
individual is all the more true of the national sense of humor. This
vast series of kaleidoscopic changes which we call America; has it
produced a humor of its own?

Let us avoid for the moment the treacherous territory of definitions.
Let us, rather, take one concrete example: a pair of men, a knight and
his squire, who for three hundred years have ridden together down the
broad highway of the world's imagination. Everybody sees that Don
Quixote and Sancho Panza are humorous. Define them as you
will--idealist and realist, knight and commoner, dreamer and
proverb-maker--these figures represent to all the world two poles of
human experience. A Frenchman once said that all of us are Don Quixotes
on one day and Sancho Panzas on the next. Humor springs from this
contrast. It is the electric flash between the two poles of experience.

Most philosophers who have meditated upon the nature of the comic point
out that it is closely allied with the tragic. Flaubert once compared
our human idealism to the flight of a swallow; at one moment it is
soaring toward the sunset, at the next moment some one shoots it and it
tumbles into the mud with blood upon its glistening wings. The sudden
poignant contrast between light, space, freedom, and the wounded
bleeding bird in the mud, is of the very essence of tragedy. But
something like that is always happening in comedy. There is the same
element of incongruity, without the tragic consequence. It is only the
humorist who sees things truly because he sees both the greatness and
the littleness of mortals; but even he may not know whether to laugh or
to cry at what he sees. Those collisions and contrasts out of which the
stuff of tragedy is woven, such as the clash between the higher and
lower nature of a man, between his past and his present, between one's
duties to himself and to his family or the state, between, in a word,
his character and his situation, are all illustrated in comedy as
completely as in tragedy. The countryman in the city, the city man in
the country, is in a comic situation. Here is a coward named Falstaff,
and Shakespeare puts him into battle. Here is a vain person, and
Malvolio is imprisoned and twitted by a clown. Here is an ignoramus,
and Dogberry is placed on the judge's bench. These contrasts might,
indeed, be tragic enough, but they are actually comic. Such characters
are not ruled by fate but by a sportive chance. The gods connive at
them. They are ruled, like tragic characters, by necessity and
blindness; but the blindness, instead of leading to tragic ruin, leads
only to being caught as in some harmless game of blind-man's-buff.
There is retribution, but Falstaff is only pinched by the fairies.
Comedy of intrigue and comedy of character lead to no real catastrophe.
The end of it on the stage is not death but matrimony; and "home well
pleased we go."

A thousand definitions of humor lay stress upon this element of
incongruity. Hazlitt begins his illuminating lectures on the Comic
Writers by declaring, "Man is the only animal that laughs or weeps; for
he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what
things are and what they ought to be." James Russell Lowell took the
same ground. "Humor," he said once, "lies in the contrast of two ideas.
It is the universal disenchanter. It is the sense of comic
contradiction which arises from the perpetual comment which the
understanding makes upon the impressions received through the
imagination." If that sentence seems too abstract, all we need do is to
think of Sancho Panza, the man of understanding, talking about Don
Quixote, the man of imagination.

We must not multiply quotations, but it is impossible not to remember
the distinction made by Carlyle in writing about Richter. "True humor,"
says Carlyle, "springs not more from the head than from the heart. It
is not contempt; its essence is love." In other words, not merely the
great humorists of the world's literature--Cervantes, Rabelais,
Fielding, Thackeray, Dickens--but the writers of comic paragraphs for
to-morrow's newspaper, all regard our human incongruities with a sort
of affection. The comic spirit is essentially a social spirit. The
great figures of tragedy are solitary. The immortal figures of comedy
belong to a social group.

No recent discussion of humor is more illuminating and more directly
applicable to the conditions of American life than that of the
contemporary French philosopher Bergson. Bergson insists throughout
his brilliant little book on _Laughter_ that laughter is a social
function. Life demands elasticity. Hence whatever is stiff, automatic,
machine-like, excites a smile. We laugh when a person gives us the
impression of being a thing,--a sort of mechanical toy. Every
inadaptation of the individual to society is potentially comic. Thus
laughter becomes a social initiation. It is a kind of hazing which we
visit upon one another. But we do not isolate the comic personage as we
do the solitary, tragic figure. The comic personage is usually a type;
he is one of an absurd group; he is a miser, a pedant, a pretentious
person, a doctor or a lawyer in whom the professional traits have
become automatic so that he thinks more of his professional behavior
than he does of human health and human justice. Of all these separatist
tendencies, laughter is the great corrective. When the individual
becomes set in his ways, obstinate, preoccupied, automatic, the rest of
us laugh him out of it if we can. Of course all that we are thinking
about at the moment is his ridiculousness. But nevertheless, by
laughing we become the saviors of society.

No one, I think, can help observing that this conception of humor as
incongruity is particularly applicable to a new country. On the new
soil and under the new sky, in new social groupings, all the
fundamental contrasts and absurdities of our human society assume a new
value. We see them under a fresh light. They are differently focussed.
The broad humors of the camp, its swift and picturesque play of light
and shade, its farce and caricature no less than its atmosphere of
comradeship, of sentiment, and of daring, are all transferred to the
humor of the newly settled country. The very word "humor" once meant
singularity of character, "some extravagant habit, passion, or
affection," says Dryden, "particular to some one person." Every newly
opened country encourages, for a while, this oddness and incongruity of
individual character. It fosters it, and at the same moment it laughs
at it. It decides that such characters are "humorous." As the social
conditions of such a country change, the old pioneer instinct for
humor, and the pioneer forms of humor, may endure, though the actual
frontier may have moved far westward.

There is another conception of humor scarcely less famous than the
notion of incongruity. It is the conception associated with the name of
the English philosopher Hobbes, who thought that humor turned upon a
sense of superiority. "The passion of laughter," said Hobbes, "is
nothing else but sudden glory arising from some sudden conception of
some eminency in ourselves by comparison with the inferiority of
others, or with our own formerly." Too cynical a view, declare many
critics, but they usually end by admitting that there is a good deal in
it after all. I am inclined to think that Hobbes's famous definition is
more applicable to wit than it is to humor. Wit is more purely
intellectual than humor. It rejoices in its little triumphs. It
requires, as has been remarked, a good head, while humor takes a good
heart, and fun good spirits. If you take Carlyle literally when he says
that humor is love, you cannot wholly share Hobbes's conviction that
laughter turns upon a sense of superiority, and yet surely we all
experience a sense of kindly amusement which turns upon the fact that
we, the initiated, are superior, for the moment, to the unlucky person
who is just having his turn in being hazed. It may be the play of
intellect or the coarser play of animal spirits. One might venture to
make a distinction between the low comedy of the Latin races and the
low comedy of the Germanic races by pointing out that the superiority
in the Latin comedy usually turns upon quicker wits, whereas the
superiority in the Germanic farce is likely to turn upon stouter
muscles. But whether it be a play of wits or of actual cudgelling, the
element of superiority and inferiority is almost always there.

I remember that some German, I dare say in a forgotten lecture-room,
once illustrated the humor of superiority in this way. A company of
strolling players sets up its tent in a country village. On the front
seat is a peasant, laughing at the antics of the clown. The peasant
flatters himself that he sees through those practical jokes on the
stage; the clown ought to have seen that he was about to be tripped up,
but he was too stupid. But the peasant saw that it was coming all the
time. He laughs accordingly. Just behind the peasant sits the village
shopkeeper. He has watched stage clowns many a time and he laughs, not
at the humor of the farce, but at the naïve laughter of the peasant in
front of him. He, the shopkeeper, is superior to such broad and obvious
humor as that. Behind the shopkeeper sits the schoolmaster. The
schoolmaster is a pedant; he has probably lectured to his boys on the
theory of humor, and he smiles in turn at the smile of superiority on
the face of the shopkeeper. Well, peeping in at the door of the tent is
a man of the world, who glances at the clown, then at the peasant, then
at the shopkeeper, then at the schoolmaster, each one of whom is
laughing at the others, and the man of the world laughs at them all!

Let us take an even simpler illustration. We all know the comfortable
sense of proprietorship which we experience after a few days' sojourn
at a summer hotel. We know our place at the table; we call the head
waiter by his first name; we are not even afraid of the clerk. Now into
this hotel, where we sit throned in conscious superiority, comes a new
arrival. He has not yet learned the exits and entrances. He starts for
the kitchen door inadvertently when he should be headed for the
drawing-room. We smile at him. Why? Precisely because that was what we
did on the morning of our own arrival. We have been initiated, and it
is now his turn.

If it is true that a newly settled country offers endless opportunities
for the humor which turns upon incongruity, it is also true that the
new country offers countless occasions for the humor which turns upon
the sudden glory of superiority. The backwoodsman is amusing to the man
of the settlements, and the backwoodsman, in turn, gets his full share
of amusement out of watching the "tenderfoot" in the woods. It is
simply the case of the old resident versus the newcomer. The
superiority need be in no sense a cruel or taunting superiority,
although it often happens to be so. The humor of the pioneers is not
very delicately polished. The joke of the frontier tavern or grocery
store is not always adapted to a drawing-room audience, but it turns in
a surprisingly large number of instances upon exactly the same
intellectual or social superiority which gives point to the _bon mots_
of the most cultivated and artificial society in the world.

The humor arising from incongruity, then, and the humor arising from a
sense of superiority, are both of them social in their nature. No less
social, surely, is the function of satire. It is possible that satire
may be decaying, that it is becoming, if it has not already become, a
mere splendid or odious tradition. But let us call it a great tradition
and, upon the whole, a splendid one. Even when debased to purely party
or personal uses, the verse satire of a Dryden retains its magnificent
resonance; "the ring," says Saintsbury, "as of a great bronze coin
thrown down on marble." The malignant couplets of an Alexander Pope
still gleam like malevolent jewels through the dust of two hundred
years. The cynicism, the misanthropy, the mere adolescent badness of
Byron are powerless to clip the wings of the wide-ranging, far-darting
wit and humor and irony of _Don Juan_. The homely Yankee dialect, the
provinciality, the "gnarly" flavor of the _Biglow Papers_ do not
prevent our finding in that pungent and resplendent satire the powers
of Lowell at full play; and, what is more than that, the epitome of the
American spirit in a moral crisis.

I take the names of those four satirists, Dryden, Pope, Byron, and
Lowell, quite at random; but they serve to illustrate a significant
principle; namely, that great satire becomes ennobled as it touches
communal, not merely individual interests, as it voices social and not
merely individual ideals. Those four modern satirists were steeped in
the nationalistic political poetry of the Old Testament. They were
familiar with its war anthems, dirges, and prophecies, its concern for
the prosperity and adversity, the sin and the punishment, of a people.
Here the writers of the Golden Age of English satire found their
vocabulary and phrase-book, their grammar of politics and history,
their models of good and evil kings; and in that Biblical school of
political poetry, which has affected our literature from the
Reformation down to Mr. Kipling, there has always been a class in
satire! The satirical portraits, satirical lyrics, satirical parables
of the Old Testament prophets are only less noteworthy than their
audacity in striking high and hard. Their foes were the all-powerful:
Babylon and Assyria and Egypt loom vast and terrible upon the canvases
of Isaiah and Ezekiel; and poets of a later time have learned there the
secrets of social and political idealism, and the signs of national

There are two familiar types of satire associated with the names of
Horace and Juvenal. Both types are abundantly illustrated in English
and American literature. When you meet a bore or a hypocrite or a plain
rascal, is it better to chastise him with laughter or to flay him with
shining fury? I shall take both horns of the dilemma and assert that
both methods are admirable and socially useful. The minor English and
American poets of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were never
weary of speaking of satire as a terrific weapon which they were forced
to wield as saviors of society. But whether they belonged to the urbane
school of Horace, or to the severely moralistic school of Juvenal, they
soon found themselves falling into one or the other of two modes of
writing. They addressed either the little audience or the big audience,
and they modified their styles accordingly. The great satirists of the
Renaissance, for example, like More, Erasmus, and Rabelais, wrote
simply for the persons who were qualified to understand them. More and
Erasmus wrote their immortal satires in Latin. By so doing they
addressed themselves to cultivated Europe. They ran no risk of being
misunderstood by persons for whom the joke was not intended. All
readers of Latin were like members of one club. Of course membership
was restricted to the learned, but had not Horace talked about being
content with a few readers, and was not Voltaire coming by and by with
the advice to try for the "little public"?

The typical wit of the eighteenth century, whether in London, Paris, or
in Franklin's printing-shop in Philadelphia, had, of course, abandoned
Latin. But it still addressed itself to the "little public," to the
persons who were qualified to understand. The circulation of the
_Spectator_, which represents so perfectly the wit, humor, and satire
of the early eighteenth century in England, was only about ten thousand
copies. This limited audience smiled at the urbane delicate touches of
Mr. Steele and Mr. Addison. They understood the allusions. The fable
concerned them and not the outsiders. It was something like Oliver
Wendell Holmes reading his witty and satirical couplets to an audience
of Harvard alumni. The jokes are in the vernacular, but in a vernacular
as spoken in a certain social medium. It is all very delightful.

But there is a very different kind of audience gathering all this while
outside the Harvard gates. These two publics for the humorist we may
call the invited and the uninvited; the inner circle and the outer
circle: first, those who have tickets for the garden party, and who
stroll over the lawn, decorously gowned and properly coated, conversing
with one another in the accepted social accents and employing the
recognized social adjectives; and second, the crowd outside the
gates,--curious, satirical, good-natured in the main, straightforward
of speech and quick to applaud a ready wit or a humor-loving eye or a
telling phrase spoken straight from the heart of the mob.

Will an author choose to address the selected guests or the casual
crowd? Either way lies fame, if one does it well. Your uninvited men
find themselves talking to the uninvited crowd. Before they know it
they are famous too. They are fashioning another manner of speech.
Defoe is there, with his saucy ballads selling triumphantly under his
very pillory; with his _True-Born Englishman_ puncturing forever the
fiction of the honorable ancestry of the English aristocracy; with his
_Crusoe_ and _Moll Flanders_, written, as Lamb said long afterwards,
for the servant-maid and the sailor. Swift is there, with his terrific
_Drapier's Letters_, anonymous, aimed at the uneducated, with cold fury
bludgeoning a government into obedience; with his _Gulliver's Travels_,
so transparent upon the surface that a child reads the book with
delight and remains happily ignorant that it is a satire upon humanity.
And then, into the London of Defoe and Swift, and into the very centre
of the middle-class mob, steps, in 1724, the bland Benjamin Franklin in
search of a style "smooth, clear, and short," and for half a century,
with consummate skill, shapes that style to his audience. His young
friend Thomas Paine takes the style and touches it with passion, until
he becomes the perfect pamphleteer, and his _Crisis_ is worth as much
to our Revolution--men said--as the sword of Washington. After another
generation the gaunt Lincoln, speaking that same plain prose of Defoe,
Swift, Franklin, and Paine,--Lincoln who began his first Douglas
debate, not like his cultivated opponent with the conventional "Ladies
and Gentlemen," but with the ominously intimate, "My Fellow
Citizens,"--Lincoln is saying, "I am not master of language; I have not
a fine education; I am not capable of entering into a disquisition upon
dialectics, as I believe you call it; but I do not believe the
language I employed bears any such construction as Judge Douglas puts
upon it. But I don't care about a quibble in regard to words. I know
what I meant, and _I will not leave this crowd in doubt_, if I can
explain it to them, what I really meant in the use of that paragraph."

"_I will not leave this crowd in doubt_"; that is the final accent of
our spoken prose, the prose addressed to one's fellow citizens, to the
great public. This is the prose spoken in the humor and satire of
Dickens. Dressed in a queer dialect, and put into satirical verse, it
is the language of the _Biglow Papers_. Uttered with the accent of a
Chicago Irishman, it is the prose admired by millions of the countrymen
of "Mr. Dooley."

Satire written to the "little public" tends toward the social type;
that written to the "great public" to the political type. It is obvious
that just as a newly settled country offers constant opportunity for
the humor of incongruity and the humor arising from a sense of
superiority, it likewise affords a daily stimulus to the use of satire.
That moralizing Puritan strain of censure which lost none of its
harshness in crossing the Atlantic Ocean found full play in the
colonial satire of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As the
topics for satire grew wider and more political in their scope, the
audiences increased. To-day the very oldest issues of the common life
of that queer "political animal" named man are discussed by our popular
newspaper satirists in the presence of a democratic audience that
stretches from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

Is there, then, a distinctly American type of humor and satire? I think
it would be difficult to prove that our composite American nationality
has developed a mode of humor and satire which is racially different
from the humor and satire of the Old World. All racial lines in
literature are extremely difficult to draw. If you attempt to analyze
English humor, you find that it is mostly Scotch or Irish. If you put
Scotch and Irish humor under the microscope, you discover that most of
the best Scotch and Irish jokes are as old as the Greeks and the
Egyptians. You pick up a copy of _Fliegende Blätter_ and you get keen
amusement from its revelation of German humor. But how much of this
humor, after all, is either essentially universal in its scope or else
a matter of mere stage-setting and machinery? Without the Prussian
lieutenant the _Fliegende Blätter_ would lose half its point; nor can
one imagine a _Punch_ without a picture of the English policeman. The
lieutenant and the policeman, however, are a part of the accepted
social furniture of the two countries. They belong to the decorative
background of the social drama. They heighten the effectiveness of
local humor, but it may be questioned whether they afford any evidence
of genuine racial differentiation as to the sense of the comic.

What one can abundantly prove, however, is that the United States
afford a new national field for certain types of humor and satire. Our
English friends are never weary of writing magazine articles about
Yankee humor, in which they explain the peculiarities of the American
joke with a dogmatism which has sometimes been thought to prove that
there is such a thing as national lack of humor, whether there be such
a thing as national humor or not. One such article, I remember,
endeavored to prove that the exaggeration often found in American
humor was due to the vastness of the American continent. Our geography,
that is to say, is too much for the Yankee brain. Mr. Birrell, an
expert judge of humor, surely, thinks that the characteristic of
American humor lies in its habit of speaking of something hideous in a
tone of levity. Many Englishmen, in fact, have been as much impressed
with this minimizing trick of American humor as with the converse trick
of magnifying. Upon the Continent the characteristic trait of American
humor has often been thought to be its exuberance of phrase. Many
shrewd judges of our newspaper humor have pointed out that one of its
most favorite methods is the suppression of one link in the chain of
logical reasoning. Such generalizations as these are always
interesting, although they may not take us very far.

Yet it is clear that certain types of humor and satire have proved to
be specially adapted to the American soil and climate. Whether or not
these types are truly indigenous one may hesitate to say, yet it
remains true that the well-known conditions of American life have
stimulated certain varieties of humor into such a richness of
manifestation as the Old World can scarcely show.

Curiously enough, one of the most perfected types of American humor is
that urbane Horatian variety which has often been held to be the
exclusive possession of the cultivated and restricted societies of
older civilization. Yet it is precisely this kind of humor which has
been the delight of some of the most typical American minds. Benjamin
Franklin, for example, modelled his style and his sense of the humorous
on the papers of the _Spectator_. He produced humorous fables and
apologues, choice little morsels of social and political persiflage,
which were perfectly suited, not merely to the taste of London in the
so-called golden age of English satire, but to the tone of the wittiest
salons of Paris in the age when the old régime went tottering, talking,
quoting, jesting to its fall. Read Franklin's charming and wise letter
to Madame Brillon about giving too much for the whistle. It is the
perfection of well-bred humor: a humor very American, very Franklinian,
although its theme and tone and phrasing might well have been envied by
Horace or Voltaire.

The gentle humor of Irving is marked by precisely those traits of
urbanity and restraint which characterize the parables of Franklin.
Does not the _Autocrat of the Breakfast Table_ itself presuppose the
existence of a truly cultivated society? Its tone--"As I was saying
when I was interrupted"--is the tone of the intimate circle. There was
so much genuine humanity in the gay little doctor that persons born
outside the circle of Harvard College and the North Shore and Boston
felt themselves at once initiated by the touch of his merry wand into a
humanized, kindly theory of life. The humor of George William Curtis
had a similarly mellow and ripened quality. It is a curious comment
upon that theory of Americans which represents us primarily as a
loud-voiced, assertive, headstrong people, to be thus made aware that
many of the humorists whom we have loved best are precisely those whose
writing has been marked by the most delicate restraint, whose theory of
life has been the most highly urbane and civilized, whose work is
indistinguishable in tone--though its materials are so different--from
that of other humorous writers on the other side of the Atlantic. On
its social side all this is a fresh proof of the extraordinary
adaptability of the American mind. On the literary side it is one more
evidence of the national fondness for neatness and perfection of

But we are something other than a nation of mere lovers and would-be
imitators of Charles Lamb. The moralistic type of humor, the crack of
Juvenal's whip, as well as the delicate Horatian playing around the
heart-strings, has characterized our humor and satire from the
beginning. At bottom the American is serious. Beneath the surface of
his jokes there is moral earnestness, there is ethical passion. Take,
for example, some of the apothegms of "Josh Billings." He failed with
the public until he took up the trick of misspelling his words. When he
had once gained his public he sometimes delighted them with sheer
whimsical incongruity, like this:--

    "There iz 2 things in this life for which we are never fully
    prepared, and that iz twins."

But more often the tone is really grave. It is only the spelling that
is queer. The moralizing might be by La Bruyère or La Rochefoucauld.
Take this:--

    "Life iz short, but it iz long enuff to ruin enny man who
    wants tew be ruined."

Or this:--

    "When a feller gits a goin doun hill, it dus seem as tho evry
    thing had bin greased for the okashun." That is what writers
    of tragedy have been showing, ever since the Greeks!

Or finally, this, which has the perfect tone of the great French

    "It iz a verry delicate job to forgive a man without lowering
    him in his own estimashun, and yures too."

See how the moralistic note is struck in the field of political satire.
It is 1866, and "Petroleum V. Nasby," writing from "Confedrit X Roads,"
Kentucky, gives Deekin Pogram's views on education. "He didn't bleeve
in edjucashun, generally speekin. The common people was better off
without it, ez edjucashun hed a tendency to unsettle their minds. He
had seen the evil effex ov it in niggers and poor whites. So soon ez a
nigger masters the spellin book and gits into noosepapers, he becomes
dissatisfied with his condishin, and hankers after a better cabin and
more wages. He towunst begins to insist onto ownin land hisself, and
givin his children edjucashun, and, ez a nigger, for our purposes, aint
worth a soo markee."

The single phrase, "ez a nigger," spells a whole chapter of American

That quotation from "Petroleum V. Nasby" serves also to illustrate a
species of American humor which has been of immense historical
importance and which has never been more active than it is to-day: the
humor, namely, of local, provincial, and sectional types. Much of this
falls under Bergson's conception of humor as social censure. It rebukes
the extravagance, the rigidity, the unawareness of the individual who
fails to adapt himself to his social environment. It takes the place,
in our categories of humor, of those types of class humor and satire in
which European literature is so rich. The mobility of our population,
the constant shifting of professions and callings, has prevented our
developing fixed class types of humor. We have not even the lieutenant
or the policeman as permanent members of our humorous stock company.
The policeman of to-day may be mayor or governor to-morrow. The
lieutenant may go back to his grocery wagon or on to his department
store. But whenever and wherever such an individual fails to adapt
himself to his new companions, fails to take on, as it were, the colors
of his new environment, to speak in the new social accents, to follow
the recognized patterns of behavior, then the kindly whip of the
humorist is already cracking round his ears. The humor and satire of
college undergraduate journalism turns mainly upon the recognized
ability or inability of different individuals to adapt themselves to
their changing pigeon-holes in the college organism. A freshman must
behave like a freshman, or he is laughed at. Yet he must not behave as
if he were nothing but the automaton of a freshman, or he will be
laughed at more merrily still.

One of the first discoveries of our earlier humorists was the Down-East
Yankee. "I'm going to Portland whether or no," says Major Jack Downing,
telling the story of his boyhood; "I'll see what this world is made of
yet. So I tackled up the old horse and packed in a load of ax handles
and a few notions, and mother fried me a few doughnuts ... for I told
her I didn't know how long I should be gone,"--and off he goes to
Portland, to see what the world is made of. It is a little like Defoe,
and a good deal like the young Ulysses, bent upon knowing cities and
men and upon getting the best of bargains.

Each generation of Americans has known something like that trip to
Portland. Each generation has had to measure its wits, its resources,
its manners, against new standards of comparison. At every stage of the
journey there are mishaps and ridiculous adventures; but everywhere,
likewise, there is zest, conquest, initiation; the heart of a boy who
"wants to know"--as the Yankees used to say; or, in more modern

            "to admire and for to see,
    For to behold this world so wide."

There is the same romance of adventure in the humor concerning the
Irishman, the Negro, the Dutchman, the Dago, the farmer. Each in turn
becomes humorous through failure to adapt himself to the prevalent
type. A long-bearded Jew is not ridiculous in Russia, but he rapidly
becomes ridiculous even on the East Side of New York. Underneath all
this popular humor of the comic supplements one may catch glimpses of
the great revolving wheels which are crushing the vast majority of our
population into something like uniformity. It is a process of social
attrition. The sharp edges of individual behavior get rounded off. The
individual loses color and picturesqueness, precisely as he casts aside
the national costume of the land from which he came. His speech, his
gait, his demeanor, become as nearly as possible like the speech and
carriage of all his neighbors. If he resists, he is laughed at; and if
he does not personally heed the laughter, he may be sure that his
children do. It is the children of our immigrants who catch the sly
smiles of their school-fellows, who overhear jokes from the newspapers
and on the street corners, who bring home to their foreign-born fathers
and mothers the imperious childish demand to make themselves like unto
everybody else.

A similar social function is performed by that well-known mode of
American humor which ridicules the inhabitants of certain states. Why
should New Jersey, for example, be more ridiculous than Delaware? In
the eyes of the newspaper paragrapher it unquestionably is, just as
Missouri has more humorous connotations than Kentucky. We may think we
understand why we smile when a man says that he comes from Kalamazoo
or Oshkosh, but the smile when he says "Philadelphia" or "Boston" or
"Brooklyn" is only a trifle more subtle. It is none the less real. Why
should the suburban dweller of every city be regarded with humorous
condescension by the man who is compelled to sleep within the city
limits? No one can say, and yet without that humor of the suburbs the
comic supplements of American newspapers would be infinitely less
entertaining,--to the people who enjoy comic supplements.

So it is with the larger divisions of our national life. Yankee,
Southerner, Westerner, Californian, Texan, each type provokes certain
connotations of humor when viewed by any of the other types. Each type
in turn has its note of provinciality when compared with the norm of
the typical American. It is quite possible to maintain that our
literature, like our social life, has suffered by this ever-present
American sense of the ridiculous. Our social consciousness might be far
more various and richly colored, there might be more true provincial
independence of speech and custom and imagination if we had not to
reckon with this ever-present censure of laughter, this fear of
finding ourselves, our city, our section, out of touch with the
prevalent tone and temper of the country as a whole. It is one of the
forfeits we are bound to pay when we play the great absorbing game of

We are now ready to ask once more whether there is a truly national
type of American humor. Viewed exclusively from the standpoint of
racial characteristics, we have seen that this question as to a
national type of humor is difficult to answer. But we have seen with
equal clearness that the United States has offered a singularly rich
field for the development of the sense of humor; and furthermore that
there are certain specialized forms of humor which have flourished
luxuriantly upon our soil. Our humorists have made the most of their
native materials. Every pioneer trait of versatility, curiosity,
shrewdness, has been turned somehow to humorous account. The very
institutions of democracy, moulding day by day and generation after
generation the habits and the mental characteristics of millions of
men, have produced a social atmosphere in which humor is one of the
most indisputable elements.

I recall a notable essay by Mr. Charles Johnston on the essence of
American humor in which he applies to the conditions of American life
one familiar distinction between humor and wit. Wit, he asserts, scores
off the other man, humor does not. Wit frequently turns upon tribal
differences, upon tribal vanity. The mordant wit of the Jew, for
example, from the literature of the Old Testament down to the raillery
of Heine, has turned largely upon the sense of racial superiority, of
intellectual and moral differences. But true humor, Mr. Johnston goes
on to argue, has always a binding, a uniting quality. Thus Huckleberry
Finn and Jim Hawkins, white man and black man, are afloat together on
the Mississippi River raft and they are made brethren by the fraternal
quality of Mark Twain's humor. Thus the levelling quality of Bret
Harte's humor bridges social and moral chasms. It creates an atmosphere
of charity and sympathy. In fact, the typical American humor, according
to the opinion of Mr. Johnston, emphasizes the broad and humane side of
our common nature. It reveals the common soul. It possesses a
surplusage of power, of buoyancy and of conquest over circumstances.
It means at its best a humanizing of our hearts.

Some people will think that all this is too optimistic, but if you are
not optimistic enough you cannot keep up with the facts. Certain it is
that the pioneers of American national humor, the creators of what we
may call the "all-American" type of humor, have possessed precisely the
qualities which Mr. Johnston has pointed out. They are apparent in the
productions of Artemus Ward. The present generation vaguely remembers
Artemus Ward as the man who was willing to send all his wife's
relatives to the war and who, standing by the tomb of Shakespeare,
thought it "a success." But no one who turns to the almost forgotten
pages of that kindly jester can fail to be impressed by his sunny
quality, by the atmosphere of fraternal affection which glorifies his
queer spelling and his somewhat threadbare witticisms. Mark Twain, who
is universally recognized by Europeans as a representative of typical
American humor, had precisely those qualities of pioneer curiosity,
swift versatility, absolute democracy, which are characteristic of the
national temper. His lively accounts of frontier experiences in
_Roughing It_, his comments upon the old world in _Innocents Abroad_
and _A Tramp Abroad_, his hatred of pretence and injustice, his scorn
at sentimentality coupled with his insistence upon the rights of
sentiment, in a word his persistent idealism, make Mark Twain one of
the most representative of American writers. Largeness, freedom, human
sympathy, are revealed upon every page.

It is true that the dangers of American humor are no less in evidence
there. There is the danger of extravagance, which in Mark Twain's
earlier writings was carried to lengths of absurdity. There is the old
danger of the professional humorist of fearing to fail to score his
point, and so of underscoring it with painful reiteration. Mark Twain
is frequently grotesque. Sometimes there is evidence of imperfect
taste, or of bad taste. Sometimes there is actual vulgarity. In his
earlier books particularly there is revealed that lack of discipline
which has been such a constant accompaniment of American writing. Yet a
native of Hannibal, Missouri, trained on a river steamboat and in a
country printing-office and in mining-camps, can scarcely be expected
to exhibit the finely balanced critical sense of a Matthew Arnold.
Mark Twain was often accused in the first years of his international
reputation of a characteristically American lack of reverence. He is
often irreverent. But here again the boundaries of his irreverence are
precisely those which the national instinct itself has drawn. The joke
stops short of certain topics which the American mind holds sacred. We
all have our favorite pages in the writings of this versatile and
richly endowed humorist, but I think no one can read his description of
the coyote in _Roughing It_, and Huckleberry Finn's account of his
first visit to the circus, without realizing that in this fresh
revelation of immemorial human curiosity, this vivid perception of
incongruity and surprise, this series of lightning-like flashes from
one pole of experience to the other, we have not only masterpieces of
world humor, but a revelation of a distinctly American reaction to the
facts presented by universal experience.

The picturesque personality and the extraordinarily successful career
of Mark Twain kept him, during the last twenty-five years of his life,
in the focus of public attention. But no one can read the pages of the
older American humorists,--or try to recall to mind the names of
paragraphers who used to write comic matter for this or that
newspaper,--without realizing how swiftly the dust of oblivion settles
upon all the makers of mere jokes. It is enough, perhaps, that they
caused a smile for the moment. Even those humorists who mark epochs in
the history of American provincial and political satire, like Seba
Smith with his _Major Jack Downing_, Newell with his _Papers of Orpheus
C. Kerr_, "Petroleum V. Nasby's" _Letters from the Confedrit X Roads_,
Shillaber's _Mrs. Partington_--all these have disappeared round the
turn of the long road.

    "Hans Breitman gife a barty--
    Vhere ish dot barty now?"

It seems as if the conscious humorists, the professional funny writers,
had the shortest lease of literary life. They play their little comic
parts before a well-disposed but restless audience which is already
impatiently waiting for some other "turn." One of them makes a hit with
a song or story, just as a draughtsman for a Sunday colored supplement
makes a hit with his "Mutt and Jeff." For a few months everybody
smiles and then comes the long oblivion. The more permanent American
humor has commonly been written by persons who were almost unconscious,
not indeed of the fact that they were creating humorous characters, but
unconscious of the effort to provoke a laugh. The smile lasts longer
than the laugh. Perhaps that is the secret. One smiles as one reads the
delicate sketches of Miss Jewett. One smiles over the stories of Owen
Wister and of Thomas Nelson Page. The trouble, possibly, with the
enduring qualities of the brilliant humorous stories of "O. Henry" was
that they tempt the reader to laugh too much and to smile too little.
When one reads the _Legend of Sleepy Hollow_ or _Diedrich
Knickerbocker's History of New York_, it is always with this gentle
parting of the lips, this kindly feeling toward the author, his
characters and the world. A humorous page which produces that effect
for generation after generation, has the stamp of literature. One may
doubt whether even the extraordinary fantasies of Mark Twain are more
successful, judged by the mere vulgar test of concrete results, than
the delicate humor of Charles Lamb. Our current newspaper and magazine
humor is in no respect more fascinating than in its suggestion as to
the permanent effectiveness of its comic qualities. Who could say, when
he first read Mr. Finley P. Dunne's "Mr. Dooley" sketches, whether this
was something that a whole nation of readers would instantly and
instinctively rejoice over, would find a genial revelation of American
characteristics, would recognize as almost the final word of kindly
satire upon our overworked, over-excited, over-anxious,
over-self-conscious generation?

The range of this contemporary newspaper and magazine humor is
well-nigh universal,--always saving, it is true, certain topics or
states of mind which the American public cannot regard as topics for
laughter. With these few exceptions nothing is too high or too low for
it. The paragraphers joke about the wheel-barrow, the hen, the mule,
the mother-in-law, the President of the United States. There is no
ascending or descending scale of importance. Any of the topics can
raise a laugh. If one examines a collection of American parodies, one
will find that the happy national talent for fun-making finds full
scope in the parody and burlesque of the dearest national sentiments.
But no one minds; everybody believes that the sentiments endure while
the jokes will pass. The jokes, intended as they are for an immense
audience, necessarily lack subtlety. They tend to partake of the
methods of pictorial caricature. Indeed, caricature itself, as Bergson
has pointed out, emphasizes those "automatic, mechanical-toy" traits of
character and behavior which isolate the individual and make him ill
adapted for his function in society. Our verbal wit and humor, no less
than the pencil of our caricaturists, have this constant note of
exaggeration. "These violent delights have violent ends." But during
their brief and laughing existence they serve to normalize society.
They set up, as it were, a pulpit in the street upon which the comic
spirit may mount and preach her useful sermon to all comers.

Despite the universality of the objects of contemporary American humor,
despite, too, its prevalent method of caricature, it remains true that
its character is, on the whole, clean, easy-going, and kindly. The old
satire of hatred has lost its force. No one knows why. "Satire has
grown weak," says Mr. Chesterton, "precisely because belief has grown
weak." That is one theory. The late Henry D. Lloyd, of Chicago,
declared in one of his last books: "The world has outgrown the dialect
and temper of hatred. The style of the imprecatory psalms and the
denunciating prophets is out of date. No one knows these times if he is
not conscious of this change." That is another theory. Again, party
animosities are surely weaker than they were. Caricatures are less
personally offensive; if you doubt it, look at any of the collections
of caricatures of Napoleon, or of George the Fourth. Irony is less
often used by pamphleteers and journalists. It is a delicate rhetorical
weapon, and journalists who aim at the great public are increasingly
afraid to use it, lest the readers miss the point. In the editorials in
the Hearst newspapers, for instance, there is plenty of invective and
innuendo, but rarely irony: it might not be understood, and the crowd
must not be left in doubt.

Possibly the old-fashioned satire has disappeared because the game is
no longer considered worth the candle. To puncture the tire of
pretence is amusing enough; but it is useless to stick tacks under the
steam road-roller: the road-roller advances remorselessly and smooths
down your mischievous little tacks and you too, indifferently. The huge
interests of politics, trade, progress, override your passionate
protest. "Shall gravitation cease when you go by?" I do not compare
Colonel Roosevelt with gravitation, but have all the satirical squibs
against our famous contemporary, from the "Alone in Cubia" to the
"Teddy-see," ever cost him, in a dozen years, a dozen votes?

Very likely Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Chesterton are right. We are less
censorious than our ancestors were. Americans, on the whole, try to
avoid giving pain through speech. The satirists of the golden age loved
that cruel exercise of power. Perhaps we take things less seriously
than they did; undoubtedly our attention is more distracted and
dissipated. At any rate, the American public finds it easier to forgive
and forget, than to nurse its wrath to keep it warm. Our characteristic
humor of understatement, and our equally characteristic humor of
overstatement, are both likely to be cheery at bottom, though the mere
wording may be grim enough. No popular saying is more genuinely
characteristic of American humor than the familiar "Cheer up. The worst
is yet to come."

Whatever else one may say or leave unsaid about American humor, every
one realizes that it is a fundamentally necessary reaction from the
pressure of our modern living. Perhaps it is a handicap. Perhaps we
joke when we should be praying. Perhaps we make fun when we ought to be
setting our shoulders to the wheel. But the deeper fact is that most
American shoulders are set to the wheel too often and too long, and if
they do not stop for the joke they are done for. I have always
suspected that Mr. Kipling was thinking of American humor when he wrote
in his well-known lines on "The American Spirit":--

    "So imperturbable he rules
      Unkempt, disreputable, vast--
    And in the teeth of all the schools
      I--I shall save him at the last."

That is the very secret of the American sense of humor: the conviction
that something is going to save us at the last. Otherwise there would
be no joke! It is no accident, surely, that the man who is
increasingly idolized as the most representative of all Americans, the
burden-bearer of his people, the man of sorrows and acquainted with
grief, should be our most inveterate humorist. Let Lincoln have his
story and his joke, for he had faith in the saving of the nation; and
while his Cabinet are waiting impatiently to listen to his Proclamation
of Emancipation, give him another five minutes to read aloud to them
that new chapter by Artemus Ward.


Individualism and Fellowship

It would be difficult to find a clearer expression of the old doctrine
of individualism than is uttered by Carlyle in his London lecture on
"The Hero as Man of Letters." Listen to the grim child of Calvinism as
he fires his "Annandale grapeshot" into that sophisticated London
audience: "Men speak too much about the world.... The world's being
saved will not save us; nor the world's being lost destroy us. We
should look to ourselves.... For the saving of the world I will trust
confidently to the Maker of the world; and look a little to my own
saving, which I am more competent to!"

Carlyle was never more soundly Puritanic, never more perfectly within
the lines of the moral traditions of his race than in these injunctions
to let the world go and to care for the individual soul.

We are familiar with the doctrine on this side of the Atlantic. Here is
a single phrase from Emerson's _Journal_ of September, 1833, written on
his voyage home from that memorable visit to Europe where he first made
Carlyle's acquaintance. "Back again to myself," wrote Emerson, as the
five-hundred-ton sailing ship beat her way westward for a long month
across the stormy North Atlantic:--"Back again to myself.--A man
contains all that is needful to his government within himself. He is
made a law unto himself. All real good or evil that can befall him must
be from himself.... The purpose of life seems to be to acquaint a man
with himself."

In the following August he is writing:--

    "Societies, parties, are only incipient stages, tadpole
    states of men, as caterpillars are social, but the butterfly
    not. The true and finished man is ever alone."

On March 23, 1835:--

    "Alone is wisdom. Alone is happiness. Society nowadays makes
    us low-spirited, hopeless. Alone is Heaven."

And once more:--

    "If Æschylus is that man he is taken for, he has not yet
    done his office when he has educated the learned of Europe
    for a thousand years. He is now to approve himself a master
    of delight to me. If he cannot do that, all his fame shall
    avail him nothing. I were a fool not to sacrifice a thousand
    Æschyluses to my intellectual integrity."

These quotations have to do with the personal life. Let me next
illustrate the individualism of the eighteen-thirties by the attitude
of two famous individualists toward the prosaic question of paying
taxes to the State. Carlyle told Emerson that he should pay taxes to
the House of Hanover just as long as the House of Hanover had the
physical force to collect them,--and not a day longer.

Henry Thoreau was even more recalcitrant. Let me quote him:--

    "I have paid no poll-tax for six years. I was put into a jail
    once on this account, for one night; and, as I stood
    considering the walls of solid stone, two or three feet
    thick, the door of wood and iron, a foot thick, and the iron
    grating which strained the light, I could not help being
    struck with the foolishness of that institution which treated
    me as if I were mere flesh and blood and bones, to be locked
    up. I wondered that it should have concluded at length that
    this was the best use it could put me to, and had never
    thought to avail itself of my services in some way. I saw
    that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my
    townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or
    break through before they could get to be as free as I was. I
    did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a
    great waste of stone and mortar. I felt as if I alone of all
    my townsmen had paid my tax. They plainly did not know how to
    treat me, but behaved like persons who are underbred. In
    every threat and in every compliment there was a blunder; for
    they thought that my chief desire was to stand on the other
    side of that stone wall. I could not but smile to see how
    industriously they locked the door on my meditations, which
    followed them out again without let or hindrance, and _they_
    were really all that was dangerous. As they could not reach
    me, they had resolved to punish my body; just as boys, if
    they cannot come at some person against whom they have a
    spite, will abuse his dog. I saw that the State was
    half-witted, that it was timid as a lone woman with her
    silver spoons, and that it did not know its friends from its
    foes, and I lost all my remaining respect for it, and pitied

Here is Thoreau's attitude toward the problems of the inner life. The
three quotations are from his _Walden_:--

    "Probably I should not consciously and deliberately forsake
    my particular calling to do the good which society demands of
    me, to save the universe from annihilation."

    "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
    to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could
    not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die,
    discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what
    was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice
    resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live
    deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily
    and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to
    cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a
    corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved
    to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of
    it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were
    sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a
    true account of it in my next excursion."

    "It is said that the British Empire is very large and
    respectable, and that the United States are a first-rate
    power. We do not believe that a tide rises and falls behind
    every man which can float the British Empire like a chip, if
    he should ever harbor it in his mind."

All of these quotations from Emerson and Thoreau are but various modes
of saying "Let the world go." Everybody knows that in later crises of
American history, both Thoreau and Emerson forgot their old preaching
of individualism, or at least merged it in the larger doctrine of
identification of the individual with the acts and emotions of the
community. And nevertheless as men of letters they habitually laid
stress upon the rights and duties of the private person. Upon a hundred
brilliant pages they preached the gospel that society is in conspiracy
against the individual manhood of every one of its members.

They had a right to this doctrine. They came by it honestly through
long lines of ancestral heritage. The republicanism of the seventeenth
century in the American forests, as well as upon the floor of the
English House of Commons, had asserted that private persons had the
right to make and unmake kings. The republican theorists of the
eighteenth century had insisted that life, liberty, and the pursuit of
happiness were the birthright of each individual. This doctrine was
related, of course, to the doctrine of equality. If republicanism
teaches that "I am as good as others," democracy is forever hinting
"Others are as good as I." Democracy has been steadily extending the
notion of rights and duties. The first instinct, perhaps, is to ask
what is right, just, lawful, for me? Next, what is right, just, lawful
for my crowd? That is to say, my family, my clan, my race, my country.
The third instinct bids one ask what is right and just and lawful, not
merely for me, and for men like me, but for everybody. And when we get
that third question properly answered, we can afford to close
school-house and church and court-room, for this world's work will have

We have already glanced at various phases of colonial individualism. We
have had a glimpse of Cotton Mather prostrate upon the dusty floor of
his study, agonizing now for himself and now for the countries of
Europe; we have watched Jonathan Edwards in his solitary ecstasies in
the Northampton and the Stockbridge woods; we have seen Franklin
preaching his gospel of personal thrift and of getting on in the world.
Down to the very verge of the Revolution the American pioneer spirit
was forever urging the individual to fight for his own hand. Each boy
on the old farms had his own chores to do; each head of a family had to
plan for himself. The most tragic failure of the individual in those
days was the poverty or illness which compelled him to "go on the
town." To be one of the town poor indicated that the individualistic
battle had been fought and lost. No one ever dreamed, apparently, that
a time for old-age pensions and honorable retiring funds was coming.
The feeling against any form of community assistance was like the
bitter hatred of the workhouse among English laborers of the

The stress upon purely personal qualities gave picturesqueness, color,
and vigor to the early life of the United States. Take the persons whom
Parkman describes in his _Oregon Trail_. They have the perfect
clearness of outline of the portraits by Walter Scott and the great
Romantic school of novelists who loved to paint pictures of interesting
individual men. There is the same stress upon individualistic
portraiture in Irving's _Astoria_; in the humorous journals of early
travellers in the Southern States. It is the secret of the curiosity
with which we observe the gamblers and miners and stage-drivers
described by Bret Harte. In the rural communities of to-day, in the
older portions of the country, and in the remoter settlements of the
West and Southwest, the individual man has a sort of picturesque, and,
as it were, artistic value, which the life of cities does not allow.
The gospel of self-reliance and of solitude is not preached more
effectively by the philosophers of Concord than it is by the
backwoodsmen, the spies, and the sailors of Fenimore Cooper.
Individualism as a doctrine of perfection for the private person and
individualism as a literary creed have thus gone hand in hand. "Produce
great persons, the rest follows," cried Walt Whitman. He was thinking
at the moment about American society and politics. But he believed that
the same law held good in poetry. Once get your great man and let him
abandon himself to poetry and the great poetry will be the result. It
was almost precisely the same teaching as in Carlyle's lecture on "The
Hero as Poet."

Well, it is clear enough nowadays that both Whitman and Carlyle
underrated the value of discipline. The lack of discipline is the chief
obstacle to effective individualism. The private person must be well
trained, or he cannot do his work; and as civilization advances, it
becomes exceedingly difficult to train the individual without social
coöperation. A Paul or a Mahomet may discipline his own soul in the
Desert of Arabia; he may there learn the lessons that may later make
him a leader of men. But for the average man and indeed for most of the
exceptional men, the path to effectiveness lies through social and
professional discipline. Here is where the frontier stage of our
American life was necessarily weak. We have seen that our ancestors
gained something, no doubt, from their spirit of unconventionally and
freedom. But they also lost something through their dislike for
discipline, their indifference to criticism, their ineradicable
tendency, whether in business, in diplomacy, in art and letters and
education, to go "across lots." A certain degree of physical
orderliness was, indeed, imposed upon our ancestors by the conditions
of pioneer life. The natural prodigality and recklessness of frontier
existence was here and there sharply checked. Order is essential in a
camp, and the thin line of colonies was all camping. A certain instinct
for order underlay that resourcefulness which impresses every reader of
our history. Did the colonist need a tool? He learned to make it
himself. Isolation from the mother country was a stimulus to the
inventive imagination. Before long they were maintaining public order
in the same ingenious fashion in which they kept house. Appeals to
London took too much time. "We send a complaint this year," ran the
saying, "the next year they send to inquire, the third year the
ministry is changed." No wonder that resourcefulness bred independent
action, stimulated the Puritan taste for individualism, and led the way
to self-government.

Yet who does not know that the inherent instinct for political order
may be accompanied by mental disorderliness? Even your modern
Englishman--as the saying goes--"muddles through." The minds of our
American forefathers were not always lucid. The mysticism of the New
England Calvinists sometimes bred fanaticism. The practical and the
theoretical were queerly blended. The essential unorderliness of the
American mind is admirably illustrated by that "Father of all the
Yankees," Benjamin Franklin. No student of Franklin's life fails to be
impressed by its happy casualness, its cheerful flavor of the
rogue-romance. Gil Blas himself never drifted into and out of an
adventure with a more offhand and imperturbable adroitness. Franklin
went through life with the joyous inventiveness of the amateur. He had
the amateur's enthusiasm, coupled with a clairvoyant penetration into
technical problems such as few amateurs have possessed. With all of his
wonderful patience towards other men, Franklin had in the realm of
scientific experiment something of the typical impatience of the mere
dabbler. He was inclined to lose interest in the special problem before
it was worked out. His large, tolerant intelligence was often as
unorderly as his papers and accounts. He was a wonderful colonial
Jack-of-all-trades; with a range of suggestion, a resourcefulness, a
knack of assimilation, a cosmopolitan many-sidedness, which has left us
perpetually his debtors. Under different surroundings, and disciplined
by a more severe and orderly training, Franklin might easily have
developed the very highest order of professional scientific
achievement. His natural talent for organization of men and
institutions, his "early projecting public spirit," his sense of the
lack of formal educational advantages in the colonies, made him the
founder of the Philadelphia Academy, the successful agitator for public
libraries. Academicism, even in the narrow sense, owes much to this
LL.D. of St. Andrews, D.C.L. of Oxford, and intimate associate of
French academicians. But one smiles a little, after all, to see the
bland printer in this academic company: he deserves his place there,
indeed, but he is something more and other than his associates. He is
the type of youthful, inexhaustible colonial America; reckless of
precedent, self-taught, splendidly alive; worth, to his day and
generation, a dozen born academicians; and yet suggesting by his very
imperfections, that the Americans of a later day, working under
different conditions, are bound to develop a sort of professional
skill, of steady, concentrated, ordered intellectual activity, for
which Franklin possessed the potential capacity rather than the
opportunity and the desire.

Yet there were latent lines of order, hints and prophecies of a coming
fellowship, running deep and straight beneath the confused surface of
the preoccupied colonial consciousness. In another generation we see
the rude Western democracy asserting itself in the valley of the
Mississippi. This breed of pioneers, like their fathers on the Atlantic
coast line, could turn their hands to anything, because they must. "The
average man," says Mr. Herbert Croly, "without any special bent or
qualifications, was in the pioneer states the useful man. In that
country it was sheer waste to spend much energy upon tasks which
demanded skill, prolonged experience, high technical standards, or
exclusive devotion.... No special equipment was required. The farmer
was obliged to be all kinds of a rough mechanic. The business man was
merchant, manufacturer, and storekeeper. Almost everybody was something
of a politician. The number of parts which a man of energy played in
his time was astonishingly large. Andrew Jackson was successively a
lawyer, judge, planter, merchant, general, politician, and statesman;
and he played most of these parts with conspicuous success. In such a
society a man who persisted in one job, and who applied the most
rigorous and exacting standards to his work, was out of place and
really inefficient. His finished product did not serve its temporary
purpose much better than did the current careless and hasty product,
and his higher standards and peculiar ways constituted an implied
criticism on the easy methods of his neighbors. He interfered with the
rough good-fellowship which naturally arises among a group of men who
submit good naturedly and uncritically to current standards. It is no
wonder, consequently, that the pioneer Democracy viewed with distrust
and aversion the man with a special vocation and high standards of

The truth of this comment is apparent to everybody. It explains the
still lingering popular suspicion of the "academic" type of man. But we
are likely to forget that back of all that easy versatility and
reckless variety of effort there was some sound and patient and
constructive thinking. Lincoln used to describe himself humorously,
slightingly, as a "mast-fed" lawyer, one who had picked up in the woods
the scattered acorns of legal lore. It was a true enough description,
but after all, there were very few college-bred lawyers in the Eighth
Illinois Circuit or anywhere else who could hold their own, even in a
purely professional struggle, with that long-armed logician from the

There was once a "mast-fed" novelist in this country, who scandalously
slighted his academic opportunities, went to sea, went into the navy,
went to farming, and then went into novel-writing to amuse himself. He
cared nothing and knew nothing about conscious literary art; his style
is diffuse, his syntax the despair of school-teachers, and many of his
characters are bores. But once let him strike the trail of a story, and
he follows it like his own Hawkeye; put him on salt water or in the
wilderness, and he knows rope and paddle, axe and rifle, sea and forest
and sky; and he knows his road home to the right ending of a story by
an instinct as sure as an Indian's. Professional novelists like Balzac,
professional critics like Sainte-Beuve, stand amazed at Fenimore
Cooper's skill and power. The true engineering and architectural lines
are there. They were not painfully plotted beforehand, like George
Eliot's. Cooper took, like Scott, "the easiest path across country,"
just as a bee-hunter seems to take the easiest path through the woods.
But the bee-hunter, for all his apparent laziness, never loses sight of
the air-drawn line, marked by the homing bee; and your _Last of the
Mohicans_ will be instinctively, inevitably right, while your _Daniel
Deronda_ will be industriously wrong.

Cooper literally builded better than he knew. Obstinately unacademic in
his temper and training, he has won the suffrages of the most
fastidious and academic judges of excellence in his profession. The
secret is, I suppose, that the lawlessness, the amateurishness, the
indifference to standards were on the surface,--apparent to
everybody,--the soundness and rightness of his practice were

Franklin and Lincoln and Cooper, therefore, may be taken as striking
examples of individuals trained in the old happy-go-lucky way, and yet
with marked capacities for socialization, for fellowship. They
succeeded, even by the vulgar tests of success, in spite of their lack
of discipline. But for most men the chief obstacle to effective labor
even as individuals is the lack of thoroughgoing training.

It is scarcely necessary to add that there are vast obstacles in the
way of individualism as a working theory of society. Carlyle's theory
of "Hero Worship" has fewer adherents than for half a century. It is
picturesque,--that conception of a great, sincere man and of a world
reverencing him and begging to be led by him. But the difficulty is
that contemporary democracy does not say to the Hero, as Carlyle
thought it must say, "Govern me! I am mad and miserable, and cannot
govern myself!"

Democracy says to the Hero, "Thank you very much, but this is our
affair. Join us, if you like. We shall be glad of your company. But we
are not looking for governors. We propose to govern ourselves."

Even from the point of view of literature and art,--fields of activity
where the individual performer has often been felt to be quite
independent of his audience,--it is quite evident nowadays that the old
theory of individualism breaks down. Even your lyric poet, who more
than any other artist stands or sings alone, falls easily into mere
lyric eccentricity if he is not bound to his fellows by wholesome and
normal ties. In fact, this lyric eccentricity, weakness, wistfulness,
is one of the notable defects of American poetry. We have always been
lacking in the more objective forms of literary art, like epic and
drama. Poe, and the imitators of Poe, have been regarded too often by
our people as the normal type of poet. One must not forget the silent
solitary ecstasies that have gone into the making of enduring lyric
verse, but our literature proves abundantly how soon sweetness may turn
to an Emily Dickinson strain of morbidness; how fatally the lovely
becomes transformed into the queer. The history of the American short
story furnishes many similar examples. The artistic intensity of a
Hawthorne, his ethical and moral preoccupations, are all a part of the
creed of individualistic art. But both Hawthorne and Poe would have
written,--one dare not say better stories, but at least greater and
broader and more human stories,--if they had not been forced to walk so
constantly in solitary pathways. That fellowship in artistic creation
which has characterized some of the greatest periods of art production
was something wholly absent from the experience of these gifted and
lonely men. Even Emerson and Thoreau wrote "whim" over their portals
more often than any artist has the privilege to write it. Emerson never
had any thorough training, either in philosophy, theology, or history.
He admits it upon a dozen smiling pages. Perhaps it adds to his purely
personal charm, just as Montaigne's confession of his intellectual and
moral weaknesses heightens our fondness for the Prince of Essayists.
But the deeper fact is that not only Emerson and Thoreau, Poe and
Hawthorne, but practically every American writer and artist from the
beginning has been forced to do his work without the sustaining and
heartening touch of national fellowship and pride. Emerson himself felt
the chilling poverty in the intellectual and emotional life of the
country. He betrays it in this striking passage from his _Journal_,
about the sculptor Greenough:--

    "What interest has Greenough to make a good statue? Who cares
    whether it is good? A few prosperous gentlemen and ladies;
    but the Universal Yankee Nation roaring in the capitol to
    approve or condemn would make his eye and hand and heart go
    to a new tune."

Those words were written in 1836, but we are still waiting for that new
national anthem, sustaining the heart and the voice of the individual
artist. Yet there are signs that it is coming.

It is obvious that the day for the old individualism has passed.
Whether one looks at art and literature or at the general activities of
American society, it is clear that the isolated individual is
incompetent to carry on his necessary tasks. This is not saying that we
have outgrown the individual. We shall never outgrow the individual. We
need for every page of literature and for every adequate performance of
society more highly perfected individuals. Some one said of Edgar Allan
Poe that he did not know enough to be a great poet. All around us and
every day we find individuals who do not know enough for their specific
job; men who do not love enough, men in whom the power of will is too
feeble. Such men, as individuals, must know and love and will more
adequately; and this not merely to perfect their functioning as
individuals, but to fulfill their obligations to contemporary society.
A true spiritual democracy will never be reached until highly trained
individuals are united in the bonds of fraternal feeling. Every
individual defect in training, defect in aspiration, defect in passion,
becomes ultimately a defect in society.

Let us turn, then, to those conditions of American society which have
prepared the way for, and foreshadowed, a more perfect fellowship. We
shall instantly perceive the relation of these general social
conditions to the specific performances of our men of letters. We have
repeatedly noted that our most characteristic literature is what has
been called a citizen literature. It is the sort of writing which
springs from a sense of the general needs of the community and which
has had for its object the safe-guarding or the betterment of the
community. Aside from a few masterpieces of lyric poetry, and aside
from the short story as represented by such isolated artists as Poe and
Hawthorne, our literature as a whole has this civic note. It may be
detected in the first writings of the colonists. Captain John Smith's
angry order at Jamestown, "He that will not work neither let him eat,"
is one of the planks in the platform of democracy. Under the trying and
depressing conditions of that disastrous settlement at Eden in _Martin
Chuzzlewit_ it is the quick wits and the brave heart of Mark Tapley
which prove him superior to his employer. The same sermon is preached
in Mr. Barrie's play, _The Admirable Crichton_: cast away upon the
desert island, the butler proves himself a better man than his master.
This is the motive of a very modern play, but it may be illustrated a
hundred times in the history of the seventeenth and eighteenth
centuries in America. The practical experiences of the colonists
confirmed them in their republican theories. It is true that they held
to a doctrine of religious and political individualism. But the moment
these theories were put to work in the wilderness a new order of things
decreed that this individualism should be modified in the direction of
fellowship. Calvinism itself, for all of its insistence upon the value
of the individual soul, taught also the principle of the equality of
all souls before God. It was thus that the _Institutes_ of Calvin
became one of the charters of democracy. The democratic drift in the
writings of Franklin and Jefferson is too well known to need any
further comment. The triumph of the rebellious colonists of 1776 was a
triumph of democratic principles; and although a Tory reaction came
promptly, although Hamiltonianism came to stay as a beneficent check to
over-radical, populistic theories, the history of the last century and
a quarter has abundantly shown the vitality and the endurance of
democratic ideas.

One may fairly say that the decade in which American democracy revealed
its most ugly and quarrelsome aspect was the decade of the
eighteen-thirties. That was the decade when Washington Irving and
Fenimore Cooper came home from long sojourns in Europe. They found
themselves confronted at once by sensitive, suspicious neighbors who
hated England and Europe and had a lurking or open hostility towards
anything that savored of Old World culture. Yet in that very epoch
when English visitors were passing their most harsh and censorious
verdict upon American culture, Emerson was writing in his _Journal_
(June 18, 1834) a singular prophecy to the effect that the evils of
our democracy, so far as literature was concerned, were to be cured by
the remedy of more democracy. Is it not striking that he turns away
from the universities and the traditional culture of New England and
looks towards the Jacksonism of the new West to create a new and native
American literature? Here is the passage:--

    "We all lean on England; scarce a verse, a page, a newspaper,
    but is writ in imitation of English forms; our very manners
    and conversation are traditional, and sometimes the life
    seems dying out of all literature, and this enormous paper
    currency of Words is accepted instead. I suppose the evil may
    be cured by this rank rabble party, the Jacksonism of the
    country, heedless of English and of all literature--a stone
    cut out of the ground without hands;--they may root out the
    hollow dilettantism of our cultivation in the coarsest way,
    and the new-born may begin again to frame their own world
    with greater advantage."

From that raw epoch of the eighteen-thirties on to the Civil War, one
may constantly detect in American writing the accents of democratic
radicalism. Partly, no doubt, it was a heritage of the sentiment of the
French Revolution. "My father," said John Greenleaf Whittier, "really
believed in the Preamble of the Bill of Rights, which re-affirmed the
Declaration of Independence." So did the son! Equally clear in the
writings of those thirty years are echoes of the English radicalism
which had so much in common with the democratic movement across the
English Channel. The part which English thinkers and English agitators
played in securing for America the fruits of her own democratic
principles has never been adequately acknowledged.

That the outcome of the Civil War meant a triumph of democratic ideas
as against aristocratic privilege, no one can doubt. There were no
stancher adherents of the democratic idea than our intellectual
aristocrats. The best Union editorials at the time of the Civil War,
says James Ford Rhodes, were written by scholars like Charles Eliot
Norton and James Russell Lowell. I think it was Lowell who once said,
in combatting the old aristocratic notion of white man supremacy, that
no gentleman is willing to accept privileges that are inaccessible to
other men. This is precisely like the famous sentence of Walt Whitman
which first arrested the attention of "Golden Rule Jones," the mayor of
Toledo, and which made him not only a Whitmaniac for the rest of his
life but one of the most useful of American citizens. The line was, "I
will accept nothing which all may not have their counterpart of on the
same terms."

This instinct of fellowship cannot be separated, of course, from the
older instincts of righteousness and justice. It involves, however,
more than giving the other man his due. It means feeling towards him as
towards another "fellow." It involves the sentiment of partnership.
Historians of early mining life in California have noted the new phase
of social feeling in the mining-camps which followed upon the change
from the pan--held and shaken by the solitary miner--to the cradle,
which required the coöperation of at least two men. It was when the
cradle came in that the miners first began to say "partner." As the
cradle gave way to placer mining, larger and larger schemes of
coöperation came into use. In fact, Professor Royce has pointed out in
his _History of California_ that the whole lesson of California
history is precisely the lesson most necessary to be learned by the
country as a whole, namely, that the phase of individual gain-getting
and individualistic power always leads to anarchy and reaction, and
that it becomes necessary, even in the interests of effective
individualism itself, to recognize the compelling and ultimate
authority of society.

What went on in California between 1849 and 1852 is precisely typical
of what is going on everywhere to-day. American men and women are
learning, as we say, "to get together." It is the distinctly
twentieth-century programme. We must all learn the art of getting
together, not merely to conserve the interests of literature and art
and society, but to preserve the individual himself in his just rights.
Any one who misunderstands the depth and the scope of the present
political restlessness which is manifested in every section of the
country, misunderstands the American instinct for fellowship. It is a
law of that fellowship that what is right and legitimate for me is
right and legitimate for the other fellow also. The American mind and
the American conscience are becoming socialized before our very eyes.
American art and literature must keep pace with this socialization of
the intelligence and the conscience, or they will be no longer
representative of the true America.

Literary illustrations of this spirit of fraternalism lie close at
hand. They are to be found here and there even in the rebellious,
well-nigh anarchic, individualism of the Concord men. They are to be
found throughout the prose and verse of Whittier. No one has preached a
truer or more effective gospel of fellowship than Longfellow, whose
poetry has been one of the pervasive influences in American democracy,
although Longfellow had but little to say about politics and never
posed in a slouch hat and with his trousers tucked into his boots.
Fellowship is taught in the _Biglow Papers_ of Lowell and the stories
of Mrs. Stowe. It is wholly absent from the prose and verse of Poe, and
it imparts but a feeble warmth to the delicately written pages of
Hawthorne. But in the books written for the great common audience of
American men and women, like the novels of Winston Churchill; and in
the plays which have scored the greatest popular successes, like those
of Denman Thompson, Bronson Howard, Gillette, Augustus Thomas, the
doctrine of fellowship is everywhere to be traced. It is in the poems
of James Whitcomb Riley and of Sam Walter Foss; in the work of hundreds
of lesser known writers of verse and prose who have echoed Foss's
sentiment about living in a "house by the side of the road" and being a
"friend of man."

To many readers the supreme literary example of the gospel of American
fellowship is to be found in Walt Whitman. One will look long before
one finds a more consistent or a nobler doctrine of fellowship than is
chanted in _Leaves of Grass_. It is based upon individualism; the
strong body and the possessed soul, sure of itself amid the whirling of
the "quicksand years"; but it sets these strong persons upon the "open
road" in comradeship; it is the sentiment of comradeship which creates
the indissoluble union of "these States"; and the States, in turn, in
spite of every "alarmist," "partialist," or "infidel," are to stretch
out unsuspicious and friendly hands of fellowship to the whole world.
Anybody has the right to call _Leaves of Grass_ poor poetry, if he
pleases; but nobody has the right to deny its magnificent Americanism.

It is not merely in literature that this message of fellowship is
brought to our generation. Let me quote a few sentences from the recent
address of George Gray Barnard, the sculptor, in explaining the meaning
of his marble groups now placed at the entrance to the Capitol of
Pennsylvania. "I resolved," says Barnard, "that I would build such
groups as should stand at the entrance to the People's temple ... the
home of those visions of the ever-widening and broadening brotherhood
that gives to life its dignity and its meaning. Life is told in terms
of labor. It is fitting that labor, its triumphs, its message, should
be told to those who gaze upon a temple of the people. The worker is
the hope of all the future. The needs of the worker, his problems, his
hopes, his untold longings, his sacrifices, his triumphs, all of these
are the field of the art of the future. Slowly we are groping our way
towards the new brotherhood, and when that day dawns, men will enter a
world made a paradise by labor. Labor makes us kin. It is for this
reason that there has been placed at the entrance of this great
building the message of the Adam and Eve of the future, the message of
labor and of fraternity."

That there are defects in this gospel and programme of American
fellowship, every one is aware. If the obstacle to effective
individualism is lack of discipline, the obstacles to effective
fellowship are vagueness, crankiness, inefficiency, and the relics of
primal selfishness. Nobody in our day has preached the tidings of
universal fellowship more fervidly and powerfully than Tolstoï. Yet
when one asks the great Russian, "What am I to do as a member of this
fellowship?" Tolstoï gives but a confused and impractical answer. He
applies to the complex and contradictory facts of our contemporary
civilization the highest test and standard known to him: namely, the
principles of the New Testament. But if you ask him precisely how these
principles are to be made the working programme of to-morrow, the
Russian mysticism and fanaticism settle over him like a fog. We pass
Tolstoïans on the streets of our American cities every day; they have
the eyes of dreamers, of those who would build, if they could, a new
Heaven and a new Earth. But they do not know exactly how to go about
it. Our practical Western minds seize upon some actual plan for
constructive labor. Miss Jane Addams organizes her settlements in the
slums; Booker Washington gives his race models of industrial education;
President Eliot has a theory of university reform and then struggles
successfully for forty years to put that theory into practice. Compared
with the concrete performance of such social workers as these, the
gospel according to Whitman and Tolstoï is bound to seem vague in its
outlines, and ineffective in its concrete results. That such a gospel
attracts cranks and eccentrics of all sorts is not to be wondered at.
They come and go, but the deeper conceptions of fraternalism remain.

A further obstacle to the progress of fellowship lies in selfishness.
But let us see how even the coarser and rawer and cruder traits of the
American character may be related to the spirit of common endeavor
which is slowly transforming our society, and modifying, before our
eyes, our contemporary art and literature.

"The West," says James Bryce, "is the most American part of America,
that is to say the part where those features which distinguish America
from Europe come out in the strongest relief." We have already noted in
our study of American romance how the call of the West represented for
a while the escape from reality. The individual, following that
retreating horizon which we name the West, found an escape from
convention and from social law. Beyond the Mississippi or beyond the
Rockies meant to him that "somewheres east of Suez" where the Ten
Commandments are no longer to be found, where the individual has free
rein. But by and by comes the inevitable reaction, the return to
reality. The pioneer sobers down; he finds that "the Ten Commandments
will not budge"; he sees the need of law and order; he organizes a
vigilance committee; he impanels a jury, even though the old Spanish
law does not recognize a jury. The new land settles to its rest. The
output of the gold mines shrinks into insignificance when compared with
the cash value of crops of hay and potatoes. The old picturesque
individualism yields to a new social order, to the conception of the
rights of the state. The story of the West is thus an epitome of the
individual human life as well as the history of the United States.

We have been living through a period where the mind of the West has
seemed to be the typical national mind. We have been indifferent to
traditions. We have overlooked the defective training of the
individual, provided he "made good." We have often, as in the free
silver craze, turned our back upon universal experience. We have been
recklessly deaf to the teachings of history; we have spoken of the laws
of literature and art as if they were mere conventions designed to
oppress the free activity of the artist. Typical utterances of our
writers are Jack London's "I want to get away from the musty grip of
the past," and Frank Norris's "I do not want to write literature, I
want to write life."

The soul of the West, and a good deal of the soul of America, has been
betrayed in words like those. Not to share this hopefulness of the
West, its stress upon feeling rather than thinking, its superb
confidence, is to be ignorant of the constructive forces of the nation.
The humor of the West, its democracy, its rough kindness, its faith in
the people, its generous notion of "the square deal for everybody,"
its elevation of the man above the dollar, are all typical of the
American way of looking at the world. Typical also, is its social
solidarity, its swift emotionalism of the masses. It is the Western
interest in the ethical aspect of social movements that is creating
some of the moving forces in American society to-day. Experiment
stations of all kinds flourish on that soil. Chicago newspapers are
more alive to new ideas than the newspapers of New York or Boston. No
one can understand the present-day America if he does not understand
the men and women who live between the Allegheny Mountains and the
Rocky Mountains. They have worked out, more successfully than the
composite population of the East, a general theory of the relation of
the individual to society; in other words, a combination of
individualism with fellowship.

To draw up an indictment against this typical section of our country is
to draw up an indictment against our people as a whole. And yet one who
studies the literature and art produced in the great Mississippi Valley
will see, I believe, that the needs of the West are the real needs of
America. Take that commonness of mind and tone, which friendly foreign
critics, from De Tocqueville to Bryce, have indicated as one of the
dangers of our democracy. This commonness of mind and tone is often one
of the penalties of fellowship. It may mean a levelling down instead of
a levelling up.

Take the tyranny of the majority,--to which Mr. Bryce has devoted one
of his most suggestive chapters. You begin by recognizing the rights of
the majority. You end by believing that the majority must be right. You
cease to struggle against it. In other words, you yield to what Mr.
Bryce calls "the fatalism of the multitude." The individual has a sense
of insignificance. It is vain to oppose the general current. It is
easier to acquiesce and to submit. The sense of personal responsibility
lessens. What is the use of battling for one's own opinions when one
can already see that the multitude is on the other side? The greater
your democratic faith in the ultimate rightness of the multitude, the
less perhaps your individual power of will. The easier is it for you to
believe that everything is coming out right, whether you put your
shoulder to the wheel or not.

The problem of overcoming these evils is nothing less than the problem
of spiritualizing democracy. There are some of our hero-worshipping
people who think that that vast result can still be accomplished by
harking back to some such programme as the "great man" theory of
Carlyle. Another theory of spiritualizing democracy, no less familiar
to the student of nineteen-century literature, is what is called "the
divine average" doctrine of Walt Whitman. The average man is to be
taught the glory of his walk and trade. Round every head there is to be
an aureole. "A common wave of thought and joy, lifting mankind again,"
is to make us forget the old distinction between the individual and the
social group. We are all to be the sons of the morning.

We must not pause to analyze or to illustrate these two theories.
Carlyle's theory seems to me to be outworn, and Whitman's theory is
premature. But it is clear that they both admit that the mass of men
are as yet incompletely spiritualized, not yet raised to their full
stature. Unquestionably, our American life is, in European eyes at
least, monotonously uniform. It is touched with self-complacency. It
is too intent upon material progress. It confuses bigness with
greatness. It is unrestful. It is marked by intellectual impatience.
Our authors are eager to write life rather than literature. But they
are so eager that they overlook the need of literary discipline. They
do not learn to write literature and therefore most of them are
incapable of interpreting life. They escape, perhaps, from "the musty
grip of the past," but in so doing they refuse to learn the inexorable
lessons of the past. Hence the fact that our books lack power, that
they are not commensurate with the living forces of the country. The
unconscious, moral, and spiritual life of the nation is not back of
them, making "eye and hand and heart go to a new tune."

If we could have that, we should ask no more, for we believe in the
nation. I heard a doctor say, the other day, that a man's chief lesson
was to pull his brain down into his spinal cord; that is to say, to
make his activities not so much the result of conscious thought and
volition, as of unconscious, reflex action; to stop thinking and
willing, and simply _do_ what one has to do. May there not be a hint
here of the ultimate relation of the individual to the social
organism; the relation of our literature to our national character?
There is a period, no doubt, when the individual must painfully
question himself, test his powers, and acquire the sense of his own
place in the world. But there also comes a more mature period when he
takes that place unconsciously, does his work almost without thinking
about it, as if it were not his work at all. The brain has gone down
into the spinal cord; the man is functioning as apart of the organism
of society; he has ceased to question, to plan, to decide; it is
instinct that does his work for him.

Literature and art, at their noblest, function in that instinctive way.
They become the unconscious expression of a civilization. A nation
passes out of its adolescent preoccupation with plans and with
materials. It learns to do its work, precisely as Goethe bade the
artist do his task, without talking about it. We, too, shall outgrow in
time our questioning, our self-analysis, our futile comparison of
ourselves with other nations, our self-conscious study of our own
national character. We shall not forget the distinction between "each"
and "all," but "all" will increasingly be placed at the service of
"each." With fellowship based upon individualism, and with
individualism ever leading to fellowship, America will perform its
vital tasks, and its literature will be the unconscious and beautiful
utterance of its inner life.


The Riverside Press


U. S. A.

       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes

Pages 53, 141: Changed the oe ligature to oe in the name Crèvecoeur:
  (Settlers like Crèvecoeur), (enthusiasm of a settler like Crèvecoeur)

Page 67: Changed compaign to campaign:
  (Their compaign of "exposure," during the last decade,)

Page 165: Retained the spaced 't is, to match original line of poetry:
  ("If my bark sinks, 't is to another sea.")

Page 222: Changed conciousness to consciousness:
  (the preoccupied colonial conciousness.)

Page 223: Changed explans to explains:
  (It explans the still lingering popular suspicion)

Page 232: Changed sojurns to sojourns:
  (Fenimore Cooper came home from long sojurns in Europe.)

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