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The St. Louis Republic. [volume] (St. Louis, Mo.) 1888-1919, July 23, 1905, SUNDAY MAGAZINE, Image 55

Image and text provided by State Historical Society of Missouri; Columbia, MO

Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn84020274/1905-07-23/ed-1/seq-55/

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11
AMERICAN CHARACTER
SUNDAY. MAGAZINE for JULY 23. IMS
II.
IT is w c II to probe deep
er into the quotum
anil to face the fact
that not only in the arts
Lut also in the sciences
e are not d ing all that
may fairly l-e ejeeted
from . Athens was a
trading citv as Xew
York is; but Xcw-York
has had no Soj.hotljs
and no I'hidias. Flor
ence and Venice were
towns, hose inert hunts
were rinco; but no
American city has yet
brought forth a Giotto,
a Dante, a Titian.
Itis now nearly three
score years and ten since
Emerson clclivcred his
address on the "Ameri
can Scholar." which has well been styled our intel
lectual Declaration of Independence, and in which
he c.troMrd the hope that "jicrhaps the time is
already come . . . when the si uggard intellect
of this continent will look from under its iron
lids and fulfil the jxistponed exjicctation of the
world with something letter than the eertions of
mechanical skill." Xcarly seventy years ago was
this prophecy uttered which still echoes unfulfilled.
But we liVe entries are oMivd f stand
In starle-s nights and w.nt the ajintcd hour.
In the nineteenth century, in which we came to
maturity as a nation, no one of the chief leaders of
art. even including literature in its broadest aspects,
and no one of the chief loaders in science, was native
to our country. Perhaps we may claim that
Webster was one of the world's greatest orators
and that Parkmsn was one of the world's greatest
historians; but probably the world outside of the
United States would lie found unprepared ami un
willing to admit either claim, however likely it may
le to win acceptance in the future. Lincoln is in
disputably one of the world's greatest statesmen:
and his fame is now firmly established throughout
the whole of civilization. But this is all we can
assert: and we cannot deny that we have given
birth to scarcely one of the foremost octjs. drama
tits. novelists. Minters. sculptors, architects or
scientific discoverers of the past hundred years.
Alfred Russell Wallace, whose fame is linked with
Darwin's and whose compctenie as a critic of
scientific advance is leyond dispute, has declared
that the nineteenth century was the most wonderful
tf all since the world lieg in. He as-rts that the
scientific achievements of the nineteenth century.
lth in the discovery of gencr.il principles and in
their practical application, exceed in nwnlier the
sum to'.al of the scientific achievements to le
credited to all the centuries that went In. fore.
He considers first of all the practical applications
which have made the asect of civilization in in '
lifer in a thousand ways from what it was in iS i.
He names thirteen of these practical applications
including railways, steam navigation, the electric
telegraph, the telephone, friction-matches, gas-lighting,
electric-lighting, the photograph, the Kontgen
rays, spectrum analysis, anesthetics and antiseptics
It is with pride that an American can check off at
least si of these utilities as !cing due wholly or in
part to the ingenuity of one or another of his
lountrxmcn
But his pride has a fall when Wallace draws up
a econd list not of mere inventions but of those
fundamental discoveries, of those fecundating
theories undcrliing all practical applications and
risking them jossible. of those principles "which
have extended our knowledge or widened our con-
c; ttons of the universe." Of these he catalogues
U.clve: and we are pamed to find that no Ann-man
has had an important share in the establishment of
any one of these broad generalizations. We mav
have added a little here and there, but no single
iinc of all the twelve discoveries is either wholly or
in large part to le credited to any American. It
seems as though our Trench critic was not s far
out when he asserted that we were "temMv prac
tical." In the mere application of principles, m
the devising of new methods our share was larger
than that of any other nation. In the working out
of the stimulating principles themselves our share
was not even "a jounger brother's jiortion."
Practical we are. etcn though we mav not have
A Frenchman Contends That We Are
the Farthest Removed From Perfection
By BRANDER MATTHEWS
Professor of Dramatic Literature in Columbia University. New-YorK
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brought forth a supreme leader of art or science to
adorn the wonderful century; and there arc other
evidences of our practical sagacity than those set
down by Wallace, evidences more favorable and of
1 letter augury for our future. We derived our lan
guage and our laws, our public justice and our
representative government, from our English an
cestors. In our time we have set an example to
others and helped along the progress of the world.
j Proid.-nt Eliot holds tliat we have made live
i:i;Mirtant contributions to the advancement of
civilization. First of all. we have done more than
any other people to further eace-kecping, and to
sulistitutc legal arbitration for the brute conflict
of war. Second, we have set a splendid example
of the broadest religious toleration even though
Holland had first shown us the path. Thinlly. we
have proved the wisdom of universal manhood
suffrage. Fourth, by our welcoming of new-comers
from all parts of the earth, we have shown that
men belonging to a great variety of races arc fit for
iMilitical freedom. Finally. te have succeeded in
diffusing material well-lieing among the whole jiopu
lation to an extent without parallel in any other
country in the world.
These five American contributions to civilization
arc all of them the result of the practical side of
the American character. To some of us they will
see-:i commonplace, as compared with the con
quering .xploits of other races But they are
more than merely practical: they arc all essentially
moral. As President Eliot insists, they are "tri
umphs of reason, enterprise, courage, faith and
justice over iassin. selfishness, inertness, timidity
and distrust. Beneath each of these developments
there lies a strong ethical sentiment, a strenuous
moral and sci d puqiose."
A "strong ethical sentiment" and a "strenuous
moral puqiose" cannot flourish unless they are
deeply rooted in idealism. And here we find an
adequate answer to the third assertion of Tolstoi's
visitor, who maintained that we were "hostile to
all idealism." Our idealism may le of a practical
sort, but it is idealism none the less. Emerson
was an idealist, although he was also a sagacious
mm of affairs. Lincoln was an idealist, even if
he was also a practical ixlitician. an opportunist,
knowing where he wanted to go but never crossing
a bridge lefore he came to it. Both Emerson ami
I.uuoln were realists as well as idealists, with a
firm grip on the facts of life.
Tlu-re 5-- a shim id lis-n. loastfuI and shabby,
win h stares at the"mn ar.d stumbles in the mud.
as Shellev did and Poe al-o. But the basis of the
highest genius is always a broad common-sense.
Shakespeare and Moli.re were held in esteem by
their comrades for their understanding: of affairs;
and they each of them had money out at interest.
Sophocles was intrusted with co nmand in battle;
and Goethe was the shre'..i!r t of the Grand Duke's
counsellors. The ideal
ism of Shakespeare and
of Moliere. of Sophocles
and of Goethe, is like
that of Emerson and of
Lincoln: it is vigorous
and vital; it is also un
failingly practical, and
thereby it is sharply set
apart from the aristo
cratic idealism of Plato
andof Kenan, of Kuskin
and of Xietzsehe. which
is founded on obvious
self-esteem and which
is sustained by arrogant
and inexhaustible egot
ism. True idealism is
liberal and tolerant, as
well as practical.
Perhaps it might
seem to lie claiming
too much to insist on
certain points of similarity lctucen us and the
Greeks of old. The points of dissimilarity are only
too evident to most of us; and yet there is a likeness
as well as an unlikcness. Professor Butcher has
recently asserted that "no ieople was ex-er
less detached from the practical affairs of life"
than the Greeks, "less insensible to outward utility;
yet they regarded prosperity as a means, never
as an end. The unquiet spirit of gain did not
take possession of their souls Shrewd traders
and merchants, they were yet idealists. They
did not lose sight of higher and distinctively
human aims which give life its significance."
It will lie well for us if this can be said of
our civilization two thousand years after its
day is done; and it is for us to make sure that
"the unquiet spirit of gain" shall not take pos
session of our souls. It is for us also to rise to
tile attitude of the Greeks, among whom, as IVo
fessor Butcher points out. "money lavished on
personal enjoyment was counted vulgar, oriental,
inhuman."
There is comfort in the memory of Lincoln and
of those whose death on the field of Gettysburg he
commemorates;!. The men who there gave up their
lives that the country might live had answered to
the call of patriotism, which is one of the noblest
images of idealism. There is comfort also in the
recollection of Emerson, and in the fact that for
many of the middle years of the nineteenth century
he was the most popular of lecturers, with an un
fading attractiveness to the plain people. perhas
lieeause in Lowell's fine phrase he "kept con
stantly burning the tiencon of an ideal life above the
lower region of turmoil." There is comfort again
in the Knowledge that idealis n is one manifestation
of imagination, an.l that imagination itself is only
a higher form of energy. That we have energy
and to spare, no one denies; and we may reckon
hiii a near-sighted observer who does not see also
that we have our full share of imagination, even
though it has not expressed itself fully in the loftier
regions of art and of science.
The foundations ot our commonwealth were laid
by the sturdy Eliza'.iethans who lore across the
ocean with them a full portion of the imagination
which in England Aimed up in rugged prose and
in splendid and soaring verse. In two centuries
and a half the sons of those stalwart Elizalicthans
have lost nothing of their sturdiness and nothing of
their ability to sec visions and to dream dreams,
and to put solid foundations under their castles in
the air. The flame may seem to die down for a
season, but it springs again from the cmliers most
unexjiectedly. as it broke forth furiously in 1861.
There was idealism at the core of the little war for
the, freeing of C-ib.i the very attack on Spain,
which the Parisian jmrnalist cited to Tolstoi al
an instance of our predatory aggressiveness. We
said that we were going to war for the sake of the
ill-Used eop!e in the suffering island close to our
shores; we said th.it we would not annex Cuba; we
did the fighting that was needful and we kept our
word. It i hard to see how even the most hostile
of bigots can discover in this anything selfish.
There was imagination in the sudden stopping
of all the steam-craft, of alt the railroads, of all the ,
street-cars, of all" the incessant traffic of the whole
nation at the moment when the Jpody of a murdered
chief magistrate was lowered into the grave. This
pause in the work of the world was not only touch
ing, it had a large signilicanie to anyone seeking

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