Page images

ital infidelity has been the favorite excitement of every rotten aristocracy which the world has ever seen.


A MANNER of life of this description can scarcely be the ideal of the American people. Certainly neither George Washington, when he delivered his farewell address, nor Abraham Lincoln, on the occasion of his second inaugural, looked forward to the evolution of any such aristocracy as the fulfilment of the nation's hopes. And yet this coterie of people has its representatives in all the large cities of the country, and there is no reason to doubt that in a short time the example set will be imitated to some extent, at least, and that one portion of the country will vie with another in extravagant social vanities and prodigal display on the part of a pleasure-seeking leisure class.

Most of these people go to church, and, indeed, some of them are ostensibly regardful of church functions and ceremonies, and, as they do not openly violate any laws so as to subject themselves to terms of imprisonment, the patriotic American citizen finds himself able merely to frown by way of showing his dissatisfaction at this form of high treason against the morals and aims of democracy. To frown and to be grateful that one is not like certain pleasure-seeking millionaires is not much of a comfort, especially when it is obvious that the ignorant and semiignorant mass is fascinated by the extravagances and worldly manifestations of the individuals in question, and has made them its heroes on account of their unadulterated VOL. XVIII.-62

[blocks in formation]

.. The number of bottles of champagne opened at the marriage of some milIona re s daughter."


economic conditions, or at least the conditions which exist in our principal cities, are closely approximating those which exist in the cities of the Old World. Outside of our cities the

people for the most part live in respectable comfort by the practice of what passes in America for economy, which may be defined as a high but ignorant moral purpose negatived by waste and domestic incompetence. It has always been true of our beloved country that, though the ship of state has seemed on the point of floundering from time to time, disaster has invariably been averted



at critical junctures by the saving grace of the common-sense and right-mindedness of the American people. This is not so complimentary as it sounds. really means that the average sense and intelligence of the public is apt to be in the wrong at the outset, and to be converted to the right only after many days and much tribulation. In other words, our safety and our progress have been

the result of a slow and often reluctant yielding of opinion by the mass to the superior judgment of a minority. This is merely another way of stating that, where everyone has a right to individual opinion, and there are no arbitrary standards of conduct or of anything else outside the statute law, the mean is likely to fall far short of what is best. Our salvation in every instance of national perplexity has been the effectual working on the public conscience of the leaven of the best Americanism. A comparatively small proportion of the population have been the pioneers in thought and suggestion of subsequent ardent espousals by the entire public. This leaven, in the days when we were more homogeneous, was made up from all the elements of society; or, in other words, the best Americanism drew its representatives from every condition of life; the farmer of the Western prairie was just as likely to tower above his fellows and become a torch-bearer as the merchant or mechanic of the city. If we as a nation have needed a leaven in the past, we certainly have no less need of one to-day, now that we are in the flush of material prosperity and consciousness of power. Fortunately we have one. The public-spirited, nobly independent, earnest, conscientious, ambitious American exists to-day as indisputably and unmistakably as ever, and he is a finer specimen of humanity than he used to be, for he knows more and he poses much less. It is safe to assert, too, that he is still to be found in every walk of our national life. The existence of an aggravating and frivolous aristocracy on the surface, and an ignorant, unæsthetic mass underneath should not blind us to the fact that there is a sound core to our social system. The hope of the United States to-day lies in that large minority

of the people who are really trying to solve the problems of life from more than a merely selfish standpoint. One has merely to think a moment in order to realize what a really numerous and significant body among us is endeavoring to promote the cause of American civilization by aspiring or decent behavior. Our clergymen, our lawyers, our doctors, our architects, our merchants, our teachers, some of our editors, our bankers, our scientists, our scholars, and our philanthropists, at once stand out as a generally sane and earnest force of citizens. The great educational, charitable, artistic, and other undertakings which have been begun and splendidly completed by individual energy and liberality since the death of Abraliam Lincoln, bespeak eloquently the temper of a certain portion of the community. If it be true that the socalled aristocracy of New York City threatens the repute and sincerity of democracy by its heartlessness and unworthy attempts to ape the vices of a fifteenth century European nobility. New York can fairly retort that it offers in its working force of well-to-do people the most vital, interesting, sympathetic, and effective force of men and women in the nation. If the Paris of America contains the most dangerous element of society, it also contains an element which is equal to the best elsewhere, and is more attractive than any. The New York man or woman who is in earnest is sure to accomplish something, for he or she is not likely to be handicapped by ignorant provincialism of ethics or art which plays havoë with many of the good intentions of the rest of the country.

This versatile and interesting leaven of American society finds its counterpart, to a greater or less extent, in every section of the United States, but it is nowhere quite so attractive as in the Paris of America, for the reason that nowhere does the pulse of life move so keenly as there, and nowhere is the science of living absorbingly so well understood. The art of living has there reached a more interesting phase than in any part of America, if zest in life and the facilities to make the most of it are regarded as the test.

This may sound worldly. The people of the United States used to consider it worldly to admire pictures or to listen to beautiful music. Some think so still. Many a citizen of what was lately the prairie sits down to his dinner in his shirt-sleeves to-day and pretends to be thankful that he is neither an aristocrat nor a gold-bug. The

"Satisfied to flirt."

next week, perhaps, this same citizen will vote against a national bankrupt law because he does not wish to pay his debts, or vote for a bill which will enable him to pay them in depreciated currency. Many a clergyman who knows better gives his flock consolingly to understand that to be absorbed in the best human interests of life is unworthy of the Christian, and that to be ordinary and unattractive is a legitimate condition of mind and body. Surely the best Americanism is the Americanism of the man or woman who makes the most of what this life affords, and throws himself or herself keenly into the thick of it. The art of living is the science of living nobly and well, and how can one live either nobly or well by regarding life on the earth as a mere log-cabin existence? If we in this country who seek to live wisely are in danger from the extravagant

vanities of the very rich, we are scarcely less menaced by that narrow spirit of ethical teaching which tries to inculcate that it does not much matter what our material surroundings are, and that any progress made by society, except in the direction of sheer morality, is a delusion and a snare. Character is the basis and the indispensable requisite of the finest humanity; without it refinement, appreciation, manners, fancy, and power of expression are like so many boughs on a tree which is dead. But, on the other hand, what is more uninspiring than an unadorned soul? That kind of virtue and morality which finds no interest in the affairs of this life is but a fresh contribution to the sum of human incompetence, and but serves to retard the progress of civilization. The true and the chief reason why there is less misery in the world than formerly is that men understand better how to live. That straight-laced type of American, who is content to be moral in his own narrow way, and to exclude from his scheme of life all those interests which serve to refine and to inspire, bears the same relation to the ideal man or woman that a chromo bears to a masterpiece of painting.

We have no standards in this country. The individual is free to express himself here within the law in any way he sees fit, and the conduct of life comes always at last to an equation of the individual. Each one of us when we awake in the morning finds the problem of existence staring him anew in the face, and cannot always spare the time to remember that he is an American. And yet Americanism is the sum total of what all of us are. It will be very easy for us simply to imitate the civilizations of the past, but if our civilization is to stand for anything


vital, and to be a step forward in the progress of humanity, we must do more than use the old combinations and devices of society in a new kaleidoscopic form. Our heritage as Americans is independence, originality, self-reliance, and sympathetic energy animated by a strong ethical instinct, and these are forces which can produce a higher and a broader civilization than the world has yet seen if we choose to have it so. But it is no longer a matter of cutting down forests and opening mines, of boasting beside the plough and building cities in a single year, of fabulous fortunes won in a trice, and of favorite sons in black broadcloth all the year round. It is a matter of a vast, populous country and a powerful, seething civilization where the same problems confront us which have taxed the minds and souls of the Old World for generations of men. It is for our originality to throw new light upon them, and it is for our independence to face them in the spirit of a deeper sympathy with humanity, and free from the canker of that utter selfishness which has made the prosperity and glory of other great nations culminate so often in a decadence of degrading luxury and fruitless culture.

"When he delivered his farewel address."

No civilization which regards the blessings and comforts of refined living as unworthy to be striven for and appropriated can hope to promote the

cause of humanity. On the other hand, we Americans must remember that purely selfish appropriation and appreciation of these blessings and comforts has worked the ruin of the most famous civilizations of the past. Marie Antoinette was more elegant than the most fashionable woman in New York, and yet that did not save her from the tumbrel and the axe. The best Americanism of to-day and for the future is that which shall seek to use the fruits of the earth and the fulness thereof, and to develop all the manifestations of art and gentle living in the interest of humanity as a whole. But even heart

[ocr errors][merged small][merged small]











O the classic virtues grace an age of common-place?

The cynics of our time will tell you No. That the cynics are wrong, however, was impressively shown by Stanley's deed in Darkest Africa, touched in the last chapter of this history. Another exploit, more thrilling still, illustrated President Arthur's years in office. Lieutenant Weyprecht, of Austria-Hungary, had, in 1875, proposed a ries of co-operating stations for magnetic and meteorological observations near the North Pole. Lieutenant Howgate, of our Signal Service, had long advocated polar colonization in the interest of geographical science. Several nations, the United States among them, were moved to attempt polar discov



In 1881 we established two stations, one of them on Lady Franklin Bay, to be manned by Lieutenant A. W. Greely, Fifth United States Cavalry, with a party of twenty-two officers and soldiers, and two Eskimos. The Proteus bore Greely and his men from St. John's, Newfoundland, on July 7, 1881. Beyond the northernmost Greenland set tlement, through the treacherous archipelago, between the "land ice" and the "middle pack" of Melville Bay, amid the iceberg squadrons of Smith Sound and Kane Sea, the stanch little sealer



kept her course. Eight miles from her destination she was for the first time blocked. A solid semicircle of ice confronted her, reaching clear across from Greenland to Grinnell Land. Large floes broke off and passed her, only to re-form and cut off her retreat, while the northern pack, advancing, threatened to crush her. Upon new caprice, however, the upper ice retired toward the polar ocean, and on the 11th the little army disembarked, one thousand miles north of the Arctic Circle. A fortnight later the Proteus whistled farewell and began her return trip, which, like the out-passage, was "without parallel or precedent" for freedom. from the difficulties and dangers unanimously reported as existing in that region.

It was proposed in 1882 to visit the Greely colony with supplies and reinforcements, and in 1883 to effect their return. Setting out a year and a day after the Proteus, the Neptune achieved & hard but steady advance to Kane Sea, but this she found choked with ice. For forty days she vainly assaulted her godfather's polar phalanx. When, with the close of August, whitening cliffs and withering vegetation portended winter, Beebe, the commander, hastening to place a small cache on either side of Smith Sound, returned,

« PreviousContinue »