The Land of Contrasts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 289 pages of information about The Land of Contrasts.
tendency to note similarity first and then unlikeness that makes the brief visitor to the United States fail to find characteristic individuality in the various great cities of the country.  We are also too prone to forget that the United States, though continental in its proportions, is after all but a single nation, enjoying the same institutions and speaking practically one tongue; and this of necessity introduces an element of sameness that must be absent from the continent of Europe with which we are apt to compare it.  If we oppose to the United States that one European country which approaches it most nearly in size, we shall, I think, find the balance of uniformity does not incline to the American side.  When all is said, however, it cannot be denied that there is a great deal of similarity in the smaller and newer towns and cities of the West, and Mr. W.S.  Caine’s likening them to “international exhibitions a week before their opening” will strike many visitors as very apposite.  It is only to the indiscriminate and unhedged form of M. Bourget’s statement that objection need be made.

Architecture struck me as, perhaps, the one art in which America, so far as modern times are concerned, could reasonably claim to be on a par with, if not ahead of, any European country whatsoever.  I say this with a full realisation of the many artistic nightmares that oppress the soil from the Atlantic to the Pacific, with a perfect recollection of the acres of petty, monotonous, and mean structures in almost every great city of the Union, with a keen appreciation of the witty saying that the American architect often “shows no more self-restraint than a bunch of fire-crackers.”  It is, however, distinctly true, as Mr. Montgomery Schuyler well puts it, that “no progress can result from the labour of architects whose training has made them so fastidious that they are more revolted by the crudity of the forms that result from the attempt to express a new meaning than by the failure to make the attempt;” and it is in his freedom from this fastidious lack of courage that the American architect is strong.  His earlier efforts at independence were, perhaps, hardly fortunate; but he is now entering a phase in which adequate professional knowledge cooeperates with good taste to define the limits within which his imagination may legitimately work.  I know not where to look, within the last quarter of a century or so, for more tasteful designs, greater sincerity of purpose, or happier adaptations to environment than the best creations of men like Mr. H.H.  Richardson, Mr. R.M.  Hunt, Mr. J.W.  Root, Mr. G.B.  Post, and Messrs. McKim, Mead, and White.  Some of the new residential streets of places as recent as Chicago or St. Paul more than hold their own, as it seems to me, with any contemporaneous thoroughfares of their own class in Europe.  To my own opinion let me add the valuable testimony of Mr. E.A.  Freeman, in his “Impressions of the United States” (pp. 246, 247): 

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The Land of Contrasts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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