The Land of Contrasts eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 243 pages of information about The Land of Contrasts.

To sum it up in one word is hardly practicable; even a Carlylean epithet could scarcely focus the content of this idea.  It includes a sense of illimitable expansion and possibility; an almost childlike confidence in human ability and fearlessness of both the present and the future; a wider realisation of human brotherhood than has yet existed; a greater theoretical willingness to judge by the individual rather than by the class; a breezy indifference to authority and a positive predilection for innovation; a marked alertness of mind and a manifold variety of interest; above all, an inextinguishable hopefulness and courage.  It is easy to lay one’s finger in America upon almost every one of the great defects of civilisation—­even those defects which are specially characteristic of the civilisation of the Old World.  The United States cannot claim to be exempt from manifestations of economic slavery, of grinding the faces of the poor, of exploitation of the weak, of unfair distribution of wealth, of unjust monopoly, of unequal laws, of industrial and commercial chicanery, of disgraceful ignorance, of economic fallacies, of public corruption, of interested legislation, of want of public spirit, of vulgar boasting and chauvinism, of snobbery, of class prejudice, of respect of persons, of a preference of the material over the spiritual.  In a word, America has not attained, or nearly attained, perfection.  But below and behind and beyond all its weaknesses and evils, there is the grand fact of a noble national theory, founded on reason and conscience.  Those may scoff who will at the idea of anything so intangible being allowed to count seriously in the estimation of a nation’s or an individual’s happiness but the man of any imagination can surely conceive the stimulus of the constantly abiding sense of a fine national ideal.  The vagaries of the Congress at Washington may sometimes cause a man more personal inconvenience than the doings of the Parliament at Westminster, but they cannot wound his self-respect or insult his reason in the same way as the idea of being ruled by a group of individuals who have merely taken the trouble to be born.  The hauteur and insolence of those “above” us are always unpleasant, but they are much easier to bear when we feel that they are entirely at variance with the theory of the society in which they appear, and are at worst merely sporadic manifestations.  Even the tyranny of trusts is not to be compared to the tyranny of landlordism; for the one is felt to be merely an unhappy and (it is hoped) temporary aberration of well-meant social machinery, while the other seems bred in the very bone of the national existence.  It is the old story of freedom and hardship being preferable to chains and luxury.  The material environment of the American may often be far less interesting and suggestive than that of the European, but his mind is freer, his mental attitude more elastic.  Every American carries a marshal’s baton in his knapsack

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The Land of Contrasts from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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