An admirably balanced man, who accepts the world as it is, and evidently lives on the experience of others. I have never seen a man with less envy, or more cheerfulness, or so contented with as little reason for being so. The only drawback to his future is that rest beyond the grave will not be much change for him, and he has no works to follow him.
This Yankee philosopher, who, without being a Brahmin, had, in an uncongenial atmosphere, reached the perfect condition of Nirvina, reminded us all of the ancient sages; and we queried whether a world that could produce such as he, and could, beside, lengthen a man’s years to one hundred and thirteen, could fairly be called an old and worn-out world, having long passed the stage of its primeval poetry and simplicity. Many an Eastern dervish has, I think, got immortality upon less laziness and resignation than this temporary sojourner in Massachusetts. It is a common notion that the world (meaning the people in it) has become tame and commonplace, lost its primeval freshness and epigrammatic point. Mandeville, in his argumentative way, dissents from this entirely. He says that the world is more complex, varied, and a thousand times as interesting as it was in what we call its youth, and that it is as fresh, as individual and capable of producing odd and eccentric characters as ever. He thought the creative vim had not in any degree abated, that both the types of men and of nations are as sharply stamped and defined as ever they were.
Was there ever, he said, in the past, any figure more clearly cut and freshly minted than the Yankee? Had the Old World anything to show more positive and uncompromising in all the elements of character than the Englishman? And if the edges of these were being rounded off, was there not developing in the extreme West a type of men different from all preceding, which the world could not yet define? He believed that the production of original types was simply infinite.
Herbert urged that he must at least admit that there was a freshness of legend and poetry in what we call the primeval peoples that is wanting now; the mythic period is gone, at any rate.
Mandeville could not say about the myths. We couldn’t tell what interpretation succeeding ages would put upon our lives and history and literature when they have become remote and shadowy. But we need not go to antiquity for epigrammatic wisdom, or for characters as racy of the fresh earth as those handed down to us from the dawn of history. He would put Benjamin Franklin against any of the sages of the mythic or the classic period. He would have been perfectly at home in ancient Athens, as Socrates would have been in modern Boston. There might have been more heroic characters at the siege of Troy than Abraham Lincoln, but there was not one more strongly marked individually; not one his superior in what we call primeval craft and humor. He was just the man, if he could not have dislodged Priam by a writ of ejectment, to have invented the wooden horse, and then to have made Paris the hero of some ridiculous story that would have set all Asia in a roar.