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An essay by Bliss Perry

The American Mind

Title:     The American Mind
Author: Bliss Perry [More Titles by Perry]

The origin of the phrase, "the American mind," was political. Shortly after the middle of the eighteenth century, there began to be a distinctly American way of regarding the debatable question of British Imperial control. During the period of the Stamp Act agitation our colonial-bred politicians and statesmen made the discovery that there was a mode of thinking and feeling which was native--or had by that time become a second nature--to all the colonists. Jefferson, for example, employs those resonant and useful words "the American mind" to indicate that throughout the American colonies an essential unity of opinion had been developed as regards the chief political question of the day.

It is one of the most striking characteristics of the present United States that this instinct of political unity should have endured, triumphing over every temporary motive of division. The inhabitants of the United States belong to a single political type. There is scarcely a news-stand in any country of Continental Europe where one may not purchase a newspaper openly or secretly opposed to the government,--not merely attacking an unpopular administration or minister or ruler,--but desiring and plotting the overthrow of the entire political system of the country. It is very difficult to find such a newspaper anywhere in the United States. I myself have never seen one. The opening sentence of President Butler's admirable little book, The American as He Is, originally delivered as lectures before the University of Copenhagen, runs as follows:

"The most impressive fact in American life is the substantial unity of view in regard to the fundamental questions of government and of conduct among a population so large, distributed over an area so wide, recruited from sources so many and so diverse, living under conditions so widely different."

But the American type of mind is evident in many other fields than that of politics. The stimulating book from which I have just quoted, attempts in its closing paragraph, after touching upon the more salient features of our national activity, to define the typical American in these words:--

"The typical American is he who, whether rich or poor, whether dwelling in the North, South, East, or West, whether scholar, professional man, merchant, manufacturer, farmer, or skilled worker for wages, lives the life of a good citizen and good neighbor; who believes loyally and with all his heart in his country's institutions, and in the underlying principles on which these institutions are built; who directs both his private and his public life by sound principles; who cherishes high ideals; and who aims to train his children for a useful life and for their country's service."

This modest and sensible statement indicates the existence of a national point of view. We have developed in the course of time, as a result of certain racial inheritances and historic experiences, a national "temper" or "ethos"; a more or less settled way of considering intellectual, moral, and social problems; in short, a peculiarly national attitude toward the universal human questions.

In a narrower sense, "the American mind" may mean the characteristics of the American intelligence, as it has been studied by Mr. Bryce, De Tocqueville, and other trained observers of our methods of thinking. It may mean the specific achievements of the American intelligence in fields like science and scholarship and history. In all these particular departments of intellectual activity the methods and the results of American workers have recently received expert and by no means uniformly favorable assessment from investigators upon both sides of the Atlantic. But the observer of literary processes and productions must necessarily take a somewhat broader survey of national tendencies. He must study what Nathaniel Hawthorne, with the instinct of a romance writer, preferred to call the "heart" as distinguished from the mere intellect. He must watch the moral and social and imaginative impulses of the individual; the desire for beauty; the hunger for self-expression; the conscious as well as the unconscious revelation of personality; and he must bring all this into relation--if he can, and knowing that the finer secrets are sure to elude him!--with the age-long impulses of the race and with the mysterious tides of feeling that flood or ebb with the changing fortunes of the nation.

One way to begin to understand the typical American is to take a look at him in Europe. It does not require a professional beggar or a licensed guide to identify him. Not that the American in Europe need recall in any particular the familiar pictorial caricature of "Uncle Sam." He need not bear any outward resemblances to such stage types as that presented in "The Man From Home." He need not even suggest, by peculiarities of speech or manner, that he has escaped from the pages of those novels of international observation in which Mr. James and Mr. Howells long ago attained an unmatched artistry. Our "American Abroad," at the present hour, may be studied without the aid of any literary recollections whatever. There he is, with his wife and daughters, and one may stare at him with all the frankness of a compatriot. He is obviously well-to-do,--else he would not be there at all,--and the wife and daughters seem very well-to-do indeed. He is kindly; considerate--sometimes effusively considerate--of his fellow travellers; patient with the ladies of his family, who in turn are noticeably patient with him. He is genial--very willing to talk with polyglot headwaiters and chauffeurs; in fact the wife and daughters are also practised conversationalists, although their most loyal admirers must admit that their voices are a trifle sharp or flat. These ladies are more widely read than "papa." He has not had much leisure for Ruskin and Symonds and Ferrero. His lack of historical training limits his curiosity concerning certain phases of his European surroundings; but he uses his eyes well upon such general objects as trains, hotel-service, and Englishmen. In spite of his habitual geniality, he is rather critical of foreign ways, although this is partly due to his lack of acquaintance with them. Intellectually, he is really more modest and self-distrustful than his conversation or perhaps his general bearing would imply; in fact, his wife and daughters, emboldened very likely by the training of their women's clubs, have a more commendable daring in assaulting new intellectual positions.

Yet the American does not lack quickness, either of wits or emotion. His humor and sentiment make him an entertaining companion. Even when his spirits run low, his patriotism is sure to mount in proportion, and he can always tell you with enthusiasm in just how many days he expects to be back again in what he calls "God's country."

This, or something like this, is the "American" whom the European regards with curiosity, contempt, admiration, or envy, as the case may be, but who is incontestably modifying Western Europe, even if he is not, as many journalists and globe-trotters are fond of asserting, "Americanizing" the world. Interesting as it is to glance at him against that European background which adds picturesqueness to his qualities, the "Man from Home" is still more interesting in his native habitat. There he has been visited by hundreds of curious and observant foreigners, who have left on record a whole literature of bewildered and bewildering, irritating and flattering and amusing testimony concerning the Americans. Settlers like Crèvecoeur in the glowing dawn of the Republic, poets like Tom Moore, novelists like Charles Dickens,--other novelists like Mr. Arnold Bennett,--professional travellers like Captain Basil Hall, students of contemporary sociology like Paul Bourget and Mr. H. G. Wells, French journalists, German professors, Italian admirers of Colonel Roosevelt, political theorists like De Tocqueville, profound and friendly observers like Mr. Bryce, have had, and will continue to have, their say.

The reader who tries to take all this testimony at its face value, and to reconcile its contradictions, will be a candidate for the insane asylum. Yet the testimony is too amusing to be neglected and some of it is far too important to be ignored. Mr. John Graham Brooks, after long familiarity with these foreign opinions of America, has gathered some of the most representative of them into a delightful and stimulating volume entitled As Others See Us. There one may find examples of what the foreigner has seen, or imagined he has seen, during his sojourn in America, and what he has said about it afterwards. Mr. Brooks is too charitable to our visitors to quote the most fantastic and highly colored of their observations; but what remains is sufficiently bizarre.

The real service of such a volume is to train us in discounting the remarks made about us in a particular period like the eighteen-thirties, or from observations made in a special place, like Newport, or under special circumstances, like a Bishop's private car. It helps us to make allowances for the inevitable angle of nationality, the equally inevitable personal equation. A recent ambitious book on America, by a Washington journalist of long residence here, although of foreign birth, declares that "the chief trait of the American people is the love of gain and the desire of wealth acquired through commerce." That is the opinion of an expert observer, who has had extraordinary chances for seeing precisely what he has seen. I think it, notwithstanding, a preposterous opinion, fully as preposterous as Professor Muensterberg's notion that America has latterly grown more monarchical in its tendencies,--but I must remember that, in my own case, as in that of the journalist under consideration, there are allowances to be made for race, and training, and natural idiosyncracy of vision.

The native American, it may be well to remember, is something of an observer himself. If his observations upon the characteristics of his countrymen are less piquant than the foreigner's, it is chiefly because the American writes, upon the whole, less incisively than he talks. But incisive native writing about American traits is not lacking. If a missionary, say in South Africa, has read the New York Nation every week for the past forty years, he has had an extraordinary "moving picture" of American tendencies, as interpreted by independent, trenchant, and high-minded criticism. That a file of the Nation will convey precisely the same impression of American tendencies as a file of the Sun, for instance, or the Boston Evening Transcript, is not to be affirmed. The humor of the London Punch and the New York Life does not differ more radically than the aspects of American civilization as viewed by two rival journals in Newspaper Row. The complexity of the material now collected and presented in daily journalism is so great that adequate editorial interpretation is obviously impossible. All the more insistently does this heterogeneous picture of American life demand the impartial interpretation of the historian, the imaginative transcription of the novelist. Humorist and moralist, preacher and mob orator and social essayist, shop-talk and talk over the tea-cup or over the pipe, and the far more illuminating instruction of events, are fashioning day by day the infinitely delicate processes of our national self-assessment. Scholars like Mr. Henry Adams or Mr. James Ford Rhodes will explain to us American life as it was during the administrations of Jefferson or in the eighteen-fifties. Professor Turner will expound the significance of the frontier in American history. Mr. Henry James will portray with unrivalled psychological insight the Europeanized American of the eighteen-seventies and eighties. Literary critics like Professor Wendell or Professor Trent will deduce from our literature itself evidence concerning this or that national quality; and all this mass of American expert testimony, itself a result and a proof of national self-awareness and self-respect, must be put into the scales to balance, to confirm, or to outweigh the reports furnished by foreigners.

I do not pretend to be able, like an expert accountant, to draw up a balance-sheet of national qualities, to credit or debit the American character with this or that precise quantity of excellence or defect. But having turned the pages of many books about the United States, and listened to many conversations about its inhabitants in many states of the Union, I venture to collect a brief list of the qualities which have been assigned to us, together with a few, but not, I trust, too many, of our admitted national defects.

Like that excellent German who wrote the History of the English Drama in six volumes, I begin with Physical Geography. The differentiation of the physical characteristics of our branch of the English race is admittedly due, in part, to climate. In spite of the immense range of climatic variations as one passes from New England to New Orleans, from the Mississippi Valley to the high plains of the Far West, or from the rainy Oregon belt southward to San Diego, the settlers of English stock find a prevalent atmospheric condition, as a result of which they begin, in a generation or two, to change in physique. They grow thinner and more nervous, they "lean forward," as has been admirably said of them, while the Englishman "leans back"; they are less heavy and less steady; their voices are higher, sharper; their athletes get more easily "on edge"; they respond, in short, to an excessively stimulating climate. An old-fashioned sea-captain put it all into a sentence when he said that he could drink a bottle of wine with his dinner in Liverpool and only a half a bottle in New York. Explain the cause as we may, the fact seems to be that the body of John Bull changes, in the United States, into the body of Uncle Sam.

There are mental differences no less pronounced. No adjective has been more frequently applied to the Anglo-Saxon than the word "dull." The American mind has been accused of ignorance, superficiality, levity, commonplaceness, and dozens of other defects, but "dulness" is not one of them. "Smartness," rather, is the preferred epithet of derogation; or, to rise a little in the scale of valuation, it is the word "cleverness," used with that lurking contempt for cleverness which is truly English and which long survived in the dialect of New England, where the village ne'er-do-well or Jack-of-all-trades used to be pronounced a "clever" fellow. The variety of employments to which the American pioneers were obliged to betake themselves has done something, no doubt, to produce a national versatility, a quick assimilation of new methods and notions, a ready adaptability to novel emergencies. An invaluable pioneer trait is curiosity; the settler in a new country, like Moses in the wilderness of Arabia, must "turn aside to see"; he must look into things, learn to read signs,--or else the Indians or frost or freshet will soon put an end to his pioneering. That curiosity concerning strangers which so much irritated Dickens and Mrs. Trollope was natural to the children of Western emigrants to whom the difference between Sioux and Pawnee had once meant life or death. "What's your business, stranger, in these parts?" was an instinctive, because it had once been a vital, question. That it degenerates into mere inquisitiveness is true enough; just as the "acuteness," the "awareness," essential to the existence of one generation becomes only "cuteness," the typical tin-pedler's habit of mind, in the generation following.

American inexperience, the national rawness and unsophistication which has impressed so many observers, has likewise its double significance when viewed historically. We have exhibited, no doubt, the amateurishness and recklessness which spring from relative isolation, from ignorance as to how they manage elsewhere this particular sort of thing,--the conservation of forests, let us say, or the government of colonial dependencies. National smugness and conceit, the impatience crystallized in the phrase, "What have we got to do with abroad?" have jarred upon the nerves of many cultivated Americans. But it is no less true that a nation of pioneers and settlers, like the isolated individual, learns certain rough-and-ready Robinson Crusoe ways of getting things done. A California mining-camp is sure to establish law and order in due time, though never, perhaps, a law and order quite according to Blackstone. In the most trying crises of American political history, it was not, after all, a question of profiting by European experience. Washington and Lincoln, in their sorest struggles, had nothing to do with "abroad"; the problem had first to be thought through, and then fought through, in American and not in European terms. Not a half-dozen Englishmen understood the bearings of the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, or, if they did, we were little the wiser. We had to wait until a slow-minded frontier lawyer mastered it in all its implications, and then patiently explained it to the farmers of Illinois, to the United States, and to the world.

It is true that the unsophisticated mode of procedure may turn out to be sheer folly,--a "sixteen to one" triumph of provincial barbarism. But sometimes it is the secret of freshness and of force. Your cross-country runner scorns the highway, but that is because he has confidence in his legs and loins, and he likes to take the fences. Fenimore Cooper, when he began to write stories, knew nothing about the art of novel-making as practised in Europe, but he possessed something infinitely better for him, namely, instinct, and he took the right road to the climax of a narrative as unerringly as the homing bee follows its viewless trail.

No one can be unaware how easily this superb American confidence may turn to over-confidence, to sheer recklessness. We love to run past the signals, in our railroading and in our thinking. Emerson will "plunge" on a new idea as serenely as any stock-gambler ever "plunged" in Wall Street, and a pretty school-teacher will tell you that she has become an advocate of the "New Thought" as complacently as an old financier will boast of having bought Calumet and Hecla when it was selling at 25. (Perhaps the school-teacher may get as good a bargain. I cannot say.) Upon the whole, Americans back individual guesswork and pay cheerfully when they lose. A great many of them, as it happens, have guessed right. Even those who continue to guess wrong, like Colonel Sellers, have the indefeasible romantic appetite for guessing again. The American temperament and the chances of American history have brought constant temptation to speculation, and plenty of our people prefer to gamble upon what they love to call a "proposition," rather than to go to the bottom of the facts. They would rather speculate than know.

Doubtless there are purely physical causes that have encouraged this mental attitude, such as the apparently inexhaustible resources of a newly opened country, the consciousness of youthful energy, the feeling that any very radical mistake in pitching camp to-day can easily be rectified when we pitch camp to-morrow. The habit of exaggeration which was so particularly annoying to English visitors in the middle of the last century--annoying even to Charles Dickens, who was himself something of an expert in exuberance--is a physical and moral no less than a mental quality. That monstrous braggadocio which Dickens properly satirized in Martin Chuzzlewit was partly, of course, the product of provincial ignorance. Doubtless there were, and there are still, plenty of Pograms who are convinced that Henry Clay and Daniel Webster overtop all the intellectual giants of the Old World. But that youthful bragging, and perhaps some of the later bragging as well, has its social side. It is a perverted idealism. It springs from group loyalty, from sectional fidelity. The settlement of "Eden" may be precisely what Dickens drew it: a miasmatic mud-hole. Yet we who are interested in the new town do not intend, as the popular phrase has it, "to give ourselves away." We back our own "proposition," so that to this day Chicago cannot tell the truth to St. Louis, nor Harvard to Yale. Braggadocio thus gets glorified through its rootage in loyalty; and likewise extravagance--surely one of the worst of American mental vices--is often based upon a romantic confidence in individual opinion or in the righteousness of some specific cause. Convince a blue-blooded American like Wendell Phillips that the abolition of slavery is right, and, straightway, words and even facts become to him mere weapons in a splendid warfare. His statements grow rhetorical, reckless, virulent. Proof seems to him, as it did to the contemporary Transcendentalist philosophers, an impertinence. The sole question is, "Are you on the Lord's side?" i.e., on the side of Wendell Phillips.

Excuse as we may the faults of a gifted combatant in a moral crisis like the abolition controversy, the fact remains that the intellectual dangers of the oratorical temperament are typically American. What is commonly called our "Fourth of July" period has indeed passed away. It has few apologists, perhaps fewer than it really deserves. It is possible to regret the disappearance of that old-fashioned assertion of patriotism and pride, and to question whether historical pageants and a "noiseless Fourth" will develop any better citizens than the fathers were. But on the purely intellectual side, the influence of that spread-eagle oratory was disastrous. Throughout wide-extended regions of the country, and particularly in the South and West, the "orator" grew to be, in the popular mind, the normal representative of intellectual ability. Words, rather than things, climbed into the saddle. Popular assemblies were taught the vocabulary and the logic of passion, rather than of sober, lucid reasoning. The "stump" grew more potent than school-house and church and bench; and it taught its reckless and passionate ways to more than one generation. The intellectual leaders of the newer South have more than once suffered ostracism for protesting against this glorification of mere oratory. But it is not the South alone that has suffered. Wherever a mob can gather, there are still the dangers of the old demagogic vocabulary and rhetoric. The mob state of mind is lurking still in the excitable American temperament.

The intellectual temptations of that temperament are revealed no less in our popular journalism. This journalism, it is needless to say, is extremely able, but it is reckless to the last degree. The extravagance of its head-lines and the over-statements of its news columns are direct sources of profit, since they increase the circulation and it is circulation which wins advertising space. I think it is fair to say that the American people, as a whole, like precisely the sort of journalism which they get. The tastes of the dwellers in cities control, more and more, the character of our newspapers. The journals of New York, Chicago, and San Francisco are steadily gaining in circulation, in resourcefulness, and in public spirit, but they are, for the most part, unscrupulous in attack, sophistical, and passionate. They outvie the popular pulpit in sentimentality. They play with fire.

The note of exaggeration which is heard in American oratory and journalism is struck again in the popular magazines. Their campaign of "exposure," during the last decade, has been careless of individual and corporate rights and reputations. Even the magazine sketches and short stories are keyed up to a hysteric pitch. So universally is this characteristic national tension displayed in our periodical literature that no one is much surprised to read in his morning paper that some one has called the President of the United States a liar,--or that some one has been called a liar by the President of the United States.

For an explanation of these defects, shall we fall back upon a convenient maxim of De Tocqueville's and admit with him that "a democracy is unsuited to meditation"? We are forced to do so. But then comes the inevitable second thought that a democracy must needs have other things than meditation to attend to. Athenian and Florentine and Versailles types of political despotism have all proved highly favorable to the lucubrations of philosophers and men of letters who enjoyed the despot's approbation. For that matter, no scheme of life was ever better suited to meditation than an Indian reservation in the eighteen-seventies, with a Great Father in Washington to furnish blankets, flour, and tobacco. Yet that is not quite the American ideal of existence, and it even failed to produce the peaceable fruits of meditation in the Indian himself.

One may freely admit the shortcomings of the American intelligence; the "commonness of mind and tone" which Mr. Bryce believes to be inseparable from the presence of such masses of men associated under modern democratic government; the frivolity and extravagance which represent the gasconading of the romantic temper in face of the grey practicalities of everyday routine; the provincial boastfulness and bad taste which have resulted from intellectual isolation; the lack, in short, of a code, whether for thought or speech or behavior. And nevertheless, one's instinctive Americanism replies, May it not be better, after all, to have gone without a code for a while, to have lacked that orderly and methodized and socialized European intelligence, and to have had the glorious sense of bringing things to pass in spite of it? There is just one thing that would have been fatal to our democracy. It is the feeling expressed in La Bruyère's famous book: "Everything has been said, everything has been written, everything has been done." Here in America everything was to do; we were forced to conjugate our verbs in the future tense. No doubt our existence has been, in some respects, one of barbarism, but it has been the barbarism of life and not of death. A rawboned baby sprawling on the mud floor of a Kentucky log cabin is a more hopeful spectacle than a wholly civilized funeral.

"Perhaps it is," rejoins the European critic, somewhat impatiently, "but you are confusing the issue. We find certain grave defects in the American mind, defects which, if you had not had what Thomas Carlyle called 'a great deal of land for a very few people,' would long ago have involved you in disaster. You admit the mental defects, but you promptly shift the question to one of moral qualities, of practical energy, of subduing your wilderness, and so forth. You have too often absented yourself from the wedding banquet, from the European symposium of wit and philosophy, from the polished and orderly and delightful play and interplay of civilized mind,--and your excuse is the old one: that you are trying your yoke of oxen and cannot come. We charge you with intellectual sins, and you enter the plea of moral preoccupation. If you will permit personal examples, you Americans have made ere now your national heroes out of men whose reasoning powers remained those of a college sophomore, who were unable to state an opponent's position with fairness, who lacked wholly the judicial quality, who were vainglorious and extravagant, who had, in short, the mind of an exuberant barbarian; but you instantly forget their intellectual defects in the presence of their abounding physical and moral energy, their freedom from any taint of personal corruption, their whole-souled desire and effort for the public good. Were not such heroes, impossible as they would have been in any other civilized country, perfectly illuminative of your national state of mind?"

For one, I confess that I do not know what reply to make to my imaginary European critic. I suspect that he is right. At any rate, we stand here at the fork of the road. If we do not wish to linger any longer over a catalogue of intellectual sins, let us turn frankly to our moral preoccupations, comforting ourselves, if we like, as we abandon the field of purely intellectual rivalry with Europe, in the reflection that it is the muddle-headed Anglo-Saxon, after all, who is the dominant force in the modern world.

The moral temper of the American people has been analyzed no less frequently than their mental traits. Foreign and native observers are alike agreed in their recognition of the extraordinary American energy. The sheer power of the American bodily machine, driven by the American will, is magnificent. It is often driven too hard, and with reckless disregard of anything save immediate results. It wears out more quickly than the bodily machine of the Englishman. It is typical that the best distance runners of Great Britain usually beat ours, while we beat them in the sprints. Our public men are frequently--as the athletes say--"all in" at sixty. Their energy is exhausted at just the time that many an English statesman begins his best public service. But after making every allowance for wasteful excess, for the restless and impatient consumption of nervous forces which nature intended that we should hold in reserve, the fact remains that American history has demonstrated the existence of a dynamic national energy, physical and moral, which is still unabated. Immigration has turned hitherward the feet of millions upon millions of young men from the hardiest stocks of Europe. They replenish the slackening streams of vigor. When the northern New Englander cannot make a living on the old farm, the French Canadian takes it off his hands, and not only improves the farm, but raises big crops of boys. So with Italians, Swedes, Germans, Irish, Jews, and Portuguese, and all the rest. We are a nation of immigrants, a digging, hewing, building, breeding, bettering race, of mixed blood and varying creeds, but of fundamental faith in the wages of going on; a race compounded of materials crude but potent; raw, but with blood that is red and bones that are big; a race that is accomplishing its vital tasks, and, little by little, transmuting brute forces and material energies into the finer play of mind and spirit.

From the very beginning, the American people have been characterized by idealism. It was the inner light of Pilgrim and Quaker colonists; it gleams no less in the faces of the children of Russian Jew immigrants to-day. American irreverence has been noted by many a foreign critic, but there are certain subjects in whose presence our reckless or cynical speech is hushed. Compared with current Continental humor, our characteristic American humor is peculiarly reverent. The purity of woman and the reality of religion are not considered topics for jocosity. Cleanness of body and of mind are held by our young men to be not only desirable but attainable virtues. There is among us, in comparison with France or Germany, a defective reverence for the State as such; and a positive irreverence towards the laws of the Commonwealth, and towards the occupants of high political positions. Mayor, Judge, Governor, Senator, or even President, may be the butt of such indecorous ridicule as shocks or disgusts the foreigner; but nevertheless the personal joke stops short of certain topics which Puritan tradition disapproves. The United States is properly called a Christian nation, not merely because the Supreme Court has so affirmed it, but because the phrase "a Christian nation" expresses the historical form which the religious idealism of the country has made its own. The Bible is still considered, by the mass of the people, a sacred book; oaths in courts of law, oaths of persons elected to great office, are administered upon it. American faith in education, as all the world knows, has from the beginning gone hand in hand with faith in religion; the school-house was almost as sacred a symbol as the meeting-house; and the munificence of American private benefactions to the cause of education furnishes to-day one of the most striking instances of idealism in the history of civilization.

The ideal passions of patriotism, of liberty, of loyalty to home and section, of humanitarian and missionary effort, have all burned with a clear flame in the United States. The optimism which lies so deeply embedded in the American character is one phase of the national mind. Charles Eliot Norton once said to me, with his dry humor, that there was an infallible test of the American authorship of any anonymous article or essay: "Does it contain the phrase 'After all, we need not despair'? If it does, it was written by an American." In spite of all that is said about the practicality of the American, his love of gain and his absorption in material interests, those who really know him are aware how habitually he confronts his practical tasks in a spirit of romantic enthusiasm. He marches downtown to his prosaic day's job and calls it "playing the game"; to work as hard as he can is to "get into the game," and to work as long as he can is to "stay in the game"; he loves to win fully as much as the Jew and he hates to lose fully as much as the Englishman, but losing or winning, he carries into his business activity the mood of the idealist.

It is easy to think of all this as self-deception as the emotional effusiveness of the American temperament; but to refuse to see its idealism is to mistake fundamentally the character of the American man. No doubt he does deceive himself often as to his real motives: he is a mystic and a bargain-hunter by turns. Divided aims, confused ideals, have struggled for the mastery among us, ever since Challon's Voyage, in 1606, announced that the purpose of the first colonists to Virginia was "both to seek to convert the savages, as also to seek out what benefits or commodities might be had in those parts." How that "both"--"as also" keeps echoing in American history: "both" to christianize the Negro and work him at a profit, "both" duty and advantage in retaining the Philippines; "both" international good will and increased armaments; "both" Sunday morning precepts and Monday morning practice; "both" horns of a dilemma; "both God and mammon"; did ever a nation possess a more marvellous water-tight compartment method of believing and honoring opposites! But in all this unconscious hypocrisy the American is perhaps not worse--though he may be more absurd!--than other men.

Another aspect of the American mind is found in our radicalism. "To be an American," it has been declared, "is to be a radical." That statement needs qualification. Intellectually the American is inclined to radical views; he is willing to push certain social theories very far; he will found a new religion, a new philosophy, a new socialistic community, at the slightest notice or provocation; but he has at bottom a fund of moral and political conservatism. Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest of our radical idealists, had a good deal of the English squire in him after all. Jeffersonianism endures, not merely because it is a radical theory of human nature, but because it expresses certain facts of human nature. The American mind looks forward, not back; but in practical details of land, taxes, and governmental machinery we are instinctively cautious of change. The State of Connecticut knows that her constitution is ill adapted to the present conditions of her population, but the difficulty is to persuade the rural legislators to amend it. Yet everybody admits that amendment will come "some day." This admission is a characteristic note of American feeling; and every now and then come what we call "uplift" movements, when radicalism is in the very air, and a thousand good "causes" take fresh vigor.

One such period was in the New England of the eighteen-forties. We are moving in a similar--only this time a national--current of radicalism, to-day. But a change in the weather or the crops has before now turned many of our citizens from radicalism into conservatism. There is, in fact, conservatism in our blood and radicalism in our brains, and now one and now the other rules. Very typical of American radicalism is that story of the old sea-captain who was ignorant, as was supposed, of the science of navigation, and who cheerfully defended himself by saying that he could work his vessel down to Boston Light without knowing any navigation, and after that he could go where he "dum pleased." I suspect the old fellow pulled his sextant and chronometer out of his chest as soon as he really needed them. American radicalism is not always as innocent of the world's experience as it looks. In fact, one of the most interesting phases of this twentieth century "uplift" movement is its respect and even glorification of expert opinion. A German expert in city-planning electrifies an audience of Chicago club-women by talking to them about drains, ash-carts, and flower-beds. A hundred other experts, in sanitation, hygiene, chemistry, conservation of natural resources, government by commission, tariffs, arbitration treaties, are talking quite as busily; and they have the attention of a national audience that is listening with genuine modesty, and with a real desire to refashion American life on wiser and nobler plans. In this national forward movement in which we are living, radicalism has shown its beneficent aspect of constructive idealism.

No catalogue of American qualities and defects can exclude the trait of individualism. We exalt character over institutions, says Mr. Brownell; we like our institutions because they suit us, and not because we admire institutions. "Produce great persons," declares Walt Whitman, "the rest follows." Whether the rest follows or not, there can be no question that Americans, from the beginning, have laid singular stress upon personal qualities. The religion and philosophy of the Puritans were in this respect at one with the gospel of the frontier. It was the principle of "every man for himself"; solitary confrontation of his God, solitary struggle with the wilderness. "He that will not work," declared John Smith after that first disastrous winter at Jamestown, "neither let him eat." The pioneer must clear his own land, harvest his own crops, defend his own fireside; his temporal and eternal salvation were strictly his own affair. He asked, and expected, no aid from the community; he could at most "change works" in time of harvest, with a neighbor, if he had one. It was the sternest school of self-reliance, from babyhood to the grave, that human society is ever likely to witness. It bred heroes and cranks and hermits; its glories and its eccentricities are written in the pages of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman; they are written more permanently still in the instinctive American faith in individual manhood. Our democracy idolizes a few individuals; it ignores their defective training, or, it may be, their defective culture; it likes to think of an Andrew Jackson who was a "lawyer, judge, planter, merchant, general, and politician," before he became President; it asks only that the man shall not change his individual character in passing from one occupation or position to another; in fact, it is amused and proud to think of Grant hauling cordwood to market, of Lincoln keeping store or Roosevelt rounding-up cattle. The one essential question was put by Hawthorne into the mouth of Holgrave in the House of the Seven Gables. Holgrave had been by turns a schoolmaster, clerk in a store, editor, pedler, lecturer on Mesmerism, and daguerreotypist, but "amid all these personal vicissitudes," says Hawthorne, "he had never lost his identity.... He had never violated the innermost man, but had carried his conscience along with him." There speaks the local accent of Puritanism, but the voice insisting upon the moral integrity of the individual is the undertone of America.

Finally, and surely not the least notable of American traits, is public spirit. Triumphant individualism checks itself, or is rudely checked in spite of itself, by considerations of the general good. How often have French critics confessed, with humiliation, that in spite of the superior socialization of the French intelligence, France has yet to learn from America the art and habit of devoting individual fortunes to the good of the community. Our American literature, as has been already pointed out, is characteristically a citizen literature, responsive to the civic note, the production of men who, like the writers of the Federalist, applied a vigorous practical intelligence, a robust common sense, to questions affecting the interest of everybody. The spirit of fair play in our free democracy has led Americans to ask not merely what is right and just for one, the individual, but what are righteousness and justice and fair play for all. Democracy, as embodied in such a leader as Lincoln, has meant Fellowship. Nothing finer can be said of a representative American than to say of him, as Mr. Norton said of Mr. Lowell, that he had a "most public soul."

No one can present such a catalogue of American qualities as I have attempted without realizing how much escapes his classification. Conscious criticism and assessment of national characteristics is essential to an understanding of them; but one feels somehow that the net is not holding. The analysis of English racial inheritances, as modified by historical conditions, yields much, no doubt; but what are we to say of such magnificent embodiments of the American spirit as are revealed in the Swiss immigrant Agassiz, the German exile Carl Schurz, the native-born mulatto Booker Washington? The Americanism of representative Americans is something which must be felt; it is to be reached by imaginative perception and sympathy, no less than by the process of formal analysis. It would puzzle the experts in racial tendencies to find arithmetically the common denominator of such American figures as Franklin, Washington, Jackson, Webster, Lee, Lincoln, Emerson, and "Mark Twain"; yet the countrymen of those typical Americans instinctively recognize in them a sort of largeness, genuineness, naturalness, kindliness, humor, effectiveness, idealism, which are indubitably and fundamentally American.

There are certain sentiments of which we ourselves are conscious, though we can scarcely translate them into words, and these vaguely felt emotions of admiration, of effort, of fellowship and social faith are the invisible America. Take, for a single example, the national admiration for what we call a "self-made" man: here is a boy selling candy and newspapers on a Michigan Central train; he makes up his mind to be a lawyer; in twelve years from that day he is general counsel for the Michigan Central road; he enters the Senate of the United States and becomes one of its leading figures. The instinctive flush of sympathy and pride with which Americans listen to such a story is far more deeply based than any vulgar admiration for money-making abilities. No one cares whether such a man is rich or poor. He has vindicated anew the possibilities of manhood under American conditions of opportunity; the miracle of our faith has in him come true once more.

No one can understand America with his brains. It is too big, too puzzling. It tempts, and it deceives. But many an illiterate immigrant has felt the true America in his pulses before he ever crossed the Atlantic. The descendant of the Pilgrims still remains ignorant of our national life if he does not respond to its glorious zest, its throbbing energy, its forward urge, its uncomprehending belief in the future, its sense of the fresh and mighty world just beyond to-day's horizon. Whitman's "Pioneers, O Pioneers" is one of the truest of American poems because it beats with the pulse of this onward movement, because it is full of this laughing and conquering fellowship and of undefeated faith.

[The end]
Bliss Perry's essay: American Mind