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enthusiasm are exhaustless, so that there new researches, for ever practising on is little chance of genius being ignored. themselves. They learn to understand And, moreover, they are always working themselves. They learn to know what either for or against the verdicts of the they want. Their taste becomes surer majority. The majority can make a and surer as their experience lengthens. reputation, but it is too careless to main. They do not enjoy to-day what will seem tain it. If, by accident, the passionate tedious to them to-morrow. When they few agree with the majority in a particu- find a book tedious, no amount of popular instance, they will frequently remind lar clatter will persuade them that it is the majority that such and such a reputa- pleasurable; and when they find it pleastion has been made, and the majority will ur
urable no chill silence of the street-crowds idly concur: "Ah, yes. By the way, will affect their conviction that the book we must not forget that such and such is good and permanent. They have reputation exists."
Without that per- faith in themselves. What are the qualisistent memory-jogging the reputation ties in a book which give keen and lasting would quickly fall into the oblivion which pleasure to the passionate few? This is is death. The passionate few only have a question so difficult that it has never yet their way by reason of the fact that they been completely answered. You may talk are genuinely interested in literature, that lightly about truth, insight, knowledge, literature matters to them. They con- wisdom, humor, and beauty. But these quer by their obstinacy alone, by their comfortable words do not really carry eternal repetition of the same statements. you very far, for each of them has to be Do you suppose they could prove to the defined, especially the first and last. It man in the street that Shakespeare was a is all very well for Keats in his airy mangreat artist? The said man would not ner to assert that beauty is truth, truth even understand the terms they employed. | beauty, and that that is all he knows or But when he is told ten thousand times, needs to know. I, for one, need to know and generation after generation, that a lot more. And I never shall know. NoShakespeare was a great artist, the said body, not even Hazlitt nor Sainte-Beuve, man believes not by reason, but by faith. has ever finally explained why he thought And he, too, repeats that Shakespeare was a book beautiful. I take the first fine a great artist, and he buys the complete lines that come to handworks of Shakespeare and puts them on his shelves, and he goes to see the mar- The woods of Arcady are dead, velous stage-effects which accompany And over is their antique joyKing Lear or Hamlet, and comes back religiously convinced that Shakespeare was and I say that those lines are beautiful a great artist. All because the passion- | because they give me pleasure. But why? ate few could not keep their admiration of No answer! I only know that the pasShakespeare to themselves. This is not sionate few will broadly agree with me in cynicism; but truth. And it is important deriving this mysterious pleasure from that those who wish to form their literary these lines. I am only convinced that the taste should grasp it.
liveliness of our pleasure in those and
many other lines by the same author will What causes the passionate few to make ultimately cause the majority to believe, such a fuss about literature? There can by faith, that W. B. Yeats is a genius. be only one reply. They find a keen and The one reassuring aspect of the literary lasting pleasure in literature. They en- affair is that the passionate few are pasjoy literature as some men enjoy beer. sionate about the same things. A conThe recurrence of this pleasure naturally tinuance of interest does, in actual prackeeps their interest in literature very tice, lead ultimately to the same judgmuch alive. They are for ever making ments. There is only the difference in
width of interest. Some of the passion- sionate few can no more neglect it than ate few lack catholicity, or, rather, the a bee can neglect a flower. The passionwhole of their interest is confined to one ate few do not read “the right things” narrow_channel; they have none left because they are right. That is to put over. These men help specially to vital- the cart before the horse. “The right ize the reputations of the narrower gen- things” are the right things solely because iuses, such as Crashaw. But their active the passionate few like reading them. predilections never contradict the general Hence-and I now arrive at my pointverdict of the passionate few; rather they the one primary essential to literary taste reinforce it.
is a hot interest in literature. If you
have that, all the rest will come. It matA classic is a work which gives pleasure ters nothing that at present you fail to to the minority which is intensely and find pleasure in certain classics. The permanently interested in literature. It driving impulse of your interest will force lives on because the minority, eager to re- you to acquire experience, and experience new the sensation of pleasure, is eternally will teach you the use of the means of curious and is therefore engaged in an pleasure. You do not know the secret eternal process of rediscovery. A classic ways of yourself: that is all. A continudoes not survive for any ethical reason. ance of interest must inevitably bring you It does not survive because it conforms to to the keenest joys. But, of course, expericertain canons, or because neglect would ence may be acquired judiciously or injunot kill it. It survives because it is a diciously, just as Putney may be reached source of pleasure, and because the pas- via Walham Green or via St. Petersburg.
HOW THE PROMISE HAS BEEN REALIZED
HERBERT CROLY Herbert Croly (1869- ) has been an editor of the New Republic since 1914. In that capacity he has to a great extent determined the attitude of that magazine toward public questions, and is largely responsible for its fearless frankness. Mr. Croly tells us, in the World's Work for June, 1910, that The Promise of American Life (1909) was the result of a growing conviction, first suggested by Judge Robert Grant's novel Unleavened Bread, that it was deplorable that "American patriotic formulas could be used to discourage competent and specialized individual effort.” To remedy the evils of a "chaotic mixture of alien and shifting elements” in our social and political structures he urges a constructive relation between nationality and democracy.
All the conditions of American life and less confident of the future. They have tended to encourage an easy, gen- are always by way of fighting for their erous, and irresponsible optimism. As national security and integrity. With compared to Europeans, Americans have possible or actual enemies on their several been very much favored by circumstances. frontiers, and with their land fully occuHad it not been for the Atlantic Ocean pied by their own population, they need and the virgin wilderness, the United above all to be strong, to be cautious, to States would never have been the Land be united, and to be opportune in their of Promise. The European Powers have policy and behavior. The case of France been obliged from the very conditions of shows the danger of neglecting the their existence to be more circumspect sources of internal strength, while at the
same time philandering with ideas and ? From The Promise of American Life by projects of human amelioration. BisHerbert Croly. Published by The Macmillan
marck and Cavour seized the opportunity Company. Reprinted by permission.
of making extremely useful for Germany
and Italy the irrelevant and vacillating "What, then, is an American, this new idealism and the timid absolutism of the man?" asks the Pennsylvania farmer. third Napoleon. Great Britain has occupied in this respect a better situation He is either a European or the descendant than have the Continental Powers. Her of a European; hence the strange mixture of insular security made her more independ
blood, which you will find in no other coun
try. ent of the menaces and complications of
He becomes an American by being received foreign politics, and left her free to be in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. measurably liberal at home and immeas- Here individuals of all nations are melted urably imperial abroad. Yet she has into a new race of men, whose labors and
prosperity will one day cause great changes made only a circumspect use of her free
in the world. Here the rewards of his indom. British liberalism was forged al- dustry follow with equal steps the progress of most exclusively for the British people his labor; this labor is founded on the basis and the British peace for colonial sub
of self-interest; can it want a stronger allurejects. Great Britain could have afforded
ment? Wives and children, who before in
vain demanded a morsel of bread, now fat better than France to tie its national life and frolicsome, gladly help their father to to an overnational idea, but the only idea clear those fields, whence exuberant crops in which Britons have really believed was
are to arise to feed them all; without any that of British security, prosperity, and
part being claimed either by a despotic
prince, a rich abbot, or a mighty lord. power. In the case of our own country The American is a new man, who acts upon the advantages possessed by England have new principles; he must therefore entertain been amplified and extended. The new ideas and form new opinions. From inUnited States was divided from the main
voluntary idleness, servile dependence, pen
ury, and useless labor, he has passed to land of Europe not by a channel but by
toils of a very different nature rewarded by an
Its dimensions were conti- ample subsistence. This is an American. nental rather than insular. We were for the most part freed from alien interfer- Although the foregoing is one of the ence, and could, so far as we dared, ex- first, it is also one of the most explicit periment with political and social ideals. descriptions of the fundamental AmerThe land was unoccupied, and its settle-ican; and it deserves to be analyzed with ment offered an unprecedented area and some care.
care. According to this French abundance of economic opportunity. After convert the American is a man, or the the Revolution the whole political and descendant of a man, who has emigrated social organization was renewed, and from Europe chiefly because he expects to made both more serviceable and more be better able in the New World to enflexible. Under such happy circum-joy the fruits of his own labor. The stances the New World was assuredly conception implies, consequently, an Old destined to become to its inhabitants a World, in which the ordinary man canLand of Promise-a land in which men not become independent and prosperous, were offered a fairer chance and a better and, on the other hand, a New World in future than the best which the Old which economic opportunities are much World could afford.
more abundant and accessible. AmerNo more explicit expression has ever ica has been peopled by Europeans pribeen given to the way in which the Land marily because they expected in that of Promise was first conceived by its country to make more money more easily, children than in the "Letters of an Amer- To the European immigrant-that is, to ican Farmer.” This book was written the aliens who have been converted into by a French Immigrant, Hector St. John Americans by the advantage of American de Crèveccur before the Revolution, and life—the Promise of America has conis informed by an intense consciousness sisted largely in the opportunity which it of the difference between conditions in the offered of economic independence and Old and in the New World.
prosperity. Whatever else the better
future, of which Europeans anticipate the Farmer” traced the good fortune of the enjoyment in America, may contain, these | European immigrant in America, not converts will consider themselves cheated merely to the abundance of economic opunless they are in a measure relieved of portunity, but to the fact that a ruling the curse of poverty.
class of abbots and lords had no prior This conception of American life and claim to a large share of the products of its Promise is as much alive to-day as it the soil. He did not attach the name of was in 1780. Its expression has no doubt democracy to the improved political and been modified during four generations of social institutions of America, and when democratic political independence, but the the political differences between Great modification has consisted of an expansion Britain and her American colonies culand a development rather than of a trans- minated in the Revolutionary War, the position. The native American, like converted "American Farmer” was filled the alien immigrant, conceives the better with anguish at this violent assertion of future which awaits himself and other the “New Americanism." Nevertheless men in America as fundamentally a fu- he was fully alive to the benefits which ture in which economic prosperity will be the immigrant enjoyed from a larger dose still more abundant and still more acces- of political and social freedom; and so, sible than it has yet been either here or of course, have been all the more intelliabroad. No alteration or attention of gent of the European converts to Amerthis demand has been permitted. With icanism. A certain number of them, parall their professions of Christianity their ticularly during the early years, came over national idea remains thoroughly worldly. less for the purpose of making money They do not want either for themselves than for that of escaping from European or for their descendants an indefinite fu- political and religious persecution. Amerture of poverty and deprivation in this ica has always been conventionally conworld, redeemed by beatitude in the next. ceived, not merely as a land of abundant The Promise, which bulks so large in and accessible economic opportunities, but their patriotic outlook, is a promise of also as a refuge for the oppressed ; and the comfort and prosperity for an ever in-immigrant ships are crowded both during creasing majority of good Americans. times of European famine and during At a later stage of their social develop- times of political revolution and persecument they may come to believe that they tion. have ordered a larger supply of prosper- Inevitably, however, this aspect of the ity than the economic factory is capable of American Promise has undergone certain producing. Those who are already rich important changes since the establishment and comfortable, and who are keenly of our national independence. When the alive to the difficulty of distributing these colonists succeeded in emancipating thembenefits over a larger social area, may selves from political allegiance to Great come to tolerate the idea that poverty and Britain, they were confronted by the task want are an essential part of the social of organizing a stable and efficient govorder. But as yet this traditional Euro- ernment without encroaching on the freepean opinion has found few echoes in dom, which was even at that time traAmerica, even among the comfortable and ditionally associated with American life. the rich. The general belief still is that The task was by no means an easy one, Americans are not destined to renounce, and required for its performance the apbut to enjoy.
plication of other political principles than Let it be immediately added, however, that of freedom. The men who were rethat this economic independence and pros-sponsible for this great work were not, perity has always been absolutely asso- perhaps, entirely candid in recognizing ciated in the American mind with free the profound modifications in their trapolitical institutions. The "American ditional ideas which their constructive political work had implied; but they were portunities which did exist were largely at all events fully aware of the great im- monopolized by privileged classes. Power portance of their addition to the American was lodged in the hands of a few men, idea. That idea, while not ceasing to be whose interest depended upon keeping the at bottom economic, became more than people in a condition of economic and poever political and social in its mean- litical servitude; and in this way a diing and contents. The Land of vorce was created between individual inFreedom became
became in the course of terest and social stability and welfare. time also the Land of Equality. The The interests of the privileged rulers despecial American political system, the manded the perpetuation of unjust inconstruction of which was predicted in stitutions. The interest of the people dethe “Farmer's” assertion of the necessary manded a revolutionary upheaval. In novelty of American modes of thought the absence of such a revolution they had and action, was made explicitly, if not no sufficient inducement to seek their own uncompromisingly, democratic; and the material and moral improvement. The success of this democratic political system theory was proclaimed and accepted as a was indissolubly associated in the Amer- justification for this system of popular ican mind with the persistence of abun-oppression that men were not to be dant and widely distributed economic trusted to take care of themselves—that prosperity. Our democratic institutions they could be kept socially useful only became in a sense the guarantee that by the severest measures of moral, reprosperity would continue to be abundant ligious, and political discipline. The and accessible. In case the majority of theory of the American democracy and its good Americans were not prosperous, practice was proclaimed to be the antithere would be grave reasons for sus
thesis of this European theory and pracpecting that our institutions were not do- tice. The people were to be trusted ing their duty.
rather than suspected and disciplined. The
consciously democratic They must be tied to their country by the Americans became, however, the less they strong bond of self-interest. Give them were satisfied with a conception of the a fair chance, and the natural goodness Promised Land, which went no farther of human nature would do the rest. Inthan a pervasive economic prosperity dividual and public interest will, on the guaranteed by free institutions. The whole, coincide, provided no individuals amelioration promised to aliens and to are allowed to have special privileges. future Americans was to possess its moral Thus the American system will be preand social aspect. The implication was, destined to success by its own adequacy, and still is, that by virtue of the more and its success will constitute an enorcomfortable and less trammeled lives mous stride toward human amelioration. which Americans were enabled to lead, Just because our system is at bottom a they would constitute a better society and thorough test of the ability of human nawould become in general a worthier set ture to respond admirably to a fair of men. The confidence which American chance, the issue of the experiment is institutions placed in the American citi- bound to be of more than national imzen was considered equivalent to a greater portance. The American system stands faith in the excellence of human nature. for the highest hope of an excellent In our favored land political liberty and worldly life that mankind has yet veneconomic opportunity were by a process tured—the hope that men
can be imof natural education inevitably making proved without being fettered, that they for individual and social amelioration. In can be saved without even vicariously beEurope the people did not have a fairing nailed to the cross. chance. Population increased more quickly Such are the claims advanced on behalf than economic opportunities, and the op- of the American system; and within cer