American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

ways running about looking for copy, for local color, but his eyes are closed to the great things. I do not mean to intimate that any one of our prosperous family authors would in any condition be great; had they had greatness in them they would have broken loose long ago, and snapped their fingers at the powers--Henry James is a case in point--but they might be improved.

I should never venture to admonish women in any such fashion, for very few women know how to use their liberty, above all how to take life impersonally, to regard all life as a spectacle, to disassociate the mind from the body. Where one develops the strength of brain and ego triumphantly to override every convention and always remain high and dry, always the spectator, whom no circumstance can affect, the great number, indubitably, are the miserable victims of their own personalities; which in their turn are the victims of tradition. It is more than probable that the next fifty years will see the highly civilized woman as truly emancipated as man--as a very few women have been in the past; those who have genius needing nothing else to encourage and advise them. But there is no such excuse for men of genius or of talent. They should be content with their art, gratefully demanding nothing more, developing their ego in that service and absolutely indifferent whether the world approves of them as citizens or not. A writer who is singled out to create to be useful to the race--owes all to that gift, nothing to his trifling self. Who cares to-day that Poe was a drunkard, Coleridge an opium-eater, that Byron had forty mistresses and Georges Sand forty lovers? Not that excess is necessary, not by any means; many of the greatest men in literature have been sane, and careful of themselves; the temperaments that demand artificial stimulation pay a bitter price, and, what is worse, limit their contribution to art. Alcohol, stimulant of any sort--even strong coffee--in nine cases out of ten, and particularly in the case of women, who have active nerves enough, scatter the brain, weakening its coherence and logic long before actual decay sets in; or pitches it a note too high, so that the effect is bizarre rather than original.

There is only one way in which man or woman can develop real strength, and that is to fight unceasingly and to stand absolutely alone. {1904}

George Santayana


The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy

Ladies and Gentlemen: The privilege of addressing you to-day is very welcome to me, not merely for the honor of it, which is great, nor for the pleasures of travel, which are many, when it is California that one is visiting for the first time, but also because there is something I have long wanted to say which this occasion seems particularly favorable for saying. America is still a young country, and this part of it is especially so; and it would have been nothing extraordinary if, in this young country, material preoccupations had altogether absorbed people's minds, and they had been too much engrossed in living to reflect upon life, or to have any philosophy. The opposite, however, is the case. Not only have you

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