City and Country in America

City and Country in America

City and Country in America

City and Country in America

Excerpt

Once there were no American cities and now they abound. In the leap from the America of Crèvecoeur to the America of Victor Gruen much more has passed than 180 years; much more has changed than a topography of wood and earth for one of concrete and steel. A culture has disappeared, if not quite a civilization. Americans will never recapture that pristine sentiment that came spontaneously to men and women as they first glimpsed the deep green forests of Appalachia or the rich vast compost spread of the Mississippi Valley. To catch one's breath at the Prudential skyscraper in Chicago is to know a very different kind of wonder.

And yet for most of us a feeling for the earth and trees and sky remains. It is a feeling for the real thing, for the untouched or at most only slightly cultivated thing. In a civilization as fabricated and packed as that now riveting London to Melbourne and Detroit to Berlin, the natural world still promises us what it promised so varied a cluster of men as Crèvecoeur, Jefferson, and Thoreau: proximity to the real thing, to the stratum beneath all strata. And curiously enough, as from differing perspectives both the nineteenth-century Romantics and biologists perceived, through analogy and idea and imagination the world of untamed brooks and beasts always promises knowledge of man's own nature.

Just as cities have risen from the land, so our attachment to a less synthetic environment has persisted. Of course, our devotion to nature has lasted partly because cities appeared. The passages in this book from Emerson, Ruskin, and Howard make that clear. But what sometimes appears to be merely an escapist love of "the country," as we call it, is usually much more com-

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