Observations on Life, Literature, and Learning in America

Observations on Life, Literature, and Learning in America

Observations on Life, Literature, and Learning in America

Observations on Life, Literature, and Learning in America

Excerpt

IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY the Jesuit relations, the idealization of the Indians, the popularity of Franklin, the admiration of the "corrupt French" for the Quakers and for the frugal and moral farmers of the young republic had helped create an "American myth" in France. Then, for more than a hundred years, in spite of Chateaubriand's glowing and mendacious descriptions of the American scenery from Niagara to the land of the Natchez, apprehension and condescension prevailed in many of the allusions to the materialism of the New World scattered in the writings of Stendhal, Balzac, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Renan. Youthful readers of Fenimore Cooper, Mayne Reid, and later of Jack London lavished their fervor on Indians or animals rather than on the pioneers pushing the frontier westward; their sympathies went to the Negroes rather than to the plantation owners or to the first industrial barons.

Up to 1917, when the author of the following essays happened to hear the United States mentioned at school, apropos of a few anecdotes on Washington, of a revolution which the subsequent French one was supposed to have broadened and universalized, of the "War of Secession," his imagination was hardly touched. The French have always been more partial to their own past, glamorous and . . .

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