The Memoirs of William Jennings Bryan

By Mary Baird Bryan; William Jennings Bryan | Go to book overview

CHAPTER I
A PICTURE OF THE TIMES

THOUGH a young civilization is freed from the burden of custom and of precedent, an older community has the advantage which comes of permanence. A man born in a stabilized environment has a well-defined background which may be traced with clearness and accuracy. Stratford-on-Avon still gives a setting for Shakespeare. The Scottish Highlands revive again the poems and personality of Burns. One sees from the bridge of the Arno the dim figures of Beatrice and Dante. London jealously guards streets and buildings where lurk the shades of Chaucer, Johnson, Dickens, and a long procession of statesmen and scholars.

In the older part of America time has given in a less degree some permanence of background. Our New England States have not a few spots hallowed by memories of our early scholars, and near the old North Church one can almost hear again the hoof-beats of the ride of Paul Revere.

In the newer part of our country such conditions do not obtain. Landmarks of fifty years ago are gone. The trail of the pioneer has given place to paved highways; the log- built home has vanished to be replaced by structures of steel and cement; the time of Lincoln can no longer be read in the context (if one may use that expression) and the student must reconstruct the environment by research. Even to one born sixty-five years ago in the Middle West, the background grows dim, for almost within the life of a generation a vast region has been completely changed.

When my grandfather, Colonel Darius Dexter, and his two brothers, left the village of Dexterville, now a suburb of Jamestown, New York, for the great West in 1838, they built a sort of raft boat, and with their families and house-

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