We cannot believe that the American people are about to succumb to the gospel of indifference. In some Oriental lands man has long ago ceased from much strife with nature or affairs. He began by subduing the earth to his needs; he has ended by suiting his needs to her voluntary bounty or parsimony. He accepts the seasons, the social and political state that may be, the life that is offered. He anticipates neither evil nor good; he limits his disappointments by curtailing his risks. What is to be will be; he has adopted the weary gospel of Solomon. You may see any spring day, outside the walls of Damascus, the daughters of that damp and ancient city seated on the ground by the swift-flowing Abana, veiled and motionless images, wrapped in voluminous mantles, without other occupation (in that land where it is scarcely worth while to be a woman) than to wait hour after hour, in vacuous contemplation, while the stream hurries on, and the sun shines, and the desert wind shakes down the blossoms of the mish-mish. It is a type of the Oriental placidity.
We in America are not yet so weary; we are unwilling to surrender. New-comers in the world, we are aggressive, inquisitive, and belligerent. We have the energy and combativeness of nature herself. In her springtime vigor a certain likeness to our present national condition may be fancied, — vast promise of wealth and material prosperity, with the attendant dangers of luxury and insolence, and misleading standards. It may be worth while, on this suggestion, to consider certain aspects of American life.
Juvenal, the great censor of Roman morals, says in his Tenth Satire, “The prayers that are generally the first put up and best known in all the temples are that riches, that wealth, may increase; that our chest may be the largest in the whole forum.” This was the state of devotion in Rome in the first century of our era. We do not suppose it was a new condition, and it is certain it did not pass away with the fall of the empire. We do not to-day pray aloud in our churches that we may have more United States bonds than our fellow-worshipers; but if prayer is the souls sincere desire, unuttered or expressed, we fear that the mighty petition daily going up from the American people was described by Juvenal. If it took the form of a cloud over Wall Street, over State Street, over our manufacturing and mining districts, and over a large portion of our agricultural regions, probably we should not see the sun oftener than once in seven days; perhaps it would be visible only on Sunday, between the hours of half past ten and twelve, through the smoked glass of the church windows.
To be rich is the universal aspiration: it is scarcely necessary to illustrate it, nor to dwell on it further than to mark our national tendency. We may leave moralizing on it to the pulpit and the secular press. As it is the most universal, so it is the earliest desire that seizes us; it largely determines our occupations, our choice of a profession. Society, teaching by example, lays it on us as a duty; it arranges, to a great degree, our marriages, and it is getting to postpone and forbid them. To this necessity we defer everything: we say we cannot afford to marry, we cannot afford to travel, we cannot afford to study, — as if we were to live on indefinitely, and should some time get leisure for our intellectual development. Our very schemes of education commend themselves in proportion as they are practical: the legislature will vote money to an institution if it can be shown that it will increase the material wealth of the state, but upon any question of adding to the intellectual and spiritual wealth there wouldn’t be a quorum. When we ask after the success in life of an acquaintance, and we are told he has done very well, what do we infer from the reply? That he has become a good man, a learned man, a useful man in his town and State; or that he has acquired a handsome property? Is our inquiry, “Whom did he marry?” usually anything more than a euphuism for “How much?” If we were told that she had beauty, all the graces, and a heavenly disposition, would we not burn to ask another question? When we hear that she has made “a good match,” the phrase has come to have such a technical meaning that we experience the same satisfaction we have in reading the stock report of a rising market.