Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/199

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
195
AMERICA'S INTELLECTUAL PRODUCT

rivals their richest possessions, their consent to unlimited aggression? What is the power that moves the world to-day? No sooner is the greatest warship of the world, the Dreadnought, launched by England, than a still greater one, the Satsuma, is launched by Japan. Must we exceed these in order to be a world-power? From the depths of my soul I believe not. What matters it to history how many thousand tons of steel or bales of cotton or bushels of wheat we export to Europe? Is not the question this, how many ideas do we export, and is our product commensurate with our material greatness? What care we that Sparta was victorious in the Peloponnesian wars, if she has left to our civilization no reminder of herself, while the ideas produced in Athens will keep her remembered when both her temples and our sky-scrapers shall have crumbled into dust.

Certainly we have some fruits to offer to history. Poetry and philosophy are to-day everywhere somewhat below par, but we have in the one produced Lowell and Whitman, and in the other Emerson, all redolent of the American soil. I do not suppose that I shall be disputed if I express the opinion that we to-day possess no names to be compared with those of Rostand in France, d'Annunzio in Italy, Hauptmann and Sudermann in Germany, Maeterlinck in Belgium, not to speak of Ibsen, but lately gone, from Norway. To be sure, we have novelists, and though Stevenson and Kipling were only sojourners here, we have Howells and James, to say nothing of more ephemeral writers. Still we have in no branch of literature such commanding names as in painting those of Whistler and Sargent, whom we claim as Americans though they spent most of their lives in Europe. The sense of the country for architecture has but recently been aroused, but the enormous progress that has been made in this direction will be admitted by those who remember the exposition buildings of the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia and compare them with those of the Columbian Exposition at Chicago or the Louisiana Purchase Exposition at St. Louis. We may now find scattered through all parts of the country noble buildings, exemplifying models from Greece, France and Italy, even if we have not been able to originate a national style, unless our tall buildings are to be so considered. In the art of painting we are now able to hold up our heads as a nation, having distinguished exponents of its various branches, most of whom obtained their inspiration in France, if indeed they do not, like the two I have previously named, prafer to live there. Nevertheless the possession of the undisputed preeminence of Sargent among portrait painters and Whistler among etchers may reconcile us to their exile from the land which claims them. In sculpture the same may be said, in a less degree, as in painting, and the possession of St.-Gaudens may reconcile us to his Irish birth and his French name.