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Malbone: An Oldport Romance Thomas Wentworth Higginson

VIII. Talking It Over

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"I dare say," said Malbone, carelessly. "They are usually less ungraceful and talk better grammar."

"But American life does not mean grace nor grammar. We are all living for the future. Rough work now, and the graces by and by."

"That is what we Americans always say," retorted Philip. "Everything is in the future. What guaranty have we for that future? I see none. We make no progress towards the higher arts, except in greater quantities of mediocrity. We sell larger editions of poor books. Our artists fill larger frames and travel farther for materials; but a ten-inch canvas would tell all they have to say."

"The wrong point of view," said Hal. "If you begin with high art, you begin at the wrong end. The first essential for any nation is to put the mass of the people above the reach of want. We are all usefully employed, if we contribute to that."

"So is the cook usefully employed while preparing dinner," said Philip. "Nevertheless, I do not wish to live in the kitchen."

"Yet you always admire your own country," said Harry, "so long as you are in Europe."

"No doubt," said Philip. "I do not object to the kitchen at that distance. And to tell the truth, America looks well from Europe. No culture, no art seems so noble as this far-off spectacle of a self-governing people. The enthusiasm lasts till one's return. Then there seems nothing here but to work hard and keep out of mischief."

"That is something," said Harry.

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"A good deal in America," said Phil. "We talk about the immorality of older countries. Did you ever notice that no class of men are so apt to take to drinking as highly cultivated Americans? It is a very demoralizing position, when one's tastes outgrow one's surroundings. Positively, I think a man is more excusable for coveting his neighbor's wife in America than in Europe, because there is so little else to covet."

"Malbone!" said Hal, "what has got into you? Do you know what things you are saying?"

"Perfectly," was the unconcerned reply. "I am not arguing; I am only testifying. I know that in Paris, for instance, I myself have no temptations. Art and history are so delightful, I absolutely do not care for the society even of women; but here, where there is nothing to do, one must have some stimulus, and for me, who hate drinking, they are, at least, a more refined excitement."

"More dangerous," said Hal. "Infinitely more dangerous, in the morbid way in which you look at life. What have these sickly fancies to do with the career that opens to every brave man in a great nation?"

"They have everything to do with it, and there are many for whom there is no career. As the nation develops, it must produce men of high culture. Now there is no place for them except as bookkeepers or pedagogues or newspaper reporters. Meantime the incessant unintellectual activity is only a sublime bore to those who stand aside."

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Malbone: An Oldport Romance
Thomas Wentworth Higginson

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