Page:My Life and Loves.djvu/143

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111
THE GREAT NEW WORLD.

proud of, every broad acre of it spoke of the future and suggested hope.

My first round, so to speak, with American life was over. What I had learned in it remains with me still. No people is so kind to children and no life so easy for the handworkers; the hewers of wood and drawers of water are better off in the United States than anywhere else on earth. To this one class and it is by far the most numerous class, the American democracy more than fulfills its promises. It levels up the lowest in a most surprising way. I believed then with all my heart what so many believe today, that all deductions made, it was on the whole, the best civilization yet known among men.

In time, deeper knowledge made me modify this opinion more and more radically. Five years later I was to see Walt Whitman, the noblest of all Americans, living in utter poverty at Camden, dependent upon English admirers for a change of clothes or a sufficiency of food, and Poe had suffered in the same way.

Bit by bit the conviction was forced in upon me that if the American democracy does much to level up the lowest class, it is still more successful in levelling down the highest and best. No land on earth is so friendly to the poor illiterate toilers, no land so contemptuous-cold to the thinkers and artists, the guides of humanity. What help is there here for men of letters and artists, for the seers and prophets? Such guides are not wanted by the idle rich and are ignored by the masses, and after all the welfare of the head is more important even than that of the body and feet.

What will become of those who stone the prophet? and persecute the teachers? The doom is written in flaming letters on every page of history.