Edward Alfred Steiner.

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_Courtesy of The Survey V. D. Brenner_]

_Introducing The
American Spirit


Edward A. Steiner

Author of "From Alien to Citizen," "The
Immigrant Tide," etc._


_New York Chicago Toronto
Fleming H. Revell Company
London and Edinburgh_

Copyright, 1915, by

New York: 158 Fifth Avenue
Chicago: 125 North Wabash Ave.
Toronto: 25 Richmond Street, W.
London: 21 Paternoster Square
Edinburgh: 100 Princes Street

Professor Richard Hochdoerfer, Ph. D.

erudite scholar and most lovable
friend, this book is dedicated_

_Introducing the Introduction_

"_Das ist ganz Americanish_." Whenever a German says this, he means that
it is something which is practical, lavish, daringly reckless or

It means a short cut to achievement, a disregard of convention, an
absence of those qualities which have given to the older nations of the
world that fine, distinguishing flavor which is a fruit of the spirit.

Many attempts have been made to enlighten the Old World upon that point;
but in spite of exchange-professorships and some notable, interpretative
books upon the subject, we are still only the "Land of the Dollar."

We are not loved as a nation, largely because we are not understood, and
we are not understood because we do not understand ourselves, and we do
not understand ourselves because we have not studied ourselves in the
light of the spirit of other nations.

Coming to this country a product of Germanic civilization, knowing
intimately the Slavic, Semitic, and Latin spirit, the writer was
compelled to compare and to choose. Yet he would never have dared write
upon this subject; not only because it was a difficult task, but because
he had been so completely weaned from the Old World spirit that he had
lost the proper perspective. Moreover, of formal books upon this subject
there was no dearth.

During the last ten years, however, he has had the advantage of being
the _cicerone_ of distinguished Europeans who came to study various
phases of our institutional life, and they brought the opportunity of
fresh comparisons and also of new view-points in this realm of the
national spirit.

These unconventional studies, most of which received their inspiration
through the visit of the Herr Director and his charming wife, are here
offered as an Introduction to the American Spirit, not only to the Herr
Director and the Frau Directorin, but to those Americans who do not
realize that a nation, as well as man, "cannot live by bread alone;"
that its most precious asset, its greatest element of strength, is its
Spirit, and that the elements out of which the Spirit is made, are so
rare, so delicate, that when once wasted they cannot readily be

As the sin against the Holy Spirit is the one sin for which the Gospel
holds out no forgiveness for the individual, so there seems to be no
hope for the nation which transgresses against this most vital element
of its higher life.

Inasmuch also as the Spirit is something which guides and cannot be
guided, these informal introductions appear in no geographic or historic
sequence, but are necessarily left to the leading of the spirit, of
which "no man knoweth whence it cometh or whither it goeth."

E. A. S.

_Grinnell, Iowa_.


















_The Herr Director Meets the American Spirit_

The Herr Director and I were sitting over our coffee in the _Café
Bauer_, _Unter den Linden_. In the midst of my account of some of the
men of America and the idealistic movements in which they are
interested, he rudely interrupted with: "You may tell that to some one
who has never been in the United States; but not to me who have
travelled through the length and breadth of it three times." He said it
in an ungenerous, impatient way, although his last visit was thirty
years ago and his journeys across this continent necessarily hurried. I
dared not say much more, for I am apt to lose my temper when any one
anywhere, criticizes my adopted country or questions my glowing accounts
of it.

But I did say: "When you come over the next time, let me be your

"Why should I want to go over again?" he replied. "It's a noisy, dirty,
hopelessly materialistic country. You have sky-scrapers, but no beauty;
money, but no ideals; garishness, but no comfort. You have despatch, but
no courtesy; you are ingenious, but not thorough; you have fine clothes,
but no style; churches, but no religion; universities, but no learning.
No, I have been there three times. That's enough. I know all about it.
_Fertig!"_ And with that he dismissed me without giving me a chance to
relieve my feelings, of which there were many; although he took
advantage of a minute that was left and told me that I was an
_Unausstehlicher Americaner_ whose judgment had been warped by my great
love for my adopted country.

Evidently the Herr Director reversed his decision not to come to this
country; for the following spring I received a cablegram to meet him on
the arrival of his ship at the Hamburg-American dock, which of course I
promptly did. The Herr Director and the Frau Directorin stepped onto the
soil of the United States with a predisposition to be martyrs, to
endure the sufferings entailed by travel with as little grace as
possible, and to suppress to the utmost all pleasurable emotion.

On the other hand, I was determined to show off my United States from
its best side, to woo and win the Herr Director's and the Frau
Directorin's approval. In my laudable endeavor I seemed to be supported
by that divine providence which watches over the whole world in general,
but over the United States in particular. The weather was perfect, the
sky festooned in fleecy clouds, the air charged by a divine energy; and
when the sun shines upon the harbor of New York - well, even the most
taciturn European cannot resist it.

The Herr Director and the Frau Directorin greeted all the good Lord's
endeavor and mine, with an air of condescension as something due their
station. From force of habit they worried and fussed about their
baggage, although there was nothing to worry or fuss about, for it was
safe on its way to the hotel. They were shot under the river and the
busy streets of Manhattan and whirled up to the twenty-first story of
their thirty-two-storied hotel without having taken more than a dozen
steps to reach it.

The Herr Director and the Frau Directorin refused to be impressed by the
rooms assigned them, in which not a single comfort or luxury was
missing, and complained because they were not as big as barns and the
ceilings not as high as a cathedral. The Frau Directorin eyed the
bath-room almost in silence; but she did wonder why they put out a whole
month's supply of towels at once, instead of doing it in the provident
European way of one towel every other day.

The Herr Director and the Frau Directorin, like all Europeans who can
afford to travel, are exceedingly æsthetic, and at the same time fond of
good food, and their first approving smile was won at the breakfast
table, when they were each face to face with half a grapefruit of vast
circumference, reposing upon a bed of crushed ice. Their smiles
broadened when they had introduced their palates to an American
breakfast food, a crispy bit of nut-flavored air bubble, floating upon
thick, rich cream; and, although they had made up their minds that
American coffee was vile and they must not taste it, they could not
resist its aroma, and drank it with a relish.

When the Herr Director said: _"Der Kaffee ist gut,_" I knew that my
prayers were being answered, and that the good Lord still loves the
United States of America.

Most of us have shown off something - a baby, school-children, a
schoolhouse, a town, an automobile, a cemetery. You know that feeling of
pride which thrills you, that fear lest pride have a fall if it or they
fail to "show up." But have you ever tried to show off a country - a
country which you love with a lover's passion; a country whose virtues
are so many, whose defects are so obvious; a country whose glory you
have gloried in before the whole world, but whose halo has so many rust
spots that you wish you might have had a chance to use Sapolio on it ere
you let it shine before your visitors? A country of one hundred million
inhabitants, of whom every fourth person smells of the steerage, when
you wish that they all smelled of the Mayflower; a country where more
people are ready to die for its freedom than anywhere, and more people
ought to be in the penitentiary for abusing that freedom; a country of
vast distances, bound together by huge railways and controlled by
unsavory politicians; a country with more homely virtues, more virtuous
homes, than anywhere else, yet where the divorce courts never cease
their grinding and alimonies have no end?

Ah! to show off such a country, and to have to begin to do it in New
York, beats showing off babies, school-children, automobiles, and

The Herr Director was sure he would hate our sky-scrapers; he had seen
them from the ship, and the assaulted sky-line looked to him like the
huge mouth of an old woman with its isolated, protruding teeth. Frankly,
I myself am not interested in sky-scrapers; I prefer the elm trees which
shade the streets of the quiet town where I live. I thank God daily for
the men who had faith enough to plant trees upon those wind-swept
prairies. They were mighty spirits who came to the edges of civilization
and drove the wilderness farther and farther back by drawing furrows,
sowing wheat, and planting trees - those men whom heat and a relentless
desert could not separate from that other ocean with its Golden Gate to
the sunset and the oldest world. Determining to have and to hold it till
time is no more, they proceeded to unite the two oceans in holy wedlock.
A task which involved another nation in hopeless scandal and bankruptcy,
they completed with as little ceremony as that which prevails at a
wedding before a justice of the peace. Those were the men who went among
savages, yet did not become like them; who for homes dug holes in the
ground among rattlesnakes, prairie-dogs, and moles, and made of such
homes the beginnings of towns and cities.

If I admire the sky-scrapers it is because they are an attempt on the
part of this same type of people to do pioneering among the clouds.
Public lands being exhausted, they proceed to annex the sky and people
it, now that the frontier is no more.

What the Herr Director and the Frau Directorin would say to the
sky-scraper meant to me, not whether they would say it is beautiful or
ugly, but whether they would discover in it the Spirit of America, the
daring spirit of the pioneers who built Towers of Babel, though
reversing the process; for they began with a confusion of tongues which
outbabeled Babel, and finished on a day of Pentecost when men said: "We
do hear them all speaking our own tongue, the mighty works of God."

We moved along Broadway, pressing through the crowds, the Herr Director
puffing and panting, the Frau Directorin doing likewise. The Flatiron
Building with its accentuated leanness lured them on until we came to
the open space of Madison Square and they were face to face with the
Metropolitan tower.

The Herr Director said: "_Gott im Himmel!_" The Frau Directorin said:
"_Um Gottes Himmels Willen!_" And then they gazed their fill in

I have never "done" Europe with a guide, nor have I ever had an American
city introduced to me through a megaphone, so I scarcely knew what to

I did not know the exact height of that tower, nor how many tons of
steel support it, nor the size of the clock dial which tells the time of
day up there "among the dizzy flocks of sky-scrapers"; but I did know
that the tower represented some big, daring thing, an expression of the
spirit which could not be defined nor easily interpreted to another.

After his first outburst the Herr Director continued to say nothing - he
was stunned; so was the Frau Directorin. We walked on, looking up,
higher and higher still, until our eyes met another tower, the Woolworth
Building - a shrewd Yankee five-and-ten-cent enterprise, flowering into
purest Gothic.

The cathedrals of Europe are wonderful, undoubtedly. Master minds drew
the plans and master hands built them, slowly, by an age-long process.
They turned religious ideals into stone lace and lilies, hideous
gargoyles and brave flying buttresses, aisles and naves and rose
windows. Yes, they are quite wonderful. But to turn spools of thread,
granite-ware, and dust-cloths into this glory of steel and stone is, to
me, more marvellous still. The spirit of the pioneer cleaving the sky
has become beautiful as it has ascended.

We are worrying a great deal about our lack of sensitiveness to beauty
and form; we chide ourselves as being crude and unresponsive to art; we
rush madly into the study of æsthetics and buy Old Masters at the price
of a king's ransom; yet we are not truly fostering America's art sense.
It ought not to come in the Old World's way - by glorifying dogmas and
creeds, by petrifying religion into buttresses and incasing our dead in
tombs of beryl and onyx. It ought not to come with its mixture of
paganism and religion, its armless Venus and its headless Victory. It
should come first as it is coming - with the making of homes good to
live in, factories planned to work in, stores fit to do business in,
and schools built to teach in. It is coming - yes, it is coming.

But when our strong boys shall make filagree silver ornaments, carve
pretty things on bits of ivory, or exhaust their energy in painting a
lock of hair - when that time comes, we shall be an old people ready for
our ornamented tombs.

Next I took the Herr Director and the Frau Directorin through a portal
flanked by pillars worthy to crown any Athenian hill; I led them into a
Parthenon in which Athena herself might have joyed to be worshipped, and
we heard the echoing and reëchoing of a chant which lacked nothing but
incense and organ notes to make one think one's self in an Old World
cathedral. The chant was not a _Miserere_, but a call to entrust one's
self to the depths of the earth - to descend into tubes of steel, beneath
the river, and then travel to the fair cities of the living, throbbing,
thriving West. It was a railway terminal without choking smoke, blinding
dust, or deafening noise; also without that hideous mechanical ugliness
which Ruskin so hated. This was merely a place from which one started to
reach Oshkosh or Kokomo, Keokuk, Kalamazoo, or Kankakee. Yet more
beautiful portals never swung to mortals in their fairest dreams of
journeying to the abodes of bliss. The Spirit of America, at last
crowned by beauty.

We reached our hotel fairly exhausted by our morning's walk; but, after
being properly refreshed, the Herr Director ventured to criticize.

"Yes, you are a wonderfully resourceful people, keen and energetic, but
chaotic. You take an Italian _campanile_ and elongate it fifty times; or
a Gothic church, and attenuate it; or a Romanesque cathedral, and
support it by Ionic pillars; or a cigar box, and enlarge it a million
times. You put all these things side by side, and no one asks: Will they
harmonize, or will they clash?

"Each man builds as he pleases, although he may blot out the other man's
work and waste colossal energy merely to express himself. The result is
confusion. You can feel that unrest, that discord, in the air. My
nerves fairly ache! No, we shall not go out this afternoon. We must rest
our nerves."

The Herr Director always spoke for his wife as well as for himself, thus
expressing the collective spirit of the Old World. They both retired for
a long rest, while I was left wondering how to introduce New York to
them in the evening.

At five o'clock in the afternoon they emerged from their apartments,
their wearied Old World nerves rested, and, after being stimulated by a
cup of coffee, were ready for further adventures.

Broadway at that hour of the afternoon is bewildering. The shoppers have
almost deserted it, and it is crowded by the clerks who served them, the
cashiers who received their money, the girls who trimmed their hats, the
men who cut their garments, the bookkeepers and the floor-walkers.

Whole towns seem to pour out of the department stores and lofts; the
makers and menders of garments flee from the heart of the city, from
this pulsing machine which has been going at a dangerous speed. They go
from it eagerly, with a brave show of courage, as if the ten hours'
labor had not broken their spirits or wearied their energy. To count the
ants of a busy hill would be easier than even to estimate the numbers of
that throng.

They climb the steps of the elevated railway trains, and crowd them, and
cram the cars until they fairly bulge.

They lay siege to the surface cars, which merely crawl through the busy
streets, so heavy are they and so closely does one car follow the other.

They descend into the depths of the earth, and breathe the humid, human
air of those noisy catacombs. They walk by companies, regiments, and
great armies, dodging automobiles which infest the streets with their
speed and their stenches.

They accomplish it all with so little friction to each other's spirit,
with such a silent good nature, with such a sense of self-reliance, and
with so little official machinery to control them, that even the Herr
Director said:

"This is wonderful!" although he declared that he would suffocate in
that throng, and the Frau Directorin cried out every few minutes, "_Um
Gottes Himmels Willen!_"

There was an absence of politeness, but we saw little rudeness; there
were accidents, but the crowd did not lose its head; there were
discomforts, but little display of ill nature; each for himself, and yet
no clashing. The American crowd is more wonderful than the American

At the Royal Opera in Vienna, the approach to the ticket office is
guarded by steel inclosures in which every prospective buyer is
separated from the other, and one has to zigzag between these pens until
he reaches the official's window. Crowding is rendered impossible, but,
to make the obviously impossible more actually impossible, there is the
usual number of uniformed guards.

Watch the American crowd - this group of unlike, self-centered
individuals; in a moment it is organized, it obeys itself - or rather, it
obeys its spirit, the American spirit of self-direction, with its
genius for organization.

To me, the American crowd is so wonderful because it shows this other
side of its spirit. It is heterogeneous, like the architecture of its
buildings, perhaps even more so - if that be possible.

Here are Jews from Russia's crowded Pale, where they had to slink along
with shuffling gait and dared go so far and no farther - so fast and no

There are the Slavic peasants, who on their native soil, prodded by the
goad, moved ox-like along an endless furrow, drawing the plow of

Next is the Italian, volatile and yet static with his age-long burdens,
with his fiery nature cramped into his diminutive frame.

Here is the Negro, the child-man, the shackles of whose slavery are
scarcely broken.

The Asiatic, too, comes with hardly courage enough to lift his softly
treading feet; while leading them all is this strident, giant child of
the Anglo-Saxon race whose wind-swept cradle was rocked by freedom, and
who with dominant will has spanned the oceans and crossed the mountains.

Of these myriads whom he leads, some will be a drag upon progress, and
detain the strong or perhaps retard the race; yet they are trying to
keep up, and by their efforts, by delving in the deep, by feeding with
their brute strength our huge enginery, may make the flowering of the
American spirit easier.

Yes, the Anglo-Saxon is leading them; but will he continue to lead, now
that he no longer travels in the prairie schooner, but in the
automobile - now that he wields the golf club and tennis racket, rather
than the spade and plow on the prairie?

Will he now lead them from the breakers of Newport as well as once he
led them from Plymouth Rock?

Will he lead them from the exclusive club as once he led them into the
inclusive home?

These were the doubts which filled my mind, but which I did not share
with my guests as I guided them; for we were to spend the evening
together, and one needs all one's faith in New York at night.

We spent the early evening hours travelling around the world. We went to
Arabia, where dusky children from the desert play in the gutters of
Bleecker Street; to Greece, where Spartan and Athenian youth dream of
the golden days of Pericles; to China, with its joss-house, its faint
odors of sandalwood, and its stronger odors wafted from the Bowery. We
visited Russia, and saw its ghetto-dwellers more numerous than Abraham
ever thought his progeny would become; we spent some time in Hungary,
with its _Gulyas_ and _Czardas_. We went to Bohemia, with its _Narodni
Dom_; to Italy, south and north, with its strings of garlic, its
festoons of sausages, its hurdy-gurdy, and its rich harvest of children.
We had glimpses of France, of its _table d'hôte_ and painted women;
travelled through darkest Africa, touched upon India, and then were back
again upon Broadway.

As in the sky above us the architectures of the world strive to blend
and fuse, making a mighty new impress; so below, these colonies to the
right and colonies to the left, like the huge limbs of some ill-shapen
monster, try to blend into America.

What is it all to be when blended?

Of course we went to the theater. We saw a German problem play made over
to please the American taste. The Herr Director knew the play almost by
heart, and he nearly jumped upon the stage in righteous indignation when
in the last act, where the author drops all his characters into a
bottomless pit and everything ends in confusion, the play ended in the
conventional "God-bless-you-my-children," "happy-ever-after" manner.

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Online LibraryEdward Alfred SteinerIntroducing the American spirit → online text (page 1 of 11)