Gerald Stanley Lee.

Crowds: a moving-picture of democracy online

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body ready?

Theodore Roosevelt, singing a little roughly, possibly hurrah-
ing "/ vnlly I toill, I vxm% I vxm%'' and acting as if he be-
lieved in the world.

Bryan in the village of Chicago sitting by at a reporter's
table saw him doing it.

Bryan saw how it worked.

Bryan had it in him too.

Bryan heard the shouts of the people across the land as they
gloried in the fight. He saw the signals from the nations over
the sea.

Then Armageddon moved to Baltimore.

And now the table is about to be spread.
It is to be Mr. Wilson's soup.

But the soup will have a Roosevelt flavour or tang to it.
And we wiU wait to see what Mr. Wilson will do with the
other courses.

A poet in words, with two or three exceptions, America has
not produced.

The only touch of poetry or art as yet that we have in
America is — acting as if we believed in people. This particu-
lar art is ours. Other people may have it, but it is all we have.

This is what makes or may make any moment the common
American a poet or artist.

Speaking in this sense, Mr. Roosevelt is the first poet America
has produced that European peoples and European govern-
ments have noticed for forty yea,rs, or had any reason to notice.
We respectftdly place Mr. Roosevelt with Mr. McAdoo (and if
Mr. Brandeis will pardon us, with Mr. Brandeis) as a typical

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American before the eyes of the new President. We ask him
to take Mr. Roosevelt as a very important part of the latest
news about us.

The true imaginative men of our modem life, the poets of
crowds and cities are not to-day our authors, preachers, pro-
fessors or lawyers or philosophers. The poets of crowds are
our men like this, our vision-doers, the men who have seen
visions and dreamed dreams in the real and daily things, the
daring Governors like Wilson and like Hughes, the daring in-
ventors of great business houses, the men who have invented
the foundations on which nations can stand, on which rail-
roads can run, the men whose imaginations, in the name of
heaven, have played with the earth mightily, watered deserts,
sailed cities on the seas, the men who have whistled and who
have said "Come!" to empires, who have thought hundred-
year thoughts, taken out nine hundred and ninety-nine year
leases, who have thought of mighty ways for cities to live, for
cities to be cool, to be light, to be dark, who have conceived
ways for nations to talk, who have grasped the earth and the
sky like music, like words, and put them in the hands of the
people, and made the people say, "O earth," and "O sky, thou
art great, but we also are great! Come earth and sky, thou
shalt praise God with us!"

Who are these men?

Let the President catch up!

Who are these men ? Here is Edward A. Filene, who takes
up the pride, joy, beauty, self-respect, and righteousness of a
city, swings it into a Store, and makes that Store sing about the
city up and down the world! Here is Alexander Cassatt, im-
perturbable, irrepressible, and like a great Boy playing leapfrog
with a Railroad — Cassatt who makes quiet-hearted, dreamy
Philadelphia duck under the Sea, bob up serenely in the
middle of New York and leap across Hell Gate to get to
Boston! Let the parliaments droning on their benches, the
Congresses pile out of their doors and catch up.

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Let the lawyers — the little swarms of dark-minded law-
yers, wondering and running to and fro, creeping in offices,
who have tried to run our world, blurred our governments,
and buzzed, who have filled the world with piles of old paper,
Congressional Records, with technicaUties, words, droning,
weariness, despair, and fear ... let them come out and
look! Let them catch up!

Let a man in this day in the presence of men like these sing.
If a man cannot sing, let him be silent. Only men who are
singing things shall do them.

I go out into the street, I go out and look almost anywhere,
listen anywhere, and the singing rises round me !

It was singing that spread the wireless telegraph like a great
web across the sky.

It was singing that dug the subways under the streets in
New York.

It was singing, a kind of iron gladness, hope and faith in
men, that has flung up our skyscrapers into the lower
stories of the clouds, and made them say, " / loilll I wUll I wilir
to God.

Ah, how often have I seen them from the harbour, those
flocking, crowded skyscrapers under that little heaven in New
York, lifting themselves in the sunlight and in the starlight,-
lifting themselves before me, sometimes, it seems, like crowds
of great states, like a great country piled up, like a nation reach-
ing, like the plains and the hills and the cities of my people
standing up against heaven day by day — all those flocks of
the skyscrapers saying, "/ willl I vnlll I vnlir' to God.

The skyscrapers are news about us to our President. He
shall reckon with skyscraper men. He shall interpret men that
belong with skyscrapers.

And as he does so, I shall watch the people answer him, now
with a glad and mighty silence and now with a great solemn

The skyscrapers are their skyscrapers.

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The courage, the reaching-up, the steadfastness that is in
them is in the hearts of the people.

K the President does not know us yet in America, does not
know McAdoo as a representative American, we will thunder
on the doors of the White House imtil he does.

My impression is he would be out in the yard by the gate
asking us to come in.

We are America. We are expressing our joy in the world,
our faith in God, and our love of the sun and the wind in the
hearts of our people.

In America the free air breathes about us, and daily the great
sun climbs our hillsides, swings daily past our work. There
are ninety million men with this sun and this wind woven into
their bodies, into their souls. They stand with us.

The skyscrapers stand with us.

All singing stands with us.

Ah, I have waked in the dawn and in the sun and the wind
have I seen them!

That sun and that wind, I say before God, are America!
They are the American temperament.

I will have laws for free men, laws with the sun and the wind
in them!

I have waked in the dawn and my heart has been glad with
the iron and poetry in the skyscrapers.

I will have laws for men and for American men, laws with
iron and poetry in them!

The way for a government to get the poetry in is to say "Yes"
to somebody.

The way for a government to get the iron in is not by saying
"No." It is hot American in a government to keep saying
"No." The best way for our government in America to say
"No " to a man, is to let him stand by and watch us saying
"Yes" to some one else.

Then he will ask why.

Then he will stand face to face with America.

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The most practical thing that could happen now in the
economic world in America woidd be a sudden, a great national,
contemporary literature.

America, unlike England, has no recognized cultured class,
and has no aristocracy, so called, with which to keep mere
rich men suitably miserable — at least a little humble and
wistfid. Our greatest need for a long time has been some big
serene, easy way, without half trying, of snubbing rich men in
America. All these overgrown, naughty fellows one sees every-
where like street boys on the comers or on the curbstones of
society, calling society names and taking liberties with it,
tripping people up; hoodlums with doMrs, all these micks of
money! — O, that society had some big, calm, serene way like
some huge hearty London policeman, of taking hold of them
— taking hold of them by the seats of their little trousers if
need be, and taking them home to Mother — some way of set-
ting them down hard in their chairs and making them thought-
fid! Nothing but a national literature will do this. "Life,"
(which is, with one exception, perhaps, the only religious
weekly we have left in America) succeeds a little and has some
spiritual value because it succeeds in making American mil-
lionaires look funny, and in making them want to get away
and live in Europe. But "Life" is not enough; it merely hitches
us along from day to day and keeps our courage up. We want
in America a literature, we want the thing done thoroughly
and forever and once for all. We want an Aristophanes, a
master who shall go gloriously laughing through our world,


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through our chimneys and blind machines, pot-bellied fortunes,
empty successes, all these tiny, queer little men of wind and
bladder, until we have a nation filled with a divine laughter,
with strong, manful, happy visions of what men are for.

All we have to do is to have a News-book — a bookf id of the
kind of rich men we want, then we will have them. We will
see men piling over each other all day to be them. Men have
wanted to make money because making money has been sup-
posed to mean certain things about a man. The moment it
ceases to mean them, they will want to make other things.

Where is the news about what we really want?

, when I took him to the train yesterday, spoke

glowingly of the way the Standard Oil Trust had reduced oil
from twenty-nine cents to eleven cents.

There was not time to say anything. I just thought a
minute of how they did it.

Why is it that people — so many good people will speak of
oil at eleven cents in this way, as if it were a kind of little
kingdom of heaven?

I admit that eleven cents from twenty-nine cents leaves
eighteen cents.

I do not deny that the Standard Oil Trust has saved me
eighteen cents. . But what have they taken away out of my
life and taken out of my sense of the world and of the way
things go in it and out of my faith in human nature to toss me
eighteen cents?

If I could have for myself and others the sense of the world
that I had before, would I not to-day, day after day, over and
over, gallon by gallon, be handing them their eighteen cents

What diflference does it make to us if we are in a world where
we can buy oil for eleven cents a gallon instead of twenty-nine,
if we do not care whether we are alive or dead in it and do not
expect anything from ourselves or expect anything of anybody
else? I submit it to your own common sense, Gentle Reader.

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Is it any comfort to buy oil to light a room in which you do not
want to sit, in which you would rather not see anything, in
which you would rather not remember who you are, what you
do, and what your business is like, and what you are afraid
your business is going to be like?

I have passed through all this during the last fifteen years
and I have come out on the other side. But milUons of lives
of other men are passing through it now, passing through it
daily, bitterly, as they go to their work and as they fall asleep
at night.

The next thing in this world is not reducing the price of oil.
It is raising the price of men and putting a market- value on life.

What makes a man a man is that he knows himself, knows
who he is, what he is for and what he wants. Knowing who
he is and knowing what he is about, he naturally acts Uke
a man, knows what he is about like a man, and gets things

A nation that does not know itself shall not be itself.

A nation that has a muddleheaded literature, a nation that
to say nothing of not being able to express what it has, has not
even made a beginning at expressing what it wants; a nation
that has not a great, eager, glowing literature, a sublime clear-
headedness about what it is for — a nation that caimot put
itself into a great book, a nation that cannot weave itself to-
gether even in words into a book that can be unfurled before
the people like a flag where everybody can see it and everybody
can share it, look up to it, live for it, sleep for it, get up in the
morning and work for it — work for the vision of what it wants
to be — cannot be a great nation.

A masterpiece is a book that has a thousand years in it. No
man has a right to say where these thousand years in it shall
lie, whether in the past or in the future. It is the thousand
years' worth in it that makes a masterpiece a masterpiece. In
America we may not have the literature of what we are or of
what we have been, but the literature of what we are bound to

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be, the literature of what we will, we will have, and we will
have to have it before we can begin being it.

First the Specifications, then the House.

From the practical or literary point of view the one sign we
have given in this country so far, that the stuflf of masterpieces
is in us and that we are capable of a great literature, is that
America is bored by its own books.

We let a French parson write a book for us on the simple life.
We let a poor suppressed Russian with one foot in hell reach
over and write books for us about liberty which we greedily
read and daily use. We let a sublimely obstinate Norwegian,
breaking away with his life, pulling himself up out of the beauti-
fid, gloomy, morose bog of romance he was bom in — express
our American outbreak for facts* for frank realism in human

America is bored by its own books because every day it
is demanding gloriously from its authors a literature — books
that answer our real questions, the questions the people are
asking every night as they go to sleep and every morning when
they crowd out into the streets — Where are we going? Who
are we? What are we like? What are we for?

-, the little stoopy cobbler on street in

, bought some machines to help him last year before I

went away and added two or three slaves to do the work. I
find on coming back that he has moved and has two show win-
dows now, one with the cobbling slaves in it cobbling, and the
other (a kind of sudden, impromptu room with a show window
in it) seems to be straining to be a shoe store. When you go
in and show C in his shirt sleeves, — your old shoes hope-
fully, he slips over from his shining leather bench to the shoe-
store side and shows you at the psychological moment a new
pair of shoes.

He is in the train now with me this morning, across the aisle,

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looking out of the window for dear life, poor fellow, for all the
world as if he could suck up dollars and customers — and
people who need shoes — out of the fields as he goes by, the way
the Sim does mists, by looking hard at them.

I watched him walking up and down the station platform
before I got on, with that bent, concentrated, meek, ready-to-
die-getting-on look. I saw his future while I looked. I saw,
or thought I saw, windows full of bright black shoes, I saw the
cobbler's shop moved out into the ell at the back, and two

great show windows in front. A C looks like an edged


Millions of Americans are like A C , like chisels,

adzes, saws, scoops. You talk with them, and if you talk
about anything except scooping and adzing, you are not talk-
ing with just a man, but a man who is for something and who
is not for anything else. He is not for being talked with cer-
tainly, and alas! not for being loved. At best he is a mere
feminine convenience — a father or a cash secreter; until he
wears out at last, buzzes softly into a grave.

An Englishman of this type is a little better, would be
more like one of these screw-driver, cork-screw arrangements
— a big hollow handle with all sorts of tools inside.

Is this man a typical American? Does he need to be?

What I want is news about us.

All an American like C needs is news. His eagerness is

the making of him. He is merely eager for what he will not

All he needs is the world's news about people, about new
inventions in himian beings, news about the diflPerent and
happier kinds of newly invented men, news about how they
were thought of, and how they are made, and news about how
they work.

I demand three things for A C :

I want a novel that he will read which will make him see
himself as I see him.

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I want a moving picture of him that he will go to and like
and go to again and again.

I want a play that will send him home from the theatre and
keep him awake with what he might be all that night.

I want a news-book for A C , a news-book for all of us.

I read a book some years ago that seemed a true news-book
and which was the first suggestion I had ever received that a
book can be an act of colossal statesmanship, the making or
remaking of a people — a masterpiece of modem literature,
laying the ground plan for the greatness of a nation.

When I had read it, I wanted to rush outdoors and go down
the street stopping people I met and telling them about it.
Once in a very great while one does come on a book like this.
One wants to write letters to the reviews. One does not know
what one would not do to go down the long aimless Midway
Plaisance of the modern books, to call attention to it. One
wishes there were a great bell up over the world. . . . One
would reach up to it, and woidd say to all the men and the
women and to the flocks of the smoking cities, " Where are you
all?" The bell would boom out, "What are you doing? Why
are you not reading this book?" One wonders if one could
not get a coloured page in the middle of the Atlantic or the North
American Review or Everybody's and at least make a great book
as prominent as a great soap — almost make it loom up in a
country like a Felt Mattress or a Toothbrush.

The book that has made me feel like this the most is Charles
Ferguson's "ReUgion of Democracy." I have always won-
dered why only people here and there responded to it. The
things it made me vaguely see, all those huge masses of real
things, gigantic, half-godlike, looming like towers or mountains
in a mist. . . . Well, it must have been a little like this
that Columbus felt that first morning!

But as Columbus went on, what he struck after all was real
land, some piece of real land in particular. The mist of vision

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did precipitate into something one could walk on, and I found
as I went on with Mr. Ferguson's book that if there was going
to be any real land, somebody would have to make some.

But for the time being Charles Ferguson's book — all those
glorious generalizings in behalf of being individual, all those
beautifid, intoned, chanted abstractions in behalf of being
concrete — came to me in my speechless, happy gratitude as a
kind of first sign in the heavens, as a pillar of cloud by day and
of fire by night, up over the place in the waste of water where
land. Land ! At last ! Land again ! will have to be.

If we ever have a literature in America, it will be found
somewhere when the mist rolls away, right under Charles Fer-
guson's book.

It may be too soon just now in this time of transition in our
land of piles and of derricks against the sky, for the book. All
we are competent for now is to say that we want such a book,
that we see what it will do for us.

When we want it, we will get it. Let the American people
put in their order now.

In the meantime the Piles and the Derricks.

All these young and mighty derricks against the sky, all these
soaring steel girders with the blue through them — America!

Ah, my God! is it not a hoping nation? Three thousand
miles of Hope, from Eastport, Maine, to San Francisco — does
not the very sun itself racing across it take three hours to get
one look at our Hope?

Here it is! — Our World.

Let me, for one, say what I want.

It is already as if I had seen it — one big, heroic imagination
at work at last like a sea upon our world, poetry grappling
with the great cities, with their labour, with their creative
might, full of their vast joys and sorrows, full of their tussle
with the sea and with the powers of the air and with the iron
in the earth! — the big, speechless cities that no one has spoken
for yet, so splendid, and so eager, and so silent about their souls!

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It is true we are crude and young.

Behold the Derricks like mighty Youths!

In our glorious adolescence so sublime, so ugly, so believing,
will no one sing a hymn to the Derricks?

Where are the dear little Poets? Where are they hiding?

Playing Indian perhaps, or making Parthenons out of blocks.

Perhaps they might begin faintly and modestly at first.

Some dear, hopefid, modest American poet might creep up
from under them, out from under the great believing, dimib
Derricks standing on tiptoe of faith against the sky, and write
a book and call it "Beliefs American Poets Would Like to
Believe if They Could."

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A NATION'S religion is its shrewdness about its ideals, its
genius for stating its ideals or news about itself, in the tenns ol
its everyday life.

A nation's literature is its power of so stating its ideals that
we will not need to be shrewd for them — its power of ex-
pressing its ideals in words, of tracing out ideals on white
paper, so that ideals shall enthrall the people, so that ideals
shall be contagious, shall breathe and be breathed into us, so
that ideals shall be caught up in the voices of men and sung in
the streets.

Ideals, intangible, electric, implacable irresistible, all-enfold-
ing ideals, shall hold and grip a continent the way a climate
grips a continent, like sunshine around a helpless thing, in the
hollow of its hand, and possess the hearts of the people.

What our government needs now is a National band in

America is a Tune.

America is not a formula. America is not statistics, even
graphic statistics. A great nation cannot be made, cannot be
discovered, and then be laid coldly together like a census.
America is a Tune. It must be sung together.

The next thing statesmen are going to learn in this country
is that from a practical point of view in making a great nation
only our Time in America and only our singing our Tune can save
us. A great nation can be made out of the truth about us.
The truth may be — must be probably, — plain. But the truth
must sing.


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It will not be the government that first gets the truth that
will govern us. The government that gets the truth big enough
to sing first, and sings it, will be the government that will
govern us. The political party in this country that will first
be practical with the people, and that will first get what it
wants, will be the political party that first takes Literature
seriously. Our first great practical government is going to
see how a great book, searching the heart of a nation, expressing
and singing the men in it, governs a people. Being a Presi-
dent in a day like this, if it does not consist in being a poet,
consists in being the kind of President who can be, at least, in
partnership with a poet.

It is not every President who can be his own David, who
can rule with one hand and write psalms and chants for his
people with the other.

The call is out, the people have put in their order to the
authors of America, to the boys in the colleges, and to the
young women in the great schools — Our President wants a

Before much time has passed, he is going to have one.

Being a President in this country has never been expressed
in a book.

The President is going to have a book that expresses him to
the people and that says what he is trying to do. He will live
confidentially with the book. It shall be in his times of trial
and loneliness like a great people coming to him softly. He
shall feel with such a book, be it day or night, the nation by
him, by his desk, by his bedside, by his silence, by his ques-
tioning, standing by, and lifting.

In the book the people shall sing to the President. He shall
be kept reminded that we are there. He shall feel daily what
America is like. America shall be focussed into melody. We
shall have a Uterature once more and the singers, as in Greece,
as in all happy lands and in all great ages, shall go singing
through the streets.

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There is no singing for a President now. All a President can
do when he is inaugurated, when he begins now, is to kiss
helplessly some singing four thousand years old in a Bible by
another nation.

When David sang to his people, he sang the news, the latest
news, the news of what was happening to people about him

Online LibraryGerald Stanley LeeCrowds: a moving-picture of democracy → online text (page 37 of 44)