In the United States the system has had almost a clear field for its development, for that country has roughly shaken itself free of all the traditions and ancient trappings of the Old World. If, therefore, Europe is to pass definitely into the commercial age, the condition of the United States should be at this moment of the intensest interest to us on this side of the Atlantic. Free of all hampering restrictions, her cable weighed, her decks clear, and in full sail, the ship puts forth upon an unknown sea. What is there before her – and us ? An amusing volume was issued some time ago, purpoting to be the letters of a Chicago packer to his son. It would be equally possible for some satirist to depict the views and morals of London or a Manchester merchant, just as a similar picture drawn from epochs before the dawn of the present age would have been still less commercial in its aspect. London to-day stands between Chicago and the past. The question of interest is whether London will ever reach the condition of Chicago.

The ideal of Chicago is naïvely, openly, almost brutally practical. Education is only valued if it helps a man to make more money. Everything is set forth in terms of dollars and cents, and even the choice of a wife is viewed from that point. The wife will “help along” the household, and keep things all right so that the husband can make more money. The Chicago ideal, which, with variations, and, of course, exceptions, is the American national ideal, recognises one force and one force only in the world, or rather makes other forces inferior to money, and mere denominators of that great, supreme, and ultimate force. Not culture, not art, not beauty, not wisdom, not humanity, not death itself is the final consideration in those eyes which see beyond all such trifles the omnipotent symbol of power evolved by the genius of modernity. A dollar represents so much – so much authority over all these other things. The silver of a dollar will purchase this much of culture, that much of wisdom, this much also of health. There is some reason in the worship of a thing which is so authorative. Men have worshipped it down these long centuries, but never has the cult become a national, a state religion before. American civilisation is presented to us to-day as the type of the new order to which effete Europe must approximate or perish, and as such has to be considered gravely…


Americans who come to London, and still more to Paris or any Continental centre, laugh at the easy hours and comparative indifference devoted to business. Their idea is “hustle” and haste. That there may be other objects than to make money they recognise as a fact, but as an incomprehensible fact which is to be found only in the decadent countries of Europe. This restless temperament offers to its specific gods the most devout worship. Its devotion, indeed, is fanatical, and can, like all fanaticism, so twist the natural sweetness of man as to make him inhuman. Hundreds of people perish in these islands every year, in order that the American magnates of a monopoly in oil may add to their millions. I will repeat that this in a lesser degree is true of Great Britain; I am dealing with America because it is there true in a greater degree. The same spirit is witnessed in the operations of the Chicago wheat pit. A Mr. Leiter some years ago attempted to corner wheat with the object of making so many millions dollars. The result of this deal, if successful, would have been to raise the price of bread in Europe and incidentally increase the margin of starvation. Latterly some brokers in the United States have “cornered” cotton, with the result, we were informed, that many small firms are ruined. Instances could be multiplied if there were any object in mere multiplication and repetition. My point is frankly this – that the Age of Trade, as it exists in America, is as callous, as selfish, and as reckless of human life as was the Age of the Sword which we are leaving behind. In some respects, indeed, it is more callous and more selfish; for those engaged in the ruin and destruction of their fellow-creatures did not in former days take classes in Sunday schools, and make great and ostentatious busness of charity. I will ask any person without prejudices to consider if these strictures are not justified. Modern civilisation has brought better sanitary conditions, it has brought fuller medical and surgical knowledge, and it has also brought a revulsion against war, as something which is not only barbarous, but interferes with the comfort of some and the business of others. But these benefits are more than outbalanced by the deterioration of other conditions. The country is denuded of its population, towns swarm with human creatures as if with vermin; and whereas once kings sacrificed the pawns in their selfish interests by the ordeal of battle, now it is the commercial tyrants who condemn to ill-health, starvation, and death…



The American woman is claimed by her admirers as being independent. But she is more than that: she is anarchical. The State has been built upon certain sociological facts as foundation, the American woman is destroying these, and with them therefore the structure of the State as it exists now. Another systeme may conceivably be erected on other foundations, and this may be demonstrated to be superior, but the influence of the American woman is revolutionary as far as the present order goes. An American lady, Mrs. George Cornwallis West, who is held in great repute, informs us that American women love titles because they are “striving always to have the best of everything, including society”. We are also told by this undoubted authority that the American girl “seldom loses her heart, and never her head”. In that confession I see the main source of the anarchy which she effects, and the degeneration which she represents…


I have written above the word, “degeneration”, because from one particular point of view the state of things created by the American system, as even set forth by Mrs. George West, spells degeneration. The most exact obedience to nature means the greatest health and the greatest happiness. The evidences that American women are deliberately turning their backs on natural laws have accumulated of recent years. Their cold-bloodedness is, in effect, a signal of degeneracy, testifying to the desiccation of natural sentiment. And that this exists in all classes, and not aline in the moneyed classes, is apparent from a perusal of the instructive book, The Woman who Toils, by Mrs. Van Vorst and Miss Van Vorst, to which President Roosevelt recently contributed a prefatory note. The attitude of the factory girl is represented as something like this : “I ain’t ready to marry him yet. Twenty-five is time enough. I’m only twenty-three. I can have a good time just as I am”. That is precisely where the mischief lies, in the good time ! “What part”, asks Mrs. Van Vorst, “did the love of humanity play in this young egoist’s heart ? She was living, as she had so well explained it, “not to have, but to give herself pleasure”.


The mere ethical questions involved here do not concern my investigation. It is something deeper and more fundamental than mere ethics that is involved. Mrs. Van Vorst discovers her factory girls to be cold and lacking in sentiment, just as Mrs. George West discovers her wealthy young compatriots to be. Mrs. Van Vorst declares that she never heard of a baby in Perry, the factory town in which she worked. She says “the American woman is restless, dissatisfied. Society, whether among the highest or owest classes, has drawn her towards a destiny that is not moral. The factories are full of old maids; the colleges are full of old maids; the ball-rooms in the worldly centres are full of old maids. For natural obligations, organisations, professions, a thousand unwomanly occupations”.


This inevitably opens up a grave problem, on which Mr. Roosevelt has not hesitated to speak his mind. Mrs. Van Vorst says : “Among the American-born women of this country the sterility is greater, the fecundity less, than those of any other nation in the world, unless it be France”. She considers, however, that the causes of this increasing sterility are “moral and not physical”. Mr. Roosevelt agrees with her in this, that “there is no physical trouble among us Americans. The trouble with the situation you set forth is one of character”. The statement that it is mainly moral is probably correct, although those climatic conditions as well as the increasing departure from the healthy savage, noted by Mr. Merwyn, might suggest a physical explanation in part. But the real point is that, if it be merely moral, it is no less an unhealthy sign, and amounts, as President Roosevelt states, to “decadence and corruption”.


In a recent number of the North American Review, Mrs. Bisland, who has devoted ger life to the special study of questions relating to her sex, endorses and reinforces the arguments of Mrs. Van Vorst. According to her, “this failure in natural and wholesome increase among our white natives is due to nothing more or less than the over-education and abnormal public activities so ardently encouraged among our women since the close of the Civil War”. Again : “The most marked and deleterious effect of Americanisation upon woman is the false energies and abnormal ambitious it excites in her life. Her endeavour is no longer toward the realisation and glorification of her sex in its femininity. The education she receives tends to render her either contemptuous of or indifferent to her own peculiar forces, and their normal expression.



It would seem that while the American man unnaturally devotes all his days to money-making, the American woman as unnaturally devotes her days to pleasure. Even in the lowest class, the factory girls, according to Mrs. Van Vorst, work, not in order to keep themselves or help the family, but to bedeck and bedrape their bodies. History knows of no such strange bouleversement as this development in the relation of the sexes. The women of the Germani, who were not, of course, merely the Germans, are described by Tacitus as chaste and fair, and as resembling the mothers of ancient Rome. Ibi corrumpere nec corrumpi soeculum vocatur. In that sense one does not look for corruption among American women either; but is that only because of the coldness of which Mrs. George West speaks ? That the human spirit should vibrate with passionate human feeling and fall, is to me, I confess, more estimable than that it should starve of coldness in virtuous orthodoxy. But the ideal of the Germani is gone, and gone also is the ideal of the feudal times. We are face to face with a newer type. Whereas the savage woman acted as beast of burden to her lord, the American man works like the beast of burden beside his triumphing lady.


I have written that the conquering cause must always please the gods; to that I will add sed victa Catoni. I lay no claim to be considered a Cato, if only because he was of a conservative type which was perpetually at war with change and progress. It is only departures from the norm that divide or trouble a progressive mind. The new era, as represented in the United States, certainly affects me personally with distate and misgivings. If this is to be the development of Europe also, it would almost seem as if the late Mr. Charles Pearson was right in prophesying the ultimate predominance of the yellow man. But it is permissible to ask if the final victory is, after all, so certain. The cause is not decided yet, and there are certain considerations which suggest the advisability of suspending judgment. The facts which I have touched upon in these pages seem symptomatic of a life not wholly in harmony with the designs of nature. Overworked men and nervous women tendingto sterility, and living upon a artificial plane, do not promise a brave future for a nation. At present immigration is keeping up the life of America, but American writers complain that the immigrants are infected with the American faults and characteristics very soon. That great cauldron reduces all things to a consistency.


When we read with astonishment of the strange mental developments across the Atlantic we must attribute them to the new conditions which we on this side have not yet reached. Americans are the victims of quack medicines and quack religions and quack theories. No country since the beginning of time was so abject before false pretentions and false prophets. And here they touch that ancient savagery with which they have no other connection. Mr. Merwwyn, the keen observer whom I have already quoted, says that “the problem of civilisation is to train and cultivate the noisy sensual savage existing in every man, without refining away their instincts of pride, o pugnacity, o pity, which make men strong and effective”. He adds that “perhaps the English, of all races in the world, have come the nearest to doing this”. This reminds one that Emerson concluded that “England is the best of actual nations”. It is not possible, as I started out with saying, to determine the ultimate goal of civilisation, and it is absurd to suppose that all progress is in a straight line.


The eventual triumph of the yellow man may be the design now in progress of working out. Races have been extinguished before now, and kingdoms and empires have passed away in plenty. So that it would be rash to assume that the American civilisation was destined to be the civilisation of the future. I have given my reasons for coming to a different conclusion. History is full of interim civilisations, which are, once may conclude, rough experiments on the part of Nature. Is America a rough experiment ? If so we may be assured that she will be discarded, and that she will not be allowed to interfere with our ultimate destination. The defects of American civilisation, which is the purest and most significant exponent of commercialism, are such as derogate from the virility of man and the fecundity of woman. Unless it materially alters it would seem, therefore, to be doomed, doomed despite all its intelligence, its immense natural gifts, and its subtle insight, doomed as was that Martian civilisation of Mr. Wells, which with all its gifts, and knowledge and power, perished on Primrose Hill, before the natural forces of a world which it had despised and would have conquered.

H. B. Watson, The Deleterious Effect of Americanisation Upon Woman, The Nineteenth Century (November, 1903)



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.