The Most Materialistic Age

In this excerpt from Winesburg, Ohio, published almost a century ago in 1919, Sherwood Anderson predicts the future with a depressing degree of accuracy:

That is what Jesse hungered for and then also he hungered for something else. He had grown into maturity in America in the years after the Civil War and he, like all men of his time, had been touched by the deep influences that were at work in the country during those years when modern industrialism was being born. He began to buy machines that would permit him to do the work of the farms while employing fewer men and he sometimes thought that if he were a younger man he would give up farming altogether and start a factory in Winesburg for the making of machinery. Jesse formed the habit of reading newspapers and magazines. He invented a machine for the making of fence out of wire. Faintly he realized that the atmosphere of old times and places that he had always cultivated in his own mind was strange and foreign to the thing that was growing up in the minds of others. The beginning of the most materialistic age in the history of the world, when wars would be fought without patriotism, when men would forget God and only pay attention to moral standards, when the will to power would replace the will to serve and beauty would be well-nigh forgotten in the terrible headlong rush of mankind toward the acquiring of possessions, was telling its story to Jesse the man of God as it was to the men about him. The greedy thing in him wanted to make money faster than it could be made by tilling the land. More than once he went into Winesburg to talk with his son-in-law John Hardy about it. “You are a banker and you will have chances I never had,” he said and his eyes shone. “I am thinking about it all the time. Big things are going to be done in the country and there will be more money to be made than I ever dreamed of. You get into it. I wish I were younger and had your chance.” Jesse Bentley walked up and down in the bank office and grew more and more excited as he talked. At one time in his life he had been threatened with paralysis and his left side remained somewhat weakened. As he talked his left eyelid twitched. Later when he drove back home and when night came on and the stars came out it was harder to get back the old feeling of a close and personal God who lived in the sky overhead and who might at any moment reach out his hand, touch him on the shoulder, and appoint for him some heroic task to be done. Jesse’s mind was fixed upon the things read in newspapers and magazines, on fortunes to be made almost without effort by shrewd men who bought and sold.

Winesburg, Ohio, and most other Sherwood Anderson works, are in the public domain and may be downloaded freely from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

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Me and Sherwood and Billy Pilgrim

From Malcom Cowley’s introduction to the Penguin Classic’s edition of Sherwood Anderson’s Windesburg Ohio, © 1919:

One characteristic of the subconscious is a defective sense of time: in dreams the old man sees himself as a boy, and the events of thirty or forty years may be jumbled together. Time as a logical succession of events was Anderson’s greatest difficulty in writing novels or even long stories. He got his tenses confused and carried his heroes ten years forward or back in a single paragraph. His instinct was to present everything together, as in a dream.

I have the same problem.  Time just doesn’t seem linear to me.

I’ve had the experience more than once of finding a date on a ticket stub or an old letter which proves conclusively that the order of things as I remembered them could not be true.  It’s always a little disorienting.

I’ve thought of making an autobiographical blog, but it couldn’t possibly be chronological. The memories would be more like a series of colored panes that wouldn’t necessarily fit together to make a stained glass window.

Most of Sherwood Anderson’s novels and short stories are in the public domain, and can be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

 

And Then I’d

“Why must people kneel down to pray? If I really wanted to pray I’ll tell you what I’d do. I’d go out into a great big field all alone or in the deep, deep woods and I’d look up into the sky– up– up– up– into that lovely blue sky that looks as if there was no end to its blueness. And then I’d just feel a prayer.”  ~Lucy Maud Montgomery, in Anne of Green Gables ©1908

Anne of Green Gables is in the public domain and may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

Make Britain Great Again!

Excerpt from Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, ©1873:

Hong Kong is an island which came into the possession of the English by the treaty of Nankin, after the war of 1842; and the colonizing genius of the English has created upon it an important city and excellent port…  Hong Kong seemed to him (Passepartout) not unlike Bombay, Calcutta, and Singapore, since, like them, it betrayed everywhere the evidence of English supremacy.

Nineteenth century writers like Verne and Kipling made the mistake of assuming that a flair for military conquest was proof of cultural superiority.

I suppose once you’ve convinced yourself that you were created in God’s own image and likeness, it’s a small step to presume that recreating the world in your own image is doing His work.

Around the World in 80 Days is in the public domain and may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

Corruption With A Growl

Excerpted from Jacob Riis’ autobiography, The Making of an American, ©1901:

You bring up the people slowly to a reform programme, particularly when it costs money. They will pay for corruption with a growl, but seem to think that virtue ought always to be had for nothing. It makes the politicians’ game easy. They steal the money for improvements, and predict that reform will raise the tax-rate. When the prophecy comes true, they take the people back in their sheltering embrace with an “I told you so!” and the people nestle there repentant.

When the investment bankers manipulated the market for their personal gain, requiring a trillion dollars in bailout money to cover their losses, there was no real debate:  the money was instantly available.

People are dying and going bankrupt  from lack of affordable health care, but that, we are told, costs too much money.

Jacob Riis, buried more than a century ago, would not be surprised.

All of his books are in the public domain and may be downloaded freely from Project Gutenberg, HERE.

(One question I am seldom asked is, “So, what are you reading these days?”)

Let In the Light

Jacob Riis on faith:

I had the feeling, and have it still, that if you are trying to do the things which are right, and which you were put here to do, you can and ought to leave ways and means to Him who drew the plans, after you have done your own level best to provide. Always that, of course. If then things don’t come out right, it is the best proof in the world, to my mind, that you have got it wrong, and you have only to hammer away waiting for things to shape themselves, as they are bound to do, and let in the light. For nothing in all this world is without a purpose, and least of all what you and I are doing, though we may not be able to make it out. I got that faith from my mother, and it never put her to shame, so she has often told me.

Or, to rephrase it into the parlance of my youth, “Keep On Truckin’.”

This was excerpted from his autobiography, The Making of an American ©1901, which may be downloaded for free from Project Gutenberg.