With Walt Whitman in Camden, by Horace Traubel
Copyright 1996 by Fellowship of Friends. All Rights Reserved.

Dangers for America

Monday, August 3, 1891

"...Let a man go to New York with whatever, soon he is a changed being. Everybody going to New York, getting into the swim of its affairs, is born again, remade--seems given a new lease, but not a better. And its secret --what is its secret? To me a horrible show, strain--disgusting, ruinous, promising nothing. The very bottom principle corruption itself. Think of it--the games they play--the travesty! To them life is but a game--a play, a frolic, devil-take-the-hindmost business. Who can get on top? All wrong--all set on the wrong track. To a New Yorker life is not lived a success if it be not planted in a background of money, goods: curtains, hangings, tapestries, carpets, elegant china. As if life had to be tied to these. Yes, it changes everybody, Horace--except me, I always conceit--and changes them not for good. Even Burroughs--swayed, moved, by it. Yet John is a rustic, body and mind--that is his quality, with all the glory and shame of rusticity. Though I don't know about the shame, either. That's New York--there it has an undisputed throne. And yet it is not New York in any special, or exclusively special, sense. I might say, it is America--the land, time--speculative, prone to display, to count success in dollars. Yet I do not mean to say that other things do not go with these--objects, refinements, superb things certifying to evolution. And the New Yorker, the American, is radical, progressive--has that to be said for him." But he thought all that darkness would pass--day would come at last? "Yes, I see signs of it now--things will take their right order eventually. And what I say is extreme, anyhow, intended to set forth one side--to throw it out in strong relief, so that people will see, acknowledge the great danger we must avoid." Yet "a money civilization can never last. We must find surer foundations. Not to disdain goods, yet not to be ruled by them--not to dawdle forever in parlors, with luxury, show."

Thursday, September 3, 1891

"...How much tax do you suppose I pay on this little home? It is assessed at $800, and $25 is my tax yearly. And that is only one tax--there are half a dozen minor taxes piled on top of that yet. And not a thing to show for it--not a thing--no public spirit--no park, no decent highway even. Politics! Politics! Did I tell you about the young fellow I met the other day? I knew him to fail in three or four things--he had no ability to make anything go. And now, when I ask him, what do you mean to start next, he says, 'I am going into politics.' 'What do you mean by that? What is politics?' I find it is to burn on the heels of a ward politician--to become that himself--to be made alderman, freeholder, member of council--to live on bribes, in fact. God forgive us the profanation! It is horrible to think of--excites me to the most unmitigated disgust. I ask, what hell will it not lead us into? I suppose every job done is half of it corrupt--breaches of faith--rotten self-calculation. Every man sunk in filth, beastly foul money-getting. And curious to say, the people themselves, the great body of the people, are healthy, sound--right, honest, at heart--spinally pure--eligible to the best. No, no--I doubt if England, any country, can afford such political samples--we excel them all. But if we do not, then alas poor Scotland! In our own town--uptown--all that half of the place--are a lot of people--cultured, cute, moneyed, colleged, prosperous, arrayed in purple and fine linen, satisfied with their books--who, I venture to say, pay their taxes, knowing they are looted--but half of whom couldn't tell you today who is mayor of the city. Yet America, robbed, gnawed at the vitals, lived upon by a mass of corrupting political fraud--is wealthiest of the list--exceeds all in her power to outlast her evils." I jokingly said, "How Tucker would like to hear all this from you. He would say, we will forgive you even your praise of an Emperor if you are willing to say this longside it!" W. laughed, "True, the good Tucker! But I have only given one side--that one side that can't be too strongly stated--must be faced!" I have rarely heard him speak with more fire and vehemence.