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by [?]

Civilization does not, I think, make the race any better. It makes men know more: and if knowledge makes them happy it is useful and desirable. The one purpose of every sane human being is to be happy. No one can have any other motive than that. There is no such thing as unselfishness. We perform the most “generous” and “self-sacrificing” acts because we should be unhappy if we did not. We move on lines of least reluctance. Whatever tends to increase the beggarly sum of human happiness is worth having; nothing else has any value.

The cant of civilization fatigues. Civilization is a fine and beautiful structure. It is as picturesque as a Gothic cathedral. But it is built upon the bones and cemented with the blood of those whose part in all its pomp is that and nothing more. It cannot be reared in the generous tropics, for there the people will not contribute their blood and bones. The proposition that the average American workingman or European peasant is “better off” than the South Sea Islander, lolling under a palm and drunk with over-eating, will not bear a moment’s examination.

It is we scholars and gentlemen that are better off.

It is admitted that the South Sea Islander in a state of nature is overmuch addicted to the practice of eating human flesh; but concerning that I submit: first, that he likes it; second, that those who supply it are mostly dead. It is upon his enemies that he feeds, and these he would kill anyhow, as we do ours. In civilized, enlightened and Christian countries, where cannibalism has not yet established itself, wars are as frequent and destructive as among the maneaters. The untitled savage knows at least why he goes killing, whereas the private soldier is commonly in black ignorance of the apparent cause of quarrel–of the actual cause, always. Their shares in the fruits of victory are about equal: the Chief takes all the dead, the General all the glory. Moreover it costs more human life to supply a Christian gentleman with food than it does a cannibal–with food alone: “board;” if you could figure out the number of lives that his lodging, clothing, amusements and accomplishment cost the sum would startle. Happily he does not pay it. Considering human lives as having value, cannibalism is undoubtedly the more economical system.


Transplanted institutions grow but slowly; and civilization can not be put into a ship and carried across an ocean. The history of this country is a sequence of illustrations of these truths. It was settled by civilized men and women from civilized countries, yet after two and a half centuries with unbroken communication with the mother systems, it is still imperfectly civilized. In learning and letters, in art and the science of government, America is but a faint and stammering echo of England.

For nearly all that is good in our American civilization we are indebted to England; the errors and mischiefs are of our own creation. We have originated little, because there is little to originate, but we have unconsciously reproduced many of the discredited and abandoned systems of former ages and other countries–receiving them at second hand, but making them ours by the sheer strength and immobility of the national belief in their newness. Newness! Why, it is not possible to make an experiment in government, in art, in literature, in sociology, or in morals, that has not been made over, and over, and over again. Fools talk of clear and simple remedies for this and that evil afflicting the commonwealth. If a proposed remedy is obvious and easily intelligible, it is condemned in the naming, for it is morally certain to have been tried a thousand times in the history of the world, and had it been effective men ere now would have forgotten, from mere disuse, how to produce the evil it cured.