have what they have not, to cover the defects in their civilization by boasting, to fancy that they well and truly solve, not only the political and social problem, but the human problem too. One would say that they do really hope to find in tall talk and inflated sentiment a substitute for that real sense of elevation which human nature, as I have said, instinctively craves — and a substitute which may do as well as the genuine article.
The thrill of awe, which Goethe
pronounces to be the best thing humanity has, they would fain create by proclaiming themselves at the top of their voices to be “the greatest nation upon earth,” by assuring one another, in the language of their national historian, that “American democracy proceeds in its ascent as uniformly and majestically as the laws of being, and is as certain as the decrees of eternity.”
Or, again, far from admitting that their newspapers are a scandal, they assure one another that their newspaper press is one of their most signal distinctions.
Far from admitting that in literature they have as yet produced little that is important, they play at treating American literature as if it were a great independent power; they reform the spelling of the English
language by the insight of their average man.