Lord James Bryce on American Haste
I heard a quote while watching Ken Burns' - The National Parks: America's Best Idea that I thought was great in describing some of us Americans:
"Gentlemen, why in heaven's name this haste? You have time enough. [...] Ages and ages lie before you. Why sacrifice the present to the future, fancying that you will be happier when your fields teem with wealth and your cities with people? In Europe we have cities wealthier and more populous than yours, and we are not happy. You dream of your posterity; but your posterity will look back to yours as the golden age, and envy those who first burst into this silent, splendid nature, who first lifted up their axes upon these tall trees, and lined these waters with busy wharves. Why, then, seek to complete in a few decades what the other nations of the world took thousands of years over in the older continents? [...] Why, in your hurry to subdue and utilize nature, squander her splendid gifts? [...] Why hasten the advent of that threatening day when the vacant spaces of the continent shall all have been filled, and the poverty or discontent of the older States shall find no outlet? You have opportunities such as mankind has never had before, and may never have again. Your work is great and noble; it is done for a future longer and vaster than our conceptions can embrace. Why not make its outlines and beginnings worthy of these destinies, the thought of which gilds your hopes and elevates your purposes?"
This is the most popular page on my website and I am sure many people have questions on who Lord James Bryce was and why did he write this? The full text is below in context of the whole chapter.
Lord James Bryce was a British jurist, historian and politician who felt the call of the western frontier in America and became a leading voice of the times, and later became the British Ambassador to the United States.
It seems that, at the time of this writing, there was an overwhelming feeling, almost a depression, about the lack of an unknown frontier in the west. Part of the excitement of living in this era was the existence of large areas on the map that were relatively unexplored. And part of the American Dream for many was to be able to get ones' piece of the pie that was up for grabs for diligent entrepreneurs.
This American Dream philosophy still permeates our endeavors in the modern times. From those who cling to lottery tickets to those who bury their noses in their work, we are all striving for something better, sometimes at the expense of truly enjoying what we have in the present and what we may have in the future.