Essay About Early Nineteenth Century And Early Nineteenth Century American


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In the early nineteenth century the United States was essentially a third-world country, lagging far behind Europe in almost every way, with its short history, weak traditions and minor literacy and artistic achievements. America just could not compete with the Old Worlds centuries of civilization; Europes great castles, cathedrals, and longstanding customs and culture left America paling by comparison. The New World was still unrefined and Americans felt a certain uneasiness about the relation of their country to that of Europe. Given all that Europe had to offer, there was not much that an early nineteenth century American could take pride in with respect to their new country, short of winning independence. This left Americans longing for something to call their own, something that could instill a sense of nationalism and pride in being part of their newborn country.

For this national self-esteem, Americans needed to look no further than its own natural environment. Early nineteenth century nationalists began to realize that it was their wilderness that remained unmatched anywhere in the world. Europe had the manufacturers, fine arts, and agriculture, but America had the mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls and endless forests unparalleled in measure or beauty. Centuries of civilization had created a “layer of artificiality” over the Old World, while Americas virgin land remained pure and untainted by the hands of man. And this uncorrupted land of Americas wilderness was seen as superior, viewed as being closer to God, left the way He intended the world to be.

Followed by this was the belief that the scenery of the wilderness would “produce a correspondent impression in the imagination─to elevate all the faculties of the mind, and to exhault all the feelings of the heart.” Consequently, we were suppose to assume that a man who lived in close proximity to the wilderness would be a great poet, for instance, based simply on the intellectual motivation brought about by the wilderness. Anyone stating otherwise was considered to be disloyal to his country. Gradually, wilderness was becoming part of American culture, as it began to dominate the poetry, fiction, and painting scene in America. This, however, probably was more of an effect that wilderness was having on the country in terms of a national sense of pride than it was inspiration brought about by the wilderness itself. Nevertheless, wilderness was at the forefront of the American national identity.

Many Americans, however, understood that the wilderness, to some degree, had to be sacrificed in order to make way for the advancement of civilization. Still others felt that, regardless of industrial advancement, the wilderness alone was not enough. Thomas Cole, an American landscape painter, illustrates his ambivalence: “Although American scenery is often so fine, [we feel the need to] cling to scenes in the Old World.” This ambiguousness

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