Published in the New York Tribune, Aug. 1, 1846, just previous to sailing for Europe. - ED
FAREWELL to New York city, where twenty months have presented me with a richer and more varied exercise for thought and life, than twenty years could in any other part of these United States.
It is the common remark about New York, that it has at least nothing petty or provincial in its methods and habits. The place is large enough: there is room enough, and occupation enough, for men to have no need or excuse for small cavils or scrutinies. A person who is independent, and knows what he wants, may lead his proper life here, unimpeded by others.
Vice and crime, if flagrant and frequent, are less thickly coated by hypocrisy than elsewhere. The air comes sometimes to the most infected subjects.
New York is the focus, the point where American and European interests converge. There is no topic of general interest to men, that will not betimes be brought before the thinker by the quick turning of the wheel.
Too quick that revolution, —some object. Life rushes wide and free, but too fast. Yet it is in the power of every one to avert from himself the evil that accompanies the good. He must build for his study, as did the German poet, a house beneath the bridge; and then all that passes above and by him will be heard and seen, but he will not be carried away with it.
Earlier views have been confirmed, and many new ones opened. On two great leadings, the superlative importance of promoting national education by heightening and deepening the cultivation of individual minds, and the part which is assigned to woman in the next stage of human progress in this country, where most important achievements are to be effected, I have received much encouragement, much instruction, and the fairest hopes of more.
On various subjects of minor importance, no less than these, I hope for good results, from observation, with my own eyes, of life in the old world, and to bring home some packages of seed for life in the new.
These words I address to my friends, for I feel that I have some. The degree of sympathetic response to the thoughts and suggestions I have offered through the columns of the Tribune, has indeed surprised me, conscious as I am of a natural and acquired aloofness from many, if not most popular tendencies of my time and place. It has greatly encouraged me, for none can sympathize with thoughts like mine, who are permanently insnared in the meshes of sect or party; none who prefer the formation and advancement of mere opinions to the free pursuit of truth. I see, surely, that the topmost bubble or sparkle of the cup is no voucher for the nature of its contents throughout, and shall, in future, feel that in our age, nobler in that respect than most of the preceding ages, each sincere and fervent act or word is secure, not only of a final, but of a speedy response.
I go to behold the wonders of art, and the temples of old religion. But I shall see no forms of beauty and majesty beyond what my country is capable of producing in myriad variety, if she has but the soul to will it; no temple to compare with what she might erect in the ages, if the catchword of the time, a sense of divine order, should become no more a mere word of form, but a deeply-rooted and pregnant idea in her life. Beneath the light of a hope that this may be, I say to my friends once more a kind farewell!
There are the multitudes to whom civilization has given little but its reaction, its rebound, its chips, its refuse, its shavings, sawdust and waste, its failures; to them solitude is a right foregone or a luxury unattained.
The throes of education are as degrading and demoralizing as a hanging.
Quotidiana is an online anthology of "classical" essays, from antiquity to the early twentieth century. All essays and images are in the public domain. Commentaries are copyrighted, but may be used with proper attribution. Special thanks to the BYU College of Humanities and English Department for funding, and to Joey Franklin and Lara Burton, for tireless research assisting.