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CHAPTER VI

I are

The World of the Average Man is often said that the people of the new world

are simply another branch of the old in a new environment. But this is only partially so. Men and women react to their surroundings, to the vast spaces, virgin forests, untilled lands, cold winters and bright skies. North America presents geographical conditions so very different from those of Britain and western Europe that after the lapse of some generations they were certain to produce differentiation between the descendants of the same stock in the home lands and in America. As regards the United States and Canada, however, there is great similarity in respect of physical environment, and the social customs and manner of life which result so largely therefrom approximate closely in the two peoples. Both the Americans and the Canadians who constitute the kernel of their respective nations were originally for the most part tillers of the soil, clearers of the forest, and many of them adventurers on the frontier. From the beginning until recent years there has been a frontier line, though now the mysterious beyond has vanished.

Pioneers of New England and the other colonies,

some of them gentle folk, had to fight the elements from the moment of their arrival, but before many generations went by, they created a wealthy land, and from this struggle issued virtues which have been reproduced in their descendants who kept moving out into the unknown regions of the West. This most enduring and vigorous stratum in the life of the American people can be traced from the East through to the West, like a belt of rich soil. Containing different elements also from the southern and middle Atlantic states it became in the central states a new source of idealism, which to-day still underlies all the superficial materialism of those prosperous commonwealths.

To understand the American it is necessary to know what manner of man the old Puritan was. He was most tenacious of his purpose, and to him mainly is due the victory of the English tongue and of AngloSaxon civilization in North America. When he arrived the French were getting a foothold in Canada, and the Dutch on the Hudson, but New England with its 26,000 settlers soon outdistanced both and moved steadily into the South and West. In the spirit of the old Athenians some Americans have grown tired of hearing the praise of the Puritan, and they have been at pains to paint him harsh and repellent, and doubtless with some truth; but no part of America has produced sturdier patriotism, more

original character and more genuine literature than the old puritan homeland. And so far no other single strain has been able to prevail over it in the country.

. The puritan's character, rooted in faith, resulted in a strange paradox. He believed that the world could bring him no abiding comfort; he scorned it as the instrument of the Devil, but in his masterful disdain for this foe he proved that he could beat him at his own game, and he filled his pockets with his winnings. He was no pacifist. Believing in an eternal opposition between the flesh and the spirit, the world and the Kingdom of God, he cried, “Up and Smite! By the spirit of the living God ye shall prevail.” This was the stuff out of which excellent pioneers were made and its quality was enduring.

The intense idealism of early New England had waned before the valleys of the Ohio and the Mississippi were settled, but it received new strength when the slavery issue sundered people again according to origins and innate moral standards. Springfield, Illinois, became the home of Lincoln, where also he lies buried, and to this day it is with good reason a Mecca for Americans, for in the valleys of the great central rivers are to be found in largest numbers the descendants of the puritan East, who in Illinois, Iowa and Kansas cling with almost aggressive conviction like their forefathers to their republican democracy as being the final manifestation of political idealism. Strong as this puritan element has been in the United States, it has hardly entered into Canadian life. Few loyalists were of that stock, fewer still of the later settlers, and the original New Englanders of Nova Scotia can hardly be said to have contributed a distinctive strain to the national character. But in so far as Puritanism denotes an attitude towards life, an ethical temper characterized by restraint and based upon religious conviction, it is one of the qualities of the Canadian people, whether French or English-speaking. The French habitant is a Catholic puritan, the average English-speaking Canadian a Protestant puritan, both of them tending to the severe, to simple preceptual conduct based on Divine sanctions, and avoiding sensuous and unrestrained emotion. But the derivation of this idealism is in the one case from the peasants and fisher-folk of Brittany and Normandy, and in the other from the rigid Protestantism of Scotland, the North of Ireland, English non-conformity and a section of Anglicanism.

Puritan influence has however been only one factor in the formation of the more recent American character. All sorts and conditions of men moved into the opening spaces of the West—religious and irreligious, adventurers and dreamers, materialists and idealists. Many having thrown off the restraints of their eastern homes were impatient of law and order. Strong-willed men took the lead, and if they were coarse, as circumstances often helped to make them, they coarsened communities. Force, cunning, shrewdness were quite as common as virtues, and in the swirl of passions idealism was often submerged. The frontier man was full of adventure, he carved his home out of the rough for himself by his own energy, and took rank by the ability he showed in subduing conditions. Therefore individuality, reluctance to acknowledge a leader, and equality in social life were notes of the new democracy. Most, however, were content to seek a comfortable home in which they could transmit to their families the older institutions of the East adapted to the new environment. Some had a vision of a new earth that was to be established in righteousness beyond the mountains. Sects jostled one another for place, revivals and excitement under denunciatory preaching were common, and asceticism became the easy rule for such earlier and cruder stages of the religious life. Hard doctrines were flung at men who were accustomed to meet hardship in nature and too often in their neighbours. Their life was lonely and monotonous; it had little beauty, and such as it had was clear cut, not subtle and charming. Plain fact, not poetry, appealed to them. But above all, with faith in their creative

power See F. M. Davenport, Primitive Traits in Religious Revivals (1905), p. 63.

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