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Where a grain-elevator looms gaunt and hideous next to the tracks"
or look on while a sweet lass of twelve at a Sunday-school festival recites "Nothing to Say, My Daughter."
They have their follies, their weaknesses, their sins. They confess them. They are not "smug." They recognize
even the defects of their qualities; for example, of their progressiveness. The Spoon River Anthologist has convinced himself that the Middle West already shows symptoms of decay; yet what is this I read? "Ripon, Wisconsin, was down in the public building bill for a $75,000 postoffice, but asked Congress to take back the gift and apply the money to national defense." The elder generation would hardly have done that. In those perfect days a Middle-Western senator wrote, "The purification of politics is an iridescent dream," adding, "The ten commandments and the golden rule have no place in a political campaign." Only yesterday a young Middle-Westerner told me his belief that the young Middle West had lost the fine, heroic hardihood of the pioneers. He himself is the very personification of hardihood, as good as his fathers, and in many ways better.
What a paradox, this Middle West! How self-deceived! How deceptive! It appears to ache with monotonous, prosaic unpicturesqueness: standardized cities, standardized villages, standardized country-side, standardized Middle-Westerners,
whose existence painfully lacks color. In New England life wears a Puritan blue, or so they say; in the South a patrician purple; in the far West "any color as long as it 's red"; here, to the alien eye, no hue whatever, or at best a torpid brown. Recently a Middle-Westerner unpacked his soul regarding why he adored the Middle West. Said he (anonymously, because the outburst seemed to him so ebullient), "I own my house, I sport a Ford, and I go to the theater twice a month, all on an income of fifteen hundred dollars." Gammon! He loves the Middle West because he loves Middle-Westerners. He loves Middle-Westerners
because of their boundless genius for sentiment. The most prosaic of regions, theirs is the most romantic. The Middle West narrowly escapes quixotism. It has more than once failed to escape. It is inartistic sometimes, inarticulate often, and, like farmer-folk the world over, of rarer make inside than outside. It is never insincere except toward itself. It is a little ashamed of its leading virtue, and worships just that. Its keenest interpreter was James Whitcomb Riley.
Middle West pioneers and sons of pioneers still glory in the fruit of their labors. They made the Middle West. They have not ceased making it, nor has the third generation. What passes for smugness is an incitement to further exertion. "Halleluiah!" read "Giddap!" In MiddleWestern parlance it is the outward sign of an inward grace. The grace they call "boost"; its opposite, "knocking." Says a Middle-Western editor, "Any man who knocks the town he feels at home in would find fault with his own mother's cherrypie."
In Cincinnati note the daily column, "Cincinnati's Industries Grow." In Springfield hear the phrases, "Onward sweep" and "Forging ahead." In Wichita observe how the disinterested realestate barons have set out to "make Wichita known as the Hub of"-I forget just what. From the window, as your train pulls up at some severely monohippic "tank town," read the notice, “This piece of land free to any concern that will build a factory here."
Taught by his chamber of commerce, the citizen volunteers information wondrous, joyous, and effulgent. Welcome to our city! She boasts the biggest this in the world, the largest that in the world, the grandest the other in the world, and three. times her own population. Thinking in italics, talking in capitals, he knows only cosmic superlatives. One such town boasts "the shortest mile-track in the world." Chicago, when termed the wickedest of cities, replied, "We 're bound to lead." Chicago even brags of her suburbs -"with one exception." That is St. Louis! In the usual prairie town the newspapers never allow people to die. Instead, they "pass." Anything as depressing as a death would be a form of applied "knocking."
Throughout the Middle West the citizen memorizes interminable statistics proving the "onward sweep" of his community during the last three years, the last five, the last ten. At this rate a mere dullard can calculate how suddenly it will overhaul New York City and joggle the universe. In six dozen particulars
he names them offhand-it has already joggled Christendom and dismayed the marts of Ormus and of Ind.
At first glance "boost" appears to exhibit imagination, but it is in reality prosaic. It takes facts, then proceeds as in multiplication. Nevertheless, it exhibits sentiment, and America has as yet produced no more charmingly sentimental creature than the plainsman. His surroundings, his education, his religion, his secretiveness, and his jocosity unite to kill sentiment. Nothing can. Horrible droughts may burn sentiment to a cinder; plagues of locusts may devour it; floods may drown it; tornadoes, misnamed "cyclones," may blow it flat. Invariably it comes up smiling.
To be candid, these pranks of water, wind, sun, and the "insect youth" amount to relatively little. Locusts nibbled Kansas bare once; they are gone; and while an occasional hot wind scorches that eventful region till farmers perceive clearly that Congress is to blame, consider the Kansas crops, how they grow, and the Kansans, how they prosper. Dayton has its flood, to be sure, and here and there a village that was on one bank of the Mississippi yesterday is on the other bank. to-day; yet the average Middle-Westerner never sees the "Big Muddy" or, for that matter, the Ohio. Cyclones, when by some rare chance they collide with a city, wreak havoc incalculable; as a rule, they waste their vivacity in the rural glades. All his life a distinguished Middle-Western meteorologist has been ambitious to get in with a cyclone. All his life he has failed. There is a wistful melancholy about the man as he shows you other people's snap-shots of cyclones or relates his observations along a cyclone's trail. Alas! the play of "Cæsar" with Casar left out-chickens defeathered on one side only, straws stuck into oaken posts, mud from Jones's swamp nicely plastered over the First Baptist Church, a locomotive standing on end in a rose garden and a single rose left petal-perfect, but the cyclone itself gone kiting. cyclone itself gone kiting. By dint of much patience I have found cyclone sur