Studies in Classic American Literature (1923) by D. H. Lawrence
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN had a specious little equation in providential mathematics:
Rum + Savage = 0.
Awfully nice! You might add up the universe to nought, if you kept on.
Rum plus Savage may equal a dead savage. But is a dead savage nought? Can you make a land virgin by killing off its aborigines ?
The Aztec is gone, and the Incas. The Red lndian, the Esquimo, the Patagonian are reduced to negligible numbers.
Ou sont les neiges d’antan?
My dear, wherever they are, they will come down again next winter, sure as houses.
Not that the Red Indian will ever possess the broad lands of America. At least I presume not. But his ghost will.
The Red Man died hating the white man. What remnant of him lives, lives hating the white man. Go near the Indians, and you just feel it. As far as we are concerned, the Red Man is subtly and unremittingly diabolic. Even when he doesn’t know it. He is dispossessed in life, and unforgiving. He doesn’t believe in us and our civilization, and so is our mystic enemy, for we push him off the face of the earth.
Belief is a mysterious thing. It is the only healer of the soul’s wounds. There is no belief in the world.
The Red Man is dead, disbelieving in us. He is dead and unappeased. Do not imagine him happy in his Happy Hunting Ground. No. Only those that die in belief die happy. Those that are pushed out of life in chagrin come back unappeased, for revenge.
A curious thing about the Spirit of Place is the fact that no place exerts its full influence upon a new-comer until the old inhabitant is dead or absorbed. So America. While the Red Indian existed in fairly large numbers, the new colonials were in a great measure immune from the daimon, or demon, of America. The moment the last nuclei of Red life break up in America, then the white men will have to reckon with the full force of the demon of the continent. At present the demon of the place and the unappeased ghosts of the dead Indians act within the unconscious or under-conscious soul of the white American, causing the great American grouch, the Orestes-like frenzy of restlessness in the Yankee soul, the inner malaise which amounts almost to madness, sometimes. The Mexican is macabre and disintegrated in his own way. Up till now, the unexpressed spirit of America has worked covertly in the American, the white American soul. But within the present generation the surviving Red Indians are due to merge in the great white swamp. Then the Daimon of America will work overtly, and we shall see real changes.
There has been all the time, in the white American soul, a dual feeling about the Indian. First was Franklin’s feeling, that a wise Providence no doubt intended the extirpation of these savages. Then came Crevecoeur’s contradictory feeling about the noble Red Man and the innocent life of the wig-wam. Now we hate to subscribe to Benjamin’s belief in a Providence that wisely extirpates the Indian to make room for ‘cultivators of the soil’. In Crevecoeur we meet a sentimental desire for the glorification of the savages. Absolutely sentimental. Hector pops over to Paris to enthuse about the wigwam.
The desire to extirpate the Indian. And the contradictory desire to glorify him. Both are rampant still, today.
The bulk of the white people who live in contact with the Indian today would like to see this Red brother exterminated; not only for the sake of grabbing his land, but because of the silent, invisible, but deadly hostility between the spirit of the two races. The minority of whites intellectualize the Red Man and laud him to the skies. But this minority of whites is mostly a high-brow minority with a big grouch against its own whiteness. So there you are.
When you are actually in America, America hurts, because it has a powerful disintegrative influence upon the white psyche. It is full of grinning, unappeased aboriginal demons, too, ghosts, and it persecutes the white men, like some Eumenides, until the white men give up their absolute whiteness. America is tense with latent violence and resistance. The very common sense of white Americans has a tinge of helplessness in it, and deep fear of what might be if they were not common-sensical.
Yet one day the demons of America must be placated, the ghosts must be appeased, the Spirit of Place atoned for. Then the true passionate love for American Soil will appear. As yet, there is too much menace in the landscape.
But probably, one day America will be as beautiful in actuality as it is in Cooper. Not yet, however. When the factories have fallen down again.