pp. 109, 111
facsimile / transcription of a book excerpt
And what, doctor mine, shall we say of this flat smear, this endless drawl of streets and shanties, large and small, this ocean of smoke? It is a thousand miles away from New York. Is it then an epitome of American civilization, an index of our art? Is this a true exponent of democracy? You have told me of thought--is thought here? You have talked to me of imagination--is imagination here? Are filth in the air, and slime under foot, or dust in the nostrils, indices of enlightenment; or is Chicago a sui generis in turn? New York may be revolting to you, but this Chicago thing is infinitely repulsive to me. There at least was a physical if not a moral cleanliness, an outward if not an inward cheerfulness. But this foul spot on the smiling prairie, this blotch on the fair face of Nature! Why have you brought me here again? What have I done to deserve this? I thought it well understood that no one stays here who can get away; that it is no place for a civilized human being to live. What are we here for?
We are here because I wish to show you the pole- opposite of New York; because I wish to show you extremes, in order that, as such, you may fix them in your mind indelibly. Because a study of these extremes will fix for us certain definite psychological boundaries.
Chicago is indeed a sui generis. Seventy years ago it was a mudhole--today it is a human swamp.
But the case "Chicago" is not any more hopeless, seemingly, to him who can weigh values, than is that of the architectural art at large; it is not a whit more impoverished, spiritually, nor inept physically; not at all more apathetic, more dismal, more pitiful; and if we may hope for the latter as we do, why not for the former as we may? For Chicago at least has youth, and where youth is, there is always hope--and where there is hope let us cling to it. Its sins and sicknesses of youth have been fierce and debilitating, and almost fatal; but there are a few sparks remaining in the ashes of its short life. Fate may perchance fan them once more into a flame of democratic fire. It is a chance--a chance only--but youth is here; a tremendous under- strength is here. The critical turn is at hand--we shall see what we shall see--and we shall see it soon.
The case "Chicago" is not the case "New York" and is not to be judged by it; there is no common standard of comparison--New York is old--its sins are fixed, the damage is done. Chicago is young, clumsy, foolish, its architectural sins are unstable, captious and fleeting; it can pull itself down and rebuild itself in a generation, if it will: it has done and can do great things when the mood is on. There can be no new New York, but there may be a new Chicago. As you look out on the dreary murk, this may seem a fantastical dream; perhaps it is--who knows? If there are to be dreams, there must be dreamers to dream them--and there can be no greatness unless dreamers dream of it! Still, it may be a foolish dream; a dream born of the incomparable Lake and the strong, silent, lovely prairies--who knows? One must indeed be incurably optimistic even momentarily to dream such a dream. Yet the Lake is there, awaiting, in all its glory; and the Sky is there above, awaiting, in its eternal beauty; and the Prairie, the ever- fertile prairie is awaiting. And they, all three, as a trinity in one, are dreaming--some prophetic dream: I am aware: even as the Big City dreams its sordid introspective dream. And he who looks upon them, all in one, in pulchritude of his heart, in rejuvenescence of his spirit, may perchance in turn dream something of their dream--who knows? There may be unknown dreamers here!