Love of Publicity
Political institutions, by their recognition of the equal rights of all men, call upon each individual to manifest himself. Every American being thus not only free to speak and act, but feeling it his duty to do so, becomes, more or less, a public man. The political influence
extends to the social habits, and we have, in consequence, but little privacy of life.
Our love of publicity is shown by the gregarious modes in which we live and move. That great caravansary, the American hotel, is a characteristic expression of the national protest against individual separateness. It is constructed on the principle that it is not good for any human being to be alone except when he is asleep, and even then it is not seldom that he is provided with one or more companions. The bedrooms are made just large enough to lie down in, and are evidently only designed for that purpose. These, thrust far away under the eaves, are ordinarily the only provision for the individual. The rest, composing much the larger and most accessible part of the structure, is appropriated to the public, for whom, moreover, all the splendor and convenience are exclusively furnished.
So much is the American hotel constructed for the especial advantage of the aggregate many, and so little are the requirements of the particular one considered, that, while thousands are feasted there luxuriously at certain hours every day, no single hungry man can, at any other moment, get a chop or a potato to save himself from starving. In traveling the same gregarious practices obtain, and no one, however tender of body and fastidious in mind, can entirely escape the nudge of the elbow or the shock from the words of a rude neighbor.
This shaking together, so universal with us, has not been without its marked effects upon the character and manners of our people. The good may be thought by some to transcend the bad. It has led, undoubtedly, to a fuller recognition of common interests and mutual obligation, and thus humanized the multitude. Meeting together as we all do on the road and the road-side, in the enjoyment of the same cheaply-purchased privileges, we are forced, temporarily at least, to a social equality, which can not fail to elevate the spirit of the humble and check the aspirations of the proud.
One of the worst effects of the gregarious system is the perpetual intrusiveness of the many upon the retirement which is at times necessary and pleasing to each person. The uniformity of sentiment, moreover, which is apt to result, and overbear the private judgment and the individual conscience, may be also considered as one of the most serious evils. There is a certain boldness, too, of manners, which is more observable and offensive in the young than in others, which is traceable to the publicity of American life.
We should, particularly in this country, cultivate domestic privacy as the best check to the excessive tendency to gregariousness. We, on the contrary, are apt to cultivate the latter at the expense of the former; thus the practice common with us of living in hotels and boarding-houses, where that reserve so necessary to the development of the individual character and the acquisition of modest manners is impossible.
There will be always a publicity naturally resulting from our political and social institutions which can not be avoided. It behooves us, therefore, to augment its good and diminish its ill effects as far as it lies in our power. As we can not get rid of each other, let us make ourselves mutually useful and agreeable by the improvement of our sentiments and manners. With the greater publicity in America, public opinion is necessarily more extensive in its influence, and therefore it is especially important that it should be exerted in favor of the good and beautiful. –The Bazar Book of Decorum, 1870
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