|Walt Whitman (18191892). Prose Works. 1892.|
|V. November Boughs|
|4. The Spanish Element in Our Nationality|
| || [Our friends at Santa Fé, New Mexico, have just finishd their long drawn out anniversary of the 333d year of the settlement of their city by the Spanish. The good, gray Walt Whitman was asked to write them a poem in commemoration. Instead he wrote them a letter as follows:Philadelphia Press, August 5, 1883.]|
CAMDEN, NEW JERSEY, July 20, 1883.
| To Messrs. Griffin, Martinez, Prince, and other Gentlemen at Santa Fé:|
DEAR SIRS:Your kind invitation to visit you and deliver a poem for the 333d Anniversary of founding Santa Fé has reachd me so late that I have to decline, with sincere regret. But I will say a few words off hand.
| We Americans have yet to really learn our own antecedents, and sort them, to unify them. They will be found ampler than has been supposed, and in widely different sources. Thus far, impressd by New England writers and schoolmasters, we tacitly abandon ourselves to the notion that our United States have been fashiond from the British Islands only, and essentially form a second England onlywhich is a very great mistake. Many leading traits for our future national personality, and some of the best ones, will certainly prove to have originated from other than British stock. As it is, the British and German, valuable as they are in the concrete, already threaten excess. Or rather, I should say, they have certainly reachd that excess. To-day, something outside of them, and to counterbalance them, is seriously needed.|| 3|
| The seething materialistic and business vortices of the United States, in their present devouring relations, controlling and belittling everything else, are, in my opinion, but a vast and indispensable stage in the new worlds development, and are certainly to be followd by something entirely differentat least by immense modifications. Character, literature, a society worthy the name, are yet to be establishd, through a nationality of noblest spiritual, heroic and democratic attributesnot one of which at present definitely existsentirely different from the past, though unerringly founded on it, and to justify it.|| 4|
| To that composite American identity of the future, Spanish character will supply some of the most needed parts. No stock shows a grander historic retrospectgrander in religiousness and loyalty, or for patriotism, courage, decorum, gravity and honor. (It is time to dismiss utterly the illusion-compound, half raw-head-and-bloody-bones and half Mysteries-of-Udolpho, inherited from the English writers of the past 200 years. It is time to realizefor it is certainly truethat there will not be found any more cruelty, tyranny, superstition, &c., in the résumé of past Spanish history than in the corresponding résumé of Anglo-Norman history. Nay, I think there will not be found so much.)|| 5|
| Then another point, relating to American ethnology, past and to come, I will here touch upon at a venture. As to our aboriginal or Indian populationthe Aztec in the South, and many a tribe in the North and WestI know it seems to be agreed that they must gradually dwindle as time rolls on, and in a few generations more leave only a reminiscence, a blank. But I am not at all clear about that. As America, from its many far-back sources and current supplies, develops, adapts, entwines, faithfully identifies its ownare we to see it cheerfully accepting and using all the contributions of foreign lands from the whole outside globeand then rejecting the only ones distinctively its ownthe autochthonic ones?|| 6|
| As to the Spanish stock of our Southwest, it is certain to me that we do not begin to appreciate the splendor and sterling value of its race element. Who knows but that element, like the course of some subterranean river, dipping invisibly for a hundred or two years, is now to emerge in broadest flow and permanent action?|| 7|
| If I might assume to do so, I would like to send you the most cordial, heartfelt congratulations of your American fellow-countrymen here. You have more friends in the Northern and Atlantic regions than you suppose, and they are deeply interested in the development of the great Southwestern interior, and in what your festival would arouse to public attention.|
Very respectfully, &c.,