Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Note Book | November 25, 1932

Jesse Halsey
November 25, 1932 
Left Maysville early Saturday morning. When I went out to the car it was still half dark, and the remnants of the old moon—or the beginning of the new one—hung in the eastern sky just ahead of the sunrise. Venus and Jupiter were still bright, though Saturn had almost faded out. A month ago I saw the same quartet, only nearer together and over the Atlantic.

The Chesapeake and Ohio follows the Ohio River closely for the fifty miles east of Cincinnati, and the broad curves of the river are paralleled by the railroad. This is a crack train—the finest equipment on the rails, I think, outside of Pullman cars. The day coach is wide, and the separate chairs and the diner were almost deserted. I sat and drank my coffee looking out of the shining big plate glass windows on the panorama of the river; the Kentucky hills to the left, the intervening bottom land, then the broad river, Ohio hills to the north; clouds skipping across the sunrise, and the brisk wind blowing whitecaps on the blue water—so often it is tawny or plain muddy—but today it was blue like the Hudson.

After twenty years beside its bank, the old prejudice for the East and the blue Hudson and Connecticut are overcome, and I realized today for the first time, how much the Ohio country had come to mean, sentimentally, to me.

Eliza’s house on a big hill on the Ohio bank, the supposed—likely authentic—place of her crossing, are opposite Maysville. The decrepit abolition monument can be seen across the river at Ripley; Grant’s birthplace at Point Pleasant! The Civil War came too soon for me to remember, but, thanks to my father and a New England background, the Revolution seems like a contemporary event of my childhood. I heard so many stories and came to hate the British so thoroughly. My conversion has been complete. Here today, as the papers give Mr. Hoover’s reply to the Europeans on the debt payment, my heart is with them.

I have no satisfaction [in our] Chief Executive and State Department doing anything to depress Sterling—the pound went to a new low for twelve years. Does politics—or diplomacy—demand that we force them to default? If we, the greatest, richest, country in the world, most vocal fifteen years ago in saying what should be done and what we would do to “make the world safe,” can’t afford to be generous—who can? Britain, with her load of honor—to be expected to pay more now! All the generous impulses prompt readjustment. Disarmament; recovery, here and abroad; the future of the League, and of civilization, may hand on that word—“America will collect.” They can’t pay, and they won’t pay. We will see. And I always remember that neither Washington nor Geneva has sent for me to solve the problem! But, as one who went during the war for the State department, promising all that was involved in the fourteen points, it is humiliating to see the nation forcing through its Congress, its executive into this attitude of Shylocks. These nations were our allies not so long ago.

And yet, so long ago that not a child in the several high schools where I spoke on the last Armistice Day, remembered the first Armistice. Our children’s children will carry the burdens of our war—and engage in another one, or a few billions and their implications of honor? I wonder.

From the Ohio country to Versailles, and back—all on the wings of thought of a winter’s morning. And yet, here is a picture of the world. Front page news now every day of doings abroad; we are involved, not practical isolation possible; whether we will or know, in we are. The world has become a neighborhood in size but not in neighborliness. The latter must come to pass if we are to survive.

Before reaching Cincinnati, the sky became overcast, not caused certainly by the excess smoke in the air from manufacturing, but the memory of the river, hurrying on, but inhibited into spume by the contrary winds, the quick succession of stars, moon and sun; of darkness, twilight and daylight; cloud and shadow, will stay with me and remain in Wordsworthian style as a part of my aesthetic stock in trade, together with a sunrise on Snowden, and evening above Heidelberg looking down the Neckar toward the Rhine, and a moonlight night on the Acropolis.

Travelling days are done—due to pocketbook, not age—and, if one can learn to appreciate so near at home, the future is not without great expectations.

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