[Marxism] A progress report on "Utopia in the Catskills"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sat May 4 14:54:59 MDT 2019

On 4/30/19 10:17 PM, Mark Lause wrote:
> For those unfamiliar with Cole's "Course of Empire," see his series at
> https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Course_of_Empire_(paintings)

I'm getting deeper now into Cole's story. Early in his career, he made a 
sketch titled "The Fountain, No. 1: The Wounded Indian Slaking His Death 
Thirst" that was based on a poem titled "The Fountain" by William Cullen 
Bryant, a once-famous poet now mostly ignored.

You can see the image of the sketch on the Metropolitan Museum website:


The Met states:

Cole, the founder of the Hudson River School of landscape painting, drew 
this study for a series (never realized) of paintings based on William 
Cullen Bryant’s poem “The Fountain” (1839). The poem evokes several eras 
of American civilization through incidents that occur at a forest 
stream. In this scene, a wounded brave (modeled after the Hellenistic 
sculpture known as the "Dying Gaul," which Cole had seen in Rome) 
symbolizes the plight of many American Indians in an era of forced 

Bryant’s poem can be read here:


In 2003, Ingrid Satelmajer wrote an article about the poem for American 
Periodicals that puts Bryant's politics into context. He was a prominent 
figure in the Democratic Party and supported Andrew Jackson's Indian 
Removal Act only because he thought it was the only way they could be 
saved from total annihilation.

Satelmajer views the poem's message as one that has a great degree of 
ambivalence. Although the Indians were depicted as cruel and white 
civilization as a form of progress, the final outcome would exceed any 
cruelty that preceded it:

	While a cyclical view of cultures might be used to justify the passing 
of the Indians, the possible outcomes the poem's close offers are for a 
tale that could be linear for humans as a whole. Indeed, the nation's 
continuance of its past course, the poem ultimately argues, not only is 
uncertain; that course in fact contains the potential seeds of its own 
destruction. Although natural and uncontrollable forces stand 
responsible for three of the projected changes, the first listed is 
"man" and his "strange arts." The consequent landscape arising from 
human meddling--"wither[ed] and deform[ed]"--places the "strange arts" 
of humans on pair with "chok[ing]" and cataclysmic natural forces.

Bryant also began to break with the Democratic Party on slavery and 
empire. Satelmajer quoting Bryant in the party journal "Democratic Review":

	The question how long an empire so widely extended as ours can be kept 
together by means of our form of government is yet to be decided. That 
this form of government is admirably calculated for a large territory 
and a numerous population we have no doubt, but there is a probable 
limit to this advantage. Extended beyond a certain distance, and a 
certain number of states it would become inconvenient and undesirable, 
and a tendency would be felt to break up into smaller nations. If the 
Union of these states is destined to be broken by such a cause, the 
annexation of Texas to the Union would precipitate the event, perhaps, 
by a whole century. It is better to carry out the experiment with the 
territory we now possess.

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