Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 November 2021
On the eve of the twentieth century, the devoted British imperialist Rudyard Kipling made his first visit to the United States. Arriving at Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, he found the gilt and mirrored bar “crammed with people talking about money, and spitting everywhere.” Others – he called them “barbarians” – “charged in and out of this inferno with letters and telegrams in their hands.” Outside, the streets of this so-called most American city assaulted the young poet’s senses. He discovered no color or beauty, only dirt for air, drab stone flagging underfoot, and overhead a tangle of wires and “absurd advertisements” for overpriced, inferior goods. Having seen first-hand the “grotesque ferocity” of the Midwest’s largest metropolis, he desired “never to see it again.” Chicago, he said, was “inhabited by savages” who seemed to have no higher purpose than personal profit. Americans, he thought, had yet to develop the will to use their political and economic gifts to earn themselves a place among the world’s leading nations.1
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