Indianapolis Star/May 14, 1956
NEW YORK Quaint, homespun Carl Sandburg, the high-split Swede from Galesburg, Ill., went philosophical a few days ago and, in an interview over breakfast at the Waldorf-Astoria on squalid, crime-haunted Park Avenue, where orange juice is only 75 cents, observed that the American people are in danger from our “fat-dripping prosperity.” Choosing a quote from Albert Einstein to express himself, Sandburg said, “To make a goal of happiness has never appealed to me!” Furthermore, “All these things in the advertisements—any time the main goal of life is to get them so that they override your other motives, there’s danger.”
Sandburg is a prosperous commercial biographer of Abraham Lincoln, whom he resembles in the length of his legs and the close proximity of his buckle to his collar button. He has dabbled in doggerel music of the type which insinuates that the best people are the lowest, and has caught the brass ring riding a winged horse named Pegasus. He is the foremost American poet except Ezra Pound of Idaho, another inveterate and indomitable professional hick who is locked up for life in the national booby-hatch in Washington for the simple reason that if the federal government should dare to give him a trial he would surely be acquitted. That would mean that he had been confined in a lunatic asylum for about 11 years merely because when in Rome he sometimes brandished his walking stick at kids who hooted at his 10-gallon Idaho hat and floppy poetical necktie. In brandishing his stick he evinced insanity, and that is why the best poet we ever produced has been imprisoned in a bedlam for 11 years.
Bryan Also Valued Dollar
To comprehend Mr. Sandburg’s true attitude toward “fat-dripping prosperity” we would have to look at his accounts and his correspondence with his publishers. William Jennings Bryan, who shared some of Sandburg’s outwards and was known as The Commoner, had an eagle eye for a dollar. The man who hired him for $5,000 a Sunday to preach the word to prospective customers for real estate at Coral Gables recalled that, toward the burst of the bubble, The Commoner always demanded his fee in currency. He had to have the money in his fat. sweaty fist before he would so much as spread his wings above the pulpit invoking God’s blessing on all those good people who were about to invest their savings in those beautiful bargains.
Mr. Sandburg’s agent and his publishers, were they free to speak, might enlighten us on bis attitude toward the profit motive and material riches. As it is, however, when a man deplores “fat-dripping prosperity” and repudiates happiness as a desirable goal from a breakfast table in the Waldorf, he leaves gaps in our understanding of his message.
This is the first time I have known any person pretending to superior intelligence to attack happiness as a debilitating agent. Mr. Sandburg seems here to repudiate one-third of the purpose stated by the founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the motive of our religion and much of our poetry. The “things in the advertisements” include the finest automobiles ever made, a proletarian conquest of the horse and buggy, so I find my poor sightless feet fumbling to follow his line.
Antithesis Of Squalor
“These things in the advertisements” provide the jobs which provide the money to provide the rose-embowered ranch-style houses with radiant heating and refrigerated air and freezers and royalties for Carl Sandburg. That prosperity is the antithesis of the squalid condition which Lincoln surmounted, thus providing, free of charge to Sandburg, the raw stuff for that professional success which strokes the vanity from which he derives the happiness which he now affects to despise lest happiness undo him.
Einstein, himself, never seemed unhappy, and the late Ben Stolberg tossed off .a phrase fit for his epitaph when he wrote that Einstein had a happy knack of backing bashfully into the limelight. He was always doing it, and so does Sandburg now. However, Einstein seemed happy to affect an appearance of humble poverty denoted by his frazzled old sweater jacket, and here he was not quite loyal to his professed concern for his fellow-men. For if all of us should make a sweater jacket Iast until the last ravelings, the knit-goods trade would go bankrupt and gaunt mothers clutching rickety babies in ragged shawls would pick at garbage cans as Einstein saw them in Vienna. I understood that he deplored this, but I am darned if I quite know. Maybe he thought this a good condition lest happiness corrupt Madonna and Child. Maybe Sandburg did, too, there over his orange juice in the squalor of the Waldorf, though, again. I say, a look at his balance sheet would put things in sharper focus.