Here we have an Englishman, Arthur C. Benson, a Cambridge college master, assessing American culture at the start of the 20th century. His tolerance, while noteworthy, is somewhat vitiated by a faint note of condescension:
The thing, no doubt, which secretly vexes the spirit of the American, with all his mastery of purchase and his commercial enterprise, is to feel that there is something which he would like to possess, but which cannot be exploited.
Benson cautions Americans against consciously emulating the European model:
I think, however, that Americans are going the right way to work, in the sense that they are getting experience and trying experiments. But I do not believe that culture can be got in Europe, or transplanted from Europe, or even bottled in Europe for American consumption. It will have to grow up on American soil and out of American conditions.
Benson believes America’s literature hasn’t achieved greatness—this, despite the fact that some of the best American writing had already appeared by his time:
The reason why America has not at present, in my belief, established a great literature of her own, is simply and solely because she has not had the time. The energy is all there, the view of life is fresh, eager, and vital; but the tradition must grow up, and it cannot be manufactured, even with the most approved machinery. Of course, I have not the least doubt that it will appear . . .
In Benson’s view, America has yet to establish its own traditions:
American culture will grow up and develop in its own way and in its own time. America contains, of course, an abundance of cultured and well-instructed persons, with fine discrimination and appreciation, but it has not got its own tradition yet, as older nations have, for good or evil, got theirs.
~ Benson’s full article, “The American Spirit,” can be found in The Atlantic Monthly, February 1911.
~ A Wikipedia article about Benson is here.
~ The UNZ index lists 80 items for Arthur C. Benson.