American Alchemy: The California Gold Rush and Middle-Class by Brian Roberts

By Brian Roberts

California in the course of the gold rush used to be a spot of disputed claims, shoot-outs, playing halls, and prostitution; a spot populated via that tough and rebellious determine, the forty-niner; briefly, a spot that turns out totally unconnected to middle-class tradition. In American Alchemy, despite the fact that, Brian Roberts deals a stunning problem to this assumption.

Roberts issues to a long-neglected fact of the gold rush: some of the northeastern forty-niners who ventured westward have been actually middle-class in beginning, prestige, and values. Tracing the reviews and adventures either one of those males and of the "unseen" forty-niners--women who stayed again East whereas their husbands went out West--he exhibits that, no matter what else the gold seekers deserted at the highway to California, they didn't easily flip their backs on middle-class culture.

Ultimately, Roberts argues, the tale informed the following finds an ignored bankruptcy within the background of the formation of the center category. whereas the purchase of respectability displays one level during this heritage, he says, the gold rush constitutes a moment stage--a uprising opposed to criteria of respectability.

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Another warned that the metal’s sudden abundance would have the same e√ect on America that it had on Spain in an earlier age, leading to a decline in frugality, industry, and civilization. ’’∑∞ Undoubtedly, fewer prospective gold seekers read Emerson than read the Knickerbocker or the Herald. Fewer still would have been likely to read the more abstract prose of Herman Melville. And yet, here too, in Melville’s 1849 novel, Mardi, the pervasive debate surcalifornia gold and filthy lucre d 39 rounding the wisdom and morality of treasure hunting found voice.

Even before these men could depart, in other words, many observers envisioned California as a place of vulgar men, immodest women, and immoral behaviors. At the root of these visions was gold. For if doubts over the existence of this gold were increasingly muted beneath an o≈cial corroboration of its abundance, criticisms of gold seeking were not. Gold remained filthy lucre. ’’∂∏ All of this reflected a type of ‘‘moral insanity,’’ recalled Josiah Royce several decades later; the crisis was an ethical crisis.

Through the rest of the story he learns his mistake. The genius leads him on a goldwater rafting expedition through the flood’s rapids, past a series of horrors: the counting houses of corrupt and deformed money lenders, the parlors of merchants who sell their own children for a fast profit. ’’∑≠ Here then was the voice of polite culture, the apparently natural response of the Golden Rule when faced with the temptations of actual gold. If these represented ‘‘feminine’’ critiques of gold fever (which is doubtful, considering that some men surely read parts of these publications, and wives, mothers, and sisters surely showed them to husbands, sons, and brothers), they were by no means out of line with the general prescriptions of the period.

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