Century's Ebb

A blog on the life and work of John Dos Passos (1896-1970)

Tag Archives: Civilization

American Credo: Eastman on coming home

George Eastman (1854-1932), founder of the Kodak company, was the subject of one of the miniature biographies in Century’s Ebb.  While the biographies in this novel are not as biting and satirical as their more famous counterparts in U.S.A., this one is revealing for Dos Passos’ choice of the quotation from Eastman’s letter to his secretary as he was returning from an African safari he had organized in 1926, after retiring as Chairman of the Board.

As so often with John Dos Passos, he is quoting sentiments which could very well be his own:

“We have traveled four thousand miles with motor car, camel and porter safaris without serious mishap or even discomfort… Whether anyone is justified in killing a lot of wild animals (mostly harmless) just for the pleasure of taking home so-called ‘trophies’ to show his friends and bragging (inferentially at least) of his prowess as a hunter, is of course a matter that is open to the opinions of the onlookers, but from whatever viewpoint it is looked at, from that of the sportsman or that of the sentimentalist, the fact remains that the adventure is now over, and this adventurer with his mind filled with memories of many new things he has seen and experienced, now at the end, as always, is turning his face eagerly homeward, to a place where there is an abundance of pure water, where the great majority of the inhabitants are not hopelessly and unspeakably filthy, where the mosquitoes are not allowed to spread disease, where the roads are smooth and the streets clean, where the four seasons follow each other in glorious sequence, where there is music, art and science, and boundless scope and unlimited opportunity for the development of all that is admirable in man, and above all where he hopes to enjoy the priceless privilege of a few more years of contact with the friends whom he has gathered about him during the course of a long, interesting and eventful life.”

Dos Passos continues:

Six years later, at his home in Rochester, when at the age of seventy-eight (sic) he decided he had lived long enough, he wrote a note in his firm regular hand before he killed himself: “To my friends: my work is done. Why wait?”