By Paul Collins Hayner
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Additional resources for Reason and Exsistence. Schelling's Philosophy of History
According to Angela Miller, Cole was perhaps most unsettled by the shift the nation’s economy had taken in recent years towards a model that fostered unrestrained growth for individuals (71). She writes: “[Cole’s] most pointed criticisms were directed not at the accumulation of public wealth but at the transgression of the ordained limits that nature imposed upon economic activities, at the behavior of the citizens of the empire, and at the relationship between the rulers and the ruled” (71). With this analysis in mind, it seems likely that what Cole hoped would disturb his audience most about the scene taking place in The Consummation of Empire was not necessarily the wealth visible.
In Lesley 205) In his Essay on American Scenery Cole wrote that compared to Old World landscapes that constantly made reference to their own history, “American associations are not so much of the past as of the present and the future” (16). This argues that American scenery activates the imagination in a way that points towards the nation’s future shape—a shape that is no doubt glorious and full of political, economic, and even artistic accomplishments. In fact, Cole argues in the same essay that it is exactly the landscape’s lack of associations with the past that allows for American scenery to be sublime.
Again Cole depicts America as a place approximating the Garden of Eden, 50 a connection that he makes in no uncertain terms at the end of the essay when he writes that “We are still in Eden” (17). It is hard to imagine a place in nineteenth century America—or at any other time period, for that matter—that could qualify as such an idyll. Cole proceeds to explain that American nature offers up feelings of “peace, security, and happiness,” feelings it can inspire in viewers only because it is free from the need to measure up to history’s demands.