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By Gilles Bechard

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Mitchell, 8) Fortunately for Mitchell, a sufficiency of Americans continue to live and work in the country to keep the overall effects of the “prodigal activity” of city life in check, at least temporarily. Although Mitchell was writing well before Nordau published his theory of degeneration, his ideas made for a ready fit with that theory, especially as interpreted by Nordau’s American followers. Hazeltine, for instance, might have placed more emphasis on the problem of immorality, but he accepted that fin-de-siècle Americans were physically inferior, not only to the soldiers of the Roman legions but also to their own ancestors who had fought the War of Independence.

But as H. L. ”4 Mencken’s opinion of Saltus is that he deserves the obscurity from which others seek to rescue him: “The man . . is simply a silly and hollow trifler—a mass of puerile pretensions and affectations, vain of his unsound knowledge and full of sentimentalities. He began life by hawking the stale ribaldries of Arthur Schopenhauer, already dead twenty years; he departed to realms of bliss chattering the blowsy nonsense of theosophy” (Mencken, 278). By focusing only on the beginning and end points of Saltus’s career, Mencken does the author the disservice of ignoring his early success as the author of novels satirizing New York society, such as Mr.

Weir Mitchell (they were cousins), who prescribed a cure at a cattle ranch in Wyoming. ”31 The Western experience does not work out so well for this latter-day neurasthenic, but Wyoming made all the difference for Wister. Going from Wagner to Wyoming in so short a time is a cultural volte-face of dizzying dimensions, and, while being a Wagnerite does not, by itself, certify Wister as “decadent,” that particular cultural marker, along with his physical weakness and “Harvard indifference,” at least put the man on a widely recognized, downward-tending cultural path.

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