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Germany and France, too, the noblest works have been produced amid the shocks of contending elements.
Nor is the absence of a wealthy class, with leisure for such tranquil pursuits, to be much lamented. The privileged classes of all nations have been drones. We have, in the Southern states of this republic, a large class, with ample fortunes, leisure and quiet; but they have done comparatively nothing in the fields of intellectual exertion, except when startled into spasmodic activity by conflicts of interest with the North.
To say truth, most of the circumstances usually set down as barriers to æsthetical cultivation here are directly or indirectly advantageous. The real obstacles are generally of a transient kind. Many of them are silently disappearing; and the rest would be soon unknown if we had a more enlightened love of country, and the making of our laws were not so commonly confided to a sort of men whose intellects are too mean or whose principles are too wicked to admit of their seeing or doing what is just and needful in the premises. That property which is most actual, the only property to which a man's right is positive, unquestionable, indefeasible, exclusive-his genius, conferred as by letters patent from the Almighty—is held to be not his, but the public's, and therefore is not brought into use.* The foreign author, by the refusal to recognise his rights, is driven into inveterate enmity to our institutions and interests, and at the same time such advantage is given him in addressing the popular mind as to make opinion here in a large degree dependent on his will.
Nevertheless, much has been accomplished; great advancement has been made against the wind and tide; and at this time the aspects and prospects
All “ arguments” against copyright, as universal and perpetual as the life of a book, are but insults to the common sense. Some of them are ingenious, and may be admired on the same principle that the ingenuity of a picklock is adınired. The possession of lands is, by privilege, conceded to the individual for the common benefit. The right of an author rests on altogether different grounds. The intangible and inalienable power by which he works, is a direct and special gift to him, to be used in subjection only to the law of God, who mocks at the petty ranks which men establish, by setting the seal of His nobility and conferring His riches upon whom He will. The feudal chief by rapine, or the speculator by cunning, wins an estate, and the law secures him and his heirs in its possession while there are days and nights. An author creates a book—which, besides diffusing a general benefit, yields a revenue, as great perhaps as that from the estate which has been acquired by force or fraud, and the law, without alleging any fault, seizes it and bestows it on the mob. The question is commonly discussed as one of expediency. No one has a right so to consider it. But if the argument, even upon this principle, were intelligently and honestly conducted, the result would invariably be in favour of the author. There is among men of sense no actual difference of opinion on this subject. The plunder of the foreign author is sanctioned and enforced under an erroneous impression that something is gained by it, and because an honest law, as it would in a very slight degree increase the prices of new books, might endanger the seat of the member of Congress who should vote for it.
of our affairs are auspicious of scarcely any thing more than of the successful cultivation of National Literature and National Art.
I use the word National because whatever we do well must be done in a national spirit. The tone of a great work is given or received by the people among whom it is produced, and so is national, as an effect or as a cause. While the spirit which animates the best literature of any country must be peculiar to it, its subjects may be chosen from the world. It is absurd to suppose that Indian chiefs or republican soldiers must be the characters of our works of imagination, or that our gloomy forests, or sea-like prairies, or political committee rooms must be their scenes. Paradise Lost and Utopia are as much portions of British literature as Alfred, or London Assurance. It may be regarded as one of the greatest dangers to which our literature is exposed, indeed, that so many are mistaken as to what should distinguish it. Some writers, by no means destitute of abilities, in their anxiety to be national have merely ceased to be natural. Their works may be original, but the men and manners they have drawn have no existence. Least of all do they exist in America. The subjects for the novelist and the poet in our own country are to be preferred because they are striking from their freshness, and because the physical condition of a country, having a powerful influence upon the character of its inhabitants, naturally furnishes the most apposite illustrations of their feelings and habits; but a “national work” may as well be written about the builders of the Pyramids as about the mound builders. In our literature we must regard all men as equal in point of privilege, the church as the whole company of God's acceptable worshippers, the state as a joint stock in which every one holds a share. It must be addressed to the national feelings, vindicate the national principles, support the national honour, be animated by an expansive sympathy with humanity. It must teach that the interests of man are the highest concern of men.
Our forefathers—the men who from Great Britain or the continent settled this new world—were the product of an age prolific in excitements. Their hearts were busy, some with plans of personal ambition, some with great problems for the benefit of humanity. Whatever they found to do, they did, with directness and earnestness. The chief causes of their emigration were religious; the spirit which animated them when here was religious; and their literature—the permanent expression of their character—was a religious literature. Their first works were quaint and curious: many of them were original ana profound. It may be that in some cases they gave their flour to the devil, and reserved their bran only for the Lord; but they certainly produced the
flour. They were acute, powerful, and independent in argument and conclusion. They commanded the admiration of those who thought with them, and startled the defenders of old and false opinions by their thunders, heard and echoed across the seas. In theology, from the first, our writers were unshackled by foreign models or authorities. They acknowledged no infallible head but God Almighty, and no patristic guides to faith and practice but the holy company of the prophets and apostles.
The history of Newman, whose Concordance of the Bible, made by the light of pine knots in his cottage at Rehoboth, was for more than a century admitted to be the most perfect work of its kind in existence; of the pious and learned Eliot, greatest of all uninspired missionaries, who reduced a barbarous language to order, and laboured year after year to translate into it the scriptures; and of Cotton Mather, the first American Fellow of the Royal Society and one of the greatest scholars of his times, of whose three hundred and eightytwo works one* at least is preserved in the standard religious literature, prove that from the beginning there was in America no deficiency of scholastic learning or literary industry.
Early in the eighteenth century appeared Jonathan Edwards, styled by Dr. Chalmers « the greatest of theologians,”'t of whom Sir James Mackintosh says, that in power of subtile argument he was perhaps unmatched, certainly was unsurpassed among men.”! “ If literary ambition had been the
« active element of his mind,” remarks Taylor, “what higher praise could a scientific writer wish for than that of having by a single and small dissertation reduced a numerous and powerful party in his own and other countries, and from his day to the present time, to the sad necessity of making a blank protest against the argument and influence of his book ?”'S But there are some questions which are always to vex the brains of thinkers. Human pride and ambition will never permit a universal acquiescence in any conclusion. Newton's Principia and the doctrines of Edwards have been attacked with equal earnestness by our living scholars. Dr. Tappan, Mr. Bledsoe, and others, have laboured with ingenuity and candor to establish the self-determining power of the will. The antagonists of Edwards become weary of saying “his rea. soning must be sophistical because it overthrows our doctrines.”
Essays to do Good,” which, says Franklin, “ perhaps gave me a tone of thinking that had an influence on some of the principal future events of my life.”—Memoirs, p. 16. † Letter to Dr. Stebbins.
# Review of Ethical Philosophy, p. 109.
. $ Essay on the Application of Abstract Reasoning to the Christian Doctrines ; by the author of The Natural History of Enthusiasm, &c.
Among the contemporaries or immediate successors of Edwards were the eloquent and independent Jonathan Mayhew ; Dr. Samuel Johnson, the father of the American Episcopal Church; Dr. Hopkins, whose name is so closely identified with the New England theology of the last century; President Styles, famous for acquirements in almost every department of profane and sacred learning; the younger Edwards ; Bellamy, and Dwight, and Emmons, all of whom were men of great abilities and scholarship, whose works have still a powerful influence on opinions.
In the present day no country can boast of a list of theological writers more justly distinguished for learning, logical skill, or literary abilities, than that which includes the names of the Alexanders, Albert Barnes, George Bush, Charles Hodge, John Henry Hopkins, Samuel Farmer Jarvis, Charles P. McIlvaine, Andrews Norton, Edward Robinson, Moses Stuart, Henry Tappan, William R. Williams, James Walker, Leonard Woods, and others whose talents and acquisitions have secured to them a general influence and good reputation.
James Marsh, of Hampden Sidney College in Virginia, and at a later period, of the University of Vermont, deserves particular and honourable mention in every survey of our intellectual advancement and condition. He was a calm, chaste scholar, an earnest and profound thinker, and a powerful and eloquent advocate of the highest principles of religion and philosophy, whose life had that simplicity and grandeur which are constituted by a combination of the rarest and noblest of human virtues. His principal published writings are devoted to those elevated and spiritual principles of philosophy of which Coleridge and Kant were the most celebrated European asserters. Though nearly agreeing with these great men, he was not less original than they, and before the works of the Englishman or the Prussian were known on this continent, by the independent action of his own mind he had formed theories similar to theirs and taught them to his classes.
Many others, dead and living, whose names the present limits do not admit, have been among the foremost teachers of religion and philosophy, and have vindicated by results the relation of civil to intellectual liberty and advancement.
There are few if any kinds of composition requiring a higher order of genius or more profound and varied acquirements than History; and it might be supposed, therefore, that it would be among the last of the fields in which the authors of a new nation would be successful. Yet our literature embraces a fair proportion of historical works of such excellence that any people would refer to them with a proud satisfaction.*
What the estimate of Mr. Prescott would be among ourselves, but for the concurrent judgment of the best European critics that he has no superior if he has an equal among contemporary historians, it might be difficult to tell. His fame, however, is so high, so universal, and so firmly established, and cheap newspapers have made foreign opinions of him so familiar here, that the silliest of those persons who found claims to reputation for taste upon expressions of contempt for what is American, are in the habit of making an exception of his writings from their condemnation. How fortunate for him—if he cares for this home popularity—that his subjects are of such general interest as to have made scholars of all countries the judges of his merit.
Ferdinand and Isabella and The Conquest of Mexico are not only among the finest models of historical composition, but in a very genuine sense they are national works, breathing so freely the liberal spirit of our institutions that translators abroad have had to change utterly their tone as well as their language to make them acceptable to the subjects of arbitrary power.
The words of panegyric have been wellnigh exhausted in commentaries upon the Claude-like beauty of Mr. Prescott's descriptions, the just proportion and dramatic interest of his narrative, his skill as a character writer, the expansiveness and completeness of his views, and that careful and intelligent research which enabled him to make his works as valuable for their accuracy as they are attractive by all the graces of style.
Mr. Bancroft has remarkable merits, of a somewhat different nature, and some faults, though not of such sort or magnitude as to prevent his being placed in the very front rank of great historians. He is emphatically an American. He thinks, feels, and acts the American. He surveys the train of the ages, and perceives that humanity is progressive. In our own polity, our institutions, our universal and safe liberty, he sees the farthest point to which the race has yet attained. He looks hopefully into the future, far as the human eye can see, and his powerful mind kindles with enthusiasm as he finds our country fulfilling her mission, in the subversion of false opinions, the overthrow of tyrannous dynasties, the liberation of mankind. All this is well. But Mr. Bancroft is perhaps too ardent a politician, and too deeply imbued with
Bancroft, Prescott, and Sparks, have effected so much in historical composition, that no living European historian can take precedence of them, but rather might feel proud and grateful to be admitted as a companion.-Frederick Von Raumer.