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enlightened love of country, and the guidance of a high cultivation, our authors will be sufficiently distinctive and national, in both manner and matter.
There is an absurd notion abroad that we are to create an entirely new literature. Some critics in England, expect us, who write the same language, profess the same religion, and have in our intellectual firmament the same Bacon, Sidney and Locke, the same Spenser, Shakspeare and Milton, to differ more from themselves than they differ from the Greeks and the Romans, or from any of the moderns. This would be harmless, but that many persons in this country, whose thinking is done abroad, are constantly echoing it, and wasting their little productive energy in efforts to comply with the demand. But there never was and never can be an exclusively national literature. All nations are indebted to each other and to preceding ages for the means of advancement; and our own, which from our various origin may be said to be at the confluence of the rivers of time which have swept through every country, can with less justice than any other be looked to for mere novelties in art and fancy. The question between us and other nations is not who shall most completely discard the Past, but who shall make best use of it. The Past belongs not to one people, but to those who best understand it. It cannot be studied too deeply, for unless men know what has been accomplished, they will exhaust themselves in unfolding enigmas that have been solved, or in pursuing ignes fatui that have already disappointed a thousand expectations. The Reformation had an extraordinary influence upon the literatures of the world, and some such influence has been exerted by our Revolution and the establishment of our institutions. The intellectual energy of America has been felt far more in Europe, than its own, for the period of our national existence, has been felt here; and with all the enslaving deference to foreign authority and all the imitation of foreign models of which we have had to complain in our inferior authors, there has been no want of the truest nationality in our Franklin, Webster, Channing, Cooper, Prescott, Bancroft, Bryant, Whittier, and others, in almost every department, who have written with an integrity of understanding and feeling.
It has been objected to our society that it is too practical. It has been supposed that this national characteristic forbids the expectation of great achievements in the highest domains of art. But the question Cui bono? should always be entertained. Utility is in every thing the truest of principles, though more intelligence and liberality than belong to a low state of civilization are necessary to its just appreciation and application. Whatever contributes to the growth and satisfaction of the mind, whatever has in it any absolute beauty, is beginning to be regarded as not less useful than that which ministers to our physical necessities. All works, even of imagination, must have in them something of genuineness and earnestness. Poets, and novelists, and essayists, when they write, must look not only into their minds but into their hearts. To persons of the sensibility and refinement which are inseparable from high cultivation, all truth is of a practical value, and in the most aerial creations it will be demanded by the first order of critics.
The old sources of intellectual excitement seem to be wellnigh exhausted. Love will still be sung, but in no sweeter strains than those of Petrarch, or Tasso ; Courage, such as is celebrated by the old poets and romancers, is happily in disrepute; Religion, as it has commonly appeared in the more elegant forms of literature, has not been of a sort that ennobles man or pleases God; and Ambition, for the most part, has been of a more grovelling kind than may be looked for under the new forms of society. Christian virtue is no longer the observance of senseless pagan forms that have been baptized, but the love of truth, for its own beauty and sweetness ;" and the desire of man is not so much to win titles and power, as the consciousness or the reputation of doing something that shall entitle him to the general respect and gratitude. The materials among us for the externals of literature have been referred to. The elements of its vitality and power, which are most clearly apprehended in this century, though in their nature universal, for many reasons are likely to be most actire with us. « Peace on earth and good will to man,” is here to be the
” principle of life and progress, in Letters, as in Religion and Politics.
Considering the present condition of society; that new inventions are constantly releasing immense numbers from a portion of the toil required for the satisfaction of physical necessities, and giving to all more opportunity for intellectual pursuits; that steam and electricity are making of the world a common neighbourhood, knitting its remotest parts together by interchange of fabrics and thoughts; that the press, in the United States alone, scatters every hour more than the contents of the Alexandrian Library, and is increasing in refinement and energy with the expansion of its issues; and that associations for moral and intellectual improvement were never more numerous or efficient,--we cannot doubt that the Progress of Civilization in the coming age will be rapid and universal. This country, which is the centre of the new order of things, is destined to be the scene of the greatest conflicts of opinion. Much as has been done here in literature and art, much as we have surpassed all reasonable expectation in the works of our philosophers, orators, historians and poets, while clearing away the primeval forests, organizing society, and establishing the institutions of scientific and literary culture, we have not yet that distinct image of the feelings of the nation, in a great body of works in all the departments of reflection, imagination, and taste, of which the auspicious commencement of our literature, and our advantageous position with regard to the most important subjects of research and speculation, justify the hope. Schools may be well endowed, and individuals may labour with loving earnestness upon their life poems, but the whole people, by recognising the principle of beauty as a law of life, and cheering with their encouragement its teachers who shall deserve their best approval, and by cherishing a hearty love of our country, and making ceaseless efforts to render it in all respects worthy of affection, must aid in rearing the noble structure of a National Literature that shall fulfil our promise to mankind, and realize the prophecy which nearly a century ago was made of our destiny by one of the wisest of the sons of Europe.
The Muse, disgusted at an age and clime
Barren of every glorious theme,
Producing subjects worthy fame.
In happy climes, where from the genial sun
And virgin earth such scen ensue,
And fancied beauties by the true:
In happy climes, the seat of innocence,
Where nature guides and virtue rules;
The pedantry of courts and schools,
There shall be sung another golden age.
The rise of empires and of arts,
The wisest heads and noblest hearts.
Not such as Europe breeds in her decay,
Such as she bred when fresh and young,
By future poets shall be sung.
The first four acts already past,