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This volume contains a brief survey of our intellectual history, condition, and prospects, followed by more than seventy biographical and critical notices of authors, chronologically arranged, and illustrated, in most cases, by some fragments or entire short compositions from their works. I have not attempted to describe the merely successful writers, but such as have evinced unusual powers in controlling the national mind, or in forming or illustrating the national character; except in a few instances, in which productions of an artificial and transient popularity are mentioned as indications of dangerous tendencies or influences.
With Dr. Channing, I consider books of every description, whether devoted to the exact sciences, to mental and ethical philosophy, to history and legislation, or to fiction and poetry, as literature; though it is common thus to distinguish none but such as have relation to human nature and human life. As a complete and intelligible reviewal of all our authors, however, would necessarily occupy several volumes like this, and involve discussions of many subjects of little interest to the general reader, I have confined my attention chiefly to the department of belles lettres, only passing its boundaries occasionally to notice some of our most eminent divines, jurists, economists, and other students of particular science, who stand at the same time as representatives of parties and as monuments of our intellectual power and activity.
It seems necessary to a due understanding of an author's mind, that some of the circumstances of his education and general experience should be known to
To be able to think with him and feel with him, we must live with him; and to do this with contemporaries is sometimes to invade a privacy which is dearer than fame, though a privacy which to some extent is forfeited by the very act of publishing. In the sketches in this volume, I have endeavoured to keep in view the legitimate scope and object of such performances, to be accurate in statement, liberal in principle, and just in criticism; to select and arrange materials with taste, and to form and express opinions with candour.
In discussing the difficulties and dangers in the way of American literature, I have frequently referred to the refusal of our government to protect the copy
rights of foreigners, in a manner suggested by attentive personal observation of the influence of the present system. A short time before Mr. Washington Irving was appointed Minister to Spain, he undertook to dispose of a production of merit, written by an American who had not yet established a commanding name in the literary market, but found it impossible to get an offer from any of the principal publishers. « They even declined to publish it at the author's cost," he says, “ alleging that it was not worth their while to trouble themselves about native works, of doubtful success, while they could pick and choose among the successful works daily poured out by the British press, for the copyright of which they had nothing to pay.” And not only is the American thus in some degree excluded from the audience of his countrymen, but the publishers, who have a control over many of the newspapers and other periodicals, exert themselves, in the way of their business, to build up the reputation of the foreigner whom they rob, and to destroy that of the home author who aspires to a competition with him. This legalized piracy, supported by some sordid and base arguments, keeps the criminal courts busy; makes divorce committees in the legislatures standing instead of special ; every year yields abundant harvests of profligate sons and daughters; and inspires a pervading contempt for our plain republican forms and institutions. Injurious as it is to the foreign author, it is more so to the American, and it falls with heaviest weight upon the people at large, whom it deprives of that nationality of feeling which is among the first and most powerful incentives to every kind of greatness.
Portions of this volume have been prepared hastily. The field surveyed is extensive, and lingering over pleasant portions of it, I may have given to others less attention than was necessary for the formation of accurate opinions. I have in no instance, however, trusted to the reports of others. I have examined for myself, with more or less care, all the works I have attempted to describe, and if in any case I have erred in judgment, I believe I have in none failed to write with entire sincerity.
PHILADELPHIA, May, 1847.
PREFACE TO THE FOURTH EDITION.
In the four years which have passed since the first publication of this volume, many new authors have challenged attention; George Ticknor, whose life-poem I was permitted to announce as nearly completed in 1847, has vindicated a title to the most enduring fame by that masterly History of Spanish Literature; Dr. William R. Williams, Dr. Bushnell, Dr. Alexander, Henry James, and others, have brought the highest qualities of learning, judgment, and genius to the illustration of religious philosophy; Herman Mellville has reflected seas before unknown in art, in one of the most remarkable series of modern romances; Mr. Mitchell, as Ik. Marvel and as John Timon, has won twice the fame of an original and classical essayist; Mr. Briggs has published the wittiest of American novels; Miss Cooper one of the pleasantest books ever suggested by the observation of nature; Mr. Judd his Margaret; Mr. Kimball his St. Leger; Dr. Mayo Kaloolah and The Berber; and Mr. Sumner his Orations. I could not give these works fit consideration in this Survey of our Prose Writers, without very greatly enlarging it; and therefore defer for another occasion such reviewals of them as I have in contemplation. Meanwhile, the notices of authors previously included are generally brought down to the present time.
NEW-YORK, March 1, 1851.
ENGRAVED FROM ORIGINAL PICTURES
BY JOHN SARTAIN.
PORTRAIT OF WASHINGTON IRVING..
From a Picture by G. S. NEWTON, in possession of Mrs. Paris.
PORTRAIT OF JOSEPH STORY
From a Picture by J. E. Jownsox, in possession of RICHARD PETERS.
PORTRAIT OF PRESIDENT EDWARDS...
From a Picture by CHARLES WILSOX PEALE. In possession of TRYOX EDWARDS.
PORTRAIT OF JOHN JAMES AUDUBON......
From a Picture by F. CRUIKSHANKS, in possession of V. G. AUDUBOX.
PORTRAIT OF JAMES FENIMORE COOPER ........
From a Daguerreotype by Brady.
PORTRAIT OF JOHN PENDLETON KENNEDY.....
From a Picture by MATTHEW WILson, in possession of R. W. GRISWOLD.
PORTRAIT OF WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT
From a Picture by Mr. Ames, in possession of the Artist
PORTRAIT OF RALPH WALDO EMERSON
From a Picture by Mrs. KILDRETH, in possession of Mrs. EMERSOY.
PORTRAIT OF CHARLES FENNO HOFFMAN........
From a Picture by HENRY Inman, in possession of Miss GRATE.
Influence of Foreign Literature
The Way to Wealth
To Madame Helvetias
Apologue on War
The Head and the Heart ...
Party Spirit and Good Goverament
Vagueness of Philosophical Distinctions
The Responsibility of our Country to Mankind
Approach of Evening on Lake George
The Pleasure derived from the Beauty of Nature
The Fate of Andre
Effects of a Dissolution of the Union