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against natural laws in this respect, is cer- the mother land, a period so long as to tain to work for them.
give time for the birth of a new temper, This is why I think that the American a temper born of new customs, and, if not claim to a distinct nationality may fairly of a new folk-lore, of a new modification of rest upon the same basis as that of the the old folk-lore? What was the case in other colonies of England. “Colonies
“Colonies of Europe ? What was the case in Asia ? England," I say, and say it advisedly. The waters of civilization slowly trickling In the Greek sense, indeed, America is through ages upon ages on the face of the the only pure colony of England. And earth, gathered and settled, if such an although other achievements of our race- image may be allowed, in isolated lakes such, for instance, as that of building up and pools ; from which, after ages upon a colossal empire in Asia on the basis of ages, other streams went trickling slowly a handful of adventurous shop-keepers out, to gather again and settle into still who had quarrelled with their brother other lakes and pools. But has not the shop-keepers of Holland about the price time long since gone by when civilizations of pepper ; and such, again, as the build. can thus be inaugurated ? It is in the ing up a congeries of wealthy states upon merest superficial sense that history, which the basis of a few shiploads of forlorn often seems to try to repeat itself, ever convicts—are exploits of a more dazzling really does so. In the deep sense it is as kind than anything we have done in true of the march of Clio as of the march America ; yet beyond doubt the chief of Nature through all the changes of time, glory of England's colonizing genius is ex- that there are no returning footsteps.'
' hibited by the United States. But he The truth is that the solidarity of the who would for one moment deny that modern civilizations in which we move English colonies these States are, would makes the old disparate civilizations of proclaim himself to be no scholar and no Asia and Europe scarcely conceivable to student of history. Can they ever be any but systematic students of history. come anything other than English colo- The story of the growth of the modern nies? Can they ever become a nation ? world is simply the record of the melting That is the question which seems to be into each other of those lakes and pools exercisiny the American mind at the very of civilization to which I have just alluded. moment when they ought to be asking for instance, the small feudal centres . themselves the much deeper question, Can around which European society crystalthey, in face of the enormous disturbing lized after the death of Charlemagne were influences from Continental Europe wbich necessarily provisional merely. The seeds I have glanced at—to say nothing of of dissolution were in them from the first, those deteriorating climatic influences and, after the suzerainties merged into which seem to have impressed Emerson as each other the growth of new nationalities deeply as they impressed Humboldt- was not long in coming to an end. This hope to remain, what it should be their was so even before Science came, with chief pride to remain, colonies of the her steam and her electricity, knitting togreat mother of the English-speaking gether, if not consolidating, races that world ? But if it should be found, on were once so wide apart that each had its discussing this matter fully, that no colony own literature, more or less indigenous. inaugurated in stages of the world's his. If at the time when Goethe talked to tory so late as ours can develop into a na- Eckermann about his dream of a worldtion, how can America ever possess that literature” the distinctions between the “ national literature” which the Interna- literatures of Europe had already become tional Copyright Act has just been passed less accentuated than theretofore, what to foster ?
shall be said of those distinctions now ? In order really and truly to transmute And if those varieties of national favor a literature whose seeds have been im- which in old days demarcated one literaported, to transmute it, I mean, into a ture from another, are, in spite of the growth possessing indigenous qualities, is diversities of language, becoming modithere not something more required than fied year by year, what shall be said about what individual writers, however strong, national distinctions among people having can supply? Does there not need for a common history, a conmon blood, and such an end a long period of isolation from a common speech ?
No American literary historian would than the Americans themselves, and hence affirm that any number of books written the “superior gastronomic civilization” in the English language would merely be- of America can hardly be taken as a symcause they were produced on Australasian bol of independent nationality in regard or South African soil, suffice to inake an to America's stomach or America's soul. Australasian or a South African literature. With regard to Mr. Conway's allegation Where, then, is the difference between that “ on Colonial tables Englieh dishes the United States and the other English are maintained at whatever cost, while the colonies ?
additions offered by nature remain comPerhaps it may be urged that, in order paratively uncultivated ”—this is an imto discuss this subject fairly and fully, I peachment which our Canadian poets—a must do so in the light of those famous very vigorous fraternity-must answer for climatic and gastronomic theories of M. themselves. Enough for the old country Taine, upon which the high philosophical to defend as she may ber own imperfect criticism of France is based. But this, gastronomic civilization-as to which Mr. I confess, is beyond me; though to deny Couway gives an anecdote that is certainly that the food a poet eats may have some- disquieting and might have modified inathing to do with the songs he sings, in terially M. Taine's views of Shakespeare's the same way that from the blackbird's art had it been brought before his notice. note may be inferred what have of late “ It is an old story," he goes on to say, been the blackbird's dinners-cherries or " that a delicate English lady, at her first worms—night be rash in face of Mr. dinner in an American hotel, asked for Moncure Conway's theories about what the vegetables in season and was presently he calls “ Gastronomic Civilization.” appalled by finding twenty-seven dishes
While Mr. Walt Whitman seems to around her. Her experience would hardly think that, although there is for the have been less remarkable had she called “Variant” a great future (when he does for the meats or fruits in season.
A large come), his originality up to the present proportion of these are of American crea. moment is inclined to express itself in tion; and, apart from them a number of “pork” rather than in poetry, Mr. Mon- things which abroad are luxuries of the rich, cure Conway, though he affirms that the are democratic, so to say, in America." " Variant's actual existence has at last I take it, however, that Mr. Moncure been discovered, admits that he, the dis- Conway is far too well equipped a writer coverer, has been guided by the fact that to maintain that, whatever may be the in the gastronomic paradise of America gastronomic superiority” of America, a there are many dishes.
new race can be inaugurated on American It is not for the well-bred Englishman soil by the mere processes of digestion, to endorse too readily theories so unpoeti- however fine. All he claims is that, from cal as those of the two American writers the assimilation of courses so many, so I have quoted, because, by doing so, the various, and so excellent, a “ Variant” is Englishman-bewildered by Leaves of or will be digested into birth, even as, Grass, and stifled by American anthol. according to that old Norse mythology of ogies—would be tacitly saying to the one which he is so fond,“ in the maw of the writer maximize your pork, minimize Fenris wolf” the European world is, one your poetry," and to the other writer, day, to be digested, through chaos, into * let the motto of your 'gastronomic
gastronomic a world that is new. If he is right the civilization' be Advance the national new-comer should of course express himstomach.'
self through a literary voice that is new. Yet when Mr. Conway tells us trium- Are there at present any signs that he is phantly that “this superior gastronomic doing so ? Are there any sigrs that he civilization, which will not be disputed, is likely to do so! My concern here is is symbolical," we may, at least, be par- mainly with poetry. And let me begin doned for asking him to what the symbol by reminding our friends across the Atapplies. No doubt in the Frisian lan- lantic that, as a producer of poetry, the guage one and the same word (as Carlyle position of the mother-land of England in loved to think) does duty to express both relation to America is very greatly like soul and stomach ; but then we English that held by the “Mother city of old in have even a greater leaven of Frisian blood relation to one of the Greek colonies.
A poem written in the English lan- some of the qualities of an indigenous guage, whether produced in England or in growth. some other part of the vast English-speak- But taking Fischer's definition of art, ing world, is an English poem, no more “ life in form,” as being better than any and no less, and it has to be judged upon other, we must remember that, while in its own absolute merits, its own absolute poetry form is the very life itself, in prose defects.
fiction (as we see in Don Quixote, in Gil The poetry beginning with Piers Plow- Blas, in Wuthering Heights, etc.) form man and ending, up to now, with certain may be secondary to life. Indeed it is English, American, Canadian, Australian no disparagement to prose fiction to say and South African bards whose name is that its form is almost necessarily so law. legion, is the birthright of every English- less and so loose, its literary texture is speaking man wheresoever he
have almost necessarily so homely, when combeen born-in London or in New York, pared with the opalescent texture of in Levuka or in the Falkland Islands-ex. poetry, that it only occasionally passes actly as a poem in the Greek language was into the region of essential art. And the birthright of every Greek whether doubtless it is this fact which causes every born in Athens, in Thebes, or in Sparta. writer who has once tasted the delight of Nor is there any reason why in the United working in a form where every word has States or in Canada or in Australasia or in to be the best he can find, and set in the Capeland or in Mashonaland English po- best place, to turn away from his own etic genius should not in the twentieth prose writing, however carefully knit to. century blossom as vigorously as it blos- gether, with an undefined sense of dissatissomed in the England of Shakespeare. faction and of failure. But English poetry it will be-English Colonial prose fiction, therefore, may poetry to be judged by the canons of criti- be tried by Colonial standards, and, being cism of the mother-land. In any one of found excellent, according to those standthese colonies the Shakespeare of the ards, may be absolved from trial before twentieth century may be born. But the classic tribunal of the mother-land. splendid as is the present glory of the And of course there is a kind of verse United States—splendid as is the promise which, partaking largely of the quality of of Canada, Australasia and South Africa prose, may, in like manner, be excellent, - these colonies can never produce a though departing from the classic note. Shakespeare who is not an English poet. I allude to the familiar or worldly or comic Even if England were to-morrow to be verse in which America is so rich. It is sunk under the sea the land of Shake- of the very essence of the Biglow Papers, speare and Milton and Wordsworth must and of Mr. Bret Harte's comic verses, remain the mother-land of every English- that they should be Colonial in accent. speaking poet. As this article deals These are, indeed, typically American, mainly with poetry, the prose fiction of but only because, relying as they do upon America cannot be fully discussed here. external accidents, they lie outside the Perhaps, if it could, I might be ready to world of essential art. admit that, although colonial poetry can- When the author of the Biglow Papers not depart from the classic note of the writes a Harvard Ode, he gives us a poem mother-land without becoming second- which only in its intellectual substance is rate, this need not be so emphatically American, as distinguished from English. affirmed with regard to colonial prose fic- In all artistic qualities, in everything that tion ; for it is of the very nature of novels goes to distinguish it from a prose oration, to represent through literary expression and to make it a poem, it has to be tried the husks of life as well as the kernels. by the same standard, even to the smallest
While Colonial poetry, as belonging to nuance of expression, as though it had essential art, can only depart from the been written on the shores of the Cumber. classic note of the mother-land by becom- land lakes. In short, the moment that ing deteriorated, Colonial prose literature, Colonial verse begins to pass into essenwhose first business is mainly that of re- tial art and become poetry, it loses all the flecting the external life of nature or the accidents of its Colonial origin, and must external life of man, may be so steeped stand or fall as a classic. In other words, in the Colonial atmosphere as to present to be artistic in Fischer's sense, it has to
be as purely English as the work of Milton case, I think, on the 1st of July, 1891, or Wordsworth. American poets believe when the new Copyright Act, called Inthat there is no delicate refinement of the ternational, is to come into operation. most artistic of the poets of England But could the case ever have stood otherwhich is not as perceptible to them as to wise ? Was there ever a time in the his
If they are right as I am sure they tory of America when she could have are, how can there be a national note dis- produced an independent literature of estinguishing an American from an English sential art ? Was there ever a time when poem? In George 11. Boker's sonnet, Americans could, with some show of reaEngland, there is in intellectual substance son, have said to each other, “Let us an American quality, and a very noble evolve a Variant—the difficulty of doing one, but from the artistic point of view, so under the conditions of modern civilizawhere is its American accent !
tion will be inmense—but let us start a Stand, thou great bulwark of inan's liberty! literature of our own ; let us grow sprouts Thou rock of shelter, rising from the from our own minds upon which our fuwave,
ture offspring may browse ?'' And if Sole refuge to the overwearied brave
there ever was a time when Americans Who planned, arose, and battled to be free, Fell
, undeterred, then sadly turned to thee, might have thus communed with themSaved the free spirit from their country's selves with a fair hope of a profitable regrave,
sult, when was it ? Without affirming To rise again, and animate the slave, that a time ever did exist when a national When God shall ripen all things. Britons, American poetry might have been born,
ye Who guard the sacred ontposts, not in vain I may remind the reader that every.comHold your proud peril! Freemen ande- munity bas a plastic period—a period filed,
when it is extremely sensitive, not only to Keep watch and ward ! Let battlements the impact of external impressions, but to
be piled Around your cliffs ; fleets marshalled, till those mystetious and spontaneous inner the main
movements of the organism which we call Sink under them; and if your courage the forces of growth. Without such
wane, Through force or fraud, look westward to have existed ; for even the now stationary
plastic periods no civilization could ever
civilization of China must have moved You can turn this poem into a Scotch from primeval babarism. When was the sonnet by carefully changing the “ man” plastic period of the American people ? into mon" and chopping off a few of Clearly it was when the colony broke away the consonants, after the fashion so dear from English rule. In material things the to the Scotchman's soul. You can say, energy that creates and the energy that “ Stan', thou great bulwark o' mon's liberty! seizes and holds showed then an activity
Thou rock o'shelter, risin' frae the wave, which to the old world was astonishing. or you can turn it into a Dorsetshire son- If ever a national literature was to be born net by carefully studying William Barnes's this was the time. Under the conditions vocabulary and changing every s into a 2,
of imperfect communication which then or you can turn it into a Lincolnshire son- existed, when steam-vessels and telegrapla net by carefully studying the Northern cables were not, the isolation of colony Farmer, But not all your study of the from mother-land might almost be comelaborate cacography which forms so im- pared with the isolation of country from portant a part of American local color will country in ancient Europe. And after a enable you to turn it into a serious Ameri- few years there came another war with can sonnet as distinguished from an Eng. England, which aided the isolating effect
of distance. From the very first the II.
Americans had dreamed of their future
greatness ; from the very first they had The fine work of the poets of America an
eye upon the prospective Variant. shows, not that there is any probability And what were the means they adopted in that a national poetry will ever be devel- order to produce him ? oped in America, but that English poetry No doubt after securing their indepencan be enriched by English writers born dence the desire of the Colonists to beon American soil : thus will stand the come a separate pation was natural enough,
especially after having suffered as they cal being has been repeatedly announced, had suffered from the blundering of King thongh, like that of the Catholic Queen, George and his ministers. But what it always disappointed its mother and rewere the means they adopted for securing mained behind. The critics of America this end? Well, these means, though have sometimes asked, “What shall be they may no doubt be paralleled in his- the subject of the great American epic tory for unfairness, are in the matter of when the national poet shall come to sing humor without any kind of parallel. No it?" I think it should be the Genesis of doubt, it may be said in a general way the Variant. As the “beart-thought" of that if there is laughter in heaven the the Mahâbârata is the crafty devices of spectacle of national selfishness defeating the Kauravas in order to keep safe their its own ends at every turn must form the winnings, so the “heart-thought” of the most exhilarating scenes of the hunan epic I suggest should be America's decomedy. No student of history will deny, vices, through more than a century, to that communities are, except in rare hasten her accouchement with the Variant cases, without conscience. It is not in and keep him safe. For instance, she man the individual, it is in man as massed fraternized with France-politeness forin communities that the intense selfish- bids me to say that she fawned upon ness of his nature is most notably ex- France-because France was supposed to hibited. The rascal of the animated be the natural enemy of England, minickkingdom (whose business it is to enslave ing French ways (cven to talking through every animal he does not find it profitable her nose in a vain attempt to make her to kill), though he allows his instinct for Anglo-Saxon organs catch the French wronging his fellow-man to be very much nasal), and protesting that Paris and not toned down in the intercourse of social London was the heaven that alone could life, toned down by another and a better reward her for leading a virtuous life. instinct, that of sympathy, is pitiless when She sent out a certain Noah Webster of the ameliorating effect of personal impact Connecticut, to find a new language for cannot have full play, as
occurs when the expected Variant, which Noah, howcommunities are dealing with communi- ever, only returned with the old words of ties. No doubt all this may be said in a the mother-land wrongly spelled. With general way of all communities. And these queer-looking words she filled her
. yet there was a unique quality in the school-books, and worse, she filled these selfishness of the young American com- same books with carefully prepared mismunity after the War of Independence- representations of the old country, in order a quality which makes the story of “ Free. that unwitting American children should dom's Promised Land," from Washington be brought up in a permanent temper of right down to McKinley, the greatest and antagonism toward the people of the
, finest joke of Clio, whose irony, when mother-land. These school-books she she does joke, puts that of Lucian and filled with misrepresentations so impudent Swift to shame. It was a double-headed and so persistent that a foreigner looking selfishness. America desired to fill her into them must needs suppose that they limitless acres with immigrant hands to were inspired, not by a fervid desire to till them ; but, also, she desired to en- prepare for a future Variant and train him compass herself with a protective wall up in the way he should go, but by a something like that " wall of brass" with deep racial hatred. “
deep racial hatred. While every English which, according to Greene's play, two writer eagerly did her justice, more than famous necromancers once tried to sur- justice -in the matter of that old strugglė, round England.
she fixed it in the brains of her little Always the picture of the embryonic children that England was the home of all Variant seems to have been before ber that is cruel, ruffianly, mean, and coweyes.
From the beginning of the Repub- ardly, instead of telling them that across lic down to the passing of the new Copy- the Atlantic was a great people whose right Act, America's interest in the gesta- blood flowed in American no less than in tion of this problematical babe has been English veins, a people who through no as pathetic a spectacle as that of Tennyson's fault of their own, but through the blun
a Queen Mary in bers. For more than a dering of a stupid king and his stupid adcentury her accouchement with this mythi- visers, were long ago supposed to be at