Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

of letters, the Englishman overbears the man. We trust that none of our writers will dishonor themselves by feeble imitations of examples, in themselves so pitiable; and we anticipate from their emancipation from these peculiar prejudices, splendid and far-reaching consequences. These consequences will be in our lighter literature, playful ease, genuine humor, and the graceful and pleasant use of language; in poetry, the copying of nature, as we see her with the eye, as we feel her in our hearts, as we observe her in the myriads of our happy homes, and as she forms our simple manners, and makes us imitate her laws of quiet sublimity, in the easy, yet mighty movements of our free institutions. For our orators, we predict an eloquence that shall be truthful in point, in diction, and in fire, because it must be tested by the best of all tests, " its actual effects.” For those who instruct us in the graver matters of philosophy, we expect a severe investigation, an honest spirit, and a simple style ; for our essayists, the charms of native humor, shrewdness, and grace. Nor is this mere anticipation. Who cannot name great American writers who have dared to be true to themselves, and who, by this means, have realized these characteristics which we have named.

Need we name Franklin, Ames, Hamilton, Sedgwick, Mary Clavers, H. B. Stowe, Hawthorne, Street, Bryant, Leggett, Webster, and a host besides. We say not that these have no defects, nor that these defects are not American ; but we aver that they have high

2 merits, and that these merits are American also. The time will come when such merits will be more conspicuous.

We advert to another circumstance as tending to make us true and natural. We are brought more and more closely in contact with the men, the principles, and the Literature of the great nations of Europe. Myriads of emigrants from these nations crowd themselves upon our shores, and crowd themselves on our acquaintance. Not a few of our cultivated writers make the tour of the continent, and many of them remain long enough to become accustomed to another atmosphere; while the great writers of the continent are almost as well known among us in translations, as the writers of England. A liberalizing influence must be the certain consequence. John Bull himself cannot resist it. So constant a force will make itself felt even upon him, as the powerful solvent will at last corrode the hardest and the most polished gem.

We are more willing to learn than he, and shall therefore learn more gracefully, and appropriate what we learn more healthfully. We do not travel as does the Englishman, with a little England about us, of servants, and of English comforts. Nor do we make a pent-house over our heads, as if to keep out even the atmosphere of a foreign land.

Nor do we, when at home, repel everything we read in a foreign book, which does not square with our national prejudices. But whether we are abroad or at home, we seek to be instructed, and are willing that the truth should instruct us whencesoever it comes. The history, the fiction, and the poetry of Germany, are not unknown or unfelt in their influence on our writers. Sweden is unlocking to us her stores, and introducing'us to the delightful circle of her domestic and quiet joy. Whatever clings to us of prejudice from our English obstinacy, or ignorance from American narrowness, will readily yield to these influences. All that we can add to our common stock, we shall cheerfully appropriate, and doing it with the tact so peculiar to us as a nation, we shall be none the less American.

The truth and naturalness of our Literature will make it a Literature for the world. Those who learn from others, do, by the very act of learning, secure a hearing for themselves.

Besides, a truthful spirit is a humane and generous spirit, which of itself will win the ears and the hearts of all lands. American Literature will be certain to be pervaded by a kindly and humane spirit towards man; and thus will it gain the sympathy of man, wherever he is to be found. When the Hutchinson family, a few months since, made the tour of England, their simple melody found a response in every rank in life. It made an echo for itself in the heart of both peer and artisan, and it was because it was true to nature. But their warmest and heartiest greeting was from the middling and working classes, who gathered about them with an honest enthusiasm, and made their journey, as it were, a royal progress. It was because these simple singers were of the same rank in life, and were a living and speaking testimony to the generous spirit of the daughter-land, that cherishes worth and talent wherever it finds them, and gives them room to make the most of themselves. American Literature, if true to itself, will breathe this kindly feeling towards all that live, and the nations shall be charmed by the warm gush of its generous affection, more even than by the native wood-notes wild” of its sweetest minstrels. Is it here objected that these influences will tend to destroy our nationality; that by learning from others, and caring for others, we shall cease to be ourselves? We answer, This is our nationality, and let it ever be so—to be true and generous to others as well as to ourselves. Let it ever be our characteristic as a nation, that we will learn of others and be generous towards them. Thus, and thus only, are we true to ourselves as Americans, and thus shall our Literature bear the impress of our national spirit.

There are peculiarities, however, which no nation can divide with us, and which, for a time at least, will secure to our Literature features strikingly our own. The principles of our political constitution are peculiar, and our Literature may be expected to assert American principles. Our theory of government is in direct contrast to the theories of the European States. We assume as an axiom the political equality of every citizen ; a government of law as upheld by the reverence of the people, as distinguished from one embodied in a person ; and a government perpetually renewed from the original sources of power, rather than one transmitted by hereditary prerogative. The American people believe in these principles. They rejoice in their substantial blessings. They are not insensible to their inconveniences ; but they know that the inconveniences of other institutions are more numerous and intolerable. Certain of the rich, and the luxurious, and the travelled among us, may affect to be in love with aristocratic institutions, and many of the soundminded may, at times, tremble for the stability of the Republic ; but the mania of admiring European establishments is, we believe, subsiding, and the general confidence in the continuance of the Republic is gaining strength.

In certain respects, republican institutions are not the most favorable. There is a splendor about a crown, a throne, and a royal court, that attracts and inspires. There is an elevation in the feeling of loyal attachment to a royal person.

There are feelings of romantic interest, which cluster about a ruined castle, where knights have tilted in sport, or battled in blood; where ladies have smiled as they shone in peerless beauty ; where prisoners have sighed in dark dungeons, and have been delivered by bold heroism. Such associations as these, a republic can never furnish ; but there are others that are purer and nobler, which, if they dazzle not with as brilliant and fascinating a splendor, do yet shine with a serener and milder radiance. There is something sublimely venerable in the idea of the sovereign law—the collected will of the State, upheld all the while by the consent of the State, and yet subjecting it to itself. There is much that is inspiring in the thought that men, who are alike in the eye of God, should also be alike in the

eye

of the State. And there is in the view of all the substantial blessings that are everywhere diffused and enjoyed, an enthusiasm which grows by what it feeds on-if it does not break forth with so impetuous a fire as that which greets a royal pageant.

Besides, in the working of free institutions there are occasions of the most exciting interest-occasions when Literature may render its most splendid services, and may afterwards hang up its arms, that have been battered and burnished by use, as its noblest trophies. Indeed, we may safely say, that the roll of Literature in all ages records, as its most splendid achievements, the productions of the mind inspired by great exigences in exciting periods; or those of the mind when it reviews these spiritstirring scenes. Nothing arouses the mind to its mightiest capacities, nothing enables it to use language with such a supernatural power and eloquence, like great occasions of this kind, both when they are present, and when they are reflected on. It was in such excitements that Demosthenes formed and used his eloquence; that Dante and Milton lighted their wondrous fires. We believe no occasions can be furnished, except in a republic, equally splendid with those which Webster and Calhoun have turned to such a noble use, that no times which Burke or Erskine or Fox ever saw in the senate or at the bar, can surpass those which arouse the orator, who knows that he speaks from and to the heart of a thinking and an excited people, whose intellect he may hope to move, and whose destiny he may decide. Philosophy must be inspired by the magnitude of her audience, when she knows that she forms, for truth or error, the mind of a great nation. Poetry has rarely uttered strains more impassioned or spirit-stirring than those that in our day have been sung to freedom by a Korner and a Freiligrath.

We believe then, that as American Literature defends and asserts those principles, which it is the office of the American people to demonstrate to man, that she will find the noblest themes, and the most kindling inspiration. We believe that in affirming these principles heartily, American writers will consult their dignity and strength. To appear to admire aristocratic institutions is, for an American, a silly affectation; nay, it argues ignorance, as well as imbecility. But to know the blessings of freedom, while we are not insensible to its dangers; to be grateful for them and to defend them, is to stand strongly and surely. It is to secure a response in every true American heart, and to call into life an audience eager to catch an encouraging word; among the thinking patriots all the world over, who are striving to secure, each to their own land, the substantial blessings which they know Americans enjoy. We can hardly own those to be American writers, who do not feel this to be their duty, and their dignity also. We have little patience with those who choose to speak their own private prejudices, rather than the decisions of truth and reason; or who prefer to address a coterie of weak admirers, rather than the sound sense of this happy nation. We cannot abide the fashion, now less common than it once was, of seeking to avoid inconveniences which should have been “ pardoned to the spirit of liberty,” by adopting the sickly cant of the lover of monarchy.

We are displeased with this affectation, but we do not fear that it will long endure. We know our educated and thinking countrymen too well, to believe their good sense will prompt or bear with these un-American feelings. We hail with certain confi

. dence, the period as near, when we shall know our blessings too well not to prize them; when we shall earnestly, but with no braggart spirit, assert them to the world ; when philosopher and divine, orator and essayist, poet and novelist, shall say

9 THIRD SERIES, VOL. III.

NO. 3.

in every word, nil de republica desperandum ; and with voice and pen shall give the widest and swiftest progress to the principles of intellectual and religious freedom.

The great movements of the world call for such an assertion of American principles, on the part of American writers. The spirit of freedom is everywhere awake, not merely in the dark minds of the masses who know not the blessings for which they sigh, but in the clear and calm convictions of the thinking men of all lands, who well understand the nature of that freedom, for which they would sell their lives. In England, these convictions are shaping themselves into an over-mastering public opinion in all classes, which has made the House of Lords a pageant, and may make the throne a convenient and graceful fiction. In France it will not be cajoled out of its just demands. In Italy and Poland it gathers hope. In Spain, Austria, and Russia even, it does not despair. Choice spirits, in all these countries, the nobly born, and the nobly educated, feel that Literature should be consecrated to the high service of guiding and arousing their countrymen to their duties to themselves, and to their father-land. The silent influence of America is everywhere felt as an inspiration. The noiseless spectacle of the successful career of freedom attracts the eye of the Sons of Freedom in all lands. They would also hear her voice speaking in a literature worthy of her fame, and they will listen, and be instructed, and charmed, Let this voice be worthy of the message of truth and hope which it bears ; let it command as with a monarch's authority ; let it

[ocr errors]

1 Nobly has Bryant fulfilled this obligation to be true to his country, in his lines entitled “O Mother of a Mighty Race.”

Aye, let them rail, those haughty ones,
While safe thou dwellest with thy sons.

«

They know not in their hate and pride
What virtues with thy children bide ;
How true, how good, thy graceful maids
Make bright, like flowers, the valley shades;

What generous men
Spring like thine oaks from hill and glen.
What cordial welcomes greet the guest,
By thy lone rivers of the West ;
How faith is kept, and truth revered,
And man is loved, and God is feared,

In woodland homes,
And where the solemn ocean foams,

There's freedom at thy gates, and rest
For earth's down-trodden and opprest;
A shelter for the hunted head,
For the starved laborer, toil and bread

Power, at thy bounds,
Stops and calls back his baffled hounds."

« VorigeDoorgaan »