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guage (the Greek,) which never became familiar with the people. The French had little beyond the ballads of their Troubadours, and even those sprung up amongst themselves; while the rude Norman tongue, which William introduced to us at the Conquest, altogether disturbed the current of our Saxon speech, without completely subduing it. None of these languages carried with them any train of literature, unless we except the Greek; but that was never naturalized on the Roman soil. It transferred ideas, but not words; and those only, in an advanced state of the Latin tongue, to her poets and philosophers. In their early ages none of those nations had the benefit which America possesses. They were the debtors of tradition only. It is speech which constitutes a language; but it is writings which form a literature. Without the power of recording words, there can be little improvement in any national tongue; for there can be no survey of its limits and defects.
Whatever progress America may have made in letters during the last thirty years, she will surpass, we suspect, in the years immediately to come. She has hitherto confined herself almost entirely to the “ useful,” in the narrow sense of the word, -to jurisprudence and science. In a country like the United States, where the classes of society remain to be formed, the comparative equality, which exists reduces almost every individual to some profession or labour. It is only in more refined states, generally speaking, that literature can be cultivated. The useful must precede the ornamental ; and the necessities of men must be satisfied before their luxuries. There may be, indeed, and there is, even in America, a small class of men, namely, the professors of science and morals, whose business it is to aequire (for the purposes of teaching) what it is the luxury of the multitude to learn. But even these persons invade the Paradise of poetry and fiction from no other impulse than a desire to subdue them to the mere purposes of "utility;" and that is not the spirit singly to generate poets and philosophers, nor to illuminate the renown of a country.
It has been said, that the stimulus to excellence is fame or honour, and that this " desirable honour” in America is only to be acquired in public office or at the bar. This is surely but a confined view of the subject. It is, in fact, little less than an apology for seeking only that sort of reputation which is attended with positive pecuniary profit. Men seek the bar as a profession,-as a means of livelihood. No one who has ever seen the forms of a court of justice, and knows the very few opportunities there are of displaying eloquence there, would ever be wild enough to adopt that pursuit merely with a view to distinction. It is the same with “public office.” Besides, a man who seeks fame does not seek it in company with
profit. The love of fame is a finer and purer aspiration, and is seldom clogged by baser desires ; in youth, never. We will assert, that no young man, when he first had the mania of literary ambition upon him, ever considered the profit that was to attend it. It is the taste of profit which seduces the author into coveting both the fruit and the unfading flower—both money and renown. His ambition must be poor indeed who limits his wishes to the “ignorant present," and to the return (whether in money or praise) which he can expect from it. After a time, indeed, when authorship becomes a trade, and the writer metes out his sentences or his verse under the hope of speedy remuneration, perhaps even the poet may have one eye to the stars and the other on the dust; and, while he aspires to earn a fame among the immortals, he may, like Mammon, admire the rich ore which veins the earth on which he treads. He may hope to reconcile both superstitions in his own grasping and ambitious person. But this degenerate ambition, this mixture of clay and heaven, will work no good; or, if occasional good should be struck out, it must be by some accidental collision, some jarring of the proud with the profitable ;-or it may arise, perhaps, in some more unearthly moment, when the spirit of the stars predominates, and the constellation of poets and philosophers who have lived before us (and died) shall shine out as a beacon, or as an attractive light to witch their follower from the dust below.
Among statesmen and public orators, none have come down to us as famous, merely from the skill which they have displayed in petty disputes, whether between states or individuals. The dextrous lawyer or the wary politician may be celebrated among his cotemporaries, and he may be mentioned in history as a cunning advocate or a clever servant; but, in order to fill up the measure of a great ambition, he should advocate something more than petty quarrels or private interests. The questions which were agitated by Demosthenes and Cicero were often broad public questions of moral good, however the guise in which they appeared was national or temporary. It was not Athens against Philip; but the debate between tyranny and freedom. It was the battle of good and evil, of strength and weakness. There was a great general principle which the orator sought to maintain, a positive question which must inAuence the people of all times; and his ingenuity was not perverted nor his strength wasted upon petty personal subjects, whose interests must expire the hour in which he spoke. No doubt it is necessary that there should be advocates and orators for all questions, private and temporary ; but these are not the men to make a literature, nor, so long as they confine themselves
to those questions, to lift their country or themselves into lofty and enduring distinction.
It has been argued more than once, and with some show of reason, we confess, that the liberty and equality which prevail through all conditions of people in the United States, must be necessarily favourable to its literature. Certainly the tendency of men is towards rank and distinctions of one sort or another : and the argument is plausible, which insists that the absence of titles, and ribands, and such “small gear,” must throw the ambition of a people into other and more honourable channels. Yet, after all, we must take leave to consult experience; and from that we assuredly do not collect that equality of condition is particularly favourable to learning. There was scarcely even a dawn of Roman literature before the tyranny of the empire began. The “ golden” age of our Elizabeth was, as far as regarded the great mass of Englishmen, any thing but free; and the reign of Louis XIV. of France was a gilded masque, in which the base subserviency of the nobles to the king was sur. passed only by the slavish spirit with which they were worshipped by the millions of people below. Yet, in the times we speak of, Horace and Virgil, Shakspeare and Ben Jonson, Moliere, Voltaire, and Rousseau, grew up. They—at least those of the later ages, were not in their nature parasite plants; yet they flourished in the soil of tyranny, and sunned themselves in the approbation of queens and despots. The truth, perhaps, is, that intellect is more often stung to a sense of power, than nursed into strength. The speeches of Demosthenes were not a consequence of the liberty of Athens, but of the overbearing power of Philip. The caustic wit of Voltaire was fed by the vicious tyrannies and despicable vanities of the court of France; and he rose to the stature of a giant in erile. Rousseau saw the vices of his country,—its enormous inequalities, its hideous diseases—and distilled his burning sentences with a view to cauterize the general ill. Milton was nursed in the cradle oi oppression ; and, after throwing off the “ Comus,” (that fine fever of his youth,) he penned his magnificent “ defence of the people of England,” and rose afterwards on soaring wings to the “ heaven of heaven” of poetry. Even Shakspeare himself
, the most wonderful of all the creations of the earth, basked in the sickly smiles of a despotic queen, who never can be supposed to have appreciated his merit if she let pass the opportunity of rewarding it. That was reserved for Lord Southampton to do, and he did it; and Elizabeth—our “good queen Bess,” (who has been too much confounded with her age, and over-praised), was left to bestow what she could spare from her person, on courtiers, and gallants, and sycophants, and, in a
word, on those who could extract, by some desperate alchemy of the fancy, the bloom of a goddess out of the wrinkles and sallow aspect of a faded coquette.
But to return.—We have already said that the occupation of the Americans has formed some impediment to their progress in literature. Yet we do not mean to give in to the ordinary error. It is the quantity, and not the quality of their labour, that operates against them. Few men seek literature solely as a profession. It is generally a relaxation from other employments, and what those employments are is not perhaps very material. In our history we do not find that all the best books have been written by idlers. Shakspeare was first an attendant at the theatre, and afterwards an actor; Milton was a schoolmaster, and then the secretary of Cromwell; Fielding was a magistrate; Smollett, Garth, Arbuthnot, and Akenside, were physicians ; Defoe was a hosier ; Swift was a parson; Congreve had a place in the customs; and finally, Burns was a gauger of ale and spirits, and was compelled (such was the taste of his patrons of Scotland) to clip the wings of his imagination, and plunge it “ plummet deep" into the vats and abysses of all the breweries in his northern district.
At some future day we may possibly resume this subject : but at present we cannot afford room for any
further discussion. We shall therefore content ourselves with giving a few short extracts from one or two of the American poets, and a couple of quotations from their novels, and then leave them to take their chance with our readers.
In respect to the poetry of our friends the Americans, little can at present be said. Their verses are too like our own to call for particular mention. Their principal writers of verse are, Mr. Barlow, Mr. Paulding, Mr. Linn, (the brother-in-law, we believe, of Charles Brockden Brown), Mr. Pierpoint, Messrs. Maxwell, Eastburn, Dabney, &c. Mr. Allston, who has contrived reconcile the two muses, of poetry and painting; and finally, the author of “ Fanny,” and Mr. William Cullen Bryant. Of these, the best are beyond doubt the two last. Mr. Paulding seems to be in high esteem with his contemporaries, and he probably deserves it. We can readily believe that he is a vigorous writer. Nevertheless, his style is at present much too laboured and artificial. Whatever power he may possess over thoughts, and however competent to satire, he has not the same sway over words; nor is the tendency of his language extremely poetical. We had marked a passage in his Back-Woodsman (the description of a storm) for extract, but we have for the present avoided it. Mr. Paulding incites his countrymen to cease copying the English, and perhaps this advice may be good. But why does he not also set them an
example? The style of his own verse is essentially English, and not English of the loftiest character. We do not say this in spleen, as of a person who has met with too much praise, but simply and sincerely. He may do much if he will : but whether he will do much while he disregards the great models in his own language (for what does he write but English ?) must remain for the present a problem.
The “ Columbiad” of Mr. Joel Barlow is of long standing, and has been already discussed. It is modelled after our writers of Queen Anne's time; as are also Mr. Pierpoint's “ Airs of Palestine.” Mr. Eastburn follows our modern writers in his octosyllabic verses. Mr. Linn is the disciple of Rogers and Campbell. The author of “ Fanny” takes Beppo as his model; and Mr. Bryant, who stands certainly first upon the American Parnassus, copies the style of Lord Byron in his Spenserian poems, and in his blank verse reminds us at once both of Wordsworth and Cowper. The poem called “ Fanny” is for the most part jocose; but we like the following serious stanzas better, we confess, than the author's humour, which, however, is naïve at times, if not very pungent.
“ Weehawken! in thy mountain scenery yet,
All we adore of nature in her wild
“ Amid thy forest solitudes, he climbs
O'er crags that proudly tower above the deep,
“ Like the death music of his coming doom,
And clings to the green turf with desperate force
“ In such an hour he turns, and on his view
Ocean, and earth, and heaven, burst before him;