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The substance of the following Discourse is published in the American Biblical Repository for January, 1840. To meet the wish of the Society, an edition is published in the form in which the Discourse was prepared for a public assembly.
Called to stand here to-day with much less opportunity for preparation than I could have desired, I have to ask not only your candor, but your indulgence. Had I not been persuaded that you would be better pleased with an imperfect performance of the duty assigned to me than with a total failure, I should have declined standing in the breach on this occasion.
I have proposed to myself a subject which may seem at first like one of the common-places of magazine essays and anniversary orations; namely, the proper character and functions of American literature. Yet I am persuaded that the views which have suggested themselves to me in thinking of this theme, if not new, are at least worthy of a renewed consideration.
Ever since I can remember, American literature has been acquired after, and inquired about, in all quarters. It has been debated whether there is any such thing, and if so, what are its merits--whether any such thing is likely to be, and, if so, what it will be. The first of these questions is a question not of fact, nor even of speculation, but only of dramatic poetry; and in this view of the matter, surely, we have no American literature. But we have books of American production, and these books have readers, and the number of such books and their readers is continually increasing; and in this sense there can be no dispute that American Literature has already begun to exist. Thus far, however, it cannot be denied that the books written in this country, with some few distinguished exceptions, should be considered rather as American contributions to the common literature of the English language, than as constituting even the germ of such a body of letters as shall reflect the national spirit and re-act for salutary ends upon the national mind.
I have announced then, without intending it, what I conceive to be the proper character and functions of American literature. In all its forms of history, philosophy, poetry, eloquence, its peculiar character must be that it breathes and manifests the national spirit; and its one great function must be to re-act for salutary ends, upon the national mind from which it emanates. It must be essentially shaped and informed by the peculiar spirit of the American people, or it will always be a failure, a faint and cheap imitation of foreign models. However voluminous, however elaborate or elegant, may be the literature produced by writers upon our soil, if it be not American in its tone and spirit, is the cast of its ideas and sentiments, it will always be to the American people as essentially foreign as translations from the French or German are to the people of Great Britain. Being thus deficient in the life and power of an literature sprung from the soil, and intertwined with all the associations and habits of the people, it can have no sway over the heart of the people; it will have no aim; it will perform no part in history. And on the other hand, where ever literature in this country becomes conscious of the dignity of its function, and grapples in earnest with the national mind to lead it, to elevate it, to control it for worthy ends, it will immediately and without an effort, adapt to the people; it will reflect of course, I do not say the opinions, but the intellectual habits, the sentiments, the peculiar character of those to whom it addresses itself.
This view let us attempt to develop. What is, and is to be, the peculiar national character with which American literature must harmonize, and upon which it ought to act purifying and elevating the national mind?
The character of a people, so far as it depends on other than geographical causes, such as climate, soil, sea- rivers, mountains, and extent of territory,--is determined mostly by its origin, its history, its political organization, and its religious doctrines and institutions. These various are not only blended in the result, but are continually acting upon each other. The origin of a people, the blood of which it springs, affects all its history, more surely and more powerfully than parentage affects the destiny of the individual. The history of a people determines its political organization, and its political organization in turn modifies the chances and changes of its history. Religion too exerts its strongest and steadiest influence upon a people, when it is brought their laws and all the order of their civil state into harmony with their historical recollections, when it has brought their laws and all the order of their civil state into harmony with itself; and on the other hand the character of a people, as determined by political and historical influences, has much to do in moulding the forms of religious doctrine and directing the spirit of religious institutions. Any one of these causes, then, completely understood, will with more or less exactness, what must be the peculiarities of the national character, and what ought to be the genius of the national literature.
For our present purpose, then, it may be sufficient to keep in mind the peculiar structure of society and of government in this country, and to ask what sort of a literature, breathing the national spirit, and elevating the national character, ought to grow up in a country thus organized?
Take, for example, the sentiment of loyalty. We in this country know not what it is; we can hardly conceive of it but by a strong effort of imagination. Yet it is a sentiment familiar to most Englishmen, that the absence of it from our common character as a people, puzzles and perplexes many an English traveller more than any thing else. Loyalty is a strictly feudal sentiment, the feeling of attachment to a superior--a feeling like that with which a Highlander looks on the hereditary chieftain of his clan--the feeling with which a faithful vassal followed his superior to war, without ever a thought abut the reason of the quarrel in which his all was perilled--the feeling with which a hearty Englishman naturally regards his lawful sovereign. The feeling is indeed continually decaying in most countries of Europe, but it is still vigorous under every old and stable government, and it is not extinct even where revolution, a deluge, has swept away the ancient landmarks. In the old world, it outlives the feudalism in which it originated, and lingers--"the melancholy ghost of deal renown"-- haunting with its shadowy presence the ivied castles and decaying tombs of the system to which it once gave life and beauty. But in this new world, it has never been naturalized. What do we know of the sentiment with which the whole Prussian people rose at the long expected opportunity, and rushed upon the French in grief and rage to avenge, not so much their own wrongs, as the wrongs which Napoleon had inflected upon their king, reducing him to vassalage, and the insults which he had heaped upon their queen--wrongs and insults which had sent her broken hearted to the grave. Not long before the death of that high-minded but unhappy queen, when the clouds hung darkest around the royal house of Hohenzollern, she said, "Posterity will not set down my name among those of celebrated women, but whoever knows the calamities of these times, will say of me, she suffered much, and she suffered with constancy: may he be able to add, she gave birth to children who deserved better days, who struggled to bring them round, and at length succeeded." We can feel the eloquence of this, because every word of it comes from a suffering human heart, and strikes upon our human sympathies, but what do we know of the thrill with which the recital of these words, at the time, went through every loyal Prussian heart? What do we know of the peculiar tone of sentiment with which that whole people, arming at last for the avenging conflict, made the name of their dead queen--Louisa--their war-cry,--or of the grief, which, when their valor had restored their widowed king to his due rank and independence as a sovereign, saddened their triumph with the thought, She has not lived to see it."
This sentiment of loyalty, in its various forms and controls to a great extent the manners of Europe, and is every where in that old world one of the constituent elements of national character. It is therefore, in this connection, worth looking at a little more distinctly. Loyalty towards a sovereign is not simply the feeling of respect towards a chief magistrate, whose person represents for the time being the law and the state. Woe to our commonwealths that feeling shall be unknown among us. The English or song, "God save the King!" is uttered in a different from the huzzas with which the butt-enders of the New York democracy greet their favorite president. Respect for a chief magistrate must be combined with another element, before it becomes loyalty. You must feel that the chief magistrate is something more than a magistrate--that he is your sovereign--that you belong to him as his subject, so that he has a property in you--that he is your protector and lord, the fountain of power, justice, and honor,--and then you know what loyalty is, towards a sovereign. Does any body in England, save perhaps some speculative democrat, ever think of the young lady in Buckingham palace as simply a female chief magistrate? Or does the true Englishman think of her rather as his royal mistress, and as having a personal right in him which she has inherited, and which is to descend like any other property to her heirs? In something of the same spirit, do the peasantry on a great estate look up to their immediate superior. He is the proprietor of the soil which they cultivate; he is, or ought to be, their hereditary guardian and patron; they are not his slaves indeed, but they are in one sense a part of his property; all the fruit of their toil, beyond a meagre supply of comforts for themselves, is his; if he is benevolent and conscientiously bent on the improvement of their condition, they are happy; if he cares not for them, they can do little for themselves. So much of the feudal system remains, that the feeling of dependence and inferiority on the one hand, and of superiority and power on the other, runs through society. That radical element of the feudal system, the principle of the lower made for the higher, the many for the one, the cultivators of the soil for the proprietors of the soil, the peasantry the aristocracy, the people for the sovereign,--is not yet even in legislation. Far less is it extinct in respect to its influence on manners and national character. Feudal, in its various modifications, is the grand element in the of every European people; and therefore its influence cannot be for ages to come one of the grand elements in the character of every European people. The of society, even in the freest countries there, is feudalism at the foundation. The feudalism is reformed indeed, remodeled, broken up and reconstructed with large additions of new materials; securities are provided for human rights; guards are erected against the abuse of power; the great principle has been forced in, that though the many are made for the one, the one on the other hand is made for the many, and owes them duties as sacred as the duties which they owe to him; but with all these reforms, and with all this infusion of liberty and justice, the peculiar sentiments which the old system engendered, remain; and among them the most obvious, and to us the most unknown, is the sentiment of loyalty to the sovereign, with its kindred sentiment of loyalty to rank.
Another sentiment which has great influence on national character in al the countries of European Christendom, a pride of birth. This, in its rudiment, is a natural sentiment; and as such it must have some place and influence under every structure of society. We are not ignorant of the manifestations of this natural sentiment. Every man who had an honest father and a virtuous mother, feels the impulse of this sentiment, and knows why it was implanted in his nature. Every man who respects his own because his father bore it before him--every man who has himself quickened in the path of honor or of virtue by the necessity of not dishonoring the blood of which he was begotten--every man who feels that the reputation of his father is involved in his own, and that the dear memory of his mother is to be honored by his virtues and achievements or disgraced by his meanness, is conscious of that natural sentiment which in other circumstances is exaggerated pride of birth.
Hereditary distinctions and honors, then, are not be denounced as intrinsically absurd, or contrary to the common sense of human nature. It is natural to think the better of a man for being the worthy son of an illustrious sire. The renown of ancestors is and ought ever to be a part of the possessions of their children. The question whether the principle of hereditary distinctions shall be incorporated the political institutions of a people, or whether the sentiment of respect for parentage shall be left to work simply by its own power, as one of the elements of human nature, question to be determined more by experience than by an abstract reasoning. The only inquiries ought to be. What does experience teach? Where the principle of hereditary rank is established, what is its effect on national character and the general welfare? How does it bear upon the result--the greatest happiness of the greatest number? Does it operate most effectually to excite effort and stimulate virtuous aspirations, or more to repress exertion and to produce stagnation in all classes? In our country, guided as we think by the long experience of mankind, we have rejected
our political structure all hereditary honors, all distinctions founded upon parentage. The children of the pauper and the felon stand, before the law, upon the same platform of equality with the children of the most illustrious benefactor of his country or of his race. No man is punished for his father's misdoings; no man is rewarded with public for his father's achievements. This, I doubt not, is wise, considered in reference to its political bearings, as it is right in morals. With us, the advantages to be derived the most illustrious parentage, are simply those which the law of nature gives without any factitious enlargement.
How contrary to this was the structure of feudal society. Under that system, every thing was hereditary. Every man's station in society was determined by his birth; and exceptions were made, only as the strata were disturbed by frequent violence. He who was born a noble, was held to be made of finer clay, tempered with a more etherial spirit, than he who was born a peasant. The influence of this old habit of thought remains in all the countries where once reigned. The system in which such a habit of thought originated, is every where passing away, if not already destroyed; but its influence in this respect still lives. In all the freer countries of Europe, and most of all perhaps in Britain, many an avenue is open by which genius and worth may rise even from the humblest walks to eminence and honor; but still the influence of old hereditary distinction hardly begins to be effaced from the common mind. There the greatest success, the greatest honor, is to rise to the level of the old feudal aristocracy. The orator in the House of Commons, whose eloquence adorns and his mothers tongue--the patriot statesman, whose skill guides his country through the storm--the jurist whose and industry have thrown light along the Gothic labyrinths of the law--the warrior whose exploits, on the deep or on the land, have made "the meteor flag of England" burn more terrific than before--mounts at last to the peerage, and thus attains the goal of his ambition. And what an ambition! He is a peer indeed; but he comes a novus into the circle of the old nobility. He is a peer indeed, and is permitted to uphold the rotten aristocracy, by bringing to its aid the vigor of his talents and the lustre of his performances; but after all, the stupid descendant of some iron-fisted, leaden-headed old baron of the days of King John,--the coroneted gambler "whose blood has crept through" titled "scoundrels ever since" it was ennobled to the Tudors,--yes and the rowdy profligate who traces his pedigree back to some unmentionable female in the court of Charles the Second,--takes precedence of him, and blessed himself as of a more illustrious birth than this new created lord of yesterday. Meanwhile, the man of science and of letters has no hope of rising to so glorious an eminence. The astronomer who writes his name among the constellations--the chemist at whose analizing touch nature gives us her profound secrets--the inventor who gives new to labor, new wings to commerce, and new wealth and comforts to mankind--the historian who illuminates his country's annals, and turns into wisdom the experience of past ages--the poet who entrances nations with the spell of song and fable--seeks the patronage of the high-born, hasten to share that patronage with actors and Italian thrice happy if the king, deeming him fit to stand in the court of aristocracy, shall dub him knight, or exalt him to the rank of baronet. Thus Davy, transformed into a Humphrey, or Brewster, elevated into Sir David, is equal in rank with such samples of human nature as a Mulberry Hawk; even as Newton after having revealed the system of the universe, and having made his simple name the most illustrious in the history of human knowledge was belittled into Sir Isaac, and enabled to stand in the of queen Anne at the same degree of greatness with .
"Sir Plume, of amber snuff-box justly vain,
And the nice conduct of a clouded can."
Thus "the Aristo of the North," after having filled the world with his fame, received the honor of a baronetey, and was made almost respectable enough to be company for such as the high-born earl of Munster, and the noble marquis of Waterford. Thus perhaps, if Milton were to to life again, under the present whig administration, , and were so far to divest himself of his old Puritan and republican whims, as to make himself agreeable to my Lord Melbourne, we might hear of Sir John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost.
This sentiment then, the feudal sentiment of pride of birth, is in Great Britain, and far more in most European countries, one of the elements of national character. It works into only in those who have high birth to be proud of, but in those who feel themselves depressed because others were born so far above them. It affects not only the etiquette of the palace and of the princely castle, but the manners and feelings of society in each of its numerous gradations. You may see the reflection of its influences direct and indirect, upon all the volumes even of the current literature of the old world.
Inseparable from this in its influence on society, is another feudal exaggeration of a natural human sentiment. As the pride of birth, which we have been considering, is the of that human affection which connects us with our ancestors, so family ambition is the perversion of that human affection which connects us with our posterity. The pride of being born of a great family, and the ambition to be the or the upbuilder of a great family are only modifications of the same disposition. Great families are a part of the feudal system. The estate of a landed proprietor under that system, is of the nature of a subordinate principality. Hence the undivided transmission of estates to the eldest . Hence the law of entail, by which the estate is inalienable, the possessor for the time being having only a life interest in it these two principles working together make great families. In our country, happily, great families are . We see indeed, now and then, something of the European ambition to make a great family; for the impossibility is not yet so fully understood as to produce its effect upon the sentiments and habits of the entire people. Now and then we see a man who has acquired wealth by skill and diligence in business--or more often one who has suddenly grown rich by the chances of speculation--and who, having seen or heard how the aristocracy of Europe live in feudal grandeur on their great estates, on which their ancestors have lived for ages before them, and on which their descendants are to live through ages yet uncounted,--is ambitious to do something of the same kind here, to call his lands after his own name, and to build the baronial which his posterity shall inhabit. But the great is divided; each heir, trained in the same luxurious habits as if he were to inherit the whole, finds his fragment insufficient for his wants; the domain passes into the hands of strangers; the aristocratic mansion becomes perhaps a tavern, perhaps a manufactory. The experiment soon becomes ludicrous, for till the laws which control inheritance and the tenure of estates--law more fundamental to our social system than any others, and deeply engraved upon the hearts of the people--are radically changed, the attempt must be as futile as an attempt to change the order of the seasons. All that a man can do for his posterity, under our laws, aside from what he does for the common welfare of his country--he must do by training his own children, so that they shall train theirs, for virtue, and for that wealth which is in the mind and not in outward possessions. In feudal countries, on the other hand, and a Britain as much as in any other the moment a man to rise from poverty itself, the moment his accumulations begin to put him in any sense beyond the reach of want, one of his first temptations is to look out for his family, not merely to secure his children against poverty, but to raise his remote posterity into an elevated rank, to separate their interests from the interests of society at large, and thus to spread out his selfishness over all future time. The effect of this on national character cannot be insignificant. Look at such a man as Walter Scott fired with his ambition, and under the impulse selling himself to a that broke his mighty energies, and exhausted those powers that had so long seemed exhaustless, and all for what? Why, that the author of Marmion and of Ivanhoe be as Carlyle has well express it, "the founder of a of Scotch lairds."
With the sentiments already noticed, and with the structure of society which engenders them, the sentiment of contempt for labor and for poverty is inseparably connected. Where society is thus divided into classes by hereditary distinctions--one class created to possess, to enjoy, to to be honored, and another class destined to obtain by subsistence, or in more fortunate instances a competency,--labor is of course dishonored. There those who are born to labor feel that their lot is degradation, then are made to feel it by all the arrangements of society. Human nature every where, and under all political instructions is prone enough to despise labor, and to honor as the favorites of fortune or of Providence those who have nothing t o do; but in the state of society of which we are speaking that propensity instead of being counteracted, as the author of our nature designed it should be, is pampered to a monstrous growth. Man was made for employment, made to provide for himself, and to enjoy what he has the more for its being the fruit of his industry; and that constitution of society only is in accordance with the constitution of individual man, in which each individual has cope for the exercise of his powers, and is stimulated to a wholesome activity. Society is not yet so constituted in the old world; though by successive changes it is continually approximating towards such a constitution. Meanwhile the old contempt for labor remains, acting and re-acting between the two great classes into which society is divided,--the mere consumers despising the producers, and the producers therefore despising themselves,--the unproductive consumers blessing themselves as the favorites of heaven, and the producers, on the other hand, envying the consumers and ever learning to hate them.
In our own country, different sorts of labor are of course held in different degrees of honor. Those employments which require high intellectual and moral qualifications, cannot but be regarded among us as more honorable than mere drudgery; for it is naturally presumed that the man is furnished with those personal qualities which are necessary in his employment. Still, with us, no sort of honest labor is dishonorable. Our country has thousands of legislators and magistrates who cultivate their own acres with their own hands, and who think none the less of themselves on that account, and are none the less thought of by their fellow citizens. But under other systems, the different of labor, instead of being more or less honorable are only more or less dishonorable. Where the highest class is supposed to find its honor and its felicity in doing , there the necessity of earning one's bread in order to eat it, is a dishonor, a mark of inferiority; and each particular kind of labor is higher or lower on the scale of respectability, not in proportion to the demand which it makes for a higher or lower order of qualifications, but in proportion as it brings men nearer to the level, and secures for them the patronage or the deference, of the unlaboring aristocracy. Even in the middle ages the man of science or of letters, the physician, the learned clerk, the skilful artizan, could from peer and king something of the respect due to intellectual and personal superiority, but still the superiority of knowledge and of virtue, was as nothing before the greatness of hereditary wealth and power. As civilization advances, the aristocratic class becomes more educated, and seeks to ally itself more closely with the intellectual class. Thus the dignity of idleness is placed side by side with the dignity of intellectual power, till by degrees men begin to see the difference. And while idleness is thus insensibly losing its exclusive honors, industry itself begins to be delivered from its reproach; for knowledge is continually spreading wider and lower among the laboring classes; and political power is passing, sometimes by gradual reform, and by the convulsive shock of revolution, from the few to the many. But ages must yet elapse before the effects of the old order of things shall be effaced from the manners and from the opinions and feelings of the whole people.
I have not forgotten that there are causes at work in our own country, to degrade the true nobility of labor. I have not forgotten the ambition of some to import the ideas and the ape the habits of European life. This however, though aided by the constant circulation of English "tales of fashionable life," and of other things in the same style, can have but little efficacy in counteracting the tendency of the facts of our condition. The fact that here the cultivation of the soil are the lords of the soil, will stand in spite of Blackwood's Magazine and Bulwer's novels, and in of the endeavors of here and there a rich man to make himself unhappy by living in the state and pomp of aristocratic laziness. And so in spite of all such influences , the fact stand, that here all political power is in the hands of those who live by industry; and that other fact that the few who can live without labor are too few and too scattered to constitute a class, and that of them not one in five is willing to live without some active and useful employment. Nor have I forgotten that, by a mournful anomaly in the political organization of some portions of our country--an anomaly contradictory of all the principles and tendencies of the American civilization--labor is, in those localities, dishonorable; and if I were compelled to believe that such an anomaly will be permanent upon the American soil, outliving or subduing the various influences with which it is at war, I never should have thought of speculating, but with shame, the probable character and functions of American literature. That anomaly must pass away; or all that brightens and adorns this land with the promise of a new era of freedom for mankind, must perish before it, and society itself must be constructed upon other principles than those which are now recognized as its foundation,--yes, upon principles more preposterous than monarchy, and more barbarous than feudalism. The American structure of society must predominate here to the exclusion of every hostile element, or its very foundations must be subverted. The soil of freedom must be cultivated by the hands of freemen, or the time will come when from each traditionary hill, and from each sacred battle field, the voices of the guardian genii, will be heard in times of grief, "Let us depart." Where is the man, calling himself an American, who does not in his heart believe that this dark anomaly will pass away; and that the time will come when no spot in our vast union shall be profaned by a fettered step, or by the stroke of an unwilling hand, but every where jocund labor shall look up to heaven in the nobleness of perfect freedom.
The feudal sentiment of honor, has had great influence on the literature of Europe from the romantic ages to this hour. Ancient literature bears no trace of such a sentiment. The sense of right and wrong, the love of reputation, and a quick to the good or ill esteem of others, are common to mankind, and are most developed where human nature is most elevated by intellectual and moral culture; but the feudal sentiment of honor, which tinges all modern literature, is something different from these. What is called the law of honor, is the most distinct and tangible manifestation of the feudal sentiment which has produced it. You could not make Cicero, or Cæsar, or Brutus, or Mark Antony, or the heroic Scipio understand the law of honor, even in its first principle--you could not make Pericles, or with his "two immortal daughters," or Achilles , understand it--any more than you could make Moses or Abraham understand it. It is a code made not for men as men, nor for men as citizens, nor for men as fathers, husbands, brothers, neighbors, friends; it is a code for gentlemen only, for men of birth, men of a certain feudal if peasants or mechanics undertake to apply it, they only make themselves objects of ridicule. The sentiment of , as embodied in the law or honor, is not simply the feeling which revolts from doing what the wise and the good disapprove; a man may be covered thick with vices, he may be a drunkard, he may be a gambler, he may be a brawler in the streets, and the disturber of a congregation met for peaceful worship, he may abuse the wife of his bosom, he may be the seducer and betrayer of female innocence, he may be a murderer, and still be a flourishing specimen of the sentiment of honor; for none of these things prove him to be a churl, a peasant, a base mechanic--none of them are inconsistent with his gentle birth and nurture. The sentiment of honor, as embodied in the law of honor, is not simply the fierce impulse of revenge for injuries,--of injuries as such t takes no direct cognizanceit is the state of mind which feels a particular sort of from a particular sort of insulter, with a morbid sensitiveness, and which seeks to wipe away that insult not by mere vengeance, but by vengeance obtained through a particular process--a process the absurdity of which, as estimated by any rule of reason, or by any unsophisticated human feeling is beyond expression. This is feudal honor, an conventional sentiment appropriated to a particular high-bred class, and which the peasantry, the vulgar, have a right to be acquainted with. Such a sentiment could not have originated under any system but tht of the middle ages; it cannot be perpetuated in a community, where all are politically equal, and where all the institutions of some tend to make the man more honorable than the gentleman.
You need not tell me that the law of honor reigns a bloody sway in some parts of our country. I know ?? and every man knows that if you inclose in lines upon the map of the United States, that region where a code of honor is recognised, you enclose just that region in which American institutions and American principles have not yet done their work. I mean nothing which ought to offend ?? man's honest sensibilities; for where are we to look for the true operation, the demonstrated tendency of the American structure of society? In one part of the country this peculiar structure of society, built on the theory of equal rights, has existed without material change for more than two centuries. In other part of the country, the present order of things, so far as it is the same, dates no farther back, at the farthest, than the Declaration of Independence, and began even that amid embarrassments and counteracting influences which have not yet been removed. Where shall we look to ascertain the real tendency of the American civilization? At Plymouth? Or at Pensacola? I do not say that the man of Pensacola is to be blamed, or the man of Plymouth to be lauded, for the difference. They stand at two different , on the broad stream of history. Travel over all those parts of the country, where the counties are divided into towns, and the towns into school districts, each town and each school district managing its own affairs; and where the soil, meted out into farms, is cultivated by the hands of its possessors; and where the votes that determine who shall be selectmen, and who shall go to Congress, and who shall be governor, are deposited in the ballot boxes by the hard huge hands of those who til the ground or strike ?? the anvil--in this organization you will see the American order of things. Tell me whether the law of feudal honor can be anything but a perishing exotic, under such institutions.
For these sentiments, then, which originated in the feudal structure of society, and which give a peculiar coloring to all the literature of Europe, there will ultimately be no place in the American character, and therefore there will be no place for them in the literature of the American people when once it shall have been formed in harmony with that character and shall re-act upon it for salutary ends. In this country, above all others, "the age of chivalry is gone;" and the age of the people has succeeded, the age of utility and justice, of common rights and common sense. Literature, among us, must speak with a different tone from that which she learned at feudal courts and tournaments, or she will ever seem to speak with an ungraceful, because outlandish accent.
It is still more obvious that our literature whenever it shall meet our actual sentiments and wants as a people, must be in the illustration of certain civic and social virtues, ?? which there was but little scope under the now institutions of Europe. To explain what I mean by this position, let me just name to you some of the virtues which are essential to the well-working of such institutions as ours, and which may naturally be looked for under such , but which are hardly expected to exist in other ?? of society.
Patriotism, then, is the most obvious of these virtues, not the mere sentiment of attachment to one's native soil, but the intelligent and hearty love of country, prompting to thought and effort for the country's welfare. This is the virtue of a freeman. Who expects the slave to love the country which will not own him for a man? The see trodden into the soil, with nothing to lose or to gain by the vicissitudes of empire--who expects him to care for any interest out of his won cabin? Patriotism is the virtue of a citizen, a member of the commonwealth, not of a mere subject. The whole political duty of a mere subject, whether under a monarchy or an oligarchy, is summed up on silent obedience. Where society is divided into orders, patriotism in the lower orders is a dangerous affair--dangerous to themselves--dangerous to the state,--eminently dangerous to the established system. Hence though Europe has had patriot kings, and patriot nobles and statesmen; we hear of a patriot peasantry there, only in connection with tumult and arms. Patriotism among the people, is, in the old world, another name for revolution; the faintest whisper of it "with fear of change perplexes monarchs." But with us, patriotism is an every day for every man. Every man, not dead to virtue, loves his country with a manly affection--thinks, reasons, inquiries, are for his country's welfare. He loves his country as the virtuous sovereign loves his kingdom, because it is his own, because his destinies are in a degree entrusted to his hands. His pride of ancestry, is not that he is born of better blood than his countrymen, but that he is born of the same blood with the men of "the heroic age," the men of Bunkerhill, of Bennington, and of Yorktown. His hopes, too, for his posterity, are all patriotic, not personal. His hopes for them are identical with his hopes for his country. That strong impulse which leads all men to care for their posterity in coming ages, leads him to care that these equal laws, well ordered liberty, this universal diffusion of knowledge, these purifying and sustaining influences of Christian truth may be perpetual.
A peculiar regard for law is another republican virtue. In Europe there is a reverence for power, which obedience to the expression of the sovereign will. The government there is a great power, and the people are subjects. Crimes are offences not against the people, but against this great power at the metropolis. When a crime has been committed, popular sympathy, if awakened, is as likely to take the part of the criminal as of the law. The whole affair, from the commission of the crime to the of the penalty, is a sort of conflict between the offender and the government, in which the spectators have little concern except as they naturally feel some compassion for the weaker party. How different is it where the government ?? the organ, and the law the expression, of the popular reason and the popular will. Ever citizen has an interest in the law and in the administration of it; and the consequence is that when a crime has been committed, every citizen feels it as a wrong done to himself, every eye is awake to discover the criminal, and every hand is ready to aid in him. Now and then there is indeed there is indeed--though less frequently than in other countries--some outbreak of popular There is a riot in the streets of some city, or a piece of mischief by the lewd fellows of the baser sort in some village--such as in old England would hardly noticed as any thing extraordinary. At once a thousand cry out, that the laws are dishonored, and the ark of freedom is taken. Some petty offence, through the delin of a petty magistrate, or some graver crime, through the perverseness of a jury, escapes due retribution and at once a thousand voices are lifted up in solemn indignation. It is our national sensitiveness to the sacred dignity of law, our deep conviction of the indispensableness of law to freedom, which makes us so ready, on every occasion, to tremble our freedom end in anarchy. It is a salutary fear, and whenever and wherever the public mind is unconscious of that fear, then and there, is danger for our country.
Public spirit is another of these publican virtues. This is a sort of local patriotism. It is the spirit which moves the inhabitants of a town or city, a particular district or locality, ?? plans and efforts for their own common good. It provides the city with commodious avenues, with public squares and walks and groves. It endows institutions for the promotion of knowledge, the library, the lyceum, the university. It decorates the place with stately edifices for public use,--churches, school-houses, halls of justice. It raises the spire, the monumental column, the honorary statue. It pours along the crowded haunts of human life pure water from the mountains, a stream of health and comfort. So in a village, it keeps the rural sanctuary and school-house neat and trim. It encloses the green with its white railing. It roots out the from the place of graves, and plants the trees that are to throw their solemn shade upon that tranquil spot. It asserts itself to keep the highways and bridges in repair, and to have good schools for all the children. In a larger district it operates on similar objects. It marks out those lines of communication which shall make intercourse most easy and rapid. Here it opens a new road, or straightens an old one there, it connects rivers by a canal; and o another line, it constructs a railway. Here it sets up an academy; there it builds a college. Public spirit is at work with various degrees of vigor, of wisdom and of steadiness, all over the country, for all sorts of objects. The structure of society takes it for granted that there will be public spirit every where, and every where it is infusing public spirit into the popular mind. The people are all trained to the habit of taking care for their own common concerns. Not only the nation collectively, and each state separately, but each county, each town, each school district, is to provide for its own common interests. In what country upon earth can you find so many myriads of minds continually on the to see how the public may be better accommodated!
If I may be allowed to name another of the civic virtues necessary to the well being of our form of society, it is frugality and simplicity of manners. In all counties republican, the government is of course confounded with the individuals who administer it, or rather those individuals the government. All the magnificence of the state is simply the personal magnificence of the sovereign. The sovereign is to be magnificent in all his expenditures. Frugality is a king--simplicity of style and manners in a king--it is not respectable. The palace must glitter with gold, and the crown must flash with gems, or the whole concern is shabby. Personal magnificence then being necessary for the sovereign, it is of course necessary in its degree for those highest orders in society who approach the throne in station and power. Besides, in that unnatural distribution of wealth which characterizes al European countries, frugality and simplicity of manners, however necessary and becoming to the poor, is a very doubtful virtue in the aristocracy. In addition to its being vulgar, it is of doubtful popularity. aristocracy are the spending class, one of their functions is to spend what the toil of the peasantry produces; and ought not they to spend profusely? With us, on the other hand, none but a fool, or one whose head is turned by too sudden or too high an elevation, can confound the government with the men who administer it. Here the magnificence of the great federal republic is one thing, and the magnificence of the great men of the republic is another thing. The capitol, the public offices, the national ships, the arsenals, the custom homes in great cities--let them be magnificent; they belong to the Union, and the magnificence of the Union is becoming. But the personal magnificence of the President, and of those who aspire to the Presidency--the personal equipage, the and pomp of senators and heads of departments and executive functionaries,--is entirely out of keeping, and the good sense of the people revolts at it. That functionary with millions of the public treasure, whose legal invenues from his office, might with frugality and simplicity, endow him with the power of becoming an honored and hapy benefactor of his country, if he undertakes to be magnificent,--becomes a defaulter, and flees from his country's wrath into infamous exile. That statesman who forgetting such models as Franklin and Sherman is touched with the vulgar ambition of princely style and splendor, will find that the American revenue is equal to such ambition; and however illustrious he may be with the gifts of nature and the fruits of his own studious toil, though his eloquence transcend the fame of Tully and rival that of Demosthenes, though he be the glory of the forum and of the senate, and applauding thousands catch each echo of his voice, he will find in time that to squander with princely magnificence, is to lose the highest favor, not of the rabble, but of the people.
Here then you see in part what American literature must ??? its character and in its functions, whenever it shall be ??? American. It must be marked with the impress, and alive with the spirit, of these manly republican virtues. One of its great duties must be to cherish such virtues, to keep them alive and active in the popular mind, that they may grow with the nation's growth, and strengthen themselves from age to age, the ever brightening tokens of the nation's immortality.
Another sort of influence, peculiar as yet in a great degree to our own country, will have much to do in determining both the proper character and the proper functions of our national literature. In other ages and lands, the man of ?? has had his patrons, in whose favor he has lived, and whom his grateful verse or prose has immortalized. Literature has been for a particular class--for the imperial Augustus, for the munificent Pollio, for the noble Mecænas atavis editus regibus. Here on the other hand, if it becomes really national, it will be not for a noble class, not for a reigning class, but for the one class, the people. When the American system of society shall have been perfected, and the whole population shall have been trained under its influences, the whole population will be a reading population--a population to be moved and charmed by poetry, to be enlightened and elevated by history, to be taught, argued with, persuaded, respecting their interests, their rights, and their duties. Then how many millions upon millions of readers will constitute that public to which American literature shall address itself. Perhaps, in this great throng today, there is the poet-boy, "mute and inglorious" as yet, when, like Milton, "long choosing and beginning late," shall by and by utter those words of living song which shall at once be echoed from the waters of the Oregon, and who in a green old age shall be crowned with the laurel offered in the acclamations of more than forty millions of his countrymen. What will that literature be which shall teach the hearts, and sway the minds of such a public? Will it have anything in it, of the nature of intellectual dandyism? Will it have any affinity with that which seeks the exclusive patronage of an imaginary higher class, the courtly, the idle, the fashionable, the first circles? Would you see some intimation of what it is likely to be? Look not for those books which are printed only to be bound in satin covers, and to lie with undimned get edges upon the tables of marble and rose-wood, but for those which naturally make their way every where alike, and which are not only talked of in circle of literary but are read without criticism at the farmer's kitchen fireside. Where will you not find that book about the "Red Poor Man" and "Uncle Phil," and the meek sufferer Charlotte--thumbed, worn, blistered perhaps with natural tears.
One glance at another view of our subject, and I have done. Can there be a truly American literature which shall not be eminently controlled and enlivened by the spirit of the Christian religion? Some superficial observers have an idea that the tendencies of our system of system of society are all irreligion, to unmingled worldliness, to blank infidelity. Elsewhere, the existing forms and institutions of religion are in close alliance with the existing forms of government; and consequently, just as fast and as far as the public mind moves towards political revolution, there is danger of its casting away, not only religious corruptions and abuses, but the very name of Christianity. The inference has been hastily made, that here, where a new organization of society is in full , religious faith must of course have ceased to be an element in society. English tories and English radicals, with opposite motives, are apt to concur in the hasty conclusion. And some unthinking, unobserving minds on this side of the Atlantic, themselves unconscious of the expansive and ennobling power of Christian truth, seem really to have taken it for granted that religion is no part of the American character; that faith in God and in the retributions of the eternal state, faith in the Bible, and faith in Jesus Christ, are never to be spoken of, except as they occur in certain decent forms and observances, and never to be thought of, except perhaps at a funeral. Is that so? Because we have no hierarchy allied with a might aristocracy, and both supporting the throne that supports them--because worship and religious instruction are not regulated by the government--have we therefore ceased to be a Christian people? That philosophic traveller, whose work on "the Democracy in America," is the ablest exposition of the American civilization, ever produced by a foreigner--perhaps I ought to add, abler than any that has yet been produced from among --carried back to the old world no such report. His deliberate testimony is, "There is no country in the whole world, in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and," he adds like a true philosopher, "there can be no greater proof of its ?? ad of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth." "If any hold," says he, "that the religious spirit which I admire, is the very most amiss in America, and that the only element to the freedom and happiness of the human race is to believe in some blind cosmogomy or to assert with Cabanis the secretion of thought by the brain, I can only reply that those who hold this language have never been in America, and that they have never seen a religious or a free ???. When they return from their expedition we shall hear what they have to say." "How is it possible," he exclaims, "that society should escape destruction, if the moral ?? be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? and what can be done with a people which is ?? own master, if it be not submissive to the Divinity?"
Is not this a true report? Is not religion, the religion of the Christian Scriptures, one of the grand elements in the character of the American people?--nay is it not the first of the constituent forces of the American civilization? How can it be otherwise? Is not our whole history brightened with peculiar and glorious manifestations of the power of religious faith? Can the American people case away their Christian faith, without tearing themselves from the past and dishonoring the past, and dishonoring all that endears and hallows the names of their own ancestry? Is religion with us a mere dying tradition--a merely lingering respect for ancient forms and prejudices? What! when of all the reading of the people three-fourths is purely religious!--when of all the issues from the press, three-fourths are theological, ethical, and devotional--when the spontaneous offerings of the people are planting churches, and rearing temples, and training an educated clergy, and endowing and multiplying seats of Christian learning, and putting the Bible into every family, faster than could be done by the utmost exertion of imperial power--when the American people are at this moment pursuing the enterprise of spreading Christianity through the world with a zeal less blazing indeed than that of the crusades, but more inflexibly determined, because more deliberate, more enlightened, and more conscientious!--when on every side it is conceded and reiterated that moral force, not physical, must guard us against ruin; that sound moral influences, religious affections and sympathies, confidence in God, and the sense of Divine accountability, diffused through the nation, must be our only safety! No!
"The pilgrim spirit is not dead,
It walks in the noon's broad light,
And it watches the bed of the glorious dead,
With the holy stars at night."
Can there be, then, a literature truly and thoroughly American, which shall not be as thoroughly Christian? How can it be national, unless it shall proceed from the religious soul of the nation, and shall breathe the pure of Christian faith? It must ever drink not of any fabled fountain of merely early inspiration, but of
"Siloa's brook that flows
Fast by the oracle of God."
What then is the conclusion of the whole matter?
First, American literature will never be formed by the mere imitation of English models. Those who are ambitious to please and instruct their countrymen by writings which their countrymen shall honor, will never succeed by trying to catch the tone and ape the manner of English fugitive literature. If our countrymen want English literature, it is cheaper, easier, and in every respect a far batter bargain, to get the original article than to get the imitaiton.
Next, a truly American literature will never be created, literature ceases to be a merely elegant amusement, and addresses itself in earnest to the subjects that take strong hold of the interests and affections of the American people. I have heard of a parish somewhere, who were delighted with their minister, and though him the most unexceptionable man in the world, because, as they said, he never introduced into his discourses either politics or religion. Literature framed upon such a principle, will always be despised by a free, a grave, and active nation.
My last word is, that America literature must be the product of free, enlightened, honest minds, kindling with the spontaneous fires of genius and of love. Affectation of sentiment is as powerless as the affectation of genius. Writers destitute of religious sentiment at their hear, but affecting into their works the sentiment of Christian faith out of deference to public opinion, will never strike that chord in the hearts of the people which vibrates to the touch of truth. So the affectation of Americanism--and above all the affectation of hyper-democracy--will ever overshoot its mark, exposing its own unworthiness. The affectation of whatever sentiment, religious or political, is a base and slavery of the soul. Let the young scholar, then, whose mind is fired with the hope of by and by delighting and instructing his countrymen, beware of affectation. Remember, he who speaks to a free people must himself be free--free within--conscious himself, and making others conscious, that his emotions and his faculties are all his own.