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Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 3: the third and fourth generation (search)
o its moral beauty, its fine severity, he was wholly blind. As a boy he thriftily sold his Pilgrim's progress. He became, in the new fashion of that day, a Deist. Like a true child of the eighteenth century, his attitude toward the seventeenth was that of amused or contemptuous superiority. Thackeray has somewhere a charming phrase about his own love for the back seat of the stage-coach, the seat which, in the old coaching days, gave one a view of the receding landscape. Thackeray, like Burke before him, loved historical associations, historical sentiment, the backward look over the long road which humanity has traveled. But Franklin faced the other way. He would have endorsed his friend Jefferson's scornful sentence, The dead have no rights. He joined himself wholly to that eighteenth century in which his own lot was cast, and, alike in his qualities and in his defects, he became one of its most perfect representatives. To catch the full spirit of that age, turn for an inst
ity of our post-Revolutionary American political writing, broadly social in its outlook, well informed as to the past, confident — but not reckless — of the future. Many Americans still read it who would be shocked by Tom Paine and bored with Edmund Burke. It has none of the literary genius of either of those writers, but its formative influence upon successive generations of political thinking has been steadying and sound. In fact, our citizen literature cannot be understood aright if one hese two tendencies. He took his seat in the Continental Congress in June, 1775. He was only thirty-two, but he had already written, in the summer of 1774, A summary view of the Rights of British America which had been published in England by Burke, himself a judge of good writing and sound politics. Jefferson had also prepared in 1775 the Address of the Virginia House of Burgesses. For these reasons he was placed at the head of the Committee for drafting the Declaration of Independence.
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 7: romance, poetry, and history (search)
e sacrifice was very real to a youth trained in quietism and non-resistance, and well aware, as a Whig journalist, of the ostracism visited upon the active Abolitionists. Whittier entered the fight with absolute courage and with the shrewdest practical judgment of weapons and tactics. He forgot himself. He turned aside from those pleasant fields of New England legend and history to which he was destined to return after his warfare was accomplished. He had read the prose of Milton and of Burke. He perceived that negro emancipation in the United States was only a single and immediate phase of a universal movement of liberalism. The thought kindled his imagination. He wrote, at white heat, political and social verse that glowed with humanitarian passion: lyrics in praise of fellow-workers, salutes to the dead, campaign songs, hymns, satires against the clergy and the capitalists, superb sectional poems like Massachusetts to Virginia, and, more nobly still, poems embodying what Wo