prodigies are born.
Admiration and patronage create myriads who struggle for the mastery, and for the olympick crown.
Encourage the game and the victors will come.”
In some measure, no doubt, Rip Van Winkle
, the Indian
romances of Cooper
, the philosophy of Emerson
, the novels of Hawthorne
, Miles Standish
, and Hiawatha
were responses to this encouragement of the game — to the nation's willing an expression of its new American consciousness.
Against the full rigour of the demand for an independent national literature there was, by the middle of the last century, a wholesome reaction represented in Rufus Wilmot Griswold
's introduction to his Prose writers of America
(1847). Since this old demand is still reasserted from year to year, it may not be amiss to reprint here Griswold
's admirable reply to it. “Some critics in England
,” he says, “expect us who write the same language, profess the same religion, and have in our intellectual firmament the same Bacon
, Sidney, and Locke
, the same Spenser
, and Milton
, to differ more from themselves than they differ from the Greeks and Romans, or from any of the modems.
This would be harmless, but that many persons in this country, whose thinking is done abroad, are constantly echoing it, and wasting their little productive energy in efforts to comply with the demand.
But there never was and never can be an exclusively national literature.
All nations are indebted to each other and to preceding ages for the means of advancement; and our own, which from our various origin may be said to be at the confluence of the rivers of time which have swept through every country, can with less justice than any other be looked to for mere novelties in art and fancy.
The question between us and other nations is not who shall most completely discard the Past
, but who shall make best use of it. It cannot be studied too deeply, for unless men know what has been accomplished, they will exhaust themselves in unfolding enigmas that have been solved, or in pursuing ignes fatui
that have already disappointed a thousand expectations.”
With more intelligent conceptions than many of his predecessors possessed of what constitutes a national literature, Griswold
was still a proud nationalist.
His valuable collections of American