The external changes were familiar enough to Webster
's auditors: the opening of seemingly illimitable territory through the Louisiana Purchase
, the development of roads, canals, and manufactures; a rapid increase in wealth and population; a shifting of political power due to the rise of the new West--in a word, the evidences of irrepressible national energy.
But this energy was inadequately expressed by the national literature.
The more cultivated Americans
were quite aware of this deficiency.
It was confessed by the pessimistic Fisher Ames
and by the ardent young men who in 1815 founded The North American review
British critics in The Edinburgh
and The Quarterly
, commenting upon recent works of travel in America
, pointed out the literary poverty of the American
, by no means the most offensive of these critics, declared in 1820: “During the thirty or forty years of their independence they have done absolutely nothing for the sciences, for the arts, for literature. ... In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book?
or goes to an American play?
or looks at an American picture or statue?”
's question “Who reads an American book?”
has outlived all of his own clever