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[2] died before the outbreak of the great Civil War, which did so much to convince us, for a time at least, that we were a nation. Yet it was Washington Irving who wrote to John Lothrop Motley, in 1857, two years before his own death:—

‘You are properly sensible of the high calling of the American press, that rising tribunal before which the history of all nations is to be revised and rewritten, and the judgment of past ages to be corrected or confirmed.’1

The utmost claim of the most impassioned Fourth of July orator has never involved any declaration of literary independence to be compared with this deliberate utterance of the placid and world-experienced Irving. It was the fashion of earlier critics to pity him for having been born into a country without a past. This passage showed him to have rejoiced in being born into a country with a future. His ‘broad and eclectic genius,’ as Warner well calls it, was surely not given to bragging or to vagueness. He must have meant something by this daring statement. What did he mean?

1 July 17, 1857. Motley Correspondence, i. 203.

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