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Jean Paul (search for this): chapter 1
not depend even upon the distribution of elementary knowledge, but upon the high-water mark of its educated mind. Before the permanent tribunal, copyists and popularizers count for nothing, and even the statistics of common schools are of secondary value. So long as the sources of art and science are mainly Transatlantic, we are still a province, not a nation. For these are the highest pursuits of man, -higher than trades or professions, higher than statesmanship, far higher than war. Jean Paul said: Schiller and Herder were both destined for physicians, but Providence said, No, there are deeper wounds than those of the body,--and so they both became authors. It is observable that in English books and magazines everything seems written for some limited circle,--tales for those who can use French phrases, essays for those who can understand a Latin quotation. But every American writer must address himself to a vast audience, possessing the greatest quickness and common-sense,
t there is no cause for fear. If we can only avoid incorporating superficiality into our institutions, literature will come when all is ready, and when it comes will be of the best. It is not enough to make England or France our standard. There is something in the present atmosphere of England which seems fatal to purely literary genius: its fruits do not mature and mellow, but grow more and more acid until they drop. Give Ruskin space enough, and he grows frantic and beats the air like Carlyle. Thackeray was tinged with the same bitterness, but he was the last Englishman who could be said, in any artistic sense, to have a style; as Heine was the last German. The French seems the only prose literature of the present day in which the element of form has any prominent place; and literature in France is after all but a favored slave. This surely leaves a clear field for America. But it is peculiarly important for us to remember that we can make no progress through affectation o
en are rarely isolated mountain-peaks; they are the summits of ranges. The thought of a century seems to posterity to have been intrusted to very few minds, but those minds have always been fed by a myriad minds unseen. Why ask whether there was one Homer or a hundred? The hundred contributed their lives, their hopes, their passions, their despairs, to enrich the one. Genius is lonely without the surrounding presence of a people to inspire it. How sad seems the intellectual isolation of Voltaire with his Le peuple n'est rien. To have loved America is a liberal education. Let the student think with reverence of the value of this great race to him, and of his possible worth to it, though his very name be forgotten. Every act of his may be a solid contribution towards a nation's training. But as the value of a nation to the human race does not depend upon its wealth or numbers, so it does not depend even upon the distribution of elementary knowledge, but upon the high-water mark
Horace Mann (search for this): chapter 1
y popular course are simply stump-speeches, more or less eloquent; and though some moral enlightenment may come from this change of diet, yet to science and art it is a loss. Take away the Lowell and the Cooper Institutes, and all our progress in wealth has secured for the public no increase of purely intellectual culture through lectures. Now there are two aspects to all material successes. They are sublime or base only as they prepare the way for higher triumphs, or displace them. Horace Mann lamented that in European exhibitions the fine arts were always assigned a more conspicuous place than the useful arts. Theodore Parker complained that in Rome the studios were better than the carpenters' shops. Both exulted in the thought that in America these things were better ordered; and both therein approached the verge of concessions which would sacrifice the noblest aims of man. For carpentry and upholstery, good as a beginning, are despicable as an ending. What cultivated pers
its original form. The engrossing excitement of public affairs has nearly abolished the old Lyceum, and put a political orator in the lecturer's place. Science and art have long ceased to be the most available subjects for a popular lecture. Agassiz and Bayard Taylor, by dint of exceedingly rapid and continuous travelling, can still find a few regions which Americans will consent to hear described, outside of America; and a few wandering lecturers on geology still haunt the field, their dis often be exaggerated in quantity, no doubt, but in its quality was always honorable. The community seeks wealth, but it knows how to respect its public men who are poor through honesty, or its scholars who are poor for the sake of knowledge. Agassiz never said anything which more endeared him to the mass of his adopted fellow-countrymen, than when he declined a profitable lecturing engagement on the ground that he had no time to make money. Such a community is at least building the nurse
Nathaniel Hawthorne (search for this): chapter 1
accept a low standard of execution, to substitute artifice for art, and to disregard the more permanent verdict of more fastidious tribunals. The richest thought and the finest literary handling which America has yet produced — as of Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau — reached at first but a small audience, and are but very gradually attaining a wider hold. Renan has said that every man's work is superficial, until he has learned to content himself with the approbation of a few. This is only otion, and bids art live. Rouge gagne. If the romance of life does not assert itself in safe and innocent ways, it finds its outlet with fatal certainty in guilt; as we see colorless Puritanism touched with scarlet splendor through the glass of Hawthorne. Every form of human life is romantic; every age may become classic. Lamentations, doubts, discouragements, all are wasted things. Everything is here, between these Atlantic and Pacific shores, save only the perfected utterance that comes wi
could no more grow up ignorant of art than he could here remain untrained in politics. When we are once convinced that this higher training is desirable, we shall begin to feel the worth of our accumulated wealth. That is true of wealth which Talleyrand said of wisdom,--everybody is richer than anybody. The richest man in the world cannot afford the parks, the edifices, the galleries, the libraries, that this community can have for itself, whenever it chooses to create them. The Central Park in New York, the Public Library at Boston, the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Cambridge,--these are steps toward a more than Athenian culture. These institutions open their vast privileges, free from that sting of selfishness which the private monopolizer feels. Public enthusiasm is roused to sustain them, gifts flow in upon them, and they ennoble the common life around. It was claimed for Athens, that wealth could buy few facilities for culture which poverty did not also share. I take
merican life involves, has his own whim as to his imaginary employments in case illness or other interference should deny him even the action of the pen, and throw him entirely upon books. I can remember a time, for one, when the State prison would have looked rather alluring to me, if it had guaranteed a copy of the Mecanique Celeste, with full leisure to read it. But foremost among such fantastic attractions are those which obtained actual control over that English clerygyman, described in Hogg's Life of Shelley, who had for his one sole aim in existence the reiterated perusal of a three years course of Greek books. He had no family, almost no professional duties, a moderate income, and perfect health. He took his three meals a day and his two short walks; and all the rest of his waking hours, for thirty years, he gave to Greek. No; he read a newspaper once a week, and two or three times a year he read a few pages of Virgil and Cicero, just to satisfy himself that it was a waste
noticed that, while the leaders of public affairs in America are usually what are called self-made men, this is not the case with our literary leaders. Among first-class American writers, culture is usually in the second generation; they have usually tumbled about in a library, as Holmes says, in childhood; at all events, they are usually college-bred men. It has been remarked, for instance, that our eight foremost historians — assuming that this list comprises Prescott, Motley, Bancroft, Hildreth, Sparks, Ticknor, Palfrey, Parkman — were all college graduates, and indeed graduated at a single college. The choice of names may be open to question, but the general fact is undoubted. Now if it be true that there are fewer among us who rise from the ranks in literature than in politics, it seems not merely to indicate that literature, as being a finer product than statesmanship, implies more elaborate training; but also that our institutions guarantee such training in the one case, a
will go still further, and with especial reference to that which there is most disposition to banish from use, the Greek. It certainly is not a hasty or boyish judgment on my part, nor yet one in which pedantry or servility can have much to do, when I deliberately avow the belief that the Greek literature is still so entirely unequalled among the accumulated memorials of the world, that it seems to differ from all others in kind rather than in degree. In writing this, I am thinking less of Plato than of Homer, and not more of Homer than of the dramatic and lyric poets. So far from the knowledge of other literatures tending to depreciate the Greek, it seems to me that no one can adequately value this who has not come back to it after long study of the others. Ampere, that master of French prose, has hardly overstated the truth when he says that the man best versed in all other books must say, after all, in returning to a volume of Homer or Sophocles,--Here is beauty, true and sove
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