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elief 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 sovereign; its like was never written among men,--Voila la beaute veritable et souveraine; jamais il ne s'est écrit rien de pareil chez les hommes. I do not see how there could possibly be a list of the dozen masterpieces of the world's literature, of which at least one half shoul
le 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, and not in the oth
go to sleep; he must write clearly, or they will cease to follow him; must keep clear of pedantry and unknown tongues, or they will turn to some one who can address them in English. On the other hand, these same conditions tempt one to 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 one half the truth; but it is the half which Americans find hardest to remember. Yet American literature, though its full harvest be postponed for another hundred years, is sure to come to ripeness at last. Our national development in this direction, though sl
d unknown tongues, or they will turn to some one who can address them in English. On the other hand, these same conditions tempt one to 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 one half the truth; but it is the half which Americans find hardest to remember. Yet American literature, though its full harvest be postponed for another hundred years, is sure to come to ripeness at last. Our national development in this direction, though slow, is perfectly healthy. There are many influences to retard, but none to distort. Even if the mo
Von Humboldt (search for this): chapter 1
ees of all others. The essential thing is, that we should recognize, as a nation, the value of all culture, and resolutely organize it into our institutions. As a stimulus to this we must constantly bear in mind, and cheerfully acknowledge, that American literature is not yet copious, American scholarship not profound, American society not highly intellectual, and the American style of execution, in all high arts, yet hasty and superficial. It is not true, as our plain-speaking friend Von Humboldt said, that the United States are a dead level of mediocrities ; but it is undoubtedly true that our brains as yet lie chiefly in our machine-shops. Make what apology we please for the defect, it still remains; while what the world asks of us is not excuses for failure, but facts of success. When Europe comes to America for culture, instead of America's thronging to Europe, the fact will publish itself and the discussion cease. There is no debate about our reapers and sewing-machines.
ome 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 person would not prefer poorer lodgings and better museums? I remember that, many years since, in a crowded country-house, I slept one night on the floor beneath Retzsch's copy of the Sistine Madonna,--then perhaps the loveliest work of art on this continent. As I lay and watched the silent moonbeams enter and rest upon the canvas, I felt that my share of the hospitality was, after all, the best. The couch might be comfortless, but the dreams were divine. It is such a hospitality that one wishes, after all, from the age in which he lives. Culture is the training and finishing of the whole man, until he sees physical demands to be merely secondary, and
Scotland (United Kingdom) (search for this): chapter 1
A plea for culture. Theodore Parker somewhere says (borrowing the phrase from what Dr. Johnson said of Scotland) that in America every one gets a mouthful of education, but scarcely any one a full meal. It is the defect of some of our recent debates on this subject, that, instead of remedying the starvation, the reformers propose to deduct from the dinner. The disputants appear to agree in the assumption that an average Senior Sophister is a plethoric monster of learning, and that something must be done to take him down. For this end, some plan to remove his Greek and Latin, others his German, others again his mathematics,--all assuming it as a thing not to be tolerated, that one small head should carry all he knows. Yet surely it needs but little actual observation of our college boys, in their more unguarded moments,--at the annual regatta, for instance, or among the young ladies on Class Day,--to mitigate these fears. The Class Orator does not always impress us with any
Department de Ville de Paris (France) (search for this): chapter 1
t least to secure for the poorest American opportunities such as no wealth could buy in Europe. It may take centuries to accomplish it, but it can be done. And it will not take so long as one might imagine. Although the great intellectual institutions of Europe are often nominally ancient, yet their effective life has been chiefly in the last few centuries. A hundred years ago, the British Museum and the Bodleian Library had each but about ten thousand volumes. The Imperial Library at Paris had then but fifty thousand, and the present century has added the most valuable half of its seven hundred thousand books. At the time of our Revolution, there were but three public galleries of art in Europe; and the Louvre, the chief attraction of the most attractive city of the world, is of later origin. One half of the leading German universities are younger than Harvard College. With the immense wealth accumulating in America, and the impulse inherent in democracies to identify one'
United States (United States) (search for this): chapter 1
tial thing is, that we should recognize, as a nation, the value of all culture, and resolutely organize it into our institutions. As a stimulus to this we must constantly bear in mind, and cheerfully acknowledge, that American literature is not yet copious, American scholarship not profound, American society not highly intellectual, and the American style of execution, in all high arts, yet hasty and superficial. It is not true, as our plain-speaking friend Von Humboldt said, that the United States are a dead level of mediocrities ; but it is undoubtedly true that our brains as yet lie chiefly in our machine-shops. Make what apology we please for the defect, it still remains; while what the world asks of us is not excuses for failure, but facts of success. When Europe comes to America for culture, instead of America's thronging to Europe, the fact will publish itself and the discussion cease. There is no debate about our reapers and sewing-machines. No candid person can compa
Ann Arbor (Michigan, United States) (search for this): chapter 1
should be some place in America where a young man may go and study anything that kindles his enthusiasm, and find there instrumentalities to help the flame. As it is now, the maximum range of study in most of our colleges leaves a young man simply with a good preparation for Germany, while the minimum leaves him very ill prepared for America. What we need is a university. Whether this is to be a new creation, or something reared on the foundations now laid at Cambridge, or New Haven, or Ann Arbor, is unimportant. Until we have it somewhere, our means of culture are still provincial. Grant this one assumption, that we need a university, and then almost all the recent discussions on the subject seem to be merely questions of detail. There is small difficulty about discipline or selection of studies, when an institution undertakes to deal with men, not children, and assumes that they have come to learn, and not to be feruled. Give young men the opportunity to study anything whic
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