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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
rol 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 of time for a man who could read Greek to read their writings. On Sunday he turned to the Septuagint and the New Testament. From his three years course of authors he never deviated; when they were ended, he began again. The only exception was Homer, whose works were read every year during a summer vacation of a month at the sea-shore,--the proper place to read Homer, he said. I read a book of the Iliad every day before dinner, and a book of t
ssess. It is often 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
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
Thackeray (search for this): chapter 1
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 or spasm, bu
Sophocles (search for this): chapter 1
iting 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 should not be Greek. And, indeed, when one considers the mere vehicle, the language itself, one must remember that there is no more possibility of arbitrary choice in languages than in stone
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
lves, 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 of time for a m
to hear described, outside of America; and a few wandering lecturers on geology still haunt the field, their discourses being almost coeval with their specimens. Emerson still makes his stately tour, through wondering Western towns, where an enterprising public spirit sometimes, it is said, plans a dance for the same evening in ths with which their names suggest themselves shows how exceptional they are. They represent no considerable literary class, scarcely even a cultivated class. Till Emerson came, we were essentially provincial in the tone of our thought; provincial in attainments we still are. One rarely sees in America, outside the professions, a mato 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 super
Talleyrand (search for this): chapter 1
t only no such penalties among us, but there are no such opportunities. Yet in Athens — with its twenty thousand statues, with the tragedies of Aeschylus performed for civic prizes, and the histories of Herodotus read at the public games — a boy 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 mon
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