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Shakespeare (search for this): chapter 1
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 with years. Between Shakespeare in his cradle and Shakespeare in Hamlet there was needed but an interval of time, and the same sublime condition is all that lies between the America of toil and the America of art. 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 with years. Between Shakespeare in his cradle and Shakespeare in Hamlet there was needed but an interval of time, and the same sublime condition is all that lies between the America of toil and the America of art.
Aeschylus (search for this): chapter 1
t it was, but how harmlessly and how happily! What pure delight, what freedom from perturbation and care, when a dictionary and a dozen books furnished luxury for a lifetime! What were wealth and fame, peerages and palaces, to him who had all Aeschylus for a winter residence, and Homer for the seaside! And a culture which seems remotest from practical ends may not only thus furnish exhaustless intellectual enjoyment, but may educate one's aesthetic perceptions to the very highest point. Bsmall comrades disapproved his political sentiments. For higher intellectual pursuits there are not 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 desira
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 other. Every America
Theodore Parker (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 sometal 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
asm, 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 which anybody in the land knows, and then the various departments will rest upon their own merits, and s
Americans (search for this): chapter 1
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, the three rainy days in the four weeks when I cannot take a walk. It is hard to imagine a life which would seem to most Americans more utterly misspent than this. Misspent it was, but how harmlessly and how happily! What pure delight, what freedom reached Europe,--there is certainly now no danger that public life will not have sufficient attractions for cultivated Americans. There is more danger that it will absorb them too much. Why should we insist, like Nick Bottom the weaver, on playinhas 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, i
Herodotus (search for this): chapter 1
to have mature convictions before he is fourteen. In the height of the last Presidential contest, a little boy was hung out of a school window by his heels, within my knowledge, because his small comrades disapproved his political sentiments. For higher intellectual pursuits there are not 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 c
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.
Bayard Taylor (search for this): chapter 1
least in our larger cities. These are gains, to be balanced by a few losses. For instance, an institution which was once more potent than all of these for the intellectual training of the adult American has almost ceased to exist in 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 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 the same hall,--Tickets to lecture and ball on
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
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