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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
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
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.
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
an 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 faHomer 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 cn 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 nevated; 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 the Odysseyd palaces, to him who had all Aeschylus for a winter residence, and Homer for the seaside! And a culture which seems remotest from practicals been fed by a myriad minds unseen. Why ask whether there was one Homer or a hundred? The hundred contributed their lives, their hopes, th
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
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 an
ich we possess. 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
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
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