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hen 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, but only by accepting the essential laws of art, which are the same for the whole human race. Any misconceived patronage — to call anything
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
n 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, with but little
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
se who give their lives to the intellectual service of America, but 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
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,
aders 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 other. Ever
ne man can do everything. There are a thousand rough-hewn brains which can well perform the plain work which American statesmanship now demands, without calling on the artist to cut blocks with his razor. His shrinking is not cowardice; this relief from glaring publicity is the natural condition under which works of art mature. The crystal forms by its own laws, and the granite by its own. Yet moments constantly occur to the American student, when he has to bind himself to the mast, like Farragut, to resist the dazzling temptations of paths alien to his own. What is art, what is beauty (he is tempted to say), beside the magnificent utilities of American life,--the work of distributing over a continent the varied treasures already gained? Why hold against the current, when even one's prospects of immediate usefulness lie with the current, and even conscience joins, half shrinking, to lure him from his plighted faith? In Europe art is a career, the greatest and most permanent career
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
istribution 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, with but little culture; and
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