« AnteriorContinua »
BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES OF THE AUTHORS,
SELECTIONS FROM THEIR WORKS.
ON THE PLAN OF THE AUTHOR'S "COMPENDIUM OF ENGLISH LITERATURE,”
"ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE NINETEENTH CENTURY."
CHARLES D. CLEVELAND.
E. C. & J. BIDDLE, No. 508 MINOR STREET,
(Between Market and Chestnut, and Fifth and Sixth Sts.)
in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the United States for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION.
SOON after the publication of my "English Literature of the Nineteenth Century,"-seven years ago, the publishers announced the present work; and in about a year after, nearly half of it was done. But I found that, with the arduous duties of my school, I was working too hard, and I therefore suspended my labors upon the book, and for four or five years (residing for a greater part of the time in the country) I wrote not a line for it. But as, in consequence of its early announcement, it was continually inquired for, I determined, a year ago, to complete the work as soon as I could, and as best I might be able. The result is now before the public. I have deemed it but simple justice to myself, as well as to my publishers, to state these facts, lest it might be supposed that I had been laboring upon my book for the whole seven years, thus raising expectations, as to the completeness and finish, which I fear the volume itself will not justify. Moreover, one who has an onerous scholastic charge might be supposed to have enough to employ his time, without engaging in such outside literary labors as seem more befitting the professed author. I say these things, not to deprecate criticism upon my work,-on the contrary, I cordially invite it, but as a partial apology for its deficiencies.
In the preparation of all works of this character, there are difficulties which those only who have been engaged in such labors can appreciate. But in this work the difficulties are peculiar: First, from the two questions that must, at the very outset, be answered:-What is American Literature? and, When does it begin? Second, from the vast amount of material to select from, at times absolutely overwhelming. And, third, from the impossibility of giving entire satisfaction either to living authors, or to the friends and kindred of those who are deceased.
Respecting the question, what is American Literature, I would remark that, in my view, it would be absurd to apply this term to the occasional and transient literary effusions which appeared on this side of the Atlantic for a century after the settlement of the country. Colonies of Great Britain, speaking the same language, governed by the same laws, manufacturing but little for ourselves, ut dependent on the mother country for a large portion of our
material comforts, it was natural for us to look to her also for our intellectual aliment. And we did so. Scarcely forty years ago, the "Edinburgh Review" thus wrote:-" Literature, the Americans have none; no native literature, we mean. * *But why should the Americans write books, when a six weeks' passage brings them, in their own tongue, our sense, science, and genius, in bales and hogsheads?" At this very plain language, which had a good deal of truth in it, we were much and very foolishly offended. We might have answered the reviewer, amply, thus :-" True, we have had as yet but little literature of our own. We have had a greater, a higher, a nobler work to do than to write books. We have had to found a great nation. A vast continent was before us to be subdued. The means whereby to live' were first to be provided. Dwellings were to be built; school-houses and church edifices were to be erected; literary, scientific, and religious educational institutions were to be founded; and then, in the natural course of things, would come forth and be embodied the creations of the intellect, the fancy, and the imagination. In short, instead of writing any great work, we were acting a still greater one. We were creating those very subjects upon which the future historian, traveller, essayist, poet, might employ his pen for the delight and instruction of other generations." Such might have been our answer; and who would not have acknowledged its conclusiveness?
But as soon as our "gristle was hardened into the bone of manhood," we began to think of setting up for ourselves; and then, indeed, we began to think for ourselves. And here we have an answer, as correct as I can give, to the question, what is American Literature; namely, that it is the product of those minds that have been nurtured, trained, developed, matured, on our own soil, by the manners, habits, scenery, circumstances, and institutions peculiar to ourselves. This answer, too, determines, with considerable precision, the date of American Literature, that its native growth and development commenced with our Revolutionary period. Our first thoughts were, of course, directed to our own condition, to our relations to the mother country, to our forms of government, and to the great principles of political government, of public economy, and of civil liberty; and then came forth, Minerva-like, a literature of a political character, to which, for strength, clearness, and comprehensiveness of thought, for just and sound reasoning, and for effective and lofty eloquence, the world had never seen the parallel; showing that the high encomium passed by Edmund Burke upon our first colonial Congress was no less just than beautiful. This literature is em
1 Vol. xxxi. p. 144, December, 1818.
bodied in the speeches and letters of James Otis, the elder Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Jefferson, Jay, Madison, and other patriots of the Revolution. Thenceforward, by degrees, as our strength increased, as our views expanded, as our facilities for learning were multiplied, as our scholarship assumed a higher and a higher grade, we entered, successively, the various fields of literature, and reaped rich and still richer harvests from them all, so that our dear, good old mother is now proud to acknowledge us as her own, and to confess that in some of the walks of science we have, in our onward march, left even her behind.' In History, she acknowledges that Irving, Prescott, Bancroft, Hildreth, and Motley, are equal to any on her side of the Atlantic. In Theology and Biblical Literature, Dwight and Barnes have, probably, as many readers in England as here; while no review in that department in Great Britain is superior, for varied and profound learning, to "The Bibliotheca Sacra." As a novelist, the English Reviews themselves being judges, Mrs. Stowe is without a rival in either hemisphere. As many copies, probably, of Bryant and Longfellow have been sold in England, as of Coleridge, or Wordsworth, or Tennyson; while many annotated and elucidated editions of classic authors by our own scholars are extensively studied in English schools. So that now "The Edinburgh Review" might ask with truth the reverse question-"Who does NOT read an American book ?”
Having fixed the date of the origin of our native literature at the latter half of the last century, the question arose with what author I should begin. Here there seemed little difficulty in deciding. The great light of the last century was, undoubtedly, Jonathan Edwards, distinguished not more for his learning and piety, than for his originality of genius, and a mind unmistakably American in its habits of thought and action. But after him, the number that might, with some show of reason, put in their claim to come within the scope of such a work, increased more and more, until it has, within the past thirty years, become so great as to be really embarrassing. And here, doubtless, will be found the chief failing of my humble volume; here is a field ample enough for the most vituperative critic to exercise his skill in. Many will see that some favorite piece-or, it may be, some favorite author-has been left out; and may hastily ask why it is so. It is enough to reply that I could not put in every thing,-no, not a hundredth part of what
"The London Quarterly Review," for December, 1841, (only twenty-three years after the extract from "The Edinburgh Review" just quoted was written,) in reviewing Dr. Robinson's Palestine, thus writes:-"We are not altogether pleased that for the best and most copious work on the geography and antiquities of the Holy Land, though written in English, we should be indebted to an American divine."