« ÖncekiDevam »
them. The Stamp Act, and the act to lay duties at our seaports without our consent, found in him an equally inflexible opponent. When humble and loyal prayers to a stubborn king and an equally obstinate Parliament failed in obtaining redress, he encouraged the combinations that rendered these attempts at taxation nugatory. And when, at length, an attempt was made to crush all opposition by a large and welldisciplined army, he was among the first to take up arms, and never relinquished them until he died, on the eve of his country's emancipation. In the naval expedition against the king's transport off Sandy Hook, he first displayed his zeal and enterprise ; in the battle of Long Island, where he sacrificed himself with a small portion of his troops to secure the safety of the remainder, at Middlebrook, at the Brandywine, at Germantown, and at Monmouth, he met in arms the invaders of his country, and in most of these bloody fields found occasion to signalize the obstinate courage and constancy which were his distinguishing characteristics. From August, 1775, when he first took up arms in New Jersey, until his decease, in January, 1783, he was unremittingly engaged in active service. In the midst of all the discouragements that attended his country's struggle for liberty, from her weak and inefficient confederation, depending for the fulfilment of its pledges on thirteen distinct sovereignties, from her ruined finances, depreciated currency, her starving and half-naked soldiery, rendered mutinous by the penury, and sometimes by the neglect, of Congress, he never despaired of the republic. And so he persevered until death, to the ruin of his private fortune, and with equal disregard of that rank in the mother country, and of the large territorial claims attached to it, which a contrary course would have established ; - an honorable example of a man counting nothing of value in comparison with the sacred maintenance of his principles, and sinking every selfish consideration in the one strong and controlling feeling of an ardent patriotism.
I Ri Lowelle
ART. VIII. - The Nero Timon, a Romance of London,
First American from the Third London Edition. Philadelphia : Carey & Hart. 1846. 12mo. pp. 208.
FLETCHER of Saltoun's apothegm would hardly answer for our latitude ; song has no super-legislative force among us. The walls of one of our great political parties were thought to have risen from their ruins a few years ago, like those of Thebes, to the sound of singing; but this Amphionic masonwork was found not to resist our changeful climate. Our national melodies are of African descent. If our brains be stolen, it will never be through our ears; the Sirens had sung in vain to a Nantucket Ulysses. We remember a nomadic minstrel, a dweller in tents, who picked up a scanty subsistence by singing “ Proud Dacre sailed the sea,” and “ The Hunters of Kentucky,” on election days, and at Commencements and musters. But he was merely the satellite to a dwarf, and the want of the aspirate betrayed a Transatlantic origin. Moreover, only slender-witted persons were betrayed into the extravagance of the initiatory ninepence, the shrewder citi. zens contenting themselves with what gratuitous music leaked through the rents in the canvas.
Mr. Barlow, we believe, had a beatific vision of the nine immigrant Muses, somewhere on the top of the Alleghany mountains. A judicious selection of place; - for only in some such inaccessible spot would they be safe from the constable. Without question, a ship's captain importing nine ladies with so scanty a wardrobe would be compelled to give bonds. With us the bard has no chartered sacredness; cotton and the stocks refuse to budge at his vaticinations. The newspapers are our Westminster Abbey, in whose Poets' Corner the fugitive remains of our verse-makers slumber inviolate, - a sacred privacy, uninvaded save by the factory-girl or the seamstress. The price-current is our Paradise of Daintie Devyces; and that necromancer, who might fill his pockets by contracting to bring back Captain Kidd to tell us where he buried treasure, would starve, were he to promise merely
“To call up him who left half told
The story of Cambuscan bold.” It is not that we are an antipoetical people. Our surveyors might fix that stigma upon us, by whose means Graylock becomes Saddle-mountain on the maps, and Tahconic is converted from his paganism, and undergoes baptism as Mount Everett. All the world over, the poet is not what he was in ruder times. If he ever unite, as formerly, the bardic and sacerdotal offices, that conjunction forebodes nothing graver than the publication of a new hymn-book. The sanctity of the character is gone ; the garret is no safer than the firstfloor. Every dun and tipstaff sets at naught the precedent of the great Emathian conqueror. Poetry once concerned itself with the very staple of existence. Now it is a thing apart. The only time we were ever conscious that the Muse did still sometimes cast a halo round every-day life was when we heard the “ Village Blacksmith” congratulating himself, that Longfellow had had his smithy “ drawed as nateral as a picter.”
Many respectable persons are greatly exercised in spirit at the slow growth of what they are pleased to call a national literature. They conjecture of the forms of our art from the shape of our continent, reversing the Platonic method. They deduce a literary from a geographical originality ; a new country, therefore new thoughts. A reductio ad absurdum would carry this principle to the extent of conforming an author's mind to the house he lived in.
These enthusiasts wonder, that our mountains have not yet brought forth a poet, forgetting that a mouse was the result of the only authentic mountainous parturition on record. Others, more hopeful, believe the continent to be at least seven months gone with a portentous minstrel, who, according to the most definite augury we have seen, shall "string" our woods, mountains, lakes, and rivers, and then “wring” from them (no milder term, or less suggestive of the laundry, will serve) notes of “autochthonic significance.” We have heard of one author, who thinks it quite needless to be at the pains of a jury of matrons on the subject, as he makes no doubt that the child of Destiny is already born, and that he has discovered in himself the genuine Terræ Filius.
Never was there so much debate of a national literature as during the period immediately succeeding our Revolution, and never did the Titan of native song make such efforts to get himself born as then. Hopkinson, Freneau, Paine, and Barlow were the result of that travail. It was not the fault of the country ; it was even newer then than now, and its shape (if that was to be effectual in the matter) was identical. Nor was zeal or pains wanting. It is believed that the “ Conquest of Canaan" and the Vision of Columbus ” were read by authentic men and women.
The same patriotism which refused the tea swallowed the poetry. The same hardy spirit, the same patient endurance, which brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth rock, was not yet gone out of the stock. A nation which had just gone through a seven years' war could undergo a great deal.
But we must come sooner or later to the conclusion, that literature knows no climatic distinctions of that external kind which are presupposed in this clamor for a national literature. The climate in which the mind of an author habitually dwells - whether it be that of Greece, Asia, Italy, Germany, or England — moulds the thought and the expression. But that which makes poetry poetry, and not prose, is the same everywhere. The curse of Babel fell not upon the Muse. Climate gives inexorable laws to architecture, and all importations from abroad are contraband of nature, sure to be satirized by whatever is native to the soil. There is but one sky of song, and the growth of the tropics will bear the open air of the pole. For man is the archetype of poetry. Its measure and proportion, as Vitruvius reports of the Doric pillar, are borrowed of him. Natural scenery has little band in it, national peculiarities none at all. Not Simoïs or Scamander, but Helen, Priam, Andromache, give divinity to the tale of Troy. Dante's Italicism is his lame foot. Shakspeare would fare ill, were we to put him upon proof of his Englishry. So homogeneous is the structure of the mind, that Sir William Jones conceived Odin and Fo to be identical.
There is no fear but we shall have a national literature soon enough. Meanwhile, we may be sure that all attempts at the forcible manufacture of such a product (especially out of physical elements) will be as fruitless as the opus magnum of the alchemists. The cunning of man can only adroitly combine the materials lying ready to his hand. It has never yet compassed the creation of any seed, be it never so small. As a nation, we are yet too full of hurry and bustle. The perfectly balanced tree can grow only in the wind-bound shelter of the valley. Our national eagerness for immediate results infests our literature. We wish to taste the fruit of our culture, and as yet plant not that slower growth which ripens for posterity. The mental characteristic of the pioneer has become engrained in us, outliving the necessity which begot it. Everywhere the blackened stumps of the clearing jut out like rocks amid the yellow waves of our harvest. We have not learned to wait ; our chief aim is to produce, and we are more careful of quantity than quality. We cannot bring ourselves to pinch off a part of the green fruit, that the ripe may be more perfect. To be left behind is the opprobrium ; we desire an immediate effect. Hence, a large part of that mental energy, which would else find its natural bent in literary labor, turns to the lecture-room or the caucus, or mounts that ready-made rostrum of demagogues, the stump. If any man think he has an errand for the general ear, he runs at full speed with it, and delivers such fragments as he has breath left to utter. If we adopt a Coptic emblem, and paste it on the front of our pine-granite propylæa, it must have wings, implying speed. That symbol of wiser meaning, with finger upon lip, is not for us. We break our eggs, rather than await the antiquated process of incubation. We pull up what we have planted, to see if it have taken root. We fell the primeval forest, and thrust into the ground a row of bean-poles for shade. We cannot spare the time to sleep upon any thing; we must be through by daylight. Our boys debate the tariff and the war. Scarce yet beyond the lacteal age, they leave hoop, and ball, and taw, to discuss the tea and coffee tax.
We find talking cheaper than writing, and both easier than thinking. We talk everlastingly ; our magazines are nothing but talk, and that of a flaccid and Polonian fibre. The Spartans banished the unfortunate man who boasted that he could talk all day. With us he had been sure of Congress or the Cabinet. No petty African king is fonder of palaver than the sovereign people. Our national bird is of no kin to the falcon of the Persian poet, whose taciturnity made him of more esteem than the nightingale. We are always in haste ; we build a railroad from the cradle to the grave. Our children cannot spare time to learn spelling; they must take the short cut of phonography. In architecture, we cannot abide the slow teaching of the fitness of things; we parody the sacred growth of ages with our inch-board fragilities,