Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

“ Ridiculum acri Fortius et melius magnas plerumque secat res.” Forced conceits, unnatural metaphors, absurd similies, turgid and verbose language, occasionally disfigure the pages of South. But we will, as is usual, charge these faults on the times in which he lived, and attribute to his own good sense and ingenuity the numerous beauties he possesses. It may perhaps be objected to some of his sermons that they contain too many divisions and subdivisions, and that order leads to confusion : but all the heads of his discourse are fully examined and discussed; and the infinite variety and fulness of the man's understanding and imagination led him often to crowd into one short sermon what a modern book-maker would diffuse over a folio.

It would be easy to select from these sermons innumerable passages to confirm the observations that have been made. But where excellence is the characteristic mark, and faults are thinly scattered, it is almost impossible by extracts to do justice to the former, and to sift out the latter would be an invidious and unpleasant task. However, in some future number, we shall attempt this part of our duty; for, though a collection of remarkable passages may not convey an adequate idea of this · vigorous preacher, yet, by a paper so formed, we shall be able to communicate a knowledge of him and his works, which might not reach many of our readers by any other channel. His sermons, indeed, to be properly appreciated, ought to be carefully studied ; and we may venture to say that the labour will not be unprofitable: they bear the unequivocal stamp, which a peculiar turn of mind and a great genius cannot fail to impress. The copious and energetic language of South might serve to invigorate the well-turned and rounded sentences of many a modern scribbler, which fall softly on the ear, but have not strength to penetrate further. The man of business and active life, who has occasion to state to others what he knows himself, might be supplied from this storehouse with all the necessary stock of words and all the clearness of expression; and, if inclination prompted or circumstances required, he might from the same magazine arm himself with the weapons of ridicule, sarcasm, invective, and abuse. It is no pedantry to say that we observe considerable resemblance between the style of South and the manner of a great Athenian orator; and it is not surprising that there should be a similarity between two men of ardent ternperament, who on all subjects thought clearly and expressed themselves forcibly : both were men of strong common sense, who were deeply interested in the business in which they were engaged; both waged a long and continued warfare with enemies whom they hated, and both had to support them the command of a mighty and powerful language.

VOL. IX. PART II.

Art. VI.--Arthur Mertyn, a Tale. By Charles Brockden

Brown. New York, 1799.

During those unnatural times, when we and our brethren of the New World were mutually endeavouring to exterminate each other from the face of a world which was wide enough for both-(we do not now seek to examine into the justice of that quarrel), much accusation and recrimination passed between us, which reflected but little credit on either party. We, on our parts, showered down upon the Americans the most unqualified abuse; and they retorted with threats and gasconading, which they would never, probably, have made use of had they not been stimulated into a more than ordinary self-respect by the groundless exaggerations of our political writers. Among the sins and errors laid to the charge of the republicans are these—that they are republicans ; that they are vainboasters; that they are scoffers at all things established; that they want courtesy in manners, refinement in art, and learning. But, it must be observed, that, while it is said that they are deficient in the virtues or accomplishments of refined states, there is no statement that they are also somewhat deficient in . their vices. This is not fair dealing: for, however excusable it might have been when we were at war with our old friends, it should not taint our present intercourse with them. And, indeed, patriotism (if that be the word) should at no time be suffered to operate against the interests of learning. It is neither high philosophy nor good sense to admit political prejudice, at any time, into our discussions upon general literature. With respect to the peculiar deficiency attributed to our transatlantic friends, and their probable amendment,-let us talk over the matter impartially.

The advantages which America possesses in the way of a fertile soil, a free government, and a wide dominion, with the prospect of extending it over a prodigious space, must, we think, be obvious to most people. However the jealousies of rival states may affect to question this apparent truth, or the blind anger of the mother-country refuse to see it, yet, we apprehend, the position is too firm and undoubted to require either a moment's illustration or argument.

We do not profess to be prophets; but, claiming some of the benefits of experience which belong to adversity, and knowing something of the vicissitudes which attach even to kings and kingdoms, we may venture, without much presumption, to foretel the coming greatness of America. No man, indeed, at all familiar with the turns and chances of empire, can look upon the people of the New World and their broad fine country,

without anticipating in some degree the course of the history which is to commemorate their future greatness. We accuse them of want of refinement; and the accusation is perhaps in some degree true ; but it is at least doubtful whether the point of refinement which the Americans have touched is approaching towards splendour or decay; and we should perhaps consider this question a little, before we give ourselves up to unrestrained contempt. The Tyrians, the Carthaginians, the republicans of Venice, the more famous Greeks, the Romans, were not, any of them, when in their strength, a people eminently refined. They had bold hearts, and stout sinews; and with these they fought their way up the steep road of fame. They looked at riches, and power, and wide kingdoms, as the end and crowning object of their labours. They battled for their generations to come. They obtained all that they wished -riches, power, and refinement; and it was under the weight of these acquisitions that their children were born and languished. What had braced the spirits of their fathers to gain, cost them a world of trouble to dissipate. The eagles begat daws (or doves, it matters not)—weak creatures, which fell and were extinguished, like the last sparks in a train of glory. Rome and Greece, Assyria, and Babylon, and Carthage, were undermined, and not overwhelmed. The ruin that came upon them was not from above ; but it sprung up from a healthy strength which they had trodden down and despised-from servants, or from strangers. They boasted, and traded ; they amassed gold; they blazed in jewels, and rolled in luxuries. They stood on the pyramid of their fathers' fame, and looked down, like Vathek, on the seemingly diminutive creations below. They did not (so small was their philosophy) consider that distance acts reciprocally both as to size and respect. Even the clown, although he wonders at, does not venerate the courtier. The people of the Old World could not comprehend this principle of optics ; but they went on, rioting, and boasting, and gilding their poor vanities, and pampering their selfish tyranny at the expense of millions ; till, at last, their sciences, and arts, and refinements,their Arabian odours and Apician luxuries, went to rack, and were crumbled to dust on the first onset of slaves or barbarian foes.

We are disposed to maintain, at present, that the 6 literature” of America is beginning to assume a better and somewhat peculiar character. It is not like the efforts of a young language, breaking out into poetry and fiction. It is neither rude nor refined, pastoral, sylvan, nor romantic. But it has something of the taint of civilization about it (if we may so express ourselves), something of the vulgarity which be

longs to cities, but beginning fast to mix with the healthy freshness of the woods and waters into which American society is gradually spreading.

It was neither a refined nor a barbarous people who went forth to colonize the Indian states. The red men, the old possessors, were not ejected by force, nor vanquished by the benefits or luxuries of a single nation; but they yielded, step by step, to the encroachments of different people,-friends and foes, navigators, traders, soldiers, Quakers, and others. Had the Indians been overcome by any one military or naval power, or had they been gradually won over to English or French refinement, the effect would have been necessarily different. They would have grown up as an ordinary colony, and thrived with the literature of their parent state ; but, as it was, there was a Babel of tongues, and, as a consequence, a stagnation of ideas. The people could scarcely be expected to cultivate poetry, and rhetoric, and philosophy, with success, in half a dozen different languages; and there was no language so entirely predominant as to justify the extinction of the rest.. It is true, that our own may be considered as the most prevalent; but there are also large inundations of emigrants from other countries, who brought their own peculiar dialects with them. The French settled in Quebec, the Dutch in New York, the British in Virginia, the Swedes on the Delaware, and, in 1681, Pennsylvania was granted byroyal charter” to William Penn and his colony of Quakers. The emigration of the other nations was sufficiently in the common course of events; but we are almost tempted to smile at this last quiet people venturing forth, under their excellent patriarch, to explore the wildernesses and mighty savannahs of the Northern America :-it is the only romance in their annals. .

We are of opinion, that the reproaches which have been cast upon the literature of the Americans are not altogether deserved. Nevertheless, the defence which they have set up for themselves is, perhaps, as debateable as the attack that has been made upon them. It was the Abbé Raynal, we believe, who asserted that America had not produced a single man of genius. To this, Mr. Jefferson is reported to have said, in his capacity of President:-" When we shall have existed as a people as long as the Greeks did before they produced a Homer, the Romans a Virgil, the French a Racine and Voltaire, the English a Shakspeare and Milton; should this reproach be still true, we will inquire from what unfriendly causes it has proceeded, that the other countries of Europe and quarters of the earth shall not have inscribed any name of ours on the roll of poets.” This, as it appears to us, is an argument without a foundation. One might almost suppose from this that the Americans were encumbered with a rude and imperfect language, or straitened by a meagre dialect; and that they had to fight their way through the intricacies of orthography, and to acquire the ordinary inversions of speech, like a people without ancestry or records. When the Egyptians possessed nothing but hieroglyphics, and the Mexicans nothing but pictures, this sort of reasoning might have been permitted to them. But the Americans have no claim to the benefit of their own argument. American literature is, in fact, the literature of England. It differs far less from our own than the Dorian music of Theocritus from the Ionic bacchanals of Anacreon. The verses of Mr. Bryant (the best of the American poets) come as assuredly from the “ well of English undefiled,” as the finer compositions of Mr. Wordsworth ; indeed, the resemblance between the two living authors might justify a much more invidious parallel. It is quite idle to set up for America the benefit of a young language: she does not require it. She can stand upon her own ground even now; and it may be, that if we pursue our rivalry, we may (in some classes of literature) have, in the course of time, no such overwhelming cause for exultation.

The American writers seem, as we before hinted, to be taking a new turn in some of their works. They are emerging from their old matter-of-fact compositions, and now stand foot to foot with us, wearing the bold aspect of rivals. There is no knowing what this may lead to. "The English tongue, thus transplanted, may flourish, and bear fruit all over the world. It would be curious if we, with our jumble of Saxon and Norman French, should in time spread, like an aurora borealis, over the whole horizon of literature. The Americans would then, perhaps, be less inclined than now to confess us as their origin. We must insist, however, on our position-that the American people stand, to all intents and purposes, on the same ground as ourselves. It might as well be contended that Homer was not a Greek, or Seneca a Latin, as to dispute the debt which America owes to our common speech. Why should she fritter away, in unprofitable distinctions, the bonds that should bind us together? The Americans, as a nation, if they will have a separate claim,) have assuredly laboured under some disadvantages ; and their literature has been retarded from the circumstance of their population having sprung up under different tongues. But this is at an end. They now use precisely the same language with ourselves, and have access (with but little drawback) to all the stores of English literature. Let us for a moment observe how different was the position of other nations. The Greeks possessed but the sixteen letters of Cadmus, and no records. The Romans had the benefit only of a foreign lan

« AnteriorContinuar »