« PreviousContinue »
lighter and happier for throwing off its constant growth. The writer has the stiff, genteel way of a man who is trying to entertain strangers, and is afraid of committing himself, and so prepares himself for the occasion. There is none of that gracious, fearless familiarity which one feels with those of his own home, whom he has seen every hour, and whose characters have rather grown upon him than been studied.
If the borrowers and imitators are only encouraged, the swarm will go on thickening. There is enough now in the stores of poetry, heaped up by others, to serve them for ages. They need not once look out of doors to see things for themselves. There are rules for versification, laws of taste, books of practical criticism, and approved standards of language, to make one go right and safely. And surely it is very easy for men (except those who have the indignant freedom of genius,) to write with suca helps. Besides, it looks hard now-a-days, to be original, when so many have already gone over the land of poetry, and soiled and made common all that lay on the surface, or in secret. Alas, when the world grows rich, heirs will be indolent; and we should not wonder at it. The habit of living on other minds, naturally creates a spirit of self indulgence, and at last of weak timidity. Instead of being kindled into effort by what others have done, the heart sinks into cowardly admiration. It is content to relish what it dares not rival. It sets much by a refined, artificial taste, and thinks it enough to be exquisite in criticism, and eloquent in praise. You will see idolaters leaning upon the broken columns of ancient Temples, or in ecstacies before pictures and statues. The student sits at his window with a book before him, but he never looks out upon the fields. Knowledge must now be drawn from libraries and collections. The difficulties of acquiring which were once encountered, are now done away, and with them the wholesome and invigorating labour. We need not confound ourselves any longer in the wastes and thickets, which our fathers so eagerly plunged into. We have masters and schools at our very doors, to teach us every thing, and to reduce every thing to system and simplicity. Here then is the very mischief of learning-the way to turn great men into confectioners and second-hand caterers. Their minds are surfeited with what other men have said, and toiled hard and all alone, to come at. No wonder that they grow sickly, acquiescing, and unproductive,
Let us just look at one or two ways, in which freedom and originality of mind are assailed or endangered. The first is by inculcating an excessive fondness for the ancient classicks, and asserting their supremacy in literature. By some means or other, the ancients have exerted an enormous influence among literary men, and in nations too, that have had hardly any thing of real congeniality with them. And many a lover of his own home, of the domestick fame and character of his country, has, in his fits of vexation, been tempted to wish that the Barbarians had either done their work more faithfully among the fair fabricks of Greece and Rome, or else left those illustrious nations to live, and provoke the rest of the world to independent greatness, instead of being their school or nurse. As it now is, the old nations survive, in a sort of mixed state of grandeur and desolation. We grow tender among ruins and fragments. We love to soften down the errours and grossness of the fallen, and to extol and venerate the remains of their greatness, without The making a very scrupulous estimate of its real worth. grave-yard is common ground, where the living from every land may come together. There is no rancour nor heartburning there. We can all give praise with generous complacency, when no pretensions are set up. The Romans worshipped Greece, after they had conquered her.
Besides, the earliest nations in letters have a sort of patriarchal claim to the reverence of those who come after. Nothing remains of them but their finished and best works. We have no records of their early attempts and failures— nothing to inspire pity, to lessen admiration, or to encourage us when we fail. They seem to have started up at once, as if by an "over-night creation," into elegance and beauty, full of the ease, delight, and earnestness of men who draw directly from nature. They are set off from the earlier world, and connected with every after age, by appearing to be the very beginners of literature. They become the lights and helps of other nations, who are slower and later in attention to the mind-And even when their followers have surpassed their guides, and become quite equal to looking about, and making a fortune for themselves, it is still hard to throw off the veneration and deference which all have felt, and which gives them something common in their taste, pride, and obligations.
The boy at school (in the best, but most complying hours of his life) is set to work upon the ancient classicks. He hears and reads of the god-like people, who began and finished the world's literature. This is taken in with his rudiments, and along with it, indifference towards his own language, which he acquired as unconsciously as he grew, and thinks too familiar for study or respect, while every thing ancient is brought home to him in solemnity and wonders, and fastens itself upon him more closely than his prayers.
The effect of this is, in many cases, to make what is foreign, artificial, and uncongenial, the foundation of a man's literary habits, ambition, and prejudices. It is hardly possible that a man, thus trained and dependent, should not lose self respect, and come to think every thing vulgar at home.
But it ought to be remembered, that the question is not upon the merits of the ancients, or any models whatever. Men will always settle this matter for themselves, according to their own taste and feelings. What we contend for is, that the literature of a country is just as domestick and individual, as its character or political institutions. Its charm is its nativeness. It is made for home, to be the luxury of those who have the feeling and love of home, and whose characters and taste have been formed there. No matter for rudeness, or want of systems and schools. It is enough that all is our own, and just such as we were made to have and relish. A country then must be the former and finisher of its own genius. It has, or should have, nothing to do with strangers. They are not expected to feel the beauty of your old poetical language, depending as it does on early and tender associations; connecting the softer and ruder ages of the country, and inspiring an inward and inexplicable joy, like a tale of childhood. The stranger perhaps is only alarmed or disgusted by the hoarse and wild musick of your forests, or sea-shore, by the frantick superstition of your fathers, or the lovely fairy scenes, that lie far back in the mists of your fable. He cannot feel your pride in the splendid barbarism of your country, when the mind was in health and free, and the foundations of your character and greatness laid for ever. All these things are for the native. They help to give a character to his country and her literature, and he loves them too well, to be concerned at the world's admiration or contempt.
So long then as a country is proud of itself, it will repel every encroachment upon its native literature. Improvements will offer themselves under a thousand forms. Intimacy with other nations, especially if they are polished, and the leaders of fashion, will tempt men to imitate them in every thing. But a nation should keep itself at home, and value the things of its own household. It will have but feeble claims to excellence and distinction, when it stoops to put on foreign ornament and manner, and to adopt from other nations, images, allusions, and a metaphorical language, which are perfectly unmeaning and sickly, out of their own birth-place. The most polished will be the dreariest ages of its literature. Its writers will be afraid to speak the language that God has given them, till they have mingled the rough torrent with the allaying streams of a softer region. A strange idiom will be introduced into style. And the whole literature of a country will be mere gaudy patchwork, borrowed from every region that has any beauty to lend.
It may be well too just to hint, that it is not foreign models alone which are to be feared. We must also be shy of ourselves. For men of real genius and independence will sometimes introduce dangerous novelties, and make errours and corruptions popular and contagious, however shortlived they may prove. And besides this, there is good reason to fear that every country, as it falls into luxury and refinement, will be doomed to have an Augustan age, a classical era of its own, when fine writers will determine, what shall be correct taste, pure language, and legitimate poetry. A domestick master may not be as alarming as a foreigner, and long before a man has ceased to study and love the early literature of his country, he may expect to hear that the old language is barbarous and obsolete, and rejected by all chaste authors, who wish to keep the national literature uniform and pure. As to all this, a man must judge for himself. And one would think, that if there must be models, a writer would do well to go as near to the original as possible, even to the very fathers of poetry. If there is luxury for him in such society, and if his books can find readers, in spite of the old cast about them, let him turn to the rougher and more intrepid ages of his country, before men troubled themselves about elegance or plan, and wrote right on as they felt, even though they were uttering a thought for the first time, feeling probably very little concern
whether a softer age laughed at or worshipped themwhether they were to be ranked among the classicks, or barbarians of poetry, whether theirs was to be called an Augustan era, or merely the plain old English days of Elizabeth.
FOR THE NORTH-AMERICAN JOURNAL.
On Geological Systems.
If the following pages will do for your Journal, I offer them for insertion. They are the amount of a conversation reduced to writing, and of course necessarily superficial and imperfect. A lady, whose reading was more among the lighter books of literature, than the ponderous ones of science, having met with some allusions to the Vulcanian and Neptunian theories of the earth, and mention of Vulcanists and Neptunists, requested of me an explanation of these systems. Without pretensions to any profound knowledge of geology, I should have hesitated at the task, if a very learned dissertation had been necessary; but trusting that my fair inquirer had too little acquaintance with science, to expose my errours, if she would, and too much good nature to do it, if she could, I attempted a brief exposition of the subject.
Among the heathen divinities, there were two of great eminence, whose names have been borrowed by geologists, as very convenient to designate their different theories. Neptune was the God of the sea, the brother of Jupiter, and drove about the capricious element he ruled, in a large shell, drawn by sea horses, of a breed which are now extinct, except in the designs of artists. He carried in his hand a fork with three prongs, called a trident. As the God himself has not been seen for some centuries, a very famous nation, who have driven very furiously over the ocean, without the aid of horses, had long claimed to be in possession of his trident, which has been called, "the sceptre of the globe." The world has generally acceded to this pretension, though having driven with too much violence, and too little caution against some who were travelling the same rout, it is supposed, that a younger nation obtained one of the prongs in a short scuffle, which ensued at last, in consequence of frequent altercation.