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over the world and assimilated other elements and adjusted itself to other social organizations. Here in America we can see already some of these results, for already is the American differentiated from the Englishman. We may not be able to declare clearly wherein the difference consists; but we all recognize it plainly enough. Colonel Higginson has suggested that the American has an added drop more of nervous fluid than the Englishman. It is perhaps apparent already that the American is swifter than the Englishman, slighter in build, springier
Social changes are as evident as physical. Lowell remarked that if it was a good thing for an English duke that he had no social superior, it surely was not a bad thing for a Yankee farmer. Socially the American is less girt in by caste than the Englishman. These differences, obvious in life, are visible also in literature. We feel now, even if we do not care to define, the unlikeness of the writing of the British authors to the writing of the American authors. Neither man nor nature is the same in Great Britain as in the United States; and of necessity, therefore, there cannot be any identity between the points of view of the men of letters of the two countries.
In time, as there come to be more writers in Canada, we shall have a perspective from yet another point of view; and in due season others will be presented to us from Australia and from India. No doubt these future authors will cherish the tradition of English literature as loyally as we Americans cherish it here in the United States—as loyally as the British cherish it in the little group of islands which was once the home of the ancestors of us all. Race characteristics are inexorable, and it is very unlikely that there will ever be any irreconcilable divergence between these separate divisions of the English-speaking peoples. English literature will continue to flourish as sturdily as ever after the parent stem has parted into five branches. All of these branches will take the same pride in their descent from a common stock, and in their possession of a common literature and of a common language. A common language, I say, for the English language belongs to all those who use it, whether they live in London or in Chicago or in Melbourne.
It is not a little strange that it should now ever be
needful to say that the British have no more ownership of the English language than we Americans have. The English language is the mother tongue of the inhabitants of the British Isles, but so it is also the mother tongue of the inhabitants of the United States. It is not a loan to us, which may be recalled; it is not a gift, which we have accepted; it is a heritage, which we derived from our forefathers. We hold it by right of birth, and our title to it is just as good as the title of our kin across the sea. No younger brother's portion is it that we claim in the English language, but a whole and undivided half. It is an American possession as it is a British possession, no more and no less; and we hold it on the same terms that our cousins do. We have the rights of ownership, and the responsibilities also, exactly as they have, and to exactly the same extent. The English language belongs to us also; it is ours to use as we please, just as the common law is ours, to modify according to our own needs; it is ours for us to keep pure and healthy; and it is ours for us to hand down to our children unimpaired in strength and in subtlety.
And as the language is a possession common to all the English-speaking peoples, so also is the literature. A share in the fame of Chaucer and of Shakespeare, of Milton and of Dryden, is part of the inheritance of every one of us who has English for his master tongue, whatever his fatherland. If there be anywhere a great poet or novelist or historian, it matters not where his birth or his residence or what his nationality, if he makes use of the English language he is contributing to English literature. To distinguish the younger divisions of English literature from the older, we shall have to call that older division British, meaning thereby that portion of our common literature which is now produced by those who were left behind in the old home when the rest of the family went forth one by one to make their way in the world. Thus English literature, which was one and undivided till the end of the Eighteenth century, has now in the Nineteenth century two chief divisions-British and American; and it bids fair in the Twentieth century to have three moreCanadian, Australian, and Indian.
Some such distinction between the several existing divi
sions of the English literature of our own time is needful, and it will be found useful. Absurd and very misleading is the antithesis sometimes made between American literature and English, since the American is but one of the divisions of the English literature of our time. Not long ago a pupil of one of the best private schools in New York maintained that American literature was just as important as English literature, producing in proof two companion manuals, of the same size externally, although of course, internally on a wholly different scale. Such a lack of proportion in the treatment of different parts of the literature of the English language is foolish and harmful. But a comparison of American literature with the merely British literature of to-day might be proper enough. What we need to grasp clearly is the fact that the stream of English literature had only one channel until the end of the last century, and that in this century it has two channels. The new mouth that this massive current has made for itself is American, and so we are compelled to call the old mouth British.
Through which of these channels the fuller stream shall flow in the next century no man can foretell to-day. It is a fact that the population of these United States is now nearly twice as large as the population of the British Isles, and not inferior in ability or in energy. But it is a fact also that in America a smaller proportion of the ability and the energy of the people seems to be devoted to the cause of letters.
In a new country life itself offers the widest opportunities; and literature here has keener rivals and more of them than it can have in a land which has been cleared and tilled and tended since a time whereof the memory of man runneth not to the contrary. The earliest Americans had other duties than the writing of books; they had to lay deep the broad foundations of this mighty nation. It was more than two hundred years after the establishment of the first trading post on the island of Manhattan before Washington Irving published the “Sketch Book," the first work of American authorship to win a wide popularity beyond the borders of our own country-before Fenimore Cooper, a little later, published “The Spy,” the first work of American authorship to win a wide popularity beyond the borders of our own lan
We may say that American literature is now but little older than the threescore years and ten allotted as the span of a man's natural life. We had had authors, it is true, in the Eighteenth century, and at least two of these, Jonathan Edwards and Benjamin Franklin, hold high rank; but it was not until towards the end of the first quarter of the Nineteenth century that we began really to have a literature. It is scarcely an overstatement to say that there are men alive to-day who are as old as American literature is. But in the past three-quarters of a century American literature has taken root firmly, and blossomed forth abundantly, and spread itself abroad sturdily. Emerson followed Edwards and Franklin. Hawthorne and Poe followed Irving and Cooper. Bryant proved that Nature here in America was fit for the purposes of Art; and he was followed by Longfellow and Lowell, by Whittier and Holmes.
During these same threescore years and ten there were great writers in the other branch of the literature of our language, in British literature, perhaps greater writers than there were here in America, and of a certainty there were more of them. There is no need now to call the roll of the mighty men of letters alive in England at the middle of this century.
But much as we admire these British authors, much as we respect them, I do not think that they are as close to us as the authors of our own country; we do not cherish them with the same affection. Just as the modern literatures are nearer to us than the ancient, because we ourselves are modern, just as English literature is nearer to us than French, because we ourselves speak English, so the American division of that literature is closer to us than the British. It helps us to understand one another, and it explains us to ourselves. If we accept the statement that, after all, literature is only a criticism of life, it is of value in proportion as its criticism of life is truthful. Surely it needs no argument to show that the life it is most needful for us Americans to have criticised truthfully is our own life. It is only in our own literature that we can hope to learn the truth about ourselves, and this, indeed, is what we must always insist upon in our literature—the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Lowell reminded us that Goethe
went to the root of the matter when he said that “people are always talking of the study of the ancients; yet what does this mean but apply yourself to the actual world and seek to express it, since this is what the ancients did when they were alive?”
As we consider the brief history of the American branch of English literature, we can see that the growth of a healthy feeling in regard to it has been hindered by two unfortunate failings-provincialism and colonialism. By provincialism I mean the spirit of Little Peddlington, the spirit that makes swans of all our geese. By colonialism I mean the attitude of looking humbly towards the old country for guidance and for counsel even about our own affairs.
Provincialism is local pride unduly inflated. It is the temper that is ready to hail as a Swan of Avon any local gosling who has taught himself to make an unnatural use of his own quills. It is always tempting us to stand on tiptoe to proclaim our own superiority. It prevents our seeing ourselves in proper proportion to the rest of the world. It leads to the preparation of school-manuals in which the threescore years and ten of American literature are made equal in importance to the thousand years of literature produced in Great Britain. It tends to render a modest writer, like Longfellow, ridiculous by comparing him implicitly with the half-dozen world-poets. In the final resort, no doubt, every people must be the judge of its own authors; but before that final judgment is rendered every people consults the precedents, and measures its own local favorites by the cosmopolitan and eternal standards.
Colonialism is shown in the timid deference towards foreign opinion about our own deeds and in the unquestioning acceptance of the foreign estimate upon our own writers. It might be defined almost as a willingness to be second-hand-a feeling which finds satisfaction in calling Irving the American Goldsmith; Cooper, the American Scott; Bryant, the American Wordsworth; and Whittier, the American Burns. Fifty years ago, when this silly trick was far more prevalent than it is now, Lowell satirized it in the “Fable for Critics":