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tion — will write because they must, and they will have their reward. But the maintenance of a national literature requires the cooperation of a great body of men of talent, and these are left to starve in this country in the present state of affairs. As long as the results of an English scholar's labor can be imported and used without payment, the American scholar can find no market in his own country. Two thirds of all our reviewing, condensing, translating, and other literary work, are done for us in England. This transfers the power and influence also. We shall some time learn that if we are ever to have a national literature we must make the condition of a professional literary class comfortable and honorable by providing that an author's property in his works shall be acknowledged and guarantied between the nations.
The progress of events has greatly changed the character of modtrn literature. The great discoveries in physical science have not unly given birth to an immense number of special treatises, but have affected our thinking, supplied us with new words for the new ideas, and furnished illustrations for philosophers and poets. Our essayists, preachers, and lecturers have resources at hand which the fathers of our literature had never dreamed of. And while investi. gation has been silently pointing out the errors of the past, and building our knowledge on sure foundations, the experiments of nat. ural philosophers, -as in spectrum-analysis, for instance, and the observations of astronomers, have been de-magnetizing our common figures of speech (once suited to the world's childhood) and raising our conceptions of the grandeur of the universe. The mind deals with vaster measures of space and time, and man has thereby grown in intellectual and moral stature. And as thought has expanded, so language, the instrument of thought, or rather its body, has had a corresponding development. Whoever shall write a great poem hereafter will have at his hand virtually a new and living vocabulary. The reënforced and perfected language, like an armory of burnished weapons, old and new, waits for the master, who can display its accumulated stores.
Another influence, which is slowly but powerfully affecting our literature, is the doctrine of equality in political affairs and economic relations. The point of separation between us and the English people is where democracy and Christianity meet in asserting the rights of man as inan against prescription and the accidents of birth. As long as we are loyal to the ideas on which our government rests, the ideas which alone give us an individuality among nations, which have cast out slavery and left the republic firm, and which are to overthrow all other intrenched privileges of special classes, we can look forward hopefully to the development of a national character, and of a national literature in harmony with it.
A change in the observer's point of view is a very important fact. And it is clear that if the experiment of free government is to be permanently successful, much of the history as well as the political and moral philosophy of the world must be re-written for us. It is one thing that the issue of a battle shall bring a nation of peasants, united and content, to the foot of one man exalted on a throne, and quite another that the same people shall gain by their own swords the right to be greatly free, to be educated for their responsibilities, and to enter upon the illimitable career of progress. The beliefs of the historian and the faith of the bard will color, if not wholly control, their accounts of such a struggle and their celebration of the victory. We have therefore a right to expect from our authors that they shall be animated by a spirit in harmony with our national ideas, and by a faith in the future of our institutions. Without this, there is not even a beginning for a national literature. Kings and courts may interest us like mediæval castles, but the philosophical American will think more of his forty million fellow sovereigns, and of the influences which are to make them fit rulers over themselves. In this view the ideal historian is not only an impartial observer, but a believer in humanity, and in the perfectibility of institutions for humanity's sake. History will be the record of the progress of ideas, of the gradual elimination of error and wrong, and so a prophecy of ultimate justice and tranquillity.
In looking over the body of modern literature we notice the absence of dramatic works. A little over two hundred years ago the noblest poetry, the profoundest views of life, the wisest maxims of statesmanship, as well as the most masterly studies of character, were to be found in plays. The theatre degenerated as education became more general, and poetry was gradually superseded by prose in dramatic literature. The last classical plays were Talsourd's, unless we except Lord Lytton's Richelieu; and The Lady of Lyons was about the last of the sentimental class. Plays are still written by scholars ; the plays of Epes Sargent, George H. Boker, and of George H. Calvert, in this country, are admirable compositions. But acting dramas are no longer a part of literature. A new Shakespeare could not get a play represented on the modern stage unless it were a melodrama or, a burlesque. Even then, the manager at the first rehearsal would cut out every speech on which the dramatist prided himself, every gem of sentiment and epigrammatic turn, every flower of song. “To be or not to be,” “What a piece of work is man !” “Hark! the lark at heaven's gate sings,"
,"" All the world's a stage,” would be found as so many scraps of paper in the waste-basket. A play, being no longer a literary work, is “ reduced,” as in fractions, “ to its lowest terms.” Action is the thing; and as a ship of war that had before moved on in beauty, a stately pile of canvas towers, now, when the nemy nears, takes in her light sails, sends down her slender spars, and strips to fighting trim, so the serious play, to suit the impatient temper of audiences, is shorn of its graces and its fine sentiments, and is made a mere exhibition of the conflict of human passions in their most tumultuous form. The most inveterate of play-goers may be safely challenged to repeat a single line from any modern work that has delighted him. He may recall an attitude or a tableau, but not a sentence worth remembering. Once, for the pensive Milton, –
In sceptred pall came sweeping by;" now, it is an infuriated being with skirts and sleeves tucked up, rushing across the stage and brandishing a butcher's knife.
The novel has gained in character and influence as much as the drama has lost. The demand for entertainment seems rather to
have grown with the world's growth, until now it is certain that the genius of our century has found its highest expression in prose fiction. The novel, as well as literature in general, has shared in the increased refinement of manners and elevation of moral tone. It is no longer true that the better class of novels minister to impure tastes, or are calculated to give false views of life. Public sentiment will not tolerate any work that is not free from immoral tendencies ; and although multitudes of weak and frivolous novels, and a great many of questionable tendencies, still find readers, yet the current is daily stronger in favor of those works in which purity of character and noble aims in life are inculcated.
Rightly viewed, the ideal novel is a creation of a high order. The opportunity it offers to a man of genius is practically without limit. So long as the author can hold his readers by their interest in the unfolding of his story, he can give time to studies of character, to lively sketches of manners, to historical scenes, or to discussions upon letters, philosophy, or art. Some of the most brilliant and suggestive writing of our times, worthy of the first essayists and thinkers, may be found interspersed in the pages of modern novels.* The authors of these works naturally represent all shades of opinions; the various religious sects as well as the schools of philosophy and politics have all pressed fiction into their service. But we can learn the character and doctrinal drift of such works through the newspapers and reviews, and can then make choice of such fiction for our entertainment as will be in harmony with our settled convicvions, and can advise the young and inexperienced to avoid those which are calculated to disseminate false principles or low views of duty. It is true in this cepartment of literature as in the arena of philosophic controversy, that error can be safely tolerated as long as truth is left free to combat it.
The judicious public will not understand us as approving the indiscriminate and continual reading of novels to which so many young people are addicted. Used at proper intervals, and only for relaxa
* The reader is referred to the admirable work on Books and Reading, by President Noah Porter, of Yale College,
tion and amusement, a well-written and high-toned novel, especially of the historical kind, has a most favorable influence upon the faculties. — restoring elasticity and freshness after study, filling the mind with noble images, tending to the improvement of the taste, and aiding in the acquirement of a fluent and effective style, both in writing and speaking.
It is too soon yet to characterize the style and to apprehend clearly the tendencies of our time. We can say in general that what is truly excellent, and is likely to endure, is so from its basis of thought and from its accord with the immutable laws of nature and of man. If we are sure of anything, it is that the popularity which is established upon a trick of expression, or an insincerity of any kind, is short lived. The world has done with imaginary woes, and with fictitious sentiment of all hues, from blue to rosy. That life is real and earnest is 'as true in the domain of imagination as in the world of fact. Among our younger writers, and in certain periodicals, the prevailing tendencies are not altogether healthy. There is still an impression among many readers that sentences made up of hints and suggestions ; sentences stuck over with pet epithets, until they have an enamelled look ; sentences that are constructed with a view to make the thought stammer and hesitate, are models of good taste. It is especially true in Boston, and perhaps in other cities, that there is a tendency, common to literary, pictorial, and musical art, as well as in the manners and speech of “society," which controls the taste and shapes the productions of the time. This is the influence which makes a goose waddling under a scraggy willow (by a French brook) a better subject for a landscape painter than the Domes of the Yo Semite. This is the spirit which pronounces any direct and manly utterance vulgar, and pre the etching in of a thought by some soft-voiced stammerer. The writer of this school is praised for his “delicate” traits of style, even though there may be scarcely a ripple of mirth, and never a gleam of wit on the placid stream of his prose.
This is the spirit which has made the art criticism of many of the newspapers contemptible; which induces young authors