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so far as they are general; with respect to her estimate of some of its authors we very much differ.
“For it does not follow because many books are written by persons born in America that there exists an American literature. Books which imitate or represent the thoughts and life of Europe, do not constitute an American literature. Before such can exist, an original idea must animate this nation, and fresh currents of life must call into life fresh thoughts along its shores.”
The first step towards the cure of a disease is to be aware of its existence. In like manner the want is known, let the public encourage those who can supply it.
The injurious tendency of any nation depending upon another for its reading is evident, more especially when the reading nation is a republic, and the author nation a monarchy.
“ Yet there is, often, between child and parent, a reaction from excessive influence having been exerted, and such an one we have experienced, in behalf of our country, against England. We use her language, and receive, in torrents, the influence of her thought, yet it is, in many respects, uncongenial and injurious to our constitution. What suits Great Britain, with her insular position and consequent need to concentrate and intensify her life, her limited monarchy, and spirit of trade, does not suit a mixed race, continually enriched with new blood from other stocks the most unlike that of our first descent, with ample field and verge enough to range in and leave every impulse free, and abundant opportunity to develope a genius, wide and full as our rivers, flowery, luxuriant, and impassioned as our vast prairies, rooted in strength as the rocks on which the Puritan fathers landed."
We have been much struck with the inanner in which Miss
Fuller, in a few lines, throws off a sketch of an author. They have all some prominent features which speak a likeness.
How seldom does a critic write so justly of a contemporary as we have here before us.
“R. W. Emerson, in melody, in subtle beauty of thought and expression, takes the highest rank upon this list. But his poems are mostly philosophical, which is not the truest kind of poetry. They want the simple force of nature and passion, and, while they charm the ear and interest the mind, fail to wake far-off echoes in the heart. The imagery wears a symbolical air, and serves rather as illustration, than to delight us by fresh and glowing forms of life.”
We regret that our fair critic was not more generous in her estimation of Lowell. We
e hope to be able in our next volume, the second series of American authors, to give a reason for our faith as regards Mr. Lowell, which is totally at variance with Miss Fuller.
We dismiss these desultory remarks on American literature with the following passage from her writings :
“ That day will not rise till the fusion of races among us is more complete. It will not rise till this nation shall attain sufficient moral and intellectual dignity to prize moral and intellectual, no less highly than political freedom; not till the physical resources of the country being explored, all its regions studded with towns, broken by the plough, netted together by railways and telegraph lines, talent shall be left at leisure to turn its energies upon the higher department of man's existence. Nor then shall it be seen, till from the leisurely and yearning soul of that riper time national
ideas shall take birth, ideas craving to be clothed in a thousand fresh and original forms.
“ Without such ideas all attempts to construct a national literature must end in abortions like the monster of Frankenstein, things with forms, and the instincts of forms, but soulless, and therefore revolting. We cannot have expression till there is something to be expressed.
“ The symptoms of such a birth may be seen in a longing felt here and there for the sustenance of such ideas. At present, it shows itself, where felt, in sympathy with the prevalent tone of society, by attempts at external action, such as are classed under the head of social reform. But it needs to go deeper, before we can have poets; needs to penetrate beneath the springs of action, to stir and remake the soil as by the action of fire.
“ Another symptom is the need felt by individuals of being even sternly sincere. This is the one great means by which alone progress can be essentially furthered. This is the nursing mother of genius. No man can be absolutely true to himself, eschewing cant, compromise, servile imitation, and complaisance, without becoming original, for there is in every creature a fountain of life which, if not choked back by stones and other dead rubbish, will create a fresh atmosphere, and bring to life fresh beauty. And it is the same with the nation as with the individual man,"
Our readers cannot fail noticing the clearness of our fair critic's style: there is no useless ornament; it is transparent prose, which developes the subject clearly in all its proportions.
We have, however, seen in her “Summer on the Lakes” that when her subject demands a more glowing style she is fully equal to the occasion.
One of the most charming compositions we have read for a
long time is that entitled “The Two Herberts.” It is, however, of a kind which demands the justice of a full perusal ; we therefore offer only one extract, affording proof of Miss Fuller's interest in the old country and its noble cavaliers.
“ The two forms were faithful expressions of their several lives. There was a family likeness between them, for they shared in that beauty of the noble English blood, of which, in these days, few types remain: the Norman tempered by the Saxon, the fire of conquest by integrity, and a self-contained, inflexible habit of mind. In the time of the Sydneys and Russells, the English body was a strong and nobly-proportioned vase, in which shone a steady and powerful, if not brilliant light.
“ The chains of convention, an external life grown out of proportion with that of the heart and mind, have destroyed, for the most part, this dignified beauty. There is no longer, in fact, an aristocracy in England, because the saplings are too puny to represent the old oak. But that it once existed, and did stand for what is best in that nation, any collection of portraits from the sixteenth century will show."
We must venture to differ from her decision when she gives to Walter Scott a “strong imagination.” We are inclined to consider his characteristics as great invention, constructiveness, and objectivity of dialogues. Invention is the mechanical part of imagination. Imagination includes invention, just as the idea of a living man takes in the physical as the vehicle of the spiritual. We feel inclined to say that invention is to imagination what prose is to poetry. We are almost ashamed to quote one author so often to help out our own short-comings of description, but Shakspeare is the most perfect type of imagina
tion, and Scott of invention. The one is the king of the first class of intellect; the other the indisputable head of the second class. We venture to say, the more this position is examined the more it will be acknowledged.
In Shakspeare's writings it will be seen that his characters, whether they be Hamlet, Bottom, Macbeth, or Slender, are always the very head of their class, the very poetry of their nature, viz. the highest individualization possible to reach. This intensity, without an overstraining or even apparent effort, is undoubtedly the reason why every day spreads wider the renown of the great dramatist : it is like a circle ever extending. It is also a singular coincidence with nature herself, whose productions, whether a star, a flower, a drop of water, or an animalcule, challenge the most elaborate and microscopical examination.
We do not, however, quarrel with Miss Fuller for her confounding invention with imagination; we merely point it out as a simple difference of opinion, and leave the public to decide the point.
Miss Fuller's poetry partakes of her independent nature, and offers a remarkable contrast to that sickly and insipid verse which has of late years inundated the reading world.
In the following specimen we have an earnest of that clearness of thought and justness of diction so rare in poetry, and more especially in the productions of female writers.
“ Farewell, ye soft and sumptuous solitudes !