Εικόνες σελίδας
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

reader, who, bending over the instructive or affecting page, holds friendly and useful communion with its author's mind, finds his pleasure enhanced by the reflection of its being obtained in fraud and defiance of the author's right. Not many of our countrymen would bring a good relish to the stalled ox served up gratis from their helpless neighbour's herd: we do not know them, if they prefer that the intellectual food they so relish should be seasoned with the thought of making no return to the producer. We insist that it is a mere unfounded and offensive libel to say, that of the hundreds of thousands, the millions, who on this side of the water have found so much of the charm of their lives in the writings of Scott, there is any number deserving to be counted who have satisfaction in the remembrance of having contributed nothing to keep that great heart from breaking. Had American laws been but as honest as American feelings—had very much less than what was there due from us been rendered-one of the most melancholy chapters in literary history would not have been written. One of the sublimest spirits that the inspiration of the Almighty ever endowed would have conquered in the tremendous, and, as it was doomed to be, fatal endeavour to render to others the dues which this proud and pretending people, profuse of every other tribute to his genius but justice, so cruelly withheld from him. The wizard harp of the North might still—who knows ?-have been charming mankind with its else inexhaustible enchantments. As it was, the creator of those worlds of delight struggled with desperate and agonised bravery, and died. We Americans helped ourselves to the fruit of his mighty toils, and extolled it largely, and, being mindful, to have it at the cheapest, we let him have his struggle to himself, and we let him die.' 2

With regard to the effects of the piratical system on the integrity of literature, numerous details might be mentioned to prove that the 'glory,' which Lord Camden declared to be the sole proper reward of science, is quite as insecure as the more substantial boon. We might notice—if any doubt existed respecting such facts—examples of mutilated editions, false reprints, books abridged and revised by the simple process of tearing out many leaves, and various other bibliographical curiosities, including a complete edition of Lord Bacon's works' without the De Augmentis and Novum Organum. “If the thing is suffered to go on,' says the Review already quoted, 'different books under the same name will presently be in the hands of English and American scholars. References will be no guides in reading. The best fruits of the mind of each country will be ludicrously travestied in the other's view. The identity of the great monuments of genius and study will be confounded and lost.'


[ocr errors]

1 This was written in 1842.

2 North American Review, No. 55.

On the moral effects of the system, several grave statements by American writers might be quoted. We give the following passage, because it cannot be fairly regarded as the complaint of an unsuccessful author. The writer has been chiefly engaged in reviewing and editing the works of his countrymen, and has been comparatively well rewarded for his labour. Speaking of the refusal of Congress to protect the copyrights of foreigners, he observes that it effectually deprives us of most of the really great works with which the presses of Europe are teeming, while it gives us nearly all they produce that is frivolous and vicious. It costs a great deal of money, as well as labour, to prepare the market for large works; there must be much advertising, a large distribution of copies, elaborate abstracts in reviews and journals, and many other means to create a demand ; and the expenses of these means must be added to those of the mechanical manufacture. Yet now, as has been shewn by numerous instances, as soon as a house with enterprise and capital has issued a readable impression of a work, and secured for it such a circulation as promises a fair remuneration, some base fellow is sure to bring out, on dingy brown paper and small type, a deluge of cheap copies, with which he reaps all the advantages of the first publisher's efforts, and leaves him with his stock unsold, and his investment unreturned. It is true, that notwithstanding these dangers, a few of the more indispensable histories and other fruits of true cultivation are reprinted here; but they are generally issued in the most compact and cheap style, sometimes much abridged, and nearly always without those charts and plates which add so much to the value of many foreign editions. A recognition of the foreign author's right of property would at once remedy this part of the evil entirely.'1

1.On the other hand, there is extraordinary activity in the republication of the light and licentious literature of the time. It is sickening to lean over the counters of the shops where cheap books are sold, and survey the trash with which the criminal folly of the government is deluging the country. Every new issue deepens the wide-spread depravity, and extends the demand for its successor, As but little capital is required for the business, and the returns are quick, these leprous spots are constantly springing up in the cities, and to gratify the prurient tastes which they create, the literary sewers of Paris and London are dragged for the filthiest stuff which floats or sinks in their turbid waters. The demoralisation increases, and the novels of Paul de Kock, disgusting as they are in the original (in which a racy style and sparkling wit render them attractive, despite their moral deformity), are made worse by the addition of gross obscenity by the translator; and from those of Eugene Sue the reflective portions, which serve to neutralise the effects of the narrative, are left out. All private morals, all domestic peace, ily before this withering curse, which the Congress persists in sustaining, by its refusal to recognise the rights of the foreign author. For, if the respectable publishers could be protected in their business, they would furnish good editions of good books, that would give a healthy tone to the common sentiment, and drive this profligate literature into oblivion; if the foreign author were protected in his rights, he would be but a competitor of the native author, and would have an inducement to support those liberal principles of society which are here established, thus strengthening them here, and diffusing them in his own country; and if the American were thus admitted to a competition in his own market with the European, our best intellects would be busy with the instruction of the people, which is now in so large a degree surrendered to the supporters of aristocracies.'Griswold.

These statements may be received as substitutes for several theories intended to explain the defects of American literature, especially its want of a distinct national tone.

It is fair to observe, in connection with this notice of their difficulties, that writers on the other side of the water enjoy certain facilities in the acquirement of reputations. Their field of enterprise is not crowded like that of literature in the old country. Of many names included in the following review, it may bé truly said, that they owe their prominence partly to their early appearance. In the beginning of the next century, literary distinction will not be so easily gained as it has been during the last thirty-five years. Every reader knows that in England we have a legion of authors who either have written or could write such verses as would have been famous a hundred years ago. The poetry contributed by Americans during recent years has been received in the old country with a degree of favour hardly granted to home productions of the same class. Our reviews have been carried over the water, and have seemed to gain importance by the voyage.

The young American author who has been noticed in the English journals, suddenly finds himself famous, while he hardly knows on which side of the Atlantic his reputation had its origin. In short, the fame of several minor poets has been spread by echoes, rather than by the power of any original voice. There are certain localities where the shout of a child sounds like the voice of a congregation.

While we trust that the present work may be regarded as a fair general survey of American Literature, it is necessary to observe, that it does not pretend to define strictly the proportionate merits of many living writers, or to anticipate the verdicts of future time on the works of the present age. It is obviously a difficult task. to notice, with a view to just proportions, the writings of many contemporaries, and it will be easy to criticise the distribution of materials and the relative degrees of attention' paid to several names included in our pages; while it is more than probable that some few names worthy of notice have been omitted. Such defects, in details implying questions of opinion and taste, can have little importance, when compared with the general fairness of a review. It should be remembered that a survey of recent literature must be written without the aid derived from opinions matured by time. The true and permanent fame of good books arises, in the first place, from the fact that they are read and esteemed by men of superior intelligence. These readers have the power of extending their own opinions, which are infinitely more durable than the tastes and fashions of the multitude. It is not by the votes of majorities that the rulers of literature maintain their sway. In every period, the readers who fairly appreciate the best writers are comparatively few; but their thoughts remain steadfast from one age to another, and ever extend their influence, until the decision once pronounced by two or three voices becomes the recognised judgment of the world. Verdicts which now appear as the results of individual judgment, have, in truth, required centuries for their consideration. As an example, the relative degrees of merit in the dramatists of the sixteenth century, have been fully estimated, for the first time, in the present age. The contrast between Shakspeare and his contemporaries may now seem obvious to every reader, but was probably never seen by the admirers of Marston and Webster. These remarks may suffice to shew the difficulty—to say nothing of the presumption of any attempt to arrange strictly in the order of merit the names of many living writers.







A GLANCE at the early history of the colonial times will be sufficient to shew, that we must not expect to find here any writings to be classed with elegant literature. The Pilgrims who arrived at Plymouth in 1620, and their followers who settled the states of New England, had generally a respect for learning in its relation to theology; but of imaginative works, or any other form of literature written for amusement, they knew little or nothing. The cares of planting, building, and defending their property-the wilderness-work' of the new colonies, as an old writer quaintly says-gave full employment to the majority; while the few superior men—such as Cotton and Hooker—who enjoyed leisure, devoted it to the study of theology and church-discipline. Even the religious teachers in these times had their share of worldly cares. Roger Williams, who proclaimed, in the year 1631, the doctrine of entire liberty of conscience, and afterwards founded the colony of Rhode Island, wrote several small books and pamphlets; but his life was not passed in quiet studies. “My time,' he says, ' was not spent altogether in spiritual labours ;

but day and night, at home and abroad, on the land and water, at the hoe, at the oar—for bread.'

During the early colonial period, including the latter part of the seventeenth century, the literature most worthy of notice consisted of journals, records, biographies, and various materials of history which have been serviceable to Bancroft, Hildreth, and




« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »