« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
literature not Catholic can really flourish, and attain a permanent growth, or a respectable rank among the living literatures of the world. There need be no question, then, as to the fact that Cath. olic America will be the author of our national literature. This we look upon as settled.
But, at present, we are not in the condition to make any important contributions to this national literature. National literature is the expression of the national life, and follows the formation of the national character. The Greek character preceded Greek literature, and the Roman character was fixed centuries before there was a Roman literature. Our national character is not yet formed. What we term our national character is merely provisional, and will disappear, or be essentially modified, when the mass of our people cease to be Protestants and infidels, and place themselves in harmony with Christian civilization. The real American character is yet to be formed, and to be formed under Catholic influences. It is to Catholic America we are to look ; for it alone is living and has the promise of the future; and Catholic America as yet hardly exists. Our Catholic population is not yet homogeneous, has no common national character. It is Irish, French, German, and each division retains the national peculiarities of the country from which it has emigrated. There has been, as yet, no time to melt down the mass, and combine its separate elements in a new national character, neither Irish, nor French, nor German, but composed of the real excellences of each. The portion descended from the early American settlers are themselves as far as either of the others from possessing what is to be, ultimately, the American character; for, as to their social habits, literary tastes, their general culture, as to all, in fact, not strictly of faith, they are Protestant rather than Catholic. Now, till this fusion takes place, till national di. versities and peculiarities lose themselves in one common national character, with common habits, views, tastes, and feelings, we have not the indispensable conditions of a national literature. The native American portion demand a literature which smacks of the provisional national character; the Irish require their national tastes and peculiarities to be addressed ; and the French and Germans cannot be pleased to have theirs neglected. All this is natural and inevitable. It implies no reproach to one or to another. Nobody can blame the German because his affections cluster around his fatherland, and his heart is moved by the songs of the Rhine, as it cannot be by those of the Ohio and the Mississippi ; the Irishman is not censurable because his heart turns to “ the Green Isle of the Ocean,” — all the dearer from the memory of her wrongs, and because no strains can touch him like those to which he listened in his childhood ; nor any more the native American for finding dear. est to him those accents which soothed him in the caresses of his mother. Cold is the heart that does not beat quicker at the men.
tion of its native land, and that does not linger with its sweetest affections around its early home, the only home it ever finds in this wide world. Dear to us is that home of our childhood, and fresh are the breezes which come freely over the green hills which skirt it. No sky is so serene as that which bends over it; no sun so bright as that which shines on it; no air so pure as that we breathed when in it, before the wanderings, the turmoils, and cares of life began. We love that mountain home ; we love its very look, its tone, and its simple manners, and we find elsewhere nothing to compensate for their loss. We complain not that the emigrant turns fondly to his fatherland, and clings to the life he received from it. No people ever becomes great which is not thoroughly national, and which cannot more easily part with life than with its national. ity. All we say, or mean to say, is, that our Catholic population is collected from different nations, with diverse national characters; and while they are so, before they become homogeneous in their character, we cannot find in them the public requisite for the creation and growth of a national literature. This, however, is only a temporary obstacle, and will soon disappear. But while it remains, we cannot do much for a national literature, and must content ourselves with such works as address themselves to the intellect alone, or to those sentiments and affections which are common to all men, whatever the diversity of their national origin or breeding.
But even if we had the public, we have not the authors. This is yet a missionary country, and the clergy, on whom the literature of every country mainly depends, are so few in proportion to the number of the faithful who need their services, their professional duties are so great, so pressing, and so arduous, that they have little leisure for purely literary pursuits. The field of their labors is in the obscure courts, the dark lanes, the damp cellars, the unventilated garrets, in the hut of poverty, by the side of wretchedness and grief, administering to the sick and dying, fathers to the fatherless, friends to the friendless, pouring the oil and wine into the broken heart, and binding up the bruised spirit; and we would not see them abandoning this field for the low and comparatively unimportant calls of literature and science. They have the learning, the genius, the ability, for a rich and living literature ; but they have a higher vocation, more glorious duties, and too deep a love for souls to neglect them.
After the clergy, where are our authors? The literary portion of the nations which have furnished us our Catholic population do not emigrate. The mass of emigrants are from the poorer and less educated classes, with some individual exceptions, surely; and their motive for emigrating is, not to call forth an American literature, but to better their worldly condition, and to leave a richer worldly inheritance to their children. The laity born among ourselves, whether of later or earlier emigrants, educated as they
are in a Protestant atmosphere, with literary habits and tastes formed on Protestant models, are but poorly qualified to give tone and character to Catholic literature. They may be able to write well in exposition and defence of the faith, if they take the pains to inform themselves, and do not feel themselves too proud to submit what they write, before going to press, to the criticism and revision of the authorized teacher ; but the moment they attempt to go beyond what is set down for them, aspire to be original, and to speak out from their own spontaneous life, as every man must do if he is to attain to any literary excellence, they betray their Protestant tastes and associations, and exert an influence altogether un. favorable to the growth and purity of Catholic life. Our own schools and colleges will, in time, correct this evil; but as yet they have not corrected it. Most of them are of too recent origin to have exerted much influence, and none of them have sent out many Catholic scholars who have remained in the ranks of the laity. But few Catholic parents have been able to educate their children abroad, and it cannot be denied that the education of our laity, thus far, has been but partially Catholic. Even our schools have been for Protestants as much as for ourselves, and, through a real or supposed necessity, we have had to submit to all the evils of a mixed education, alike unfavorable to Catholics and Protestants. Hence, those among our laity who are educated have more or less of a Protestant incrustation, and, when it comes to pure literature, write as much in the Protestant as in the Catholic spirit.
We speak of literature proper, of works intended for popular reading. These are the works which need the most to be looked after. The most influential writers, whether for good or for evil, are those who are taken from the ranks of the people, and who write for the people. They may exert an influence wholly repug. nant to our holy religion, and do immense harm, without departing in a single instance from the strict letter of the faith. We have ourselves had frequent occasion to examine books professedly Catholic, and designed for popular reading, which, though we could not lay our finger on a passage absolutely heterodox, breathed a purely Protestant tone and spirit, wholly offensive to the Catholic instinct. The tone and spirit of a book intended for the people is the main thing. The distinct and formal statements of a popular book are not what produces its effects on the mass of readers. It is the unconscious life of the author diffused through the work, and which he could not avoid diffusing through it, if he would, that determines its influence for good or for evil. Hence the reason why the Church is so strict in her discipline, and shows so little mercy especially to the purely literary works of heretics. She knows that a literary work of any worth, in a literary point of view, must be, to a considerable extent, the expression of the life of its author,
VOL. III. NO. IV.
and therefore, if the author be a heretic, it must contain a secret poison which will prove at least hurtful to the purity and strength of the Catholic life. This same poison may be imbibed by a Catholic who lives and breathes in an heretical atmosphere, and be diffused through his works as well as through those of a Protestant, and will be none the less dangerous because he is a Catholic.
We all know that Protestantism at present predominates in this country. Those of our laity most likely to write for the people are those among us who are most exposed to its influence, and the most likely to be affected by it. They are not exactly scholars by profession; they have not received a thoroughly Catholic training; they are persons of general information and of general reading; but they are readers of modern, and chiefly Protestant, literature. They are, no doubt, firm Catholics, and would sooner die than knowingly depart from the faith ; but, half Protestantized in their views of things in general, and taking it for granted that all the difference between Catholics and Protestants lies in the formal differences between their respective creeds, they write in a tone and spirit which can do no good, and which can hardly fail to do immense harm. We are not censuring them. They cannot make themselves other than they are, and they cannot write without writing themselves. No man can. We only say, they cannot write books which it is always safe to circulate among the people, and cannot create and build up a Catholic national literature. Their works have a natural tendency to lower the Catholic tone, to relax the Catholic spirit, and to sully, if not corrupt, the virgin purity of the Catholic soul. Hence, where theit works circulate, we miss the high and lofty, stern and uncompromising, Catholic public sentiment which is needed, both for our own sakes and for the sake of those who are without. A low and half-compromising tone among Catholics is of the greatest disadvantage to Protestants, for it tends to confirm them in their fatal errors. When we were ourselves Protestant, we were accustomed to hear our friends remark on the character and spirit of Catholics in this country. “Catholics, here," they were accustomed to say, “live and breathe in a Protestant atmosphere. They may retain the forms of their faith and worship, but they soon lose the Catholic spirit. They become assimilated to us in tone and sentiment, and their grandchildren are sure to be absorbed in the Protestant community.” Protestants are thus led to think only of seeing Catholics assimilating to them, and not at all of the necessity of their becoming Catholics. There is more foundation for their remarks than there should be, and our grandchildren will be more likely to be Protestants or infic an Catholics, unless Catholics are on their guard against the fatal influences in the midst of which they live, and, for the present, must live. Their best protection, after placing themselves under that of God and his Holy Mother, is to dare be Catholics, and to assert and maintain a free, high, and uncompromising Catholic spirit, to refuse all assimilation with Protestantism, to derive their ideas on all subjects from Catholic sources alone, and to distrust every thing, however harmless it may appear, that has an heretical origin. The truer, firmer, more devoted, more exclusive Catholics we are, the more influential we shall be, the more respect shall we command, and the more agreeable will be our social position. No man need lose caste in this country by being a Catholic. Let him be true to his Church, and no harm can befall him, even in his temporal life.
We shall not be misunderstood. We do not contend that Catholics should, on all occasions and in all companies, obtrude their faith and Church. There is a time for all things. There are the common courtesies of civilized life, there are the reciprocal obligations and the kind offices of good neighbourhood, which, of course, are never to be neglected, a respect for the rights and the honorable feelings of others, which are always to be scrupulously observed. But what we urge is, that we remember always that the Church holds the first place in every Catholic's affections, and that all in life is to be subordinated to the one great end of pleasing God and gaining heaven. This should always be present to our souls, and influence or determine the spirit of all we do or say. In regard to literature, we do not ask that the Catholic always wield the tomahawk and battle-axe of controversy, that he be ever formally stating the claims of his Church, and denouncing all who are not within its pale. There is enough of all this in our literature as it is. But what we do want is the Catholic soul, the Catholic spirit, which shall unco
consciously pervade all we write, and inform every sentence and word, so that whoever takes up one of our works, at whatever page
opens, shall feel that its author could have been none other than a Catholic. It is this which gives such power and unction to the writers of the ages of faith. They say little of the Church, little of religion, unless treating it professedly, make no professions of faith or piety, but every word betrays them, and the very servant-girls take notice that they have been with Jesus, and must have been genuine Catholics. It is this which makes them so precious and edifying to the Catholic, and so insipid or offensive to the Protestant. We would see this revived. Would that forty years of heresy had not forbidden us, personally, to hope to be able, before dying, to write, as a Catholic should write, out from a life that had never been sullied by a single Protestant association ! But, alas! this cannot be. We can only stand as a beacon of warning to others. We can see and feel what should be ; the power to produce it has been thrown away, and, for our punishment, is not to be recovered. But, how much so ever of our former Protestant life we may yet retain, we can clearly see that the Protestant life and the Catholic are of two distinct orders, and cannot and will not assimilate ; that what is agreeable to the one will be of