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Soathey and Scott, in the undefinable shadowing of the imagery, or in the fall of the verse, yet this is no detraction from its merit :-it would be well for such as are disposed to make this an objection to the work, to remember that some of the highest praise which any author of our country has received, is, that he has successfully copied the style of Addison, Goldsmith and Mackenzie. But its style is the least of its merits. It is a complete and consistent poem. It aims at dressing some of the facts of our early history, in the bright robes of poetical fiction. “A mixture of a lie (says Lord Bacon-meaning a lie of poetical invention) doth ever add pleasure.” And those who have attempted, with any degree of success, to give a romantic interest to the matter of fact occurrences of our national history, deserve well of all who love to pause upon the striking features of the annals of their country; or who bave at heart the advancement of its character in the intellectual world.
The Brief Remarker on the Ways of Man; or Compendious Dissertations respecting social and domestic relations and concerns and the various Economy of Life. Designed for the use of American Academies and Common Schools. By Ezra Sampson. 12mo. pp. 264. A. Stoddard, Hudson. 1820.
To those who are familiar with the character of Mr. Sampson, as a citizen, a scholar, and a divine, our commendation of this work is unnecessary. For opinions and principles, political, moral, and religious, he is an excellent guide to the youth of our country. The work in question is fraught throughout with good sense and judicious practical allusions to American manners, circumstances and interests, and will be found not only instructive for the young, but amusing to those more advanced in life. As a series of moral essays, in a style of unassuming simplicity, it ranks with the best which have appeared on either side of the water during the present age. As a literary composition, though not faultless, it is highly respectable. For a work on such subjects, it has the merit of much originality, and in its new dress as prepared for a class book in academies and schools, is well adapted to its purpose. We have great pleasure in recommending this little volume—and are gratified to see it publicly approved by the Superintendant of common schools and the Regents of the university of New-York; because this course, while it does justice to the work, manifests an increased attention to the interesting, but too much neglected, subject of elementary instruction.
AMERICAN ACADEMY OF LANGUAGE AND BELLES LETTRES.
The origin and objects of this National Institution will be best explained and most fairly understood, by the circular letter of the learned gentleman who has since been elected to the station of Corresponding Secretary. The prelude to this letter requests the attention of the person to whom it is addressed, “ to an association of scholars for the purpose of improving American Litera
New-York, October 1, 1820. “ This association, though yet at its commencement and unknown to the public, has been the subject of an interesting correspondence for some months past; and it is believed will not be deemed unimportant as connected with the best interests of our country.
“ To settle at once a point on which some difference might exist, it is not designed, independent of England, to form an American language, farther than as it relates to the numerous and increasing names and terms peculiarly American; but to cultivate a friendly correspondence with any similar association or distinguished individuals in Great Britain, who may be disposed to join us in an exertion to improve our common language.
“ The objects of such an institution which directly present themselves, are, to collect and interchange literary intelligence; to guard against local or foreign corruptions, or to correct such as already exist; to settle varying orthography; determine the use of doubtful words and phrases; and, generally, to form and maintain, as far as practicable, an English standard of writing and pronunciation, correct, fixed, and uniform, throughout our extensive territory. Connected with this, and according to future ability, may be such rewards for meritorious productions, and such incentives to improvement, in the language and literature of our country, and in the general system of instruction, as from existing circumstances may become proper.
“These objects will not be thought trifling, by those who have spent much time in the cultivation of literature, or attended to its influence on society. Such persons need not be told how directly they are connected with our progress in general knowledge, or our public reputation ; or that their influence may extend from social to national intercourse, and to our commercial prosperity. Perspicuity in language is the basis of all science. The philosophy that prosesses to teach the knowledge of things, independent of
words, needs only be mentioned among enlightened men to be rejected.
“ Most of the European nations have considered the improvement of language as an important national object, and have established academies, with extensive funds and privileges, for that purpose. An interference of the government has, perhaps, been omitted in England, from a singular and rather accidental reliance on the acknowledged superiority of a few leading individuals; and so long as all the literature in the English language had its origin and centre in London, there was less danger in thus leaving it to the guidance of chance. Science may be comparatively recluse ; but literature is social; and American scholars, spread over 2,000,000 square miles, are not to be drawn to a virtual and national association without the form.
“ It is very properly said of France that its literature has frequently saved the country when its arms have failed. The advantages resulting to that nation, from the exertions of a few academicians, have been incalculable, and may serve to show, in some degree, what such a confederacy of scholars is capable of performing. The effect of their influence was not barely to elevate France in the literary world, and to improve its learning within itself; but to extend their language throughout Europe ; to introduce, at the expense of other nations, their books, their opinions, and, in aid of other causes, their political preponderance. The Philological Academies of Italy and Spain, though unaided by the same powerful co-operation, have effected very great improvements in the language and literature of their respective countries. The great work now performing by the German scholars, in addition to what they'have before done, is a noble example to other nations, and calculated to elevate the condition of our nature. With how much greater force does every consideration connected with this subject, apply, in a free community, where all depends upon the virtue and intelligence of the great body of the people.
“ Without dwelling a moment on invidious comparisons between England and the United States, the time appears to have arrived, in reference to ourselves, when, having acquired a high standing among nations, having succeeded in a fair trial of the practicability and excellence of our civil institutions, our scholars are invited to call their convention and to form the constitution of national literature.
“We have some peculiar advantages in an attempt to establish national uniformity in language. Happily for us, our forefathers came chiefly from that part of England where their language was most correctly spoken, and were possessed of a good degree of intelligence, according to the learning of that time. Though in a country as diversified as ours, there are, from various causes, many
particular corruptions, we hardly find any thing that can properly be called a provincial dialect. We have at present no very inveterate habits to correct, where gross barbarisms, through large districts, are to be encountered. The attempt therefore, seasonably and judiciously made, presents a prospect not only of success, but of comparative facility. Our scattered population seem only to want from a competent tribunal, a declaration of what is proper, to guide them in their practice. The present appearances are more favourable than the most sanguine among the projectors of the plan dared to predict. There is the best reason to expect the general concurrence of our distinguished literary men in favour of a measure which promises so many advantages, so nationally important in its principles and effects, and to which so little can be objected. It is deemed unnecessary at present to dwell minutely on the details of the plan, which probably will not be difficult to settle, if the leading principles are generally approved. It is equally useless to enter upon a train of arguments to prove the advantages of such an association under the present circumstances of our country. The commanding influence of literature upon national wealth and power, as well as morals, character, and happiness, especially in free communities, will not be doubted by those whose minds have been most directed to this interesting branch of civil policy. Perhaps there never has been, and never may be, a nation more open to the influence of moral causes, than the American Republic at the present time. In every country truly free, public opinion is in effect the governing law; and public opinion, and all the complicated interests of society, greatly depend on the state of national literature. That independence which is our boast must consist in the proper independence of the mind. Without contemning the experience of past ages, we ought not too slavishly to follow the path of others. It is enough to respect the Europeans as honourable competitors, without regarding them as absolute masters.
American ambition should aspire to noble objects, if we mean to rise to excellence : for, besides that the imitator is almost necessarily inferior to his model, the old world can furnish no model suited to the circumstances and character of our country. We are a world by ourselves. Our privileges, resources, and prospects, are of the highest order. Happily exempt from hereditary despotism or bigoted hierarchies, from jealous and powerful bordering nations; the prosessed advocates of rational freedom, the world may justly claim from us an example worthy of such a situation and such a cause.. Our numbers and wealth are greater than those of England were, when the last of her splendid colleges was erected : we may have the learning of Europeans in common stock, with an exemption from their burdens, and the highest eminence which others have attained, ought to be the American starting point in the career of national greatness.
“ And is there any thing impossible, or even particularly difficult, in reducing these ideas to practice? Without expecting to render human nature perfect, or to fix an unalterable standard for living language and literature, may there not be some regulation which will place the decisions of the wise in preference to the blunders of the ignorant? When can a more favourable time be expected, to correct the irregularities yearly multiplying upon us, and becoming more and more embodied with the literature of our country? Why should chance be expected to accomplish, wbat, from its bature, can result only from well-regulated system? It would indeed be imprudent to attempt too much. Sound discretion will point out a middle course between a wild spirit of innovation and a tame acquiescence in obvious error. Language is too important an instrument in human affairs to have its improvement regarded as useless or trifling. Of all the objects of national identity, affection, and pride, national literature is the most laudable, the most operative, and the most enduring. It is to the scholars of antiquity we owe all we know of their statesmen and heroes, and even their distinctive national existence. In the long train of ages their tables of brass have mouldered away, and their high-wrought columns crumbled to dust. Cities have sunk, and their last vestige been lost. The unconscious Turk half-tills the soil manured with decayed sculpture: but the monuments of genius and learning, more durable than marble and brass, remain the subject of undecreasing admiration and delight. The fame to which great minds aspire, is, to soar above the local contentions of the day, and live to after ages in the esteem of their fellow men. The thought of this animates the patriot's hope and nerves his arm, in danger, toil, and want. Shall it not be the ambition of Americans to proclaim the honour of their benefactors, and transmit the glory of their country to the latest age of the world? We are not here to awe the ignorant by the splendour of royal trappings, but to command the respect of the wise and good by moral greatness. These objects are neither above the capacity, nor beneath the attention, of our countrymen. They are interwoven with our individual happiness, our national character, and our highest interests. When we survey this vast assemblage of States, independent, yet united ; competitors in useful improvement, yet members of one great body; the world has never prepared such a theatre for the exhibition of mental and moral excellence : and if the men of all
whom we most delight to honour, have made it their chief glory to advance the literature of their respective countries, shall it be degradingly supposed, that, in this favoured land, either talents or zeal will be wanting in such a cause? If it is said, that Americans