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AMERICA, POLITICAL AND LITERARY.
BY JOHN BALL BRISBIN, SCHUYLERSVILLE, N. Y.
“ America ! half-brother of the world!
With something good and bad of every land;
Greater scarce none can stand." --Festus.
America is great in the extent of her territory and resources; but it is doubtful whether hers be the loose and unwieldy limbs of the boy, or the firm proportions of the iron-sinewed man. Her course has so far been one of signal prosperity, without shock or collision to impede her march or try the firmness of her footing. It becomes, therefore, our duty in these times of peace, to cast an earnest glance about us, and see what are the elements of durability in this our common country. “Know thyself” is a charge equally pertinent to nations as to individuals; and when, as Americans, we look into the complex machinery of our government, and scan the almost terrible momenta by which it acts, we detect sources of real and manifold apprehension. Our diversified soil and motley population give birth to opposite interests and opinions, which, although under the tutelage of an able Constitution, call for most vigilant care. There is, however, a current of opinion below the roiled and noisy surface, which is ever washing up from its deep bosom new elements of strength and safety.
Our limits forbid us to enter on a discussion of the great questions now in agitation, and confine us to the simple inquiry, What are the elements of empire in America ? The first division of our subject will embrace a consideration, first, of our characteristics as a people ; secondly, of some of the evils which attend our government; and, thirdly, the remedy for these evils.
The representative of a nation's character is its public opinion. This public opinion is the aggregated sentiments of its popular mind, derived from its history and situation, and fashioned by its institutions. Thus, English character is made up of two almost antagonistic principles—a love of action curbed by a proud and selfish reserve. Her old Gothic mind, upon which is engrafted the spirit of her Roman nurse; her insular position, with her wise and liberal Constitution, have rooted in the heart of the people of England these, the first elements of a firm and daring greatness. Americans are what their history, their residence, and their institutions have made them. Their first love is that of liberty and home, their only motive to confirm that liberty and secure a competence to that home. With no exploits of novel adventure, no strange inroads upon old establishments, no daring experiments, (except their first great experiment in government,) they have shown to the world the wonder of a nation great in itself, the personation of “ Peace resting in the bosom of Strength.” This
is the end which our origin ensured. Those men who landed on Plymouth rock were not a herd of fierce banditti, or of hot and venturous enthusiasts, such as have generally laid the foundation of empires,
“firm to inflict and stubborn to endure," the advocates of stanch, though persecuted opinions. The traces of such men and such opinions are left in strong lines upon our national character. On this legacy of conservative power, backed by that love of liberty which is almost the instinct of Americans, we must rely for defense against the evils incident to a nation embracing such great and various interests as ours.
We shall now advert to some of these evils. A prevalent ignorance of our condition and the spirit of our government, shewn by the fact that the best commentaries upon our institutions are the works of foreigners, is cause of earnest fear. Our idea of a Democratic government is vague. We are told that ours is a land of the free, but whether this freedom rests upon the rock of truth or on the sandy foundation of error, is a matter seldom thought of, and never submitted to an intelligent canvass. Instead of a political education, our citizens are schooled in the wiles of party, and in the place of broad views of Republican Government, get narrow glimpses of particular features. The Shibboleth of a political sect is a word at which interest and country often fall together in the dust. These parties are led, it is true, by men who stand above the strife, men who know the spells by which the rough elements may be calmed, but who too often, rather than speak peace to the waves, stand waiting to leap upon their topmost crest. Thus the people, instead of being the source of power, become its victims, surrendering their own high functions to aid the schemes of faithless Representatives and wily Demagogues. Another dangerous feature in the character of our countrymen, is the false estimate they place upon political reputation. This is an evil peculiar to a Democratic form of government. The rewards of office are more tempting than the slow but certain fruits of industry; so that many from the false hope that reputation may be gained before respectability, abandon the rich promises which labor yields, to feed upon husks, to grasp at best—a bubble. Without political education, without principles, without honesty, they prowl like hyænas upon the skirts of a victorious party, or sink to fester in the rottenness of kindred depravity.
A class of such men are represented by the Clubs in New York City. The issue of more than one election has been changed by these societies of ruffled braves and besotted assassins. And what more fearful than the fact, that this our Fabric of Freedom,“ whose dome is high in Heaven," rests upon such sulphurous ground; that the land in which are buried that gallant three millions of men who gave us this heritage, should be in a manner ruled by such Lazar-house ruffians! Perhaps we speak too strongly, but the facts are too many and too glaring to go unheeded. So much volcanic material, so much organized iniquity as all of our large cities contain, unless checked by a stronger power, is full of awful portent.
There is a safeguard against this evil. It is in the heart of the American people, which no oppression can fetter and no corruption taint. It is the love of liberty-of country.
" Reverence,” says Carlyle, “the divinest in man, springs forth always from an envelopment of fear;" and however much the love of country may be forgotten in the heat of party contests, it springs into phrenzy at the approach of peril. There is, moreover, a conservative feature in our government, which resists all danger from individual discontent. The civil wars of England, and the French Revolution, would not have resulted as they did, but for the master-influence of individual actors. Here, the individual is not exalted above the mass. A man is only great by means of his constituency in the whole. The vis inertiæ of the mass is what all single minds must find fatal to them, when they attempt extraordinary things. No single mind, no association of minds adhering to singular opinions, can obtain permanent sway. A sort of popular egotism is startled, which resists innovation. Thus, our country stands in no hazard from those sudden convulsions which have torn other countries, when a crazed and riotous populace have seconded the ambition of some master-rebel. Resistance to the government is fatal to the governed. Slow and subtle must be the working of that power which hurls from its height the Guardian of American liberty.
We have now given a hasty but honest glance at the political condition of our country, and there remains another standard by which to measure it—that of mind. This is above all others the true guage of national greatness. Broad lands and boundless treasures are elements of a nation's greatness, only so far as they favor the development of its mind; for the end of every human compact is to adapt mankind for the fruition of that perfect government whose author is God.
In the second division of our subject we shall aim, first, to decide upon the justness of different expectations which are entertained of our literature ; secondly, to point out its special destiny; and, lastly, to give satisfactory grounds for our belief.
Great hopes have been entertained that America would be the seat of new and wondersul developments in mind. Its scenery of mingled grandeur and beauty; the ragged mountain and the sunny plain ; the awful cataract and the placid lake, all scattered in such wild and various contrast over its surface, were expected to arouse strange energies in thought. Such expectations have not been realized to a full degree, and our own vanity suggests that we are in the youth of great things, while foreign rivalry proclaims that American genius has already reached its highest flight. A careful study of our history and character, we think will show that neither are correct. We have before remarked that our country was founded by men of established character and opinion. Such are indeed the men who lay broad and deep the foundations of empire, but they are not of those who endow a nation's history with that various and stormy action which prompts the highest efforts of mind. Our history is a record of privations and manful struggles against an inclement fortune, rather than of venturous
exploits. None but sterling characteristics were displayed, and the eye of Genius saw but few phases of the human heart. When trammeled by the stubborn systems of a regular life, Genius dares not to picture its strangest visions, and loses its “lust of power.” Humanity only in its wild and riotous excesses stirs it to bold and eccentric effort. Thus the greatest Poets, Orators, Painters, and Sculptors have arisen in the infancy of their arts. Homer, Chaucer, Spenser, Shakspeare, and Dante-Raphael, Titian, Michael Angelo-the Greek Sculptors and Tragedians, all lived in the beginning of their arts, and carried them almost to their highest perfection. The age has passed away, therefore, when we might have expected those “ Titans of the soul” who scale its highest heaven. There is yet a special excellence for which American mind may aim with certainty of success. It is that of becoming a co-worker with our Republican government, of informing public opinion, which is at once the motive and governing power of our institutions. " Invent writing, Democracy is inevitable. Writing brings Printing—universal, every-day, extempore printing, as we see at present. Whoever can speak, speaking now to the whole nation, becomes a power, a branch of government, with inalienable weight in law-making, in all acts of authority. It matters not what rank he has, what revenues or garnitures; the requisite thing is, that he have a tongue which others will listen to; this and nothing more is requisite. The nation is governed by all that has tongue in the nation. Democracy is virtually there."** A literature which will have a tongue wherewith to reach the nation's heart and convert it from a worship of the simulacra to a true and lively reverence for the reality of Democracy, is what we have cause to expect. Our physical resources and our literature will then be the twin and inseparable pillars of a great and permanent Republic. We shall then have no need of song or story to commemorate our name ; it will live with the life of nations, either as a distinct existence or as a mighty leaven to raise and purify the human race.
Let us consider, for a few moments, the tendencies to such a consummation. The peculiarities of its government must stamp themselves in a degree upon a nation's mind. Law embodies its rules of action, literature its rules of thought, and each is representative of a phase of its public opinion. Our political institutions must, therefore, have a connection with our literature, and a proportionate influence upon it. What is this influence? It nurses freedom of thought. But
the mind cannot be enslaved ; it will make itself wings "wherewith to it overfly the narrow circus-of its dungeon walls.” This is not true. Look
at the slave, the timid, crouching slave; why does he not break his bonds? Is it because they are too strong for him ; or has the long habit of bodily slavery made his mind servile? The same influence, although in a qualified degree, acts upon those who live under monarchical forms of government. Does the Russian serf (although he be, as is sometimes the case, a millionaire) think for himself? No. His soul is dragged down to share the slavery of his body. We may still farther illustrate the blessings which our free institutions confer upon mind, by contrasting their influence with that of the less liberal government of England. This is best shown by the rarity of instances we find in England of men rising from very low estate to royalty in mind. England can boast, it is true, some such deathless names. Keats from his Gallipots, and still later, Prince from the very alms-houseboth have found a tongue with which to utter the language of a strange and mysterious poesy. Other, and perhaps brighter exceptions, migh be cited ; but here it would seem as if Genius had gone mostly to the way places and hedges and forced the lowly to join its bridal company. Among the best in our Senate and the brightest in our letters are those who have toiled their way up to greatness, who have learned
“ How sublime a thing it is
To suffer and be strong." These men have become great, not so much from the facilities for a common knowledge which our systems of education afford them, as from the self-reliance which a sense of freedom confers. The moment you make a man politically equal to his fellow, you give him a consciousness that he is so in all respects. This is the source of confidence. And how many from a want of this royal egotism, have smothered thoughts of fire and fallen victims to their own unsatisfied yearnings! Confidence rolls the stone from the sepulchre and liberates ihe imprisoned Deity of mind. Upon this confidence, which every American feels, backed by freedom of opinion and community of knowledge, both of which are the gift of our institutions, we may rely for a literature- -a national literature, not confined to a few vast minds, intellectual Pyramids, which enshrine the “Great Thought” of a nation, but a literature which shall be equally the offspring and property of our whole population.
THE IDEAL ELEMENT IN ANCIENT CIVILIZATION.
BY JAMES MCLAREN BREED DWIGHT, NORWICH, CONN.
REVERENCE for the Past is a feeling so deeply seated in the heart oi man, and so difficult to be eradicated, that we may almost regard it as one of the innate principles of our nature. It grows with our growth, and strengthens with our strength. The old infuse it into the minds of the young, along with the teachings of inspiration, and leave it as a last legacy with their parting blessing. The young transfer the respect they feel for the aged, to the generation in which they lived, and mourn that “ the good old times" will never return again. Such is its magic power, that while, as with microscopic glass, it magnifies the venial faults and follies of the Present to gigantic size, it throws its