« PreviousContinue »
is inadequate to the task. For, we are aware, that to judge rightly of the merit of a writer is a very
difficult matter. For this purpose, a person must be a scholar of a high order, a master of the subject on which he is to criticise another ; his excellency, in that part, must be well established. Next, he must be an experienced critic; a man who has not only a thorough knowledge of the principles and rules of the art, but who knows by long experience how to apply them to the subject under investigation ; which is a quality very distinct from the former, of having a theoretical knowledge ; and yet, it is as essential for right criticism, as is practice to a physician, after he has learned the theory of the medical art. Finally, the critic must be divested of all prejudice on account of nationality, or other motive; but must be determined to render a verdict according to merit, and to assign to the writer of a work, the rank which he deserves, regardless of individual or national considerations. These being the necessary qualifications of a critic, who can boast of possessing them all in an eminent degree?
18. It is true, that many persons, entirely dis
(17.) Is it an easy matter to judge rightly of the merit of a
qualified, and either without, or only after a short examination, often pronounce with the authority of a Pythagoras, upon works which have cost years of labor to writers of acknowledged ability ; but the example of these rash critics, instead of being an incentive, in this case is precisely a motive for avoiding a similar error; since in no other way the arrogance and ignorance of a man is made more evident, than by his attempt, through pride, to accomplish a thing, of which he is utterly incapable.
19. If such persons, before attempting to criticise distinguished writers, will heed the advice of Horace, which well applies to this subject also, they will have no cause of regretting their error when it is too late ; and will be spared much confusion on account of public scorn. 66 Take a subject equal to your powers, and consider long, what your shoulders refuse, what they are able to bear.”
“ Sumite materiam vestris viribus
æquam.” Et versate diu quid ferre recusent, Quid valeant humeri."
20. Hence we must repeat again; no task is more difficult, than this of fixing the rank to which
(18.) What example do incompetent persons set on this point ?
What do they betray? (19.) What advice should they heed ?
a writer is entitled. We know of a number of classics, whose works were not fully appreciated by contemporaneous writers; although they were bright lights, they could not dispel the darkness of the age in which they lived ; it was in subsequent ages only, that their dazzling splendor was revealed and admired.
On the contrary, certain authors, who were highly extolled in their time, as superior models of imitation, are now deemed imperfect. Very few are the classics, who, through a long series of ages, have uniformly obtained from the most cultivated nations of the earth the high testimony of master-talents; as for instance, among the epic poets, Homer, Virgil, Tusso, and Milton.
21. Leaving, therefore, to the wise judgment of high literary men of this, and of the subsequent age, the task of determining the relative merit and rank of each author in the English literature; we shall only select a few names among the distinguished English and American writers, and will close with some brief remarks concerning the relative progress of literature in England and America.
(20.) Are there any instances of eminent writers, who were
not esteemed before, but after their death, and in
versely? How many are those who have been recognized as mas
ter-talents by all ages? Name some. (21.) To whom, then, does the task of determining the rank
and merit of each author belong?
22. England is certainly not inferior to any nation in the production of literary geniuses. In the Dramatic, Epic, Pastoral, Lyric and Didactic Poetry she has luminaries of the highest sphere ; such are Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Pope, Collins, Gray, Warton, Cowper, Goldsmith, Byron, Walter Scott, Burns, Macaulay, and a great many others.
23. In prose she has high-order EsSAYISTS, as Addison, Dr. Johnson ; NOVELISTS, as Walter
, Scott, Charles Dickens; HISTORIANS, as Hume, Goldsmith, Gibbon, Mackintosh ; ORATORS, as Burke, Chatham, Walpole, Grattan ; REVIEWERS, as the Erlinburgh Review, and Blackwood's Magazine; PHILOSOPHERS, as Lockc and Hume, besides a vast number of others.
24. The United States of America, although yet young in the sisterhood of nations, have already produced superior talents in the various branches of literature. The list of AMERICAN Poets who have acquired celebrity is already too long to recite. John Pierpont, Wm. Cullen Bryant, Joseph Rodman Drake, Charles Sprague, H. W. Longfellow, John G. Saxe, Richard H. Dana, N. P. Willis, A. D. Street, 0. W. Holmes, belong to the bright constellation of the Western stars. In Essays, Dr. Channing, R. W. Emerson ; in Novels, James Fenimore Cooper, James K. Paulding; in History, Washington Irving, George Bancroft, J. S. C. Abbott; in ORATORY, Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun, E. Everett, W. Phillips, H. W. Beecher, Edward Baker, Thomas Starr King; in REVIEWS, The North American Review, Atlantic Monthly; in Law, Judge Story, Chancellor Kent, Theophilus Parson, Simon Greenleaf, Emory Washburn; in NATURAL SCIENCE, Professors Sillimar, Gedman, Ware, Dr. Bigelow, of Massachusetts, and many others.
(22.) Name some of the most eminent English writers, in the
Dramatic, Epic, Pastoral, Lyric, and Didactic Poetry. (23.) Mention some of the best Essayists--Novelists-Histo
rians-Reviewers and English Philosophers.
25. The relative positions which England and America hold in the noble circle of literature are those of a graduate and of an advanced scholar. This difference is the result of disparity of age, rather than of merit and talent. The youth of
(24.) Point out some of the most renowned American authors
in Poetry — Essays - Novels-History-Oratory--Re
viewing-Law-Natural Science. (25.) What is the relative stand of England and America in
point of literature ?