« PreviousContinue »
and the government, in which the spectators have little concern except as they naturally feel some compassion for the weaker party. How different is it where the government is the organ, and the law the expression, of the popular reason and the popular will. Every citizen has an interest in the law and in the administration of it ; and the consequence is that when a crime has been committed, every citizen feels it as a wrong done to himself, every eye is awake to discover the criminal, and every hand is ready to aid in arresting him. Now and then there is indeed--though less frequently than in other countries--some outbreak of popular passion. There is a riot in the streets of some city, or a daring piece of mischief by the lewd fellows of the baser sort in some village--such as in old England would hardly be noticed as any thing extraor.linary. At once a thousand voices cry out, that the laws are dishonored, and the ark of freedom is taken. Some petty offence, through the delinquency of a petty magistrate, or some graver crime, through the perverseness of a jury, escapes due retribution, and at once a thousand voices are lifted up in solemn indignation. It is our national sensitiveness to the sacred dignity of law, our deep conviction of the indispensableness of law to freedom, which makes us so ready, on every occasion, to tremble lest our freedom end in anarchy. It is a salutary fear, and whenever and wherever the public mind is unconscious of that fear, then and there, is danger for our country,
Public spirit is another of these republican virtues. This is a sort of local patriotism. It is the spirit which moves the inhabitants of a town or city, a particular district or locality, to plans and efforts for their own common good. It provides a city with commodious avenues, with public squares and walks and groves. It endows institutions for the promotion of knowledge, the library, the lyceum, the university. It decorates the place with stately edifices for public use, churches, school-houses, halls of justice. It raises the spire, the monumental column, the honorary statue. It pours along the crowded haunts of human life pure water from the mountains, a stream of health and comfort. So in a village, it keeps the rural sanctuary and school-house neat and trim. It encloses the green with its white railing. It roots out the briers from the place of graves, and plants the trees that are to throw their solemn shade upon that tranquil spot. It exerts itself to keep the highways and bridges in repair, and
SECOND SERIES. VOL. III. NO. I.
to have good schools for all the children. In a larger district it operates on similar objects. It marks out those lines of communication which shall make intercourse most easy and rapid. Here it opens a new road, or straightens an old one ; there, it connects rivers by a canal; and on another line, it constructs a railway. Here it sets up an academy ; there it builds a college. Public spirit is at work with various degrees of vigor, of wisdom and of steadiness, all over the country, for all sorts of objects. The structure of society takes it for granted that there will be public spirit every where, and every where it is infusing public spirit into the popular mind. The people are all trained to the habit of taking care for their own common concerns. Not only the nation collectively, and each state separately, but each county, each town, each school district, is to provide for its own common interests. In what country upon earth, can you find so many myriads of minds continually on the alert to see how the public may be better accommodated ?
If I may be allowed to name another of the civic virtues necessary to the well being of our form of society, it is frugality and siniplicity of manners. In all countries not republican, the government is of course confounded with the individuals who administer it, or rather those individuals are the government. All the magnificence of the state is simply the personal magnificence of the sovereign. The sovereign is to be magnificent in all his expenditures. Frugality in a king-simplicity of style and manners in a king--it is not respectable. The palace must glitter with gold, and the crown must flash with gems, or the whole concern is shabby. Personal magnificence then being necessary for the sove. reign, it is of course necessary in its degree for those higher orders in society who approach the throne in station and in power. Besides, in that unnatural distribution of wealth which characterizes all European countries, frugality and simplicity of manners, however necessary and becoming in the poor, is a very doubtful virtue in the aristocracy. In addition to its being vulgar, it is of doubtful popularity. The aristocracy are the spending class, one of their functions is to spend what the toil of the peasantry produces ; and ought not they to spend profusely? With us, on the other hand, none but a fool, or one whose head is turned by too sudden or too high an elevation, can confound the government with the men who administer it. Here the magnificence of the great federal republic is one thing, and the magnificence of the great men of the republic is another thing. The capitol, the public offices, the national ships, the arsenals, the custom houses in great cities—let them be magnificent; they belong to the Union, and the magnificence of the Union is becoming. But the personal magnificence of the President, and of those who aspire to the Presidency—the personal equipage, the luxury and pomp of senators and heads of departments and executive functionaries,—is entirely out of keeping, and the good sense of the people revolts at it. That functionary trusted with millions of the public treasure, whose legal revenues from his office, might with frugality and simplicity, endow him with the power of becoming an honored and happy benefactor of his country, if he undertakes to be magnificent,-becomes a defaulter, and flees from his country's wrath into infamous exile. That statesman who forgetting such models as Franklin and Sherman, is touched with the vulgar ambition of princely style and splendor, will find that no American revenue is equal to such ambition; and however illustrious he may be with the gifts of nature and the fruits of his own studious toil, though his eloquence transcend the fame of Tully and rival that of Demosthenes, though he be the glory of the forum and of the senate, and applauding thousands catch each echo of his voice, he will find in time that to squander with princely magnificence, is to lose the highest favor, not of the rabble, but of the people.
Here then you see in part what American literature must be in its character and in its functions, whenever it shall be truly American. It must be marked with the impress, and alive with the spirit, of these manly republican virtues. One of its great duties must be to cherish such virtues, to keep them alive and active in the popular mind, that they may grow with the nation's growth, and strengthen themselves from age to age, the ever brightening tokens of the nation's immortality.
Another sort of influence, peculiar as yet in a great degree to our own country, will have much to do in determin. ing both the proper character and the proper functions of our national literature. In other ages and lands, the man of letters has had his patrons, in whose favor he has lived, and whom his grateful verse or prose has immortalized. Literature has been for a particular class—for the imperial Augustus, for the munificent Pollio, for the noble Mecænas atavis editus regibus. Here on the other hand, if it becomes really national, it will be not for a noble class, not for a reigning class, but for the one class, the people. When the American system of society shall have been perfected, and the whole population shall have been trained under its influences, the whole population will be a reading population -a population to be moved and charmed by poetry, to be enlightened and elevated by history, to be taught, argued with, persuaded, respecting their interests, their rights, and their duties. Then how many millions upon millions of readers will constitute that public to which American literature shall address itself. Perhaps, among the readers of this page, there is the poet-boy, "mute and inglorious” as yet, who, like Milton, “ long choosing and beginning late," shall by and by utter those words of living song which shall at once be echoed from the waters of the Oregon, and who in a green old age shall be crowned with the laurel offered in the acclamations of more than forty millions of his countrymen. What will that literature be which shall teach the hearts, and sway the minds of such a public? Will it have anything in it, of the nature of intellectual dandyism? Will it have any affinity with that which seeks the exclusive patronage of an imaginary higher class, the courtly, the idle, the fashionable, the first circles? Would you see some intimation of what it is likely to be? Look not for those books which are printed only to be bound in satin covers, and to lie with undimned gilt edges upon tables of marble and rose-wood, but for those which naturally make their way every where alike, and which are not only talked of in circles of literary pretension but are read without criticism at the farmer's kitchen fireside. Where will you not find that book about the “ Rich Poor Man” and “ Uncle Phil," and the meek sufferer Charlotte--thumbed, worn, blistered perhaps with natural tears?
One glance at another view of our subject, and I have done. Can there be a truly American literature which shall not be eminently controlled and enlivened by the spirit of the Christian religion? Some superficial observers have an idea that the tendencies of our system of society are all to irreligion, to unmingled worldliness, to blank infidelity. Elsewhere, the existing forms and institutions of religion are in close alliance with the existing forms of government; and consequently, just as fast and as far as the public mind moves
towards political revolution, there is danger of its casting away, not only religious corruptions and abuses, but the very name of Christianity. The inference has been hastily made, that here, where a new organization of society is in full operation, religious faith must of course have ceased to be an element in society. English tories and English radicals, with opposite motives, are apt to concur in the hasty conclusion. And some unthinking, unobserving minds on this side of the Atlantic, themselves unconscious of the expansive and ennobling power of Christian truth, seem really to have taken it for granted that religion is no part of the American character; that faith in God and in the retributions of the eternal state, faith in the Bible, and faith in Jesus Christ, are never to be spoken of, except as they occur in certain decent forms and observances, and never to be thought of, except perhaps at a funeral. Is it so ? Because we have no hierarchy allied with a mighty aristocracy, and both supporting the throne that supports them because worship and religious instruction are not regulated by the govern. ment-have we therefore ceased to be a Christian people? That philosophic traveller, whose work on “ the Democracy in America," is the ablest exposition of the American civilization, ever produced by a foreigner-perhaps I ought to add, abler than any that has yet been produced from among ourselves-carried back to the old world no such report. His deliberate testimony is, “ There is no country in the whole world, in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America ; and," he adds like a true philosopher, “ there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.” “ If any hold," says he, “that the religious spirit which I admire, is the very thing most, amiss in America, and that the only element wanting to the freedom and happiness of the human race is to believe in some blind cosmogomy or to assert with Cabanis the secretion of thought by the brain, I can only reply that those who hold this language have never been in America, and that they have never seen a religious or a free nation. When they return from their expedition we shall hear what they have to say.” “How is it possible," he exclaims, “that society should escape destruction, if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is