American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

the soil and of the spirit of the people. * * * The writings of a great country should sound of the great voices of nature, of which she is full. The march of a great people in literature should be majestic and assured as the action of their institutions is calm and secure.

It poorly comports with our lofty assertion of national superiority, or with even an ordinary and just sense of self-respect, to be dependent for the intellectual aliment of the people, for those things which most adorn and ennoble a nation, and which are the highest boast and pride of civilized states, upon foreign writers, who write upon impulses not imparted by us, who primarily, if not exclusively, aim to please a different reading community, to whose standards of opinion, feeling and taste, they subject their productions, and who often, in obedience to the influences which surround them, write in a spirit not only alien, but positively hostile to our people, our institutions and national character.

Having thus attempted to develope the idea of nationality, we shall, in another numher, state some of the higher uses of a national literature, and point out the American writers and writings most deeply imbued with a national spirit. {1847}

Theodore Parker


The American Scholar

Men of a superior culture get it at the cost of the whole community, and therefore at first owe for their education. They must pay back an equivalent or else remain debtors to mankind, debtors for ever; that is, beggars or thieves, such being the only class that are thus perpetually in debt and a burden to the race.

It is true that every man, the rudest Prussian boor as well as von Humboldt, is indebted to mankind for his culture, to their past history and their existing institutions, to their daily toil. Taking the whole culture into the account, the debt bears about the same ratio to the receipt in all men. I speak not of genius, the inborn faculty which costs mankind nothing, only of the education thereof, which the man obtains. The Irishman who can only handle his spade, wear his garments, talk his wild brogue, and bid his beads, has four or five hundred generations of ancestors behind him, and is as long descended and from as old a stock as the accomplished patrician scholar at Oxford and Berlin. The Irishman depends on them all, and on the present generation, for his culture. But he has obtained his development with no special outlay and cost of the human race. In getting that rude culture he has appropriated nothing to himself which is taken from another man's share. He has paid as he went along, so he owes nothing in particular for his education; and mankind has no claim on him as for value received. But the Oxford graduate has been a long time at school and college, not earning but learning; living therefore at the cost of mankind, with an obligation and an implied promise to pay back when he comes of age and takes possession of his educated faculties. He therefore has not only the general debt which he shares with all men, but an obligation quite special and peculiar for his support while at study.

This rule is general, and applies to the class of educated men, with some apparent ex

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