Observations on American Art: Selections from the Writings of John Neal (1793-1876)

By Harold Edward Dickson | Go to book overview

Randolph, A Novel (1823)

YOU DESIRE to learn something of the state of your favorite art, here. I do not pretend, as you know, Stafford, to understand the language of connoisseurs in the matter; but, what I know, in the most intelligible language that I am master of, is heartily at your service.

In the first place, you cannot be ignorant that Mr. West; or, as you chose to call him, Sir Benjamin West, your president, is an American. Observe, I am not boasting of this -- and, least of all, to you. But I mention it, as a point, from which to start, in the enumeration of American painters. A genuine Englishman, if you mention the fact, that Mr. West is an American born, will "come down upon you," as he says, with -- "Ah, but he was educated in England." Ergo; he is an Englishman. Just so, it was with Alexander Hamilton. We, Americans, boasted of him, because he' was nursed and bred among us. But then, you cried out, "Ah! but he was born in England!" So, that if he were but born, though he never lived with you; or, if he were born here, and has been with you for a visit, though he never dwelt among you, you have always the modesty to claim him for an Englishman. Nay, have you not claimed all our discoveries; all our great men, as fast as they became conspicuous; and, when you could not discover, that they had been in England, or ever visited England, did you not fly to the ridiculous expedient of accounting for their greatness, by the operation of British laws? Thus, I remember, that one of your reviews, remarkable for its arrogant tone, and corrupt, barbarous English, not long since, declared that Washington was the growth of America, when she was a part of the British empire; and, that since her dismemberment, she had produced no men of such stature! inferring, of course, that a republican government, was unfavorable to moral greatness. Had they ever heard of Greece, and Rome?

You often boast of your superiority. I have smiled, to hear you -- even you, Stafford, whom I have heard, sometimes forgetting the character of a well-bred Englishman, and charging us with degeneracy. It is common to ask, where are our Shakespeares -- Miltons -- Bacons -- Lockes -- Newtons?

Men of Englandy! Where is your exclusive property in the reputation of these men? We have as free and incontestable a title to it, as you. They are not your contemporaries. They are not of this generation. Where, then, is your property in their fame? They stood among your fathers. They were countrymen of your ancestors.

To this, we answer -- They stood among our fathers, too. They were the countrymen of our ancestors, too. All the great men of Britain, who lived be

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