The Story of American Literature

The Story of American Literature

The Story of American Literature

The Story of American Literature

Excerpt

Wherever thoughtful people gather today in the Western World their talk, leaving sooner or later the vexing questions of war and peace or food and oil, drifts toward books. Except among the technically lettered this talk will rarely deal with methods or forms or kinds. Æsthetic considerations may arise. But readers, wiser in this than critics, stick to the work of art in its totality as substance, as life projected and interpreted by a significant personality. They seek in books both light and guidance, both precept and example, not after the way of old seekers for exact laws in a fixed and finished world, but as inquirers and fellow workers, as themselves creators in this vast and intricate business of human experience. Sometime near the middle of the nineteenth century an old crack in that rigid shell which was supposed to represent the universe suddenly burst and vistas opened racing into the infinite past and the infinite future. Space joined time in being unimaginable. Authoritative wisdom became as dust. What Lucretius suspected and Goethe prophetically saw was revealed to thousands; within the past three-quarters of a century it has been revealed to millions. A new type of reader arose--one to whom literature was no longer an elegant diversion or an illustration of the foreknown and fixed, but moral research, a road to salvation, the bread of life.

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