American Literature, American Culture

By Gordon Hutner | Go to book overview

mon decency in England, these writers have either openly paid homage to English institutions, or have had lurking at the bottom of their hearts a secret principle at war with Democracy: we know all this, and yet, day after day, submit our necks to the degrading yoke of the crudest opinion that emanates from the fatherland. Now if we must have nationality, let it be a nationality that will throw off this yoke. [ 1845]

William Gilmore Simms


Americanism in Literature1

This is the right title. It indicates the becoming object of our aim. Americanism in our Literature is scarcely implied by the usual phraseology. American Literature seems to be a thing, certainly,--but it is not the thing exactly. To put Americanism in our letters, is to do a something much more important. The phrase has a peculiar signification which is worth our consideration. By a liberal extension of the courtesies of criticism, we are already in possession of a due amount of American authorship; but of such as is individual, and properly peculiar to ourselves, we cannot be said to enjoy much. Our writers are numerous--quite as many, perhaps, in proportion to our years, our circumstances and necessities, as might be looked for among any people. But, with very few exceptions, their writings might as well be European. They are European. The writers think after European models, draw their stimulus and provocation from European books, fashion themselves to European tastes, and look chiefly to the awards of European criticism. This is to denationalize the American mind. This is to enslave the national heart--to place ourselves at the mercy of the foreigner, and to yield all that is individual, in our character and hope, to the paralyzing influence of his will, and frequently hostile purposes.

There is a season, perhaps, when such a condition of dependence is natural enough in the history of every youthful nation. It is in the national infancy that such must be the case. The early labours of a newly established people, in all the intellectual arts, must necessarily be imitative. They advance, by regular steps, from the necessary to the intellectual--from the satisfaction of vulgar cravings, to a desire for the gratification of moral and spiritual tastes;--and, in this progress, they can only advance through the assistance of other nations. This condition is inevitable in the history of a people wanting in homogeneousness at first, and but recently segregated from their several patriarchal trees. Time must be allowed to such a people--time to combine--to exchange thoughts and sympathies--and to learn the difficult, but absolutely necessary duty, of working together, as a community, in harmonious and mutually relying action. Generations must pass away, and

____________________
1
Americanism in Literature: An Oration before the Phi Kappa and Demosthenean Societies of the Uniwsity of Georgia, at Athens, Augutt 8, 1844. By Alexander B. Meek, of Alabama, Charleston: Burges & James. 1844. Originally published in the Southern and Western Magazine, I ( January, 1845), 1-14.

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