Page images

Debt.-America owed 42 millions dollars after the revolutionary war; in 1790, 79 millions; in 1803, 70 millions; and in the beginning of January, 1812, the public debt was diminished to 45 millions dollars. After the last war with England, it had risen to 123 millions; and so it stood on the 1st January, 1816. The total amount carried to the credit of the commissioners of the sinking fund, on the 31st December, 1816, was about 34 millions of dollars.

Such is the land of Jonathan-and thus has it been governed. In his honest endeavours to better his situation, and in his manly purpose of resisting injury and insult, we most cordially sympathize. We hope he will always continue to watch and suspect his Government as he now does-remembering, that it is the constant tendency of those intrusted with power, to conceive that they enjoy it by their own merits, and for their own use, and not by delegation, and for the benefit of others. Thus far we are the friends and admirers of Jonathan: But he must not grow vain and ambitious; or allow himself to be dazzled by that galaxy of epithets by which his orators and newspaper scribblers endeavour to persuade their supporters that they are the greatest, the most refined, the most enlightened, and the most moral people upon earth. The effect of this is unspeakably ludicrous on this side of the Atlanticand, even on the other, we should imagine, must be rather humiliating to the reasonable part of the population. The Americans are a brave, industrious, and acute people; but they have hitherto given no indications of genius, and made no approaches to the heroic, either in their morality or character. They are but a recent offset indeed from England; and should make it their chief boast, for many generations to come, that they are sprung from the same race with Bacon and Shakspeare and Newton. Considering their numbers, indeed, and the favourable circumstances in which they have been placed, they have yet done marvellously little to assert the honour of such a descent, or to show that their English blood has been exalted or refined by their republican training and institutions. Their Franklins and Washingtons, and all the other sages and heroes of their revolution, were born and bred subjects of the King of England,-and not among the freest or most valued of his subjects: And, since the period of their separation, a far greater proportion of their statesmen and artists and political writers have been foreigners, than ever occurred before in the history of any civilized and educated people. During the thirty or forty years of their independence, they have done absolutely nothing for the Sciences, for the Arts, for Literature, or even for the statesman-like studies of Politics or Political Economy. Confining ourselves to our own country, and to the period that has elapsed since they had an independent existence, we would ask, Where are their Foxes, their Burkes, their Sheridans, their Windhams, their Horners, their VOL. I. 24

Wilberforces?-where their Arkwrights, their Watts, their Davys? -their Robertsons, Blairs, Smiths, Stewarts, Paleys and Malthuses their Porsons, Parrs, Burneys, or Blomfields ?-their Scotts, Campbells, Byrons, Moores, or Crabbes?-their Siddonses, Kembles, Keans, or O'Neils?-their Wilkies, Laurences, Chantrys?-or their parallels to the hundred other names that have spread themselves over the world from our little island in the course of the last thirty years, and blest or delighted mankind by their works, inventions, or examples? In so far as we know, there is no such parallel to be produced from the whole annals of this self-adulating race. In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? or what old ones have they analyzed? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans?— what have they done in the mathematics? Who drinks out of American glasses? or eats from American plates? or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets?—Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a Slave, whom his fellow creatures may buy and sell and torture?

When these questions are fairly and favourably answered, their laudatory epithets may be allowed: But, till that can be done, we would seriously advise them to keep clear of superlatives.

[We have long discovered in our old acquaintances, the Scotch Reviewers, a morbid sensibility to every circumstance that presented a favourable view of the actual condition, or future prospects, of the United States. With such predisposition, it was not surprising that an authentic chronicle of her rising and rapid greatness (like that offered by Seybert's Statistics) should have particularly excited the gall and wormwood of this "irritabile genus,"-who, after ceasing to dispute the bone and muscle and spirit of the nation, are now seriously employed in rubbing themselves into a belief that, within the wide compass of the United States, there is no mental energy-no literary genius ;' ' nothing done for the sciences; for the arts; for literature; or even for the statesman-like studies of politics and political economy.'-This is not the time, nor is it the place, to go into an investigation of these points; and we mention them but to show, that literary attainments do not always imply either truth or justice in the possessors. Have our critics forgotten the discoveries of electricity-of the quadrant-of the cotton-gin-and of the application of steam to the purposes of navigation? And in the political field, do they consider as nothing the framing and adoption of a Constitution which, by uniting the federative and representative principles, conciliates, for the first time, the rights

of the citizen with the vigour of the government? But we have, it seems, no historian, like Robertson; no lecturer, like Blair; no philosophers, like Smith and Paley; no orators, like Fox and Burke and Sheridan; no mechanics, like Arkwright and Watts; no painters, like Wilkic and Laurence; and no poets, like Scott, Campbell, Byron, and Moore. It is singular enough, in speaking of an American generation actually existing, and of Britons with whom to compare it, that a reference to the dead should have been principally relied on. What if we retort the statement, and ask-does Britain now furnish an historian, like Robertson? a lecturer, like Blair? philosophers, like Smith and Paley? or orators, like Fox, Burke, and Sheridan? &c. In this view of the subject, our critics may not be less embarrassed than ourselves; for if the heroic in morals and character' has never yet arisen in the United States, it has long since expired in Great Britain: And our common pride must hereafter be, that we sprung from the same race, with Bacon and Shakspeare and Newton.' Ed. L. & S. R.]


[From Blackwood's Edinburgh Magazine.-Feb. 1820.]



AN American critica complains, that the productions of American genius are never received as they ought to be by the people of England, that a certain strange mixture of haughtiness, jealousy, and indifference, is manifested on every occasion when any American author forms the subject of professional criticism in Britain,while, to our reading public at large, even the names of some men whose writings do the highest honour to the language in which they are written, remain at this moment entirely unknown. In so far, we are free to confess, that we think our countrymen do lie open to this last reproach. The great names of which we are ignorant, cannot indeed be numerous, for few American writers are ever talked of, even by Mr. Walsh or the North American Review itself, with whom we think people on this side the water are less acquainted than they ought to be. In truth, so far as we know, there are two American authors only whose genius has reason to complain of British neglect—and with a very great deal of reason both unquestionably may do so-namely, CHARLES BROCKDEN BROWN and WASHINGTON IRVING.

The first of these has been dead for several years; and the periodical works, by his contributions to which he was best known in America during his lifetime, have long since followed him but his name yet lives, although not as it ought to do, in his novels.

a [In No. 25 of the North American Review.]

The earliest and the best of them, Wieland, Ormond, Arthur Mervyn, and Edgar Huntly, are to be found in every circulating library, both in America and England; but notwithstanding the numbers who must thus have read them, and the commendations they have received from some judges of the highest authority, (above all from Godwin, whose manner their author imitated in a noble style of imitation,)-they are never mentioned among the classical or standard works of that species of composition. It is wonderful how much of thought, power, invention, and genius, are for ever travelling their cold unworthy rounds between the shelves of circulating libraries, and the tables or pillows of habitual novelreaders. The works of Brown, and of many other writers, scarcely his inferiors, are perused day after day, and year after year, by boys and girls, and persons of all ages, whose minds are incapable of discriminating the nature or merits of the food they devour, without being read once in many years by any one who has either judgment or imagination to understand while he is reading them, or memory to retain the smallest impression of their contents after he has laid them aside; while some fortunate accident not unfrequently elevates, for a considerable length of time, into every thing but the highest order of celebrity and favour, writings of the same species, entirely their inferiors in every quality that ought to command the public approbation. We earnestly recommend these novels of Brown to the attention of our readers. In all of them, but especially in Wieland, they will discern the traces of a very masterly hand. Brown was not indeed a Godwin; but he pos sessed much, very much, of the same dark mysterious power imagination which is displayed in Caleb Williams, St. Leon, and Mandeville; much also of the same great author's deep and pathetic knowledge of the human heart; and much of his bold sweeping flood of impassioned eloquence. There are scenes in Wieland which he that has read them and understood them once, can never forget-touches which enter into the very core of the spirit, and leave their glowing traces there for ever behind them. Wild and visionary in his general views of human society, and reasoning and declaiming like a madman whenever the abuses of human power are the subjects on which he enlarges-in his perceptions of the beauty and fitness of all domestic virtues-in his fine sense of the delicacies of love, friendship, and all the tenderness, and all the heroism of individual souls, he exhibits a strange example of the inconsistency of the human mind. The life of this strange man was a restless and unhappy one. The thoughts in which he delighted were all dark and gloomy: and in reading his works, we cannot help pausing every now and then, amidst the stirring and kindling


a [To a writer whose own moral and political sentiments disagree, the consistency of BROWN will of course appear inconsistency.]

excitements they afford, to reflect of what sleepless midnights of voluntary misery the impression is borne by pages, which few ever turn over, except for the purpose of amusing a few hours of listless or vicious indolence. It is thus that one of his own countrymen has lately spoken of his works:

"A writer so engrossed with the character of men, and the ways in which they may be influenced; chiefly occupied with the mind, turning every thing into thought, and refining upon it till it almost vanishes; might not be expected to give much time to descriptions of outward objects. But in all his tales, he shows great closeness and minuteness of observation. He describes as if he told only what he had seen, in a highly excited state of feeling, and in connexion with the events and characters. He discovers every where a strong sense of the presence of objects. Most of his descriptions are simple, and many might appear bald. He knew, perhaps, that some minds could be awakened by the mere mention of a waterfall, or of full orchards and cornfields,' or of the peculiar sound of the wind among the pines. We have alluded to the distinctiveness and particularity with which he describes the city visited with pestilence :-the dwelling-house, the hospital, the dying, the healed, all appear before our eyes-The imagination has nothing to do but perceive, though it never fails to multiply and enlarge circumstances of horror, and to fasten us to the picture more strongly, by increasing terror and sympathy till mere disgust ceases.

"The most formal and protracted description is in Edgar Huntly, of a scene in our western wilderness. We become acquainted with it by following the hero night and day, in a cold, drenching rain storm, or under the clear sky-through its dark caverns, recesses and woodsalong its ridges and the river side. It produces throughout the liveliest sense of danger, and oppresses the spirits with an almost inexplicable sadness. Connected with it are incidents of savage warfare; the disturbed life of the frontier settler; the attack of the half-famished panther; the hero's lonely pursuit of a sleep-walker; and his own adventures when suffering under the same calamity. The question is not how much of this has happened, or is likely to happen; but is it felt? Are we, for the time, at the disposal of the writer, and can we never lose the impression that he leaves? Does it appear in its first freshness, when any thing occurs which a busy fancy can associate with it? Does it go with us into other deserts, and quicken our feelings and observation, till a familiar air is given to strange prospects? If so, the author is satisfied. To object that he is wild and improbable in his story is not enough, unless we can show that his intention failed, or was a bad


"Brown delights in solitude of all kinds. He loves to represent the heart as desolate to impress you with the self-dependence of characters, plotting, loving, suspecting evil, devising good, in perfect secrecy. Sometimes, when he would exhibit strength of mind and purpose to most advantage, he takes away all external succour, even the presence of a friend, who might offer at least the support of his notice and sympa

« PreviousContinue »