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CUTTING HIS STICK.
Letter from the Bishop of Down.
PICTURE ON THE ISLAND. SUNSET. Claw'd.
go backwards.”—Ham “The wish was father to the thought."- Henry IV.
“ One foot on sea and one on shore.”—The Frias of Orders Grey.
“Push off in a crack,
“ For this relief, much thanks." —Hamlet, Act i., sc. 1. “Here's to’ards you, Brave Boys, there's naught left to larn
Of this Wonderful Crab from this Wonderful Yarn."-Bo'sen's Ballad.
William Cullen Bryant and Imerican Poetry.
BY W. CLARK RUSSELL.
The Americans have as yet, properly speaking, no literature of their own. It is true that they have given numerous cxamples of the most brilliant intellect in many departments of the arts and sciences, but as yet they lack that consolidated literature which is the result only in other nations of the growth of the human mind, but which might have been hy this time expected in the Americans, since they started from a point of civilization at which, indeed, some few of the European nations had not arrived. There is a theory, however, about this which may help to explain away some of the dilliculties of this consideration. After a nation has attained to a certain point in its progress from obscurity to glory, whether of arts, of arms, or of commerce, it pauses; and this pause invariably assumes a retrospective tendency. The national mind grows contemplative; it explores no more for new experiences, but combines old ones. But this is by no means synonymous with decay; on the contrary, it sometimes gathers vigour from repose, and once more advances towards greater perfection ; but in America this could not be. Europe, indeed, furnished it with boundless sources of contemplation, but the activity of a young empire prohibited repose. In full panoply it had leapt from the heart of European civilization ; in fall war array it went forth to battle with the fate that frowned upon it from a vast, uncivilized continent. Its intellect, always imposing, was enlisted in the service of conquest. Meditation, abstraction, a past from whose accumulated greatness other nations could evolve new glories for the future, were unknown to it. It directed the intellect that it had brought with it from Europe into channels conducive, it is true, to the interests of civilization; but not the civilization of the Old World. There was too much activity for refinement; there was too much energy for that abstract contemplation which is the true source of refinement. Progress was secured by indomitable toil and perseverance, and these absorbed the intellect which, invested now with new scenes and climes, and consequently operated upon by new influences, might have otherwise created for itself a literature remarkable alike for its originality and vigour.
What is the result ? With no time to create for itself, it imitated the excellence that it had admired before. European letters were laid under contribution, not to suggest new experiments, but to serve as models for old. The American intellect as yet possesses no marked feature, no idiosyncracy. There is a mannerism ; but mannerism must not be confounded with intellectual peculiarity. Irving, Prescott, Longfellow, Bancroft, Cooper-in brief, the finest specimens of their literary men-are eminently English; and it is remarkable that in pro. portion as they resemble the English, so are they admired. To this, however, exception is necessary. Emerson, Poe, Melville, Lowell, and some others equally remarkable for their sparkling originality of thought as well as diction, are purely American. What they have written, only Americans could write; and assuming the day not to be remote when the American intellect will vindicate itself from the charge of imitation, by creating for itself a literature that shall be its own by the incorporation of those national peculiarities which could only stamp it as such, we may well regard these men as the apostles of pure American thonght.
Foremost amongst the poets of America stands the name of Bryant. For originality he claims no praise; but for tenderness, beauty, and, above all, earnestness, he is entitled to the warmest admiration. Still, in considering his merit as a poet, it must be remembered that we are but criticising one of ourselves. No transatlantic author is more English than Bryant; he has even a certain classical precision and polish which many of us want. Now, in an English poet this would be admirable. It is no less to be applauded in an American; yet who would not wish to see so fine a mind as Bryant's converting itself into an exponent of American nature and American thought, rather than repeating the themes which, having been already well sung, scarcely require repetition? It is from this point of view, however, that he is to be considered.
We have said that Bryant is remarkable for the earnestness of his poetry. Let us illustrate our meaning by dwelling for a moment apon “The Ages,” undoubtedly his best composition. In all true poetry there is infinitely more philosophy than is usually thought. The faith, the hope, the love, the desire that it breathes are moulded into one harmonious whole, which, conforming itself to the various phases of human life, serves to inspire the very sentiments and emotions which constitute its components. Such a philosophy underlies the
poem The Ages.” As its title indicates, it is meant to express an array of marshalled years, each bearing on its brow the signs of the woe or the joy that renders its memory execrable or