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CONTENTS OF No. II.
By Alpheus CROSBY, Professor in Dartmouth College.
It may be a prejudice, but I have always regarded it as a matter of gratitude, that I was born and educated under the influence of English literature. Books are destined to have a powerful influence over men; they are the only weapons which achieve the permanent victories that alter the face of our globe ; and, on the whole, English literature is the purest, and most impregnated with the spirit of the gospel, of any which has existed. In Germany, the human mind wanders in vagaries ; every thing is pushed to extravagance; and they seem to have no sense of the absurd or ridiculous, either in forming theories, or painting characters. They seem to need the lash of such satirists as Swift and Pope, to tame them from the vagaries of enthusiasm, to the plain realities of common sense.* In France, they are all
* It may be a dream of mine, but it has always appeared to me, that such writers as Swift, Pope, and Addison, with all their faults, have had a powerful influence in giving to the English nation that common sense character, for which they have been distinguished, and the more distinguished, the more they are compared with some of their neighbors. Other causes have indeed co-operated. The manner in which many of the highflying dreams in politics and religion, in the days of Cromwell, terminated; their commercial character, and their government; have tended to make them calculators of the earth, rather than soarers into the clouds. But certainly their satirists, though, in swinging their promiscuous scythes, they have cut down many a fair flower as well as many a hurtful weed, have had a hand in keeping them from that wild spirit of theory and speculation, which prevail in Germany. It seems to me, that the value of VOL. I.
economists and sensualists; never unlocking the secrets of our spiritual nature; never soaring into the regions of moral grandeur and beauty ; and their literati still write and act as if they half believed, what no man can entirely believe, that death is an eternal sleep. Italy has her pastorals, and Spain has her ballads ; but England, blessed old England, has poured on us the treasures of some of the greatest geniuses, combined with the purest hearts, that ever wrote. It is a privilege to say, that the language of Milton is your mother tongue ; that the songs of Watts were sung over your cradle ; and that your religious sentiments were formed by such writers as Hooker, and Owen, and Baxter, and Edwards, and Butler, who often combine the warmest piety with the most rigid demonstration, and sometimes with the most persuasive eloquence. These are stars, whose lustre I never look to see surpassed; and I repeat it, it is the richest blessing to be born under the beneficent influence of these constellations of our northern sky.
There was one department of literature, which, for a long time, the English were supposed to be deficient in, and that is, historical composition. It is now believed, however, since Hume, and Gibbon, and Dr. Robertson, of Scotland, have produced their elaborate performances, that this reproach has been wiped away. Each of these authors have a high name, not certainly to be acquired without great merit ; but I am afraid, if the removing of the reproach of our historical deficiency depends on them, it must still remain. If the merit of history depends upon holding up an unwrinkled mirror, to reflect, in perfection, past events, it is certain this praise must be withheld from two of them, at least. Besides, the whole style and character which they have given to historical writing, in my opinion, is wrong. Written history should flow over the events of time, like a
German literature has been vastly overrated. No doubt their biblical critics · have brought some new lights to illustrate the Scriptures. But strip them
of their extravagant theories, and how little will remain. The same erudition, brought to a subject, when it is shown enlarged through the mists of some ingenious hypothesis, appears much greater than when arranged to establish the antiquated dictates of common sense. Whate ver value these German geniuses may have, it has always been lost in the importing. Their worth is too fugitive to endure the ordeal of a translation. Whatever is their own, is false ; and whatever is true, we have heard before. Their dramatic writers are too little like Shakspeare, and their critics and commentators too much like Warburton. As I am somewhat an enemy to their reputation, I have malice enough to wish they might all be translated.