Imágenes de página

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1837, by



in the Clerk's office of the District Court of Connecticut.



Mr. CHAMBERS, in his History of the English Language and Literature, has made a slight reference to American contributions to the language and its literature; yet he seems to have had no design of informing his readers, on the general subject of authorship, in the United States. With the exception of a notice of three American writers, he has confined himself to an account of authors in the British Isles. This exclusion of the productions of American genius from his book, was doubtless in conformity with his original plan of bringing into view the English language and literature, as these are exhibited at home. It is not, perhaps, a matter of surprise, that with this intention, he has nevertheless, embodied in his 'History,' an account of the writings of the eminent individuals in the United States, whose names appear in his book: but it is justly a matter of surprise that having introduced these, probably by way of exception, he did not enrich his book with a notice of others. The discernment or the candor which admitted that we have so great a philosopher as Franklin, so fine a prose-writer as Irving, and so ingenious a novelist as Cooper, might be supposed also to allow the metaphysical acumen of Edwards, the theological knowledge of Dwight, the poetic fancy of Bryant, or the philological skill of Noah Webster. Perhaps, too, Dr. Channing might have stood some chance of being acknowledged in the ranks of literary, philosophical criticism; Prof. Stuart as holding an able pen in sacred exegesis; and the authors of the 'Federalist' as having written a political classic.

In a work oherwise excellent, and adapted, according to the intention of Mr. Chambers, to the purposes of education, it has been thought that such a deficiency should be supplied. Or if the omission above mentioned cannot be charged on the anthor as a deficiency, considering the nature of his undertaking; yet it must appear, that such a work might properly admit the notice of American productions of genius and taste, since these are truly ornaments of the English language, and constitute a valuable portion of the literature which that language contains. With such a view of the subject, the American editor of the present volume, has attempted to supply the deficiency of Chambers; or on the plan of that gentleman's work, and as a part of it, to introduce an account of American literature. He accordingly presents the work of Chambers, slightly modified by a few verbal alterations, so as to give unity to the undertaking, together with additions embracing a history of literary efforts in the United States. The additions, in their successive parts, are incorporated with the English work, and observe the proper chronological order.

It was thought advisable to follow the general method of Mr. Chambers, and to observe, so far as it could be ascertained, the due proportion, which, in quantity at least, American literature bears to that of the parent Isles. On this scale, the additional matter was graduated, and it is believed to constitute not far from a just proportion. As, however, great brevity was aimed at in the English work, this circumstance allowed the American editor to say much less, respecting the literary labours of his countrymen, than he could have otherwise wished to say. Many names are omitted from necessity-some, perhaps, that might have been introduced with as much propriety, as several that have found a place in the volume. The difficulty of making a selection out of more than two thousand living writers, for such is the conjectured number in the United States, and out of, we know not liow many writers that are deceased, was obvious to the editor from the first, and has pressed upon him from step to step, in his labours. But he has done the best that he could, in the space to which his judgment has restricted the undertaking. He is not, however, assured, that even on this limited scale, some names are not omitted which ought to have been introduced. Should such be ascertained to be the fact, the omission will be cheerfully supplied in a future edition of the work, if that should be ever called for. As no personal prejudices have been knowingly indulged, and no political, sectional, or sectarian purposes have been sought to be answered in the preparatiori of the book; the possibility of mistakes in the matter just alluded to, may be safely acknowledged, and the intention of rectifying them sincerely pledged. The single object of the American portion of the work has been, to give a just and proportionate history of the English language and the literature of the language, so far as these have been affected by the intellectual efforts of the Anglo-American people.

Mr. Chambers, in his Notice to his work, observes, that it belongs to that department of Chambers' Educational Course which is designed to communicate to young persons the rudiments of useful knowledge that

it will be suitable to the more advanced classes in English academies, and serve as a text-book for lectures on English literature, which are now given in so many institutions for mechanics and others'—and that it cannot fail to be useful to many besides young persons at school; to all in short whose minds have been awakened to a degree of knowledge; guiding them to the stores of English literature, and distinguishing for them those works which are most worthy of their attention. The above, it is hoped, may be justly said of the whole volume as now presented to


the American public, with such an application of the remarks, as our different circumstances demand. It may properly be a text-book, for most descriptions of seminaries of learning in the United States, and would probably be a new study in most of them, so far as the history of the English language and literature is concerned-certainly in the connection of American literature with that of the parent country. Together with the charm of novelty, its importance also must be allowed to be great. The English language and the literature which it embodies, and especially our own literature as modified by our peculiar institutions, and by the spirit of christianity with which it is, in a large measure, imbued, are of more importance to us, than those of all other nations combined, whether of ancient or modern date. And though we would by no means dispense with the study of the Greek and Roman classics, as a discipline of the intellectual powers; we should be still less willing to dispense with the study of the models of the English tongue, viewed in their influence, whether on the understanding or the heart. The work, in its present form, may be useful, according to the observation already quoted, 'to many besides young persons at school.' It is believed that it will be interesting to the general reader; and even to the scholar, as asort of remembrancer of what he already knows, in the separate parts, if not in the whole, as a history. A knowledge of the origin, occasion, design, relations, and other circumstances of literary works, together with a delineation of their character, will not only enhance the pleasure of perusing them; but enable the reader to derive a profit from the exercise, which he would not otherwise experience.

Mr. Chambers has ventured to say, also, that his volume, however humble in object, or limited in extent, is the only History of English Literature which has as yet been given to the world,' and was therefore

necessarily the result of considerable labour.' In the American addition, the editor is constrained to remark, that he found little to assist him in respect to a history of the literature of this country that though he derived aid in part from one or two succinct accounts of the general subject; yet for all the rest, aside from his recollections of the course and character of literary effort in the United States, he was obliged to consult a widely-scattered mass of miscellaneous criticism and biography.

The originality of the design of the work, as that design was conceived by the English author, will be obvious from the above statement, as well as from an inspection of the book itself. How far this feature of the work will serve to recommend it, especially as offering the means of instruction in an important branch of education, must be decided by the results that may be produced. As Mr. Chambers, with few exceptions, was silent on works of science, and on professional works, save such as relate to theology, so the same course was pursued in the new portion of the book. The reasons of this silence he has not seen fit to assign. They may, perhaps, be implied in the title of his book, although he seems occasionally to have departed from the strict method, which was probably contemplated. The American editor has adverted in one instance, (page 314,) to what he conceived to be the proper principle, by which to determine upon the class of works, that have a more or less strict relation to the object in view.

It has been thought proper to add to the account of the British authors, in a very few instances, with a view to render the history more complete, and to increase, if possible, its interest. The additions of this kind, as well as those pertaining to American writers, are indicated by an asterisk at the termination of each paragraph. The notice which Mr. Chambers took of Franklin, Irving, and Cooper, has been superseded by the description which the American editor has given of these authors, in common with others, whose names appear in the records of our country's lit


« AnteriorContinuar »