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a change in the government of America at some future period, when a love of letters has become firmly seated in the minds of the people, it is impossible to say; but, arguing from the analogy of other nations, it is probable the consequence would be, what Greece and Rome exhibited, a transitory and fictitious splendour, serving only to display more palpably, the darkness and desolation which ever follow the pageant of tyranny. But let us hope that such a period as this is far distant, and that America may be enabled to afford an instance of a free country, extending its protection to letters, with all the munificence of the most politic despot.
There is, perhaps, no nation which, by the constitution of its government, furnishes so many occasions for the developement of mental power, as America. The legislative assemblies of the several States present a constant theatre for the display of genius and superior ability, while the absence of all titular distinctions amongst the citizens, seems to make mental pre-eminence one of the great objects of ambition. Moreover, the complete licence of the press, and consequently the great facility of appearing before the public, must certainly be considered as favourable to the growth of
a rising literature. These remarks, of course, only apply to the individual case of a country situated as America now is; it is not intended to refer them to nations which have already formed a literature of their own, and which have become attached, wisely perhaps, to their ancient institutions, as best suited to their peculiar situation.
The next inquiry, and perhaps the most important of all, is into the spirit of the national occupations of the Americans, upon which, very principally, their habits of mind must depend. The intellect of man is governed by the circumstances in which he is placed. It is capable of the highest degree of cultivation, or of the lowest debasement of ignorance. To its improvement, the exercise of its powers is absolutely necessary. There are some employments which scarcely afford any occupation for the mind; some again which only call forth the meanest qualities of the intellect; while others are absolutely injurious to the progress of mental cultivation, and have even a contractile and degrading influence on the understanding. The labours of the mechanic and the artisan produce only a negative effect on the mind; they simply retard the acquisition of knowledge, but they substitute no interest inimical to it in the mind. The
object of a daily labourer is subsistence, not riches. But from his earliest initiation into the mysteries of commerce, the young merchant is taught to consider riches as the boundary of his hopes. He is educated in this faith, and habit establishes it as a permanent conviction. "Custom," says Lord Bacon, "is the principal magistrate of man's life;" and the merchant has been always accustomed to see that deference and respect paid to the possessors of wealth, which amongst persons of more cultivated understanding, are the reward only of superior learning and excellence.
It is not intended in this place to support so wide a proposition, as that the pursuits of comare necessarily destructive to the cultivation of the intellectual powers: all that is meant to be maintained is, that such is their tendency. Of course the effects they produce on individual character must vary according to the counteracting or accelerating influence of custom and education. Most undoubtedly numerous instances might be pointed out of men of the highest ability and the strictest integrity, who have passed their lives in mercantile employments, and have yet rendered no slight assistance to the cause of literature and science.
It is however observable, that
few of our men of genius have proceeded from the counting-house or the mart, while almost every other branch of life, even the meanest, has presented some ornament to our literary world. We have had poets from the loom and the plough, but none from the counter.
To America these few observations are more particularly applicable. She is strictly and essentially a mercantile country. Her interests, both public and private, require that she should be so. Her situation compels her to it. Nor is this to be regretted. But while this fact is admitted, it must be remembered, that so far as these pursuits predominate, the interests of literature must necessarily suffer. In process of time, however, the same causes which have destroyed the stability and altered the characters of the greatest empires, will display their power over her. The thirst of conquest, perhaps, may ultimately induce strange revolutions in her state, and even her riches, the necessary result of her present situation, may alone be sufficient to effect an alteration, in which the interests of letters will be materially concerned. What was accomplished in Rome by arms, may be effected in America by commerce. In the infancy of neither country did the arts flourish freely and
vigorously; but luxury and refinement, by whatever means produced, whether by the subjugation of neighbouring nations, or by the more peaceful occupations of commerce, will naturally bring in their train an attachment to all the more elegant and intellectual pursuits of life.
In addition to the direct influence which the mercantile character of the Americans thus exerts over their literature, it affects it also collaterally in a very powerful manner. The busy avocations of a mercantile life leave but little time on the hands of the citizens. The great patrons of literature in a country are those, who in the dearth of more active engagements, naturally seek for the interest and occupation which letters and science supply. In England, this class of people is very large, consisting both of those whom their birth and dignity prohibit from intermingling in the ordinary avocations of life, and of those whose riches entitle them to a similar exemption. In America, on the contrary, where there is an increasing call for labour and exertion of every kind, this class is necessarily small. The encouragement of litera ́ture is not, it is true, in the present age, confined to any one portion of society, but the most effectual patronage will of course proceed from those