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Breckinridge, Thomas L. Clingman, and Robert Toombs, is no longer studied or esteemed, save, perhaps, in the States where they lived. The " South” is slowly giving up its provincialism, taking its place in the general literary work of the country, and becoming willing to measure its great men and its small by just canons of comparative criticism. Its “past at least is secure,” but so is its future, if it act wisely. The downfall of its casteand manorial-system, with the spread of education, will supply it with orators enough.
Two names belonging to the bygone South deserve brief mention at the close of this chronicle of American Jefferson political literature. By an interesting coinci
dence, Jefferson Davis, the only president, and Alexander H. Stephens, the only vice-president, of the “ Confederate States of America,” made large and full records of the times, all of which they saw, and a great part of which they were. Mr. Davis' “Rise and Fall of the Confederate States of America” cannot claim very high literary rank. If it is readable, it is so on account of the important events described, and of the relations of the writer to those events; and not because of any inherent attractiveness or excellence of style. Furthermore, it cannot be praised for the historical quality of judicial impartiality, which it assuredly does not possess. It would perhaps have been too much to expect that Mr. Davis, with his well-known temper of mind, could show any special fairness toward his victorious opponents at the North. But his treatment of those whom he disliked, in the military and civil councils
of the Confederacy itself, is neither serene nor gen
The work, however, is an important historical treasury, which, in its relations to its producer, can hardly be ignored by the literary student. After all, merely artistic canons do not determine the fame, influence, and place of all printed books; and a literary-political chronicle of America should not ignore the personal records produced by the head of the greatest “lost cause" in American history.
Other reasons, and stronger ones, turn the reader's attention to the important work of Mr. Stephens. His history of the war between the States is by Alexander far the most important historical treatise pro
Stephens, duced in the South itself on this theme. No- 1812–1883. where else are the nature, growth, and application of the States’-rights theory so well reviewed as in these able, candid, and full chapters. When the final warhistory shall be written from the great available mass of material, the author will probably find these two volumes of more service, as an original authority, than the useful histories by Horace Greeley, Benson J. Lossing, or John William Draper, on the Northern side ; or E. A. Pollard, on the Southern. The many books with reference to the lives and labors of abolitionists, “ fire-eaters,” Union-lovers, war statesmen, military campaigners, and private soldiers will, in due time, leave their quintessence in the library of pure literature.
WASHINGTON IRVING was the author who first gave American literature a place in the European Washington mind. Readers in England and on the Irving, 1783-1859. Continent had heard an occasional faint echo of American theological controversies ; few students of philosophy had taken the trouble to read Jonathan Edwards; many had followed the course of transatlantic oratory and political writing; and Benjamin Franklin had been received by scholars, scientists, and diplomatists as their peer, perhaps their superior. But before Irving no American writer had been read as a representative of literature, pure and simple. Irving wrote books, not theological treatises, political arguments, speeches, or scientific papers; and these books were accepted by English readers at even more than their real value. Their writer possessed the qualities which well fitted him to be a literary pioneer. He was loyal to the soil and traditions of his own country, yet quick to assimilate the customs and characteristics of other lands; he first made distinctly American themes familiar to the world of letters, and he, also, in England and Spain, collected romantic treas
ures which had escaped the eye of earlier narrators. He was influenced by a humor and pathos which were genuine, and he was deeply read in the eighteenth-century writers of England-particularly the essayists—whose style he was able to absorb or reproduce in such a way as to continue the literary traditions of preceding years. His range was wide, covering essay, fiction, history, biography, travel; now he was tenderly pathetic, now broadly humorous. His external English style was fairly entitled to be called Addisonian, and he easily surpassed Charles Lamb in evenness of execution. Behind all that he did, appeared his own serene, happy, and wellbalanced character. If we do not carry the parallel too far, we may characterize him as the George Washington of American literature.
For these reasons Irving was long deemed the first American writer, in merit as well as in time. The renown of Hawthorne or Emerson in later years overshadowed his own; and the severer critics found in Irving's stories fancy rather than imagination. It may justly be said that as a romantic historian Irving must yield to Prescott; of the philosophy of history he had little idea ; and his full life of Washington and his charming biography of Goldsmith are not literature of the first class. Even in his justly-praised style there is an element of artificiality and of attitudinizing graciousness, which annoys the nineteenth-century reader, and which is hardly a mark of the large literary manner. Washington Irving is not the greatest American author, but he was a man who did our literature
a noteworthy service, whose pioneer work was admirable, and whose high renown, in his lifetime and since, was deserved. Why criticise one great writer because he has not the qualities of another? or why attempt to assign him a precise numerical rank?
Does an author create his literary surroundings, at least in part, and shape his own career, or is he created by those surroundings, and shaped by circumstance, time, and environment? Neither theory can be followed to the extreme; but of Irving it may be said that he was moulded by his birth and situation, and also formed in large measure the literary conditions which he shared. Of British parentage (his father Scotch and his mother English), he was born in New York in the year of the treaty of peace between England and the United States, after the Revolution. The first conspicuous American author was neither a Puritan nor a Southron; the local tone of his American writings is that of New York City and the Hudson. His religious element, so far as it exists, is that of placid, oldfashioned Episcopacy, undisturbed by " modern thought” or any special idea of progress. The American elements of vigor, push, independence, high creative ambition, are lacking in Irving the author, as they were lacking in Irving the man.
In literature and in life he was the genial conservative. Washington “ blessed” his namesake in New York, when Irving was a baby ; and the Washingtonian courtesy and contented reserve always characterized Irving, without the dogged and self-reliant persistency of the first President.