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The physical conditions of the present territory of the United States have aided, from the outset, in its Physical
political and industrial, and by corollary its Conditions. intellectual development. Situated in the middle of North America, possessing a great number of harbors,lakes, and water-ways, affording a wide variety of soil and climate, and on its European settlement inhabited by a relatively small number of wandering Indians, this great region lent itself readily to the work of the principal colonization in the world's history. Its rich forests and fields, its suitable townsites and advantageous drainage basins, its hidden mines, its natural lines of communication with the sea, formed the basis for future national development. Race and physical forces have wrought in this favored region, the results which a student of social science, had such existed two centuries and a half ago, might have foretold with a reasonable degree of confidence.
The United States, like most of the leading nations of the world at the present time, is practically a cold-weather country. On the northern coast were most of the populous early settlements, and there the chief commercial influence has remained. From the northeast corner of the land, too, have come the
greater part of the books which must be considered at length in these pages. Climate does not make character; still less does it produce literature. Cold weather cannot, by itself, make good writers, else Canada would have more literature to show. But the fact remains that the dominant forces in the world's civilization are now exerted from the northern part of highly civilized Europe and the United States, just as, two or three thousand years ago, they were exerted from the southern part of Europe and Asia. To this fact, as bearing upon questions of climate, the history of the United States adds a force hardly exerted by the records of an older civilization.
The cognate relation of mountains to liberty and free thought, however, need not specially be considered here, for the seaboard and lowlands of the United States have produced its leaders in statecraft no less than in literature. The mountain regions of the country are still sparsely settled, and have produced a small indigenous literature.
In considering the physical features of the country, which have chiefly influenced the distribution of its population, and in some lesser degree its literary growth, it must be remembered, however, that the literature, still more than the industries, of many of its sections must be a thing of future development. The country stretches from 25° to 49° in latitude, and from 67° to 1250 in longitude ; and its mean annual temperature ranges from below 40° to 75o and over. The annual rain-fall varies from 10 inches to 60, and the elevation from the sea-level rises to more than 10,000 feet. None but the most general deductions
are possible, in considering a territory of this size, as to the effect of physical forces upon character. If New England has produced its Hawthorne, Emerson and Longfellow, no less can Virginia point to her Washington and Jefferson. But in the intellectual contest, the “stern and rock-bound coast” has usually had the advantage over the “sunny South” or the rich Western plains. Where cold freezes genius, or where heat enervates it, we cannot look for great books—save perhaps in Iceland; but it is enough to say that at present the greater literary productiveness seems to appear in the lands of the winter fire and the evening lamp, by the stormy sea which our ancestors have braved and loved for a thousand years.
The colonial relation of the English-speaking (and Dutch and Swedish) settlements in America was of
greater importance than the ordinary occuRelations. pation ofa distant land by subjects of a crown. It was the precursor of the independence of a great nation; its partial freedom naturally developed intoemancipation from the control of the old home; and it powerfully affected the politics, religion, and society of Europe itself. England owned the land, but varied her assertion of authority with virtual permission of local self-government; and she was content to leave the colonists somewhat to themselves, while she herself was slowly assuming, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the first position in the commerce of the world. New England was almost openly contemptuous of Charles I. and Charles II. ; and though the English colonies, in theory, were
crown property,—not governed by Parliament, even, —and were occasionally oppressed and insulted, the half-independent revolution of 1688–9, in Boston, against Sir Edmund Andros, was a sign of incipient democracy rather than of humble colonialism. Nor was it the act of a dependent when Governor William Shirley (though he was in general a believer in royal authority) issued in 1755 a proclamation for the enforcement of a law passed by the General Court of the colony, laying duties upon vellum, parchment, and paper. Stamps were actually made for this taxation, and though the enactment was "in behalf of his majesty the king,” it was the willing work of a self-respecting colony, which indignantly spurned, ten years later, the royal attempt to force the use of stamps by virtue of mere kingly prerogative. This spirit of independence was furthered by the French-and-Indian war, which likewise promoted the idea of confederation for a common good in the presence of a common danger.
Nevertheless, the colonies were colonial and provincial in many ways, and felt like
poor Provincial relations in the presence of the material and intellectual wealth of England. Writers, in particular, kept their eyes fixed on England ; indeed, it would have been better if they had copied more than they did, for their imitations
too often ridiculously below the originals. Before Franklin there was almost no native intellectual work of the first class. As late as 1807 Fisher Ames said that we were never likely to have an American literature, and that, so far, we had pro
duced nothing worth mentioning, save a political treatise or two. “Shall we,” he satirically inquired, “ match Joel Barlow against Homer or Hesiod ? Can Thomas Paine contend against Plato ?” Previous to the Revolution things had been, of course, in a worse condition, and fulsome puffery of such writers as Anne Bradstreet or Phillis Wheatleymere curiosities in the field of general literaturedeceived no one in England, though it gratified some American patriots. Strength that in Europe could be bestowed upon literature and art was needed in America in the struggle for life and in the development of politics. There was plenty of ability in New England, New York, Virginia, and South Carolina, but in the colonial days it did not, and could not, often take the literary form. Colonialism in literature was sometimes subserviency, sometimes boastful self-assertion; but in either shape it had to bide its time before it could grow into something better.
A dependent feeling on the part of colonial residents is both natural and necessary. Whatever the religious and political differences between the American colonies and England, the former were properly continuing, in most respects, the language, institutions, purpose, and attitude of the residents of England from the time of the Saxon invasion of 449. Nor could the feeling of colonial dependency be eliminated at once. Even at the present time it should be remembered that our colonial career lasted a century and a half, while our national life has covered only a century. Libraries, centres of book