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the potency and the duty of individual freedom and of the development of the man. In this last line of work he achieved his greatest results.
“ Be bold, be free,” he exclaimed to all men ; but he added : “ Be true, be right, else you will be enslaved cowards." Of him his friend, fellow-poet, and biographer has aptly written :
“From his mild throng of worshippers released,
Our Concord Delphi sends its chosen priest,
“List! for he speaks ! As when a king would
Where in the realm of thought, whose air is song,
Amidst the sources of its subtile fire,
“If lost at times in vague aërial Alights,
None treads with firmer footstep when he lights ;
ESSAYISTS AND CRITICS.
The essay, in more than one of its directions, has been represented creditably in America. If we define the word somewhat in the sense in which Lord Bacon used it, as a brief essays. literary composition on some important theme of religion, morals, taste, intellect, or the conduct of life, the essays of Emerson, studied in the preceding chapter, fulfil the definition, and add to it an original element.
If by the term essay we are reminded of the gracious and winsome work of Addison, Steele, or Lamb, in which
gay are discussed with pathos or humor, and in a style which is finished at its best or attitudinizing at its worst, the writings of Washington Irving occur to the mind of the reader. A few attempts have even been made-by Franklin, Irving, Mitchell, Curtis -to revive and perpetuate the periodical essay. If, again, we are thinking of the critical essay of Carlyle, Matthew Arnold, or Sainte-Beuve, it is no shame to add to their company the genuinely Yankee but soundly scholarly James Russell Lowell. Of all the chief departments of English essaywriting, but one has been ineffectively represented in the United States : the biographical or historical essay of the Macaulay type, in which the author, taking a book-title for a text, proceeds to write a miniature “life and times” or “complete history.” The pages
of our reviews are full of imitations of Macaulay, short paragraphs, antitheses, and all, which sadly prove that “all that flams is not flamboyant.” Even in this division, however, is found the historical essay of Motley or Prescott; Motley's “ Peter the Great,” if it is less than Macaulay's work, is also some thing more.
Besides these writers, there is another American whose work as a poet will be considered in a future volume of this history, but who must also take his place in the present chapter. Oliver Wendell Oliver Wen. Holmes, as an essayist, does not belong dell Holmes, b. 1809.
to the school of Bacon, or Addison, or Lamb, or Carlyle, or Montaigne, or Sainte-Beuve. It would be easy, perhaps, to frame a comparison between him and Christopher North, and to say that Holmes performed for The Atlantic Monthly, in its early years, a service like that which Christopher gave to Maga long ago. In their writings, too, there is a little likeness. But to carry out this comparison, or any other, would be valueless, and might mislead. It is better to say that Holmes followed an original idea in his BreakfastTable series. When he was a young man, so he tells us in the illustrated edition of “The Last Leaf," he found that some poetasters were probably imitating his metrical forms, and determined to produce a poem in a metre wholly unfamiliar, so
any imitation could be instantly detected. No such idea, doubtless, occurred to him when, half accidentally, he hit upon the rambling, varied path which “The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table" and his successors, the “Professor" and the “Poet," followed for so many years; but the result was equally his own property. In these three books, if there be a conspicuous influence, it is that of Sterne, an influence which the careful reader can discern in the
pages of so widely different an author as Jean Paul Richter, and which was transferred thence to “Sartor Resartus.” But literary rambling is older than Holmes, Carlyle, Richter, Sterne, or Burton's “Anatomy"; discursiveness and an alert wit have marked most of the better humorists of all the world. The reader of those of Holmes' prose works which not novels, biographies, or brief medical disquisitions, does not stop to criticise or trace intellectual influences, he is content to enjoy, and is sure that he is in the presence of a native force, which he need not stop to label and assign to its proper shelf in the literary cabinet. On the whole, in this study of American literature, where detailed arrangement of our literary product becomes necessary, it seems clear that Doctor Holmes is to be ranked among the essayists, and that in their company he stands in a place of his own. When Holmes was twenty years
old * -so he tells us in the preface to the “ Au
Breakfasttocrat">he printed in The New England Magazine the first of two papers called “The
crat of the
* November, 1831.