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because there is no place that specially needs to be thus filled.
We may trace the workings of this same grovelling utilitarianism in the gradual decline of classical learning. The scholar is challenged in vain to produce a philosopher's stone which can transmute the dead languages into gold ; and, as business letters never need to be written, or orders made or answered, in Latin or Greek, they are pronounced useless by multitudes of those who ought to know better, and the generous nurture that they may give to the higher powers and finer susceptibilities of youth is disdained and rejected. Meanwhile, as Horace says was the case in his day,
“ Pueri longis rationibus assem
Discunt in partes centum diducere." And with regard to many of the most approved and popular maxims and modes of education, we may well ask with the same poet,
“An, hæc animos ærugo et cura peculi Quam semel imbuerit, speramus, carmina fingi
Posse linenda cedro, et levi servanda cupresso? Again, in an intellectual point of view, ours is a peculiarly unproductive age. There seems to be very little of vigorous, independent thought. On subjects on which the mind ought to be the most active, reading to a great degree takes the place of thinking, and one is very apt to be of the opinion of ihe last author that he has read. Men, too, reason in platoons, and hold belief and sentiment in joint-stock corporations, in corporations for the most part with fictitious capital ; for the draft, when made, for solid reasons and arguments, betrays a missing treasurer. Public opinion, sourceless as the wind, groundless as moonshine, is the tyrant ; individual intellect, the supple sycophant, the passive slave.
If a man gets a new idea, he goes out into the street to ask if there is any thing in it, or looks up to the high places to inquire whether any of the rulers or chief-priests have believed thus ; and if his thought finds no echo, it seldom occurs to him to compare it with his own intuitions, to analyze it by his own subtilty, or to verify it by his own experience. This indifference to the higher forms of thought results, no doubt, from the vast amount of indisputable material philosophy and
wisdom now in the possession of civilized man, in the process of being used up, and promising to supply the practical demands and outward wants of the race for centuries to come.
The prevalent tastes of the reading community indicate a similarly low intellectual standard. The writer who would have the world's suffrages must employ himself in reducing the strong meat of manly minds to the neutral savour and pulpy consistency demanded by the feeble organs of mental infancy. A very large portion of the literary energy of the age is employed in writing history, and that not philosophical, but merely entertaining history, biographical gossip, insig. nificant detail, fragmentary, episodical narrative, which, so far from aiding in the search for ultimate causes and principles, heaps up piles of impertinent rubbish in the inquirer's path. If the public press may be taken as an exponent of the general mind, the collecting and compiling no matter what from the annals of the past is deemed the most dignified and momentous pursuit that a man can be engaged in. How cursory notice is given to a really profound work, at least in any journal short of a quarterly! If the book is seriously argumentative, it is passed by as obscure and dull. If novel in its speculations, it is denounced as heretical, with garbled specifications, and the shades of free and noble thinkers, who were in advance of their own times and loved bold thought, are evoked to utter anathemas upon the offending author. But does a man publish some pitiful town history, and is he enabled by the careful collation of ancient records to ascertain the precise length of Governor Endicott's beard, or the dimensions of the first meeting-house in Rowley, or the names and accounts of the earliest tythingman and pound-keeper of Dedham, he bends under a whole forest of newspaper laurels, - he is doing noble service to his land and his race, - it is of such materials as these, that the future historian, who has been promised us ever since we can remember, is to build the imperishable monument of our country's renown.
Meantime, how vast the issues of the groaning press ! “Of the making of many books there is no end ” ; but the process is, for the most part, or rather for the wisest and best part, the decanting of old wine into new bottles, even according to the good words of Chaucer,
“Out of the olde fieldes, as men saithe,
Cometh all this newe corn fro yere to yere ;
Cometh all this newe science that men lere."
Of such books as feed thought and nourish intellect our times can number few; nor does there seem to be, in any department of literature, or in the higher walks of intellectual research, any leading and controlling mind, as there has almost always been before. The firmament shows no morning-star that outshines all the rest, but a galaxy, with here and there a brighter patch of light from a cluster of luminaries. Nor do we trace in many quarters that spirit of devout and earnest inquiry, that deep solemnity of soul in the contemplation of truth, before which the veil always parts and the empire of the unknown recedes. Two or three great works we have, indeed, had from beyond the Atlantic within as many years. Whewell and Mill (whose labors have been already noticed in our pages), in some respects antagonists in their philosophy, and the latter a much less careful reasoner and safe guide than the former, have done more than any other living English writers to replenish the fountains of fresh and vigorous thought. Their works go down to the very foundations of knowledge, to the roots of thought and theory; but they fail of meeting the general taste of the republic of letters, on account of their uiter lack of false rhetoric, amplified or diluted statements, and illustrations drawn from the way-side of busy life. Whewell's History and Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences, though cursorily commended in a recent number of this journal, have not, we believe, found the courtesy of an elaborate notice in any Ainerican periodical ; and bis Elements of Morality have in two or three instances been reviewed with a superciliousness and wrong-headedness which indicated either the indifference of a hireling critic, or an utter inability to rise to the author's point of view and to appreciate his labors.
The German mind is, indeed, commonly deemed more active at the present time than the Anglo-Saxon, and it certainly grapples with higher themes of thought. But we doubt whether, since Goethe and Richter have passed off the stage, there remains any rival, of their fame, as an original and creative mind, in any department whatsoever. German books, on all subjects of archæology, criticism, philosophy,
and theology, display, indeed, prodigious learning. But so far as our limited acquaintance with German literature extends, its greatest achievements of the present day are of three classes. First, there are works which present, with little method or system, compends of all that can be read or known on a given subject. Secondly, there are numerous works which revive old and often exploded theories, and attempt to sustain them by excerpts, frequently garbled and distorted, from the erudition of all past ages. Then, thirdly, a new theory, so outré and absurd, that neither the author himself nor any of his readers can be supposed to have even a momentary faith in it, is often started on some subject, on which the true doctrine has long been established beyond dispute, and this strange theory is made a nucleus for the crystallization of old learning in new and eccentric forms, the sole object being the exhibition of a startling piece of intellectual jugglery, which shall transfix the literary world with the same kind of admiration with which the less enlightened multitude see a man stand on his head, or balance a a cart-wheel on his chin. Strauss's Life of Jesus, reviewed in our number for October, belongs to this latter class. Its origin is, no doubt, to be accounted for on this wise. Niebuhr (the example of whose confiding faith in historical Christianity is made doubly precious by his extreme skepticism in the weighing of testimony) had applied the most profound and scientific criticism to the heterogeneous compound of fact and sable that bore the name of Roman history, exposed numberless fallacies in the evidence on which the faith of all preceding ages had implicitly rested, and reconstructed with the hand of a master-builder the fabric and fortunes of the great republic. Strauss, emulous of his fame, and yet lacking the enterprise to go beyond the range of his own department of learning, has brought into a period of authentic history the critical instruments which Niebuhr most aptly employed about the traditions of a fabulous age. The work, intellectually considered, is a scientific blunder, - as much so as it would be to apply mechanical reasoning to facts in chemistry, or algebraic formulas to the solution of ethical problems ; for the mode of investigation adapted to dateless and anonymous legends from ages that have transmitted no written history differs toto cælo from that which belongs to records about the date and authorship of which there hangs
no mystery, and to an age of which the events and statistics are familiarly known.
We pass to the aspect of our times as to works of the imagination. It has been often said, that an epic poem is no longer possible. This we believe ; for no man living has sufficient faith in the commingling of any class of intermediate supernatural agencies with the common affairs of life to furnish the machinery for an epic. Nay, even could a work of this class be elaborated with the highest degree of artistical skill, and its supernatural machinery adjusted with the closest fidelity to the best models, it is doubtful whether it would find readers. We must feel that the poet writes in good faith, in order to enjoy his creations. Had the Henriade been anonymous, it would have passed unchallenged to a secondary place among the works of its class ; but we can never forget, while we read it, that it is the unbelieving, scoffing, sneering Voltaire that is pulling the wires of a machinery which he denied and scorned. Had the Paradise Lost, with its half-pagan demonology, been written in our own day, it would not be read with the whole-hearted admiration, with the intense earnestness of spirit, which it now commands the more with every new perusal ; for we should all the while suspect the author's good faith, and the artificial, heartless process by which we should suppose the poem to have been written would leave its trail on all the gorgeous description and splendid imagery. As it stands, the Paradise Lost is to us what every true poem is, the belief, the spirit, the image of its age and people, uttering itself through its heaven-attested seer ; and through it we not only behold the fantastic creations with which it swarms, which without contact with humanity have no charm for us, but we are borne back to the age when such creations were possible and credible, we enter for the time into the then current faith, and glow with the hopes and fears, the visions and the musings, that then dwelt deep in the general heart, and quickened the throbbings of the general pulse.
We now can no more recall, in separate forms of fancy and sources of inspiration,
“The power, the beauty, and the majesty
That had their haunts in dale, or piny mountain,