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the close of the period in 1799, Dr. Benjamin Rush, whose mental activity had assisted in promoting the result, wrote: "From a strict attention to the state of mind in this country, before the year 1774, and at the present time, I am satisfied the ratio of intellect is as twenty to one, and of knowledge as one hundred to one, in these states, compared with what they were before the American Revolution."
The third period exhibited the results of this increased capacity. It gave a new range to divinity and moral science, in writers like Channing; Calhoun and Webster illustrated the principles of political science; Marshall, Kent, and Story interpreted law; Paulding, Irving, Cooper, Simms, Emerson, opened new provinces in fiction and polite literature; Hillhouse, Bryant, Halleck, Dana, Longfellow, sang their profound and sweet melodies; the national life at the earliest moment found its historian in Bancroft; oratory gained new triumphs in the halls of Congress, and a genial race of writers filled the various departments of letters, in turn thoughtful, sentimental, or humorous, as the occasion or theme required. To enumerate them here, would be to repeat the index of these volumes.
In another light, this literature may be looked at in its relations to the several portions of the country-the kind and extent of the productiveness varying with the character and opportunities of each region. When the different elements of the question have been duly considered, it will be found that mental activity has been uniformly developed. The early settlements of the North; its possession of the main seats of learning, drawing together numerous professors; its commercial centres, calling forth the powers of the press; its great cities, have given it the advantage in the number of authors: but without these important stimuli, the South and West have been vigorous producers in the fields of literature. Virginia and South Carolina, whose long settlement and Atlantic relations fairly bring them into view for competition here, have yielded their fair proportion of authors; their literature naturally assuming a political character. It is not a just test in the comparison to take the results of colleges and great cities, where literary men are drawn together, and contrast their numbers with the isolated cultivation of an agricultural region, where letters are solely pursued for their own sake, as the ornament or solace of life, seldom as a means of support, and where that book-generating person, the author by profession, is almost wholly unknown. We are rather to look for the social literary cultivation. Tested in this way, by their political representatives, their orators, their citizens who travel abroad; the men who are to be met at home, on the plantations, and in large rural districts, there is a literary cultivation in the South and West proportionate with any other part of the country. In the number of books on the list of American bibliography, their quota is neither slight nor unimportant.
It has been an object in this work to exhibit fairly and amply all portions of the country. The literature of the South is here more fully displayed than ever before. The notices might readily have been extended, but in this, as in other cases, the work has been governed by necessary limitations. It is very evident to any one who has looked at the statistics of the subject, that it would not be practicable, even on the generous scale of these volumes, to introduce all the writers of the country. With great labor and patience such a work might be undertaken, but its extent would soon place it beyond the reach of ordinary purchasers. For that remote end, a complete American bibliography would be required; and it is probable that at some future time it will be executed. But the plan of the present Cyclopædia is different. It required selection. On consultation with the publishers, it was found that two royal octavos of the present liberal size could be afforded at a moderate price, which would place the work within the reach of the entire class of purchasers; that any extension beyond this would involve an increase in cost unfavorable to its circulation. This was the material limit. On the other side the space seemed sufficient for the display of the comparatively brief period of American authorship, when the whole vast range of English literature was, successfully for the purpose, included by Messrs. Chambers in about the same compass.
The next question respected the distribution of the space. It was considered that,
under any principle of selection, the story should be as briefly told as possible; being confined to the facts of the case, with no more comment than was required to put the reader in ready communication with the author, while matters of digression and essay-writing should be carefully avoided. The lives of the authors were to be narrated, and their best works exhibited in appropriate extracts.
To the early periods, the preference was to be given in fulness of display. Many of the lives required much curious investigation, in regions not readily accessible to the general reader. The sympathy shown in this portion of the subject by various eminent scholars and successful prosecutors of literature themselves, who were occasionally consulted in its preparation, and who readily gave the most important assistance, seemed additional warrant to devote considerable space to this research.
The Revolutionary matter presented similar claims. It was novel, much of it not generally attainable, and it was full of picturesque life. The rapid multiplication of the literary and scientific institutions of the country has permitted us to speak at length only of those long established. An account of the early colleges has afforded much interesting detail, while it has given the opportunity of commemorating many worthies of the past, whose literary labors were chiefly entitled to notice from this connexion.
The passages to be selected for quotation, in a work of this kind, must frequently be chosen for their minor qualities. The brief essay, the pertinent oration, the short poem, the song or squib of the wit may be given, where it would be absurd to mutilate the entire line of argument of a work on philosophy, or where it would be irreverent to violate the sanctity of a treatise of divinity, by parading its themes, plucked from the sacred inclosure of the volume.
The lighter passages of song and jest were numerous in the days of the Revolution, and may be worth exhibiting, as a relief to graver incidents of the struggle, and as a proof of the good heart with which our fathers entered into it.
The reader may trace a full exhibition of the admirable productions, both witty and serious, which grew out of the argument for the Federal Constitution, in the passages from Hopkinson, Belknap, Hamilton, and others.
It has been further an object in the extracts, to preserve the utmost possible completeness to present a subject as nearly as practicable in its entire form. The ample page of the work has allowed us, in numerous instances, to carry this out even with such productions of length as an entire canto of McFingal, a reprint of the whole of Barlow's Hasty Pudding, of the Buccaneer of Dana, complete papers by Fisher Ames, Gouverneur Morris, and others; while the number of shorter articles has been occasionally extended to embrace most, if not all, that is of interest in the literary remains of minor authors.
A reference to the index will show, we trust, a worthy design in the selection of passages from the various authors. We have kept in view the idea, that a work of the opportunities of the present, should aid in the formation of taste and the discipline of character, as well as in the gratification of curiosity and the amusement of the hour. The many noble sentiments, just thoughts, the eloquent orations, the tasteful poems, the various refinements of literary expression, drawn together in these volumes, are indeed the noblest appeal and best apology for the work. The voice of two centuries of American literature may well be worth listening to.
Avoiding, however, further enlargement on this theme, which might run into an unseemly critical analysis of the book, we have left to us the safer and more agreeable duty of acknowledging the friendly aid which has encouraged and assisted us in a laborious undertaking. Many a letter of sympathy and counsel has warmed us to renewed effort in the progress of the work. It has been our care to indicate on its appropriate page the obligations due to others, and, if we may adopt the words of that good old divine and poet, Dr. Donne, "to thank not him only that hath digg'd out treasure for me, but that hath lighted me a candle to the place."
To our predecessors in these labors, ample acknowledgments are due, from the first
collections of American verse, in the last century, by Elihu H. Smith and Mathew Carey, to the excellent labors at the present day of Kettell, Everest, Griswold, and others. To their works we may appropriately add the numerous collections of local literature, as the Boston, New Hampshire, and Charleston books. In the earlier departments, special recognition should be made of the valuable biographical dictionaries of Eliot and Allen; in the later, of the industrious biographical labors of Mr. J. S. Loring, in the several editions of his "Boston Orators."
We have been under great obligations to several of the public libraries, and the efficient acts of courtesy of their librarians. Of these institutions, we may particularly mention the rare collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society, of the Boston Athenæum, of the library at Harvard, of the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester, of the Library Company and the Library of the American Philosophical Society at Philadelphia, of the Historical Society, of the Society, Mercantile, and Astor Libraries of New York. We never left one of these institutions without a new sense of the magnitude of the subject before us. In this connexion, we cheerfully express our thanks, not merely as an aid, but as an honor to our enterprise, for the cordial cooperation of the Rev. John L. Sibley of Harvard, George Folsom of Boston, Mr. S. F. Haven of Worcester, Mr. E. C. Herrick of Yale, Messrs. J. J. and Lloyd P. Smith of Philadelphia, Mr. Philip J. Forbes, Mr. George H. Moore, Mr. S. Hastings Grant, and Mr. J. G. Cogswell of New York.
Numerous private collections have been freely opened to us. We have been favored with the use of many rare volumes from the choice and costly libraries of Mr. J. Carter Brown of Providence, Mr. George Ticknor of Boston, the Rev. Dr. Hawks, Mr. George Bancroft, Mr. James Lenox, Mr. E. B. Corwin of New York; while important incidental aid in this way has been rendered us by Mr. J. Pennington, Mr. Charles J. Ingersoll, Mr. Henry D. Gilpin, Mr. J. T. Fisher, Mr. C. B. Trego, Mr. W. B. Reed, Mr. H. C. Baird of Philadelphia; Professor Gammell of Brown University, Mr. Joseph Johnson and Mr. John Russell of Charleston, South Carolina; Mr. Samuel Colman, Mr. George B. Rapelye, Mr. John Allen, and Mr. W. J. Davis of New York. To both the library and valuable counsel of Dr. John W. Francis of New York we have been under repeated obligations.
To Mr. Washington Irving we are indebted for a special act of courtesy, in his contribution to the notice of Allston of an interesting series of personal reminiscences. We are under like obligations to Dr. Francis, for a similar recollection of Philip Freneau. One of the last letters written by the late Col. D. J. McCord of Columbia, South Carolina, was a communication printed in its place, on Dr. Thomas Cooper. The privilege of friendly consultation with the Rev. Dr. Osgood of New York has introduced us to much of the abundant literature of his religious denomination. We have also received cordial aid from Mr. Henry T. Tuckerman, whose published writings afford many illustrations of the topics of these volumes. Other acknowledgments appear on various pages of the book.
In the department of Southern literature, where information rests largely in the hands of individuals, we have been greatly strengthened by correspondence with Mr. W. Gilmore Simms of South Carolina, bringing with it a train of kindly assistance from others; and with Mr. John Esten Cooke of Richmond, which opened to us frequent avenues to information in Virginia. To Mr. Harrison Hall of Philadelphia, and his brother Judge James Hall of Cincinnati, we are under similar obligations in other regions of the country. From Professor Porcher of the Charleston College, President Swain of the University of North Carolina, Professor Totten of William and Mary, Mr. Gessner Harrison of the University of Virginia, Professor North of Hamilton College, Mr. Wm. W. Turner of the National Institute, we have received assistance in the notices of the several seats of learning with which they are connected. It may not be amiss here, for the prevention of possible comparisons in future, to state, that in some instances-to the extent, perhaps, of three or four pages of the book-we are under a debt to ourselves, having drawn upon a few critical. papers heretofore printed in the Literary World.
Not the least difficult portion of the work has been the preparation of the numerous portraits. They have been frequently obtained from original sources, and are now engraved for the first time, from old paintings, or recent daguerreotypes and photographs. If they prove of interest to the purchasers of the book, proportioned to the care often expended upon them, the publisher and editors may be well satisfied. A few choice daguerreotypes are from the hands of Messrs. Southworth and Hayes of Boston, and Mr. Richards of Philadelphia, while a large number have been taken by Mr. M. B. Brady of New York,—a sufficient guarantee of this stage of the work. The drawings from them have been made by Mr. W. Momberger of this city. The engravings are by Mr. W. Roberts. For several of the vignettes we are indebted to the Homes of American Authors, at present published by the Messrs. Appleton.
A large number of the autograph illustrations were kindly placed at our disposal by the Rev. Dr. W. B. Sprague, of Albany, New York. Valuable aid of this kind has been freely given by others.
The accuracy of the work has been greatly promoted by the cooperation of Mr. W. H. Smith, who has been long known to many of the scholars of the country as proofreader in the office of Mr. Robert Craighead, where the Cyclopædia was put in type.
In conclusion, we may, we trust, ask a generous and kindly consideration for a work of much difficulty. Inequalities and short-comings may, doubtless, be discovered in it. "Errors Excepted," the usual phrase appended to a merchant's account, the gloss upon all things human, may with propriety be added at the termination of an undertaking of this
The perfection of such a work is the result of time and experience. The present volumes may perhaps fall into the hands of some who are able and willing to afford additional information; and this may be employed in the supplements to future editions, if indeed the book shall attain such desirable repetitions. We need not say, that any suggestions, looking fairly to the design of the work, will be welcome. In the delicate duty to contemporaries, every hour adds to the opportunities of such an undertaking: but the authors of the day are well able, in their own writings, to speak for themselves. We may be allowed to insert a caveat against the pretension that we have not omitted some of the true worthies of America-though the reader will perhaps be reminded, on the other hand, of the story told by Sir Walter Scott, of the laird on a visit to his friend in the country. He was about taking his departure homewards, when he thought of interrogating his servant, who had been engaged in packing his portmanteau. "Have you put in everything that belongs to me?" "At least, your honor," was the candid reply.
There is an old passage in the dedication of the venerable Cotton Mather's Decennium Luctuosum, which is perhaps a good sequel to the anecdote in this relation. "Should any Petit Monsieur," says he, "complain (as the captain that found not himself in the tapestry hangings, which exhibited the story of the Spanish invasion in 1588), that he don't find himself mentioned in this history, the author has this apology: he has done as well and as much as he could, that whatever was worthy of a mention, might have it; and if this collection of matters be not complete, yet he supposes it may be more complete than any one else hath made; and now he hath done, he hath not pulled up the ladder after him: others may go on as they please with a completer composure."
NEW YORK, August 16, 1855.