The next level

“As an explanation of the mystery of existence the transcendental philosophy makes little appeal to our own hard-headed and scientific generation; but no one, assuredly, with any measure of spiritual and poetic perception can give himself sincerely and unreservedly to one of the literary masterpieces of the transcendental school, to one of the greater essays of Emerson for example, the Self-Reliance, Compensation, Spiritual Laws, or The Over-Soul, without a consciousness, as he puts down the volume, of having passed for the time into a higher sphere of being, without a deepened conviction of the triviality, the relative unreality, of material concerns, without a sense of spaciousness, of clarity, of nobility, of power, a feeling that that much abused word ‘eternal’ has suddenly put on a very real and concrete meaning. Against such an actual experience no mere argument can avail. Nor does the emotion thus evoked end in vague mystical exaltation. It leaves, rather, whether the reader profit by it or not, a distinct sense of its bearing on the daily conduct of life.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Book II, Ch. 8

Get back to work

“After the Revolution the novel-reading habit grew, fostered by American publishers and cried out against by many moralists whose cries appeared in magazines side by side with moral tales. Nearly every grade of sophistication applied itself to the problem. It was contested that novels were lies; that they served no virtuous purpose; that they melted rigorous minds; that they crowded out better books; that they painted adventure too romantic and love too vehement, and so unfitted readers for solid reality; that, dealing with European manners, they tended to confuse and dissatisfy republican youth. In the face of such censure, native novelists appeared late and apologetically, armed for the most part with the triple plea that the tale was true, the tendency heavenward, and the scene devoutly American.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Book II, Ch. 6

Make it maybe not so new

“Of all the criticisms that have been passed upon the Declaration of Independence, the least to the point is that it is not original. The material was at hand, the argument had been elaborated, the conclusions had been drawn. For originality there was as little opportunity as there was need. What was required now was a concise summing up of the whole matter, full enough to give a clear impression of completeness, vigorous and bold enough to serve as a national manifesto, and polished, dignified, and incisive enough to catch the ear, to linger in the memory, and to bear endless repetition.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 8

Mutatis mutandis

“No history of the American Revolution, or of the political literature to which it gave birth, would be complete without consideration of the loyalists. That independence was in fact the work of a minority, and that the methods by which the loyal majority was overawed and, in part, expelled were as high-handed and cruel as they were active and vigorous, must be freely conceded. Weighty as was the colonial argument, force and violence were freely employed to give effect to it.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 8

Kindling was different then, but pickles were the same

“Advertisements of merchandise in all the colonies throw a good deal of light on the customs of the time, and, incidentally, also on the popular taste in reading. We find that Peter Turner has ‘Superfine Scarlet Cloth, Hat Linings, Tatlers, Spectators, and Barclay’s Apology’; that Peter Harry imports ‘Head Flowers in Boxes, Laces and Edgings, Psalm-books, Play-books, the Guardians in 2 vol., Women’s Short Cloaks, Men’s Scarlet Great Coats’ and other apparel. The ship Samuel, from London, brings over ‘sundry goods, particularly a very choice collection of printed Books, Pictures, Maps and Pickles, to be Sold very reasonable by Robert Pringle.'” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 7

Plato’s ghost

“An old-time classification of the human faculties will serve to explain the development of American thought in the eighteenth century, a development which led to the overthrow of high Calvinism. As there were three divisions of the human mind—intellect, sensibility, and will, so were there three divisions among the enemies of orthodoxy. Those who followed the intellect were the rationalists, or deists. Those who followed sensibility were the “hot” men, or enthusiasts. Those who followed the will were the ethical reformers, who emphasized the conscious cultivation of morality rather than a divinely wrought change in man’s nature.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XV, Ch. 5

Is this why American schools are a dysfunctional mess?

“In every State it should be a fundamental maxim that the education of youth should be particularly formed and adapted to the nature and end of its government.” — Thomas Sheridan, 1756 (from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. 14)

You know, those were different times

“The decade 1840–1850, preceding the rush to the gold-diggings, was an important period in the history of Australian poetry. The development of New South Wales brought about an increase in the number of newspapers, and the newspapers gave opportunities for the publication of verse.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. XII

It was a beautiful dream

“At this time, interest in natural philosophy was widely disseminated, and, in science, as in politics and literature, new ideas were readily welcomed.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. VIII

Stiff upper lips and all that

“Though prudence, intrepidity and perseverance united are not exempted from the blows of adverse fortune, yet in a long series of transactions they usually rise superior to its power, and in the end rarely fail of proving successful.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. VII

We call them our elected representatives

“Sir Thomas Gresham, writing on the coinage, lays it down as a principle that, if you have in a country good coins and deteriorated coins of the same metal current side by side, the bad will drive out the good, and Gresham’s law may often be applied to literature, to art and, especially, to journalism. The largest circulations have often been attained by newspapers not exhibiting the highest characteristics; indeed, newspapers have been known suddenly to reach enormous sales by publishing articles describing the careers of notorious criminals.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, Vol. XIV, Ch. IV

Plus ca change

“In the family, schools and churches, tyrannies have been set up which have vested interests in mental stupor and convention, and which permeate the atmosphere with cant and hypocrisy convenient to themselves.” — from The Cambridge History of English and American Literature, regarding the targets of George Meredith’s writings (most notably, Erewhon) in the late 19th century