The Study Of English Literature -- By: R. P. Dunn
BSac 23:90 (April 1866) p. 235
The Study Of English Literature
There is no nobler achievement of the human mind than the production of a national literature. Its materials are more diverse, its forms are more varied, its sources are more numerous, its life is more enduring, than those of any other product of the conscious or the unconscious art of man. It appeals, too, to a much larger number for reception and approval, and satisfies broader and larger wants than any other work of the busy brain or the skilful hand.
The literary art, dealing with the subtile forms of thought and of imagination, and wielding the flexible or the plastic substance of language, has to do with a finer and more delicate matter than clay or marble, plaster or canvas. Yet subtile as are those forms, evanescent as are their expressions, — only less so than those with which music is concerned, — they outlast the massive structure of the architect, and often have lost nothing of their freshness when the once bright fresco is stained and darkened with the touch of time, and the once symmetrical statue lies a torso in the dust. “By the simple agency of twenty-four little marks, stamped on the written or printed page,” said Mr. Everett, in his inaugural address at Washington University, St. Louis,— holding in his hand a volume of Homer, —”the immortal legend has flashed down to us through the vicissitudes of empires and eras; across the vast expanse of enlightened and benighted periods of history; from region to region, from his own rocky islet in the Aegean to shores unknown, undreamed of by him, — beneath the overwhelming billows of three thousand years, where peoples whole have sunk; and it now binds together, by the golden wires of intellect and taste, the mind of Europe and America, at this meridian
BSac 23:90 (April 1866) p. 236
of their refinement, with the mind of every intervening age of literary culture, back to the cradle of infant Greece.”
The literary art is more catholic in its spirit and in its product than any of its sister arts. As its votaries are more numerous, so it puts among its store of treasures works whose parallel other arts would not think it worth while to preserve. A song, a ballad, an epigram, a proverb, though separated from its author by the waves of time, is rescued from oblivion, while a sketch, a model, a melody, of equal merit, is allowed to perish. The standard of excellence in the plastic or the graphic art may be higher than in the literary, and hence what fails to reach it is neglected, while every literary product of any worth is likely to survive, though not to be universally esteemed. .There is but one Raphael and one Michael Angelo; so, too, there is but one Shakespeare and one Milton; but the inferior...
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