« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »
writers. The general tone of our popular compositions has been showy and declamatory, a natural result of the influence of free and independent forms of government upon the buoyant spirits of a young, enterprising, and prosperous people. Under the continued patronage of these liberal institutions, (which must always operate powerfully on the genius of a language,) we trust that the English tongue will put forth its energies with new spirit and freedom. But as this is the natural tendency of our political system, we should early endeavour to regulate it; and it is particularly incumbent on every scholar in the present daily, we may say hourly expansion, of a more cultivated literature, to set an example of pure, perspicuous, classical composition, and not to mislead the unpractised judgment into extravagance or affectation.
It is more particularly the province of works, of the description we have been examining, to set this example. As specimens of fine writing, as works of taste, they come before the public; and it is in their power, if well conducted, to bold a salutary control over the taste of the public, especially over that of young and plastic intellects. In this way they may be eminently useful. We look upon them as the transitory beauties of cultivation, which may exercise a propitious influence on the public mind, when they themselves shall have passed away, and by the introduction of a finer taste, prepare it for the growth of a more elegant and a more enduring literature.
ART. XVIII.- Circulars addressed to the American members
and patrons of the American Academy of Language and Belles Lettres. By the Corresponding Secretary. The second and third of three circulars of this kind are before us, and are more particularly within our view, in the few remarks we design to make. The newspapers of the day have informed the public of a project for an American Academy of language and belles lettres; and the circulars, which have been published, contain an account of what has been done towards its organization, but consist principally of the correspondence between the corresponding secretary and
various gentlemen of the highest respectability in our country, upon the general subject of the institution. We should fail in our duty to the public, did we omit to express our opinion of an institution coming forward with a nane, and on a plan so imposing; and if our remarks should not command the approbation of the gentlemen who have been most active in the measures hitherto adopted, we hope at least we shall not be thought to exceed the limits of fair dissent.
The American Academy, as appears from the second circular, was organized in June, 1821, by the choice of a President (the Secretary of State of the U. S.) three Vice Presidents, a corresponding and a recording secretary, a treasurer and eleven counsellors, one only of whom is an inhabitant of the state of New York. In addition to the names of the foregoing officers, a list of twenty eight members resident at New York is given, a second list of corresponding members from the several states of the union, and a third list of foreigners proposed as corresponding members. By whom proposed, or on what principle of selection, we have found ourselves, so far as concerns the last, much at a loss to conjecture.*
* We cannot but regard the following as an extraordinary explanation.
“The list of officers and members is furnished, as far as under present circumstances it can be made: but that of the members is to be considered only as an approximation to one strictly accurate. Our extensive territory, and the imperfect knowledge of the character of our scholars, as such, make it a work of time and much difficulty to obtain correct information, and to introduce the literary men of the United States to an acquaintance with each other. The proposal of such an institution was new, and many with the best wishes doubted its practicability Some, from motives of prudence, waited to see the completion of its arrangements and the list of its members, previous to committing themselves. The number of members who have in form been admitted and given their decided assent is between ninety and one hundred.'
We call this extraordinary, op comparing, it with the following version of the same passage in a second edition of the same circular.
• The list of officers and members is furnished, as far as under present cireumstances it can be made out: but that of the members is to be considered only as an approximation to one strictly accurate. Our extensive territory, and the imperfect knowledge of the character of our scholars, as such, make it a work of time and much difficulty to obtain correct information, and to introduce the literary men of the United States to an acquaintance with each other. The proposal of such an institution was new, and many with the best wishes doubted its practicability. Some, from motives of prudence, waited to see the completion of its arrangements and the list of its members, previous to committing themselves. To some whose names are used it has not been convenient to communicate the requisite information. A few names are inserted of candidates, who, from what is al present known, will be admitted. It is difficult to draw a perfect separating line under present circumstances. The number of members who have in form been admitted and given their decided assent, is between ninety and one hundred.'
The doings of the Academy, as far as we are able to judge from the circulars, have been confined to the proposal of a premium of not less than $400 and a gold medal for the best written history of the United States, to serve as a class-book for academies and schools ; of a premium of $200 and a gold medal for a small volume of original reading lessons for common schools; of a gold medal to be presented on behalf of the society to Mr Charles Botta, of Italy, in acknowledgment of his history of the American Revolution; and of a premium of $400 and a gold medal for “a popular treatise on natural philosophy or useful science.' It should be added, that in the last circular, it is stated that the more elaborate dissertations are reserved for the first regular volume of transactions, for which a few interesting papers are yet expected in time.' It is also stated in the second circular, that the Rev. J. M. Mason, D. D. late provost of Columbia College, is chairman of a committee to collect throughout the United States a list of alleged Americanisms.
With these premises, an extensive correspondence has been carried on, as it appears, of an unofficial kind, between the corresponding secretary and various members, selections from which are given in the third circular. The first remark which occurs to us on the subject of this academy, is, that it is eminently entitled to the name bestowed by Louis XVIII on one of his chambers of deputies, of the undiscoverable. We have bestowed some attention on the subject, with the design of rendering the institution whatever aid we could, if in no other way, at least, by making the public acquainted with the Academy's proceedings, through the medium of our pages. We have been unable, however, to obtain any idea of what the Academy is designed to be. By a literary and scientific academy, we understand an association of learned men, in some great city, who at their meetings communicate to each other the fruits of their studies, in the form of memoirs, which are afterwards generally published; and who associate with their body, under the name of corresponding or honorary members, distinguished intellectual characters in other places. This, however, does not appear to describe the new American academy, for, with the exception of a small list of resident members, the very great majority of officers and members are non-residents. This circumstance does not, it is true, create a total obstacle to assembling; a member may travel from
Baltimore, Philadelphia, or Boston to New York; though not very advantageously from New Orleans, Lexington, and Brunswick, at which several places, high functionaries of the Academy reside. Nor does it appear that any system of deputation is projected, by which nonresident members shall meet at stated periods in some capital. It seems then to us, that the first great requisite to a society, viz. associating, fails. The members are not to meet each other: and in consequence can render each other no service, in capacity of being fellow members, or in other words, the academy will do no good. Ifit be replied to this, that the active portion of the academy is intended to consist of the resident members at New York, and that the nonresident members are merely associated in the usual complimentary way, we rejoin first, that this does not appear to be the fact. The president, two of the three vice presidents, and all the eleven counsellors are nonresidents. If these offices mean any thing, the active portion of the society is not at New York; if they do not mean any thing, why have them? But on examining the contents of the circulars, we find a still further proof, that the academy is not intended to be a local academy, with nonresident associates. The subject of offering a premium for a text-book of natural philosophy and useful science having been stated, page 10th of the second circular, it is added, this preamble and resolution are proposed for consideration, and the opinions of members are requested concerning their modification or adoption.' Yet we perceive no possible way, in which opinions are to be collected throughout the union, but by a correspondence; and how any thing like literary stimulus and excitement can be expected to grow out of so cumbrous an organization, we cannot imagine. Again, on the same page of the second circular, we read,
• At the last meeting of the Society, the following was proposed for consideration,
Resolved, That a gold medal be presented, in behalf of this Society, to Signior CHARLES Botta, of Italy, author of the History of the American Revolution, and that the Hon. William Tilghman, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania, Langdon Cheves, Esq. President of the Bank of the United States, and Robert Walsh, jun. Esq. be requested to procure and transmit the same.
The reason offered for this procedure is, that it is just, creditable and politic to take an honorable notice of the man, who in
New Series, No. 10. 45
a foreign country and a foreign language, has, by a work of much merit, contributed to make our character more known and respected.'
Here we have an important procedure proposed as just, creditable, and politic, and to be conducted by three most respectable gentlemen. To whom is it proposed to be adopted or rejected? We presume to the academy at large, who are to express their opinions, through the medium of correspondence. But we find in another copy of the same circular, a sort of second edition, though containing nearly the same matter, that the committee above named have approved the resolution and accepted the appointment.'
Here we are somewhat embarrassed. In both copies of the circular, it is said the medal for Mr Botta is proposed for consideration, but in one of the copies, it is immediately added, that the committee have approved the resolution and accepted the appointment. The difficulty is a little increased, by the consideration that the committee are all nonresidents. Now we ask merely for information, on the comparison of these premises, who is competent to propose measures for consideration ? Who to consider and adopt them? By whom was this medal considered and adopted, between the publication of the first and second editions of the second circular, and what is to be understood by a resolution which was but proposed for the academy's consideration, being approved by the committee only nominated in the resolution, and when thus approved, the committee then accepting the appointment to a trust created by the resolution, of which their own previous approbation is the only sanction we can find. We beg not to be understood to express an objection to the measure in question : it is a matter of entire indifference. We wish merely to authorize our remark, that the academy has no organization, or that it is impossible to discover what it is.
To a literary society, on a reasonable and practical plan, we should certainly be very friendly. Did the men of science and letters of New-York see fit to associate themselves into an institution of this kind, (though we think that it would be far better to employ their efforts, under the auspices of the respectable institutions, which already exist in that city,) did they give the world, in the form of published memoirs, or in the proposal of premiums, or any other mode of academical operation, the proof of their earnestness and zeal, we are quite