Category Archives: 1810’s

Item of the Day: Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1812)

Full Title: Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste. By Archibald Alison. From the Edinburgh Edition of 1811. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Printed by Hilliard & Metcalf, 1812.


TASTE is in general considered as that faculty of the human mind, by which we perceive and enjoy whatever is BEAUTIFUL or SUBLIME in the works of nature or art.

The perception of these qualities is attended with an emotion of pleasure, very distinguishable from every other pleasure of our nature, and which is accordingly distinguished by the name of the EMOTION of TASTE. The distinction of the objects of taste, into the sublime and beautiful, has produced a similar division of this emotion, into the EMOTION of SUBLIMITY and the EMOTION of BEAUTY.

The qualities that produce these emotions, are to be found in almost every class of the objects of human knowledge, and the emotions themselves afford one of the most extensive sources of human delight. They occur to us, amid every variety of EXTERNAL scenery, and among many diversities of disposition and affection in the MIND of man. The most pleasing arts of human invention are altogether directed to their pursuit: and even the necessary arts are exalted into dignity, by the genius that can unite beauty with use. From the earliest period of society, to its last stage of improvement, they afford an innocent and elegant amusement to private life, at the same time that they increase the splendour of national character; and in the progress of nations, as well as of individuals, while they attract attention from the pleasures they bestow, they serve to exalt the human mind, from corporeal to intellectual pursuits.

These qualities, however, though so important to human happiness, are not the objects of immediate observation; and in the attempt to investigate them, various circumstances unite to perplex our research. They are often obscured under the number of qualities with which they are accidentally combined: They result often from peculiar combinations of the qualities of objects, or the relation of certain parts of objects to each other: They are still oftener, perhaps, dependent upon the state of our own minds, and vary in their effects with the dispositions in which they happen to be observed. In all cases, while we feel the emotions they excite, we are ignorant of the causes by which they are produced; and when we seek to discover them, we have no other method of discovery, than that varied and patient EXPERIMENT, by which, amid these complicated circumstances, we may gradually ascertain the peculiar qualities which, by the CONSTITUTION of our NATURE, are permanently connected with the emotions we feel. . . .



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Filed under 1810's, Art, Culture, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: “On the Probability of a Return of the Dark Ages (1810)

Found In: The Harvard Lyceum. Vol. I., No. 3. Cambridge, August 11, 1810. [pp. 64-66]



WHEN we recollect tht the glorious days of Grecian and Roman refinement were succeeded by the gloomy reign of ignorance and superstition; that after the wide diffusion and long enjoyment of the blessings of the arts and scineces, they were, in the course of a few years, neglected, abolished, and forgotten; with what anxiety must the philanthropick mind look forward to future ages, and tremble for the fate of posterity? Shall the period again return, when folly and fanaticism shall triumph over learning and wisdom; when the dominon of chaos and night shall be reestablished, and posterity relaps into ignorance and barbarism?

This inquiry must excite solicitude in every ingenuous mind. Next to that of ourselves, the fate of our descendants becomes interesting. In order to discover upon what depends the stability of modern refinement and learning, it will be necessary to take a view of their progress in ancient days.

After a lapse of many ages, during which the old world remained ignorant and uncivilized, and man unconscious of his dignity, the arts and sciences began to appear in ancient Greece. They had, at different times, visited various nations of the earth; but cramped by a barbarous reception, or deterred by tyrants, they had withdrawn before their benign influence had been felt, and at last retired to Greece, where they found dispositions more congenial to their nature, and mind more ready to give them a cordial reception.

In Greece, the principles of liberty were imbibed with the sciences; at the appearance of philosophy slavery fled, and Sparta and Athens became a society of refined and learned republicans. The Grecian patriot was brave, independent, a friend of learning and the arts, and a lover of virtue. The progress of science in Italy was similar, if not equally extensive. And though philosophy could not soften the haughty temper of the Roman soldier, yet its influence was felt in their laws and government, and finally produced its invariable effects. At length the arts and sciences were so successfully cultivated, and their good tendency, in meliorating the condition of man, had so long been acknowledged, that though they were confined principally to Greece and Rome, human foresight could never have prognosticated their fall. But, by the decrees of fate, they were once more to suffer exile; the birth places of Socrates and Plato, of Cato and Cicero, were to be polluted by the vile touch of savages and fanaticks, and the peaceful walks of science, to become the theatre of war and bloodshed.

Learning and the arts, at length, disappeared, leaving the world to darkness, horrour, and despair; and mankind, sunk to the lowest degree of human debasement by ignorance, superstition, and slavery, slept the long sleep of thirteen hundred years. But the happy period at length arrived, when they should re-appear. They rose where they last set, and man, now weary of domination, and desirous of shaking off that yoke, which had no support but folly and vice, hailed their appearance with exultation and joy. Their renovating influence soon spread from the happy shores of Italy, and at last reached our mother country. (to be resumed.)

[Continued In: The Harvard Lyceum. Vol. I., No. 4. Cambridge, August 25, 1810. (pp. 73-78)]


THE revival of letters was gradual, and produced by intelligible causes. After a struggle of centuriss between barbarism and refinement, superstition and philosophy, we again see the empire of letters established. Man is no longer a slave to folly and vice. He has become a reasoning, self-directed being; too enlightened to be the obsequious tool of wicked priestcraft, he has shaken off the fetters of superstition, and clothed himself in the armour of independence. Though a great part of the world is yet in darkness, we have the satisfaction of seeing mumerous nations enlightened by science, and polished by arts. Roused by the barefaced impositions of priests, they have revolted from that mental bondage, and forced those nefarious instruments of papal tyranny, to seek a retreat in the solitude of the cloister.

It is the favourite hypothesis of some, that learning has arrived at its acme; that it has, like the ocean, its regular ebbs and flows; that at one time man will be exalted to the highest pitch of mental refinement, and thence precipitated to the lowest point of degradation. This supposition is conceived to correspond best with the general course of nature. Animals and plants are limited in magnitude and time of existence; they have not a constant increase; and these are erroneously taken as completely analogous to the human mind. Every thing except the mind, which is susceptible of infinite improvement, may, perhaps, be considered, as having boundaries, which are impassable.

The changes in the character of nations do not arise from causes, which lie beyond the reach of human understanding. Because the world was once enlightened and afterwards relapsed into ignorance, we cannot determine this to be the necessary result. To say this, would be to say, that different ages possesed different degrees of genius; that after a course of years when men are blessed with minds capable of receiving instruction, then the leaden age must return, and literature again necessarily lie neglected. But if we allow these changes in the literary character of a country to arise from political situation, then this notion of regular and unavoidable ebbs and flows is done away; the arts and sciences may flourish while any remain to cultivate them. No need, then, of waiting the propitious moment; great geniuses will appear, whenever suffcient excitements are exhibited to call forth their exertions. This can be proved by resorting to history. To every reader of the Roman history it must be evident, that the decline and final extinction of the Roman empire and Roman literature must be attributed to the same causes. In Greece and Rome, superstition, war, and tyranny, were the destroyers of learning. When those countries were subdued by tryants, genius had no excitements, it was overawed and kept in subjection, as the mortal enemy of despotism and the firm friend of liberty. When they had been exhausted by the luxury and profusion of their rulers; when they had been depopulated by the cruelty of tyrants, and disheartened by oppression; when tribute could no longer buy off those enemies, which they wanted courage to repel; then hosts of barbarians, allured by the mildness of the climate, or a hope of plunder and love of war, poured down upon all sides, and overwhelmed them like a torrent. The rude hand of the hardy warriors, already taught to despise the conquered, spared not the monuments of literature nor the venerable retreats of philosophy. The nations thus ravaged, the learned and undlearned rooted out, were kept from rising from this state of the earth, from the unnatural mixture of heathen mythology and true religion. These are the evident causes of the extinction of ancient learning. Let it then be our concern to grow wise from the expereince of past ages. The same causes will, in like circumstances, produce similar effect. Let us examine what shall secure the vast literary fabrick of the present day from the like dilapidation. . . .




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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Early Republic, History, Magazine, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: The Lives of Haydn and Mozart (1818)

Full Title: The Lives of Haydn and Mozart, with Observations on Metastasio, and on the Present State of Music in France and Italy. Translated from the French of L. A. C. Bombet. With Notes, by the Author of The Sacred Melodies. Second Edition. London: John Murray, Albemarle-Street, 1818.


Salzburg, April 5, 1808.

At length, my dear friend, you have received my letters. The war, which surrounds me here on all sides, gave me some anxiety respecting them. My walks in the woods are disturbed by the sound of arms: at this moment, I distinctly hear the cannon firing, at the distance of a league and a half from hence, in the direction of Munich. Nevertheless, after some melancholy reflections on the circumstances which have deprived me of my company of grenadiers, and which , for twenty years past, have banished me from my country, I have seated myself upon the trunk of a large fallen oak. I find myself under the shade of a beautiful lime-tree; I see around me nothing but a delightful verdure, beautifully set off by the deep blue of the heavens; I take my little port-folio, and my pencil, and after a long silence, proceed with my account of our friend Haydn.

Do you know that I am almost ready to charge you with being schismatic? You seem to prefer him to the divine masters of the Ausonian lyre. Ah! my friend, the Pergoleses and Cimarosas have excelled in that department of our favourite art, which is at once the noblest, and the most affecting. You say that one reason why you prefer Haydn, is, that one may hear him at London, or at Paris, as well as at Vienna, while, for want of voices, France will never enjoy the Olimpiade of the divine Pergolese. In this respect, I am of your opinion. The rough organization of the English, and of our dear countrymen, may allow of their being good performers on instruments, but prevents them from ever excelling in singing. Here, on the contrary, in traversing the faubourg Leopoldstadt, I have just heard a very sweet voice singing, in a very pleasing style, the air

Nach dem tode jeh bin ich dein,

Even after death, I still am thine.

As for what concerns myself, I clearly see your malicious criticism through all your compliments. You still reproach me with that inconsistency, which was formerly the constant theme of your lectures. You say that I pretend to write to you about Haydn, and I forget only one thing, –that is, fairly to enter upon the style of this great master, and, as an inhabitant of Germany, to explain to you, as one of the unlearned, how it pleases, and why it pleases. In the first place, you are not one of the unlearned: you are passionately fond of music: and in the fine arts, this attachment is sufficient. You say that you can scarcely read an air. Are you not ashamed of this miserable objection? Do you take for an artist the antiquated mechanic, who, for twenty years, has given lessons on the piano, as his equal in genius has made clothes at the neighbouring tailor’s? Do you consider as an art, a mere trade, in which, as in others, success is obtained by a little address, and a great deal of patience?

Do yourself more justice. If your love for music continue, a year’s travelling in Italy will render you more learned than your savans of Paris. . . .


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Filed under 1660's, 1810's, Art, Culture, Eighteenth century, Music, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Young’s Night Thoughts (1812)

Full Title:  The Complaint; or, Night Thoughts, on Life, Death, and Immortality.  By Edward Young, L.L.D. With the Life of the Author.  London:  Printed for Thomas Tegg, 111, Cheapside.  1812.  [Originally, 1742-1746].


As the occasion of this Poem was real, not fictitious ; so the method persued in it was rather imposed, by what spontaneously arose in the Author’s mind, on that occasion, than meditated, or designed.  Which will apppear very probable from the nature of it.  For it differs from the common mode of poetry, which is, from long narrations to draw short morals.  Here, on the contrary, the narrative is short, and the morality arising from it makes the bulk of the Poem.  The reason of it is, that the facts mentioned did naturally pour these moral reflections on the thought of the writer.

The Complaint.

Night I.

On Life, Death, and Immortality.

Humbly inscribed to the Right Honourable Arthur Onslow, Esq; Speaker of the House of Commons.

Tir’d Nature’s sweet Restorer, balmy Sleep !

He, like the world, his ready visit pays

Where Fortune smiles ;  the wretched he forsakes;

Swift on his downy pinion flies from woe,

And lights on lids unsully’d with a tear.

From short (as usual) and disturb’d repose,

I wake :  How happy they, who wake no more !

Yet that were vain, if dreams infest the grave.

I wake, emerging from a sea of dreams

Tumultuous ; where my wreck’d desponding thought,

From wave to wave of fancy’d misery,

At random drove, her helm of reason lost.

Though now restor’d, ‘tis only change of pain,

(A bitter change!) severer for severe.

The Day too short for my distress ; and Night,

Ev’n in the zenith of her dark domain,

Is sunshine to the colour of my fate.


Night, sable goddess ! from her ebon throne,

In rayless majesty, now stretches forth

Her leaden scepter o’er a slumb’ring world.

Silence, how dead; and darkness, how profoud !

Nor eye, nor list’ning ear, an object finds ;

Creation sleeps.  ‘Tis as the general pulse

Of Life still stood, and Nature made a pause ;

And let her prophecy be soon fulfill’d :

Fate, drop the curtain ; I can lose no more.


Silence and Darkness !  solemn sisters !  twins

From ancient Night, who nurse the tender thought

To Reason, and on Reason build Resolve,

(That column of true majesty in man)

Assist me :  I will thank you in the grave ;

The grave, your kingdom :  there this frame shall fall

A victim sacred to your dreary shrine.

But what are ye ?—


THOU, who didst put to flight

Primeval silence, when the morning stars,

Exulting, shouted o’er the rising ball ;

O THOU, whose word from solid darkness struck

That spark, the sun, strike wisdom from my soul ;

My soul, which flies to Thee, her trust, her treasure,

As misers to their gold, while others rest.


Through this opaque of Nature and of Soul,

This double night, transmit one pitying ray,

To lighten and to cheer.  O lead my mind,

(A mind that fain would wander from its woe)

Lead it through various scenes of life and death;

And, from each scene, the noblest truths inspire.

Nor less inspire my Conduct, than my Song :

Teach my best reason, reason ; my best will

Teach rectitude ; and fix my firm resolve

Wisdom to wed, and pay her long arrear :

Nor let the phial of thy vengeance, pour’d

On this devoted head, be pour’d in vain.

The bell strikes One.  We take no note of time

But from its loss.  To give it, then, a tongue,

Is wise in man.  As if an angel spoke,

I feel the solemn sound.  If heard aright,

It is the knell of my departed hours :

Where are they ?  With the years beyond the flood.

It is the signal that demands dispatch :

How much is to be done ?  My hopes and fears

Start up alarm’d, and o’er life’s narrow verge

Look down.—On what ?  a fathomless abyss !

A dread eternity !  how surely mine !

And can eternity belong to me,

Poor pensioner on the bounties of an hour ?

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Filed under 1740's, 1810's, Literature, Poetry, Posted by Matthew Williams

Item of the Day: Perpetual War (1812)

Full Title: Perpetual War, the Policty of Mr. Madison. Being a Candid Examination of his late Message to Congress, so far as Respects the Following Topicks. . . Viz. The Pretended Negotiations for Peace . . .  the Important and Interesting Subject of a Conscript Militia . . . And the Establishment of an Immense Standing Army of Guards and Spies, under the Name of a Local Volunteer Force. By a New-England Farmer. Boston: Printed by Chester Stebbins, 1812.



HOWEVER much to be regretted by every friend to commerce, and civil liberty, must be the re-election of Mr. Madison, still it is a more cheering and consolatory reflection, that the struggle has manifested an energy, an intelligence, a spirit of concord and union, a magnanimous disposition to sacrifice party feelings, and personal considerations, in the citizens of the commercial states, which is unexampled in the history of this country. It was indeed to be feared, that no pressure, however great, no sufferings, however severe, would detach men from those chains of party with which they had been so long bound. But we are most happily undeceived; a sense of common danger, a conviction of common interest, and of the absolute necessity of union for relief from oppression, snapped asunder the bonds of faction. —Mutual condescension, mutual consultation soon obliterated the memory of past distinctions, (which after all were merely nominal,) and we now find, with the exception of the dependents upon goverment, and those under their influence, but one great and united people from Maine to Delaware.

It ought indeed to be so; for, from Maine to Delaware we have one common interest, and that is, the preservation of Commerce, which from Delaware southwards, they are detemined to destroy. Still men do not always perceive their interest. But in this case, they could not shut their eyes; it was like “Heaven’s own lightning,” it flashed conviction upon those who were stone blind.

Five years successive commercial restriction, was found ineffectual; it made us grow leaner to be sure, but we were strong and able to survive it. Our persecutors had not patience to endure our lingering death; they therefore got up the guillotine of a maritime war, to cut off our heads at a stroke.

This last act of desperation, has accomplished our wishes; it has opened the eyes of the people, and notwithstanding the reeclection of Mr. Madison, not in vain. If we are as firm and resolute in the pursuit of our purposes, as moderate and conciliatory as we have hitherto been; if we continue to sacrifice to the attainment of peace and prosperity, our party passions, we are certain of success. Let our political enemies triumph in their partial victory; let them attempt to undervalue our courage, our opinions and our importance; we shall shew them in the next Congress, that no government can wage an unnecessary war against the sentiments and interests of the people.

We predicted this change, as did many others, six months ago, in the pahmphet, entitled “Madison’s War.” We advised the people to despise the anti-republican, despotick opinion, that the citizens have no right to discuss the merits of a war, after it is declared. We recommended a constitutional resistance, a resistance at the polls. The people have done so; and what is the glorious unexampled result?

Never since the Declaration of Independence, has such an union been witnessed. In the lower House of Congress, which alone could have been effected in so short a time by popular elections, we shall probably have a peace majority.

The present prospect is, that no one member of Congress, from Maine to Delaware, will be in favour of the war.

In Massachusetts, at no period in its history, had it ever enjoyed so united a delegation. Its voice will now have, as it ought to, its due weight. Let us examine this respectable power, which has risen up as it were by magick, or by the finger of Heaven against a daring and headstrong administration.

These northern and middle states, who are now united in opinion, posess 3,000,000 of inhabitants, considerabley more than did the whole United States at the time of the Declaration of Independence. —They are a body of freemen, distinguished for their industry and virtue. They are the owners of nearly two third parts of all the tonnage of the Untied States, and furnishes, probably three fourths of all the native seamen. They are totally opposed to a war for the privilege of protecting British seamen against their sovereign. They know from their own experience, that this subject of impressment is a mere instrumet, wielded by men who are utterly indifferent about the sufferings of the sailors or the merchants.

The display of the true principles, upon which this subject ought to be considered, is the main object of the following Essays.

We are aware that the friends of administration, (and some few who ought to know better the rights and duties of a citizen,) with uncommon pretensions to patriotism, have bridled themselves in with a haughty and censorious air, when they have read these essays, and have thought to condemn them, and to render the author odious, by representing him as supporting the claims of Great-Britain, and as abandoning the rights of America.

It is a vulgar clamour, which the author heeds not, he has no popluarity to seek, and he fears not for the reputation of his integrity, with the wise and good; but as such a clamour may lead feeble minds to read with distrust, and to weigh with uneven scales, it may not be amiss to say a word or two upon this subject. . . .



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Filed under 1810's, Early Republic, Embargo, Federalists, Government, Political Pamphlets, Posted by Caroline Fuchs

Item of the Day: Notes on a Journey through France (1815)

Full Title: Notes on a Journey through France, from Deippe through Paris and Lyons, to the Pyrennees, and Back through Toulouse, in July, August and September, 1814, Describing the Habits of the People, and the Agriculture of the Country. By Morris Birkbeck. Second Edition, with an appendix. London: Printed and sold by William Phillips, George Yard Lombard Street; sold also by J. & A. Arch, Cornhill, and by J. Harding, 36, St. James’s Street, 1815.

Aug. 14 (St. Urban).  —In every part of France women employ themselves in offices which are deemed with us unsuitable to the sex. Here there is no sexual distinction of employment: the women undertake any task they are able to perform, without much notion of fitness or unfitness. This applies to all classes. The lady of one of the principal clothiers at Louviers, conducted us over the works; gave us patterns of the best cloths; ordered the machinery to be set in motion for our gratification, and was evidently in the habit of attending to the whole detail of the business. Just so, near Rouen, the wife of the largest farmer in that quarter, conducted me to the barns and stables; shewed me the various implements, and explained their use: took me into the fields, and described the mode of husbandry, which she perfectly understood; expatiated on the excellence of their fallows; pointed out the best sheep in the flock, and gave me a detail of management in buying their wether lambs and fattening their wethers. This was on a farm of about 400 acres. In every shop and warehouse you see similar activity in the females. At the royal porcelain manufactory at Sevres, a woman was called to receive payment for the articles we purchased. In the Halle de Bled, at Paris, women, in their little counting-houses, are performing the office of factors, in the sale of grain and flour. In every department they occupy an important station, from one extremity of the country to the other.

In many cases, where women are employed in the more laborious occupations, the real cause is directly opposite to the apparent. You see them in the south, threshing, with the men, under a burning sun; –it is a family party threshing out the crop of theeir own freehold: a woman is holding plough; –the plough, the horse, the land is her’s; or, (as we have it) her husband’s; who is probably sowing the wheat which she is turning in. You are shocked on seeing a fine  young woman loading a dung cart; –it belongs to her father, who is manuring his own field, for their common support. In these instances the toil of the woman denotes wealth rather than want; though the latter is the motive to which a superficial observer would refer it.

Who can estimate the importance, in a moral and political view, of this state of things? Where the women, in the complete exercise of their mental and bodily faculties, are performing their full share of the duties of life. It is the natural, healthy condition of Society. Its influence on the female character in France is a proof of it. There is freedom of action, and reliance on their own powers, in the French women, generally, which, occasionally, we observe with admiration in women, of superior talents in England. . . .

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, France, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Travel Literature, Women

Item of the Day: Noah Webster’s Letter to John Pickering (1817)

Full Title:  A Letter to the Honorable John Pickering, on the Subject of his Vocabulary; or, Collection of Words and Phrases, Supposed to be Peculiar to the United States of America.  By Noah Webster.  Boston:  Published by West and Richardson, 1817.

To The


John Pickering. 


When I first read your Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases, supposed to be peculiar to the United States, I found in it many things which appeared to deserve animadversion, and thought it incumbent on me, whose Dictionary you have often cited, to publish some remarks upon particular parts of it, and to correct what I apprehend to be erroneous opinions on the subject.  On more mature reflection however, I hesitated whether it would be expedient to trouble you or the public with my explanations and strictures.  the unfriendly dispositions manifested toward me by men of high standing in the republic of letters, and particularly in this Commonwealth, and the virulence with which every effort to detect errors in long received opinions has hitherto been assailed; a virulence by no means compatible with a candid desire of improvement, and probably not warranted by the low estimate which even my opposers have formed of my talents, labors and public services; these dispositions, affording little ground to expect that any remarks of mine would have a salutary influence upon public opinion, have, at times, disposed me to withhold all strictures upon philological subjects, till I can prepare a more critical and extended treatise, than has yet been exhibited to the public.  To a man who seeks his own tranquillity, and whose sole object is to enlighten and benefit his fellow-citizens, controversy, even when conducted with liberality, is extremely irksome; and, rather than be engaged in it, I would spend the small portion of life that remains to me, in the humble walks of obscurity.  In controversy with my fellow citizens, on any subject, I will not be engaged.   The following remarks, drawn from me as much by the solicitations of friends, as by my own love of truth, are not intended to provoke one; and it is my sincere desire that my observations and statements may be marked by that candor and moderation which so honorably distinguish yours. . . .

With regard to the general principle, that we must use only such words as the English use, let me repeat, that the restriction is, in the nature of the thing, impracticable, and the demand that we should observe it, is as improper as it is arrogant.  Equally impertinent is it to ridicule us for retaining the use of genuine English words, because they happen to be obsolete in London, or in the higher circles of life.  There are many instances in which we retain the genuine use of words, and the genuine English pronunciation, which they have corrupted; in pronunciation they have introduced more corruptions, within half a century, than were evwer before introduced in five centuries, not even excepting the periods of conquest.  Many of these changes in England are attributable to fals principles, introduced into popular elementary books written by mere sciolists in language, and diffused by the instrumentality of the stage — that prolific parent of corruption.  Let the English remove the beam from their own eye, before they attempt to pull the mote from ours; and before they laugh at our vulgar keow, geown, neow, let them discard their polite keind, and geuide; a fault precisely similar in origin, and equally a perversion of genuine English pronunciation.

I left college with the same veneration for English writers and the same confidence in their opinions, which most of my countrymen now possess, and I adopted their errors without examination.  After many years of research, I am compelled to withdraw much of that confidence, and to look with astonishment upon the errors and false principles which they have propagated; some of them of far more consequence than any which have been mentioned in the preceding remarks.  I wish to be on good terms with the English — it is my interest and the interest of my fellow-citizens to treat them as friends and brethren.  But I will be neither frowned nor ridiculed into error, and a servile imitation of practices which I know or believe to be corrupt.  I will examine subjects for myself, and endeavor to find the truth, and to defend it, whether it accords with English opinions or not.  If I must measure swords with their travellers and their reviewers, on the subject under consideration, I shall not decline the combat.   There is nothing which, in my opinion, so debases the genius and character of my countrymen as the implicit confidence they place in English authors, and their unhesitating submission to their opinion, their derision, and their frowns.  But I trust the time will come, when the English will be convinced that the intellectual faculties of their descendants have not degenerated in America; and that we can contend with them in LETTERS, with as much success, as upon the OCEAN.

I am not ignorant, Sir, of the narrowness of the sphere which I now occupy.  Secluded, in a great measure, from the world, with small means, and no adventitious aids from men of science; with little patronage to extend my influence, and powerful enmities to circumscribe it; what can my efforts avail in attempting to counteract a current of opinion?  Yet I am not accustomed to despondence.  I have contributed, in a small degree, to the instruction of at least four millions of the rising generation; and it is not unreasonable to expect, that a few seeds of improvement, planted by my hand, may germinate, and grow and ripen into valuable fruit, when my remains shall be mingled with the dust.


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Filed under 1810's, Dictionaries, Language, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: Inchiquin, The Jesuit Letters (1810)

Full Title:  Inchiquin, the Jesuit Letters, During A Late Residence in the United States of America:  Being a Fragment of A Private Correspondence, Accidentally Discovered in Europe Containing  a Favourable View of the Manners, Literature, and State of Society, of the United States, And a Refutation of Many of the Aspersions Cast upon this Country, by Former Residents and Tourists.  By Some Unknown Foreigner (Charles Jarred Ingersoll), New York:  Printed and Published by I. Riley, 1810.

Letter VII.

From Inchiquin.

Dated at Washington.

Though the literature of this country seems to have incurred the scorn of Europe, there certainly are two works, which as literary compositions on national subjects, are at least comparable, if not superior to any that have appeared in Europe since the independence of the United States:  I mean Mr. Barlow’s epic and Mr. Marshall’s history; of which, as they have been grossly misrepresented by what are called the critics of Europe, I propose, in this letter, to take a transient review.

To begin with the Columbiad, of which the American press has just put forth a splendid edition, ornamented with rich engravings, and executed altogether in such a style as to place it decidedly at the head of American typography.  The poet with a venial, if not a laudable partiality, has himself contributed larges sums from his private fortune to the embellishment of this work, which does great honour to its author and his country; yet I cannot help regretting that so excellent, dispassionate and benevolent a writer did not bestow the time, talents and expense appropriated to poetry, on some theme better suited to his genius, and which might have been more extensively useful.  Mr. Barlow is yet only a living poet, and fame seldom gives the whole scope of her clarion but to the dead.  He has every reason to be satisfied with his ltierary rank; though his pen is probably capable of productions superior to the Columbiad.

Poetry is so much the language of nature, that almost every youth of any fancy ventures a flight into its realms, but so exclusively the prerogative of a peculiar genius, that from the age of Miriam down to these unharmonious days, the number of its elect is extremely precious.  “Many have been called but few chosen.”  The facilities of [printing have added to the number of poets, without improving their melody or sublimity.  Smoothness of numbers, regularity of measure, skillfulness in short in the business of rhyming, are more common since the invention of types:  but when we see all these prerequisites so frequently combined without creating a captivating or lasting poem, the inference is so much the stronger that genuine poetry is the offspring of a native genius.  Of the great quantity of literary matter afloat good poetry constitutes a small proportion.  By poetry I mean not generally the language of harmony or fiction, but a metrical disposition of articulate sounds varying according to the taste of different nations, but so distinguished from all other writings as to be universally designated poetry.

Of all others the epic is that department of the divine art, which fewest have successfully attempted.  Lyrical, dramatic, satiric, didactic, and other species, have had their shrines crowded with votaries, and with some, of almost all ages, who have been distinguished.  But the epic poem is universally allowed to be of all poetical works most dignified, and at the same time most difficult of execution.  An epic poem, the critics agree, is the greatest work nature is capable of, and genius is its first qualification.  Many nations celebrated for learning and refinement have flourished for centuries, without producing an epic poem; and one, perhaps the most enlightened of modern nations, after remaining till a very late era without this honour, seems at last to have made the effort, only to show its incapacity to accomplish it.  Critically speaking, Homer, Virgil and Milton occupy exclusively this illustrious quarter of parnassus, and time alone can determine whether Barlow shall be seated with them.

The design of the Columbiad is vast and bold, more so than any other except Milton’s.  The discovery of a new world, involving all the noble images arising out of the first passage of the Atlantic ocean, affords a broader foundation for the sublime than any poet, except Milton, ever built upon.   And the subject being national and even political, adds considerable interest to its essential grandeur.  The conquest of America, its magnificent rivers, stupendous mountains, immense wealth, and the avultion of these states from their mother country, afford as fruitful and fine an argument, as could be imagined for epic operation.  But the story of the Columbiad is at once one of the noblest and the most arduous that could have been essayed.  To make men heroes, they should be exhibited through the magnifying medium of time; for familiar characters and recent dates are hard to fashion to the epic standard.

The moral interwoven with the story is unexceptionably beautiful; and in respect to design and moral, the poem may be pronounced perfect.  It is difficult for a lover of the Iliad and Eneid to subscribe to Mr. Barlow’s opinion, that they are calculated to provoke wars and sustain tyrannies; though it may be admitted that they are not such systematic inculcations, as the Columbiad, of peace, virtue and the amelioration of mankind. When we reflect that Mr. Barlow has lived through the most tempestuous epoch of politics, that he participated in the revolution of is own country, and was a zealous coadjutor to the revolution in France, that he has always professed very decided sentiments relative to these thorny topics, and that, like other men, he must have his prepossessions and antipathies connected with them, it is impossible to applaud too highly the candour and impartiality with which he has treated the living personages and contested principles introduced into his poem.  In benevolence and liberality he is pre-eminent.  The good of mankind, much more than their pleasure, seems to have been the end of his work: and with a strength of reason and abstraction from all prejudice, worthy so glorious a purpose, he pursues his aim in a strain purely and truly philosophical.  There are many philosophising poets, and those who blend the useful with the sweet:  but where shall we find a poem, in which the best interests of humanity are as steadily kept in view, or displayed with as much fascination, as in the Columbiad?

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Filed under 1810's, Early Republic, Poetry, Posted by Rebecca Dresser

Item of the Day: A Vocabulary (1816)

Full Title: A Vocabulary, or Collection of Words and Phrases which have been supposed to be peculiar to the United States of America. To which is prefixed An Essay on the Present State of the English Language in the United States. By John Pickering. Boston: Published by Cummings and Hilliard; Cambridge: Williard and Metcalf, 1816.


The preservation of the English language in its purity throughout the United States is an object deserving the attention of every American, who is a friend of the literature and science of his country. It is in a particular manner entitled to the consideration of the Academy; for, though subjects, which are usually ranked under the head of Physical Science, were doubtless chiefly in view with the founders of the Academy, yet, our language also, which is to be the instrument of communicating to the public the speculations and discoveries of our countrymen, seems necessarily “to fall within the design of the insitution;” because, unless the language is well settled, and can be read with ease by all to whom it is addresssed, our authors will write and publish, certainly under many disadvantages, though perhaps not altogether in vain.

It is true, indeed, that our countrymen may speak and write in a dialect of English, which will be understood in the United States; but if they are ambitious of having their words read by Englishmen as well as by Americans, they must write the language that Englishmen can read with pleasure. And if for some time to come it should not be the lot of many Americans to publish works, which will be read out of their own country, yet all, who have the least tincture of learning, will continue to feel an ardent desire to acquaint themselves with English authors. Let us then for a moment imagine the time to have arrived, when Americans shall no longer be able to understand the works of Milton, Pope, Swift, Addison, and other English authors, justly styled classic, without the aid of a translation into a language, that is to be called at some future day the American tongue! By such a change, it is true, our loss would not be so great in works purely scientific, as in those which are usually termed works of taste; for the obvious reason, that the design of the former is merely to communicate information, without regard to elegance of language or the force and beauty of the sentiments. But the excellencies of works of taste cannot be felt even in the best translations;–a truth, which, without resorting to the example of the matchless ancients, will be acknowledged by every man, who is acquainted with the admirable works extant in various living languages. Nor is this the only view in which a radical change of language would be an evil. To say nothing of the facilities afforded by a common language in the ordinary intercourse of business, it should not be forgotten, that our religion and our laws are studied in the language of the nation, from which we are descended; and, with the loss of the language, we should finally suffer the loss of those peculiar advantages, which we now derive from the investigations of the jurists and divines of that country.

But, it is often asked among us, do not the people of this country now speak and write the English language with purity? A brief consideration of the subject will furnish a satisfactory answer to this question; it will also enable us to correct the erroneous opinions entertained by some Americans on this point, and at the same time to defend our countrymen against the charge made by some English writers, of a design to effect an entire change in the language.

As the inquiry before us is a simple question of fact, it is to be determined, like every other quiestion of this nature, by proper evidence. What evidence then have we, that the English language is not spoken and written in America, with the same degree of purity that is to be found in the writers and orators of England?

 In the first place, although it is agreed, that there is greater uniformity of the dialect throughout the United States (in consequence of the frequent removals of people from one part of the country to another) than is to be found throughout England; yet none of our countrymen, not even those who are the most zealous in supporting what they imagine to be the honour of the American character, will contend, that we have not in some instances departed from the standard of the language. We have formed some new words; and to some old ones, that are still used in England, we have affixed with new significations: while others, which have long been obsolete in England, are still retained in common use with us. If then, in addition to these acknowledgments of our own countrymen, we allow any weight of the opinions of the Englishmen, (who must be content judges in this case,) it cannot be denied, that we  have in several instances deviated from the standard of the language, as spoken and written in England at the present day. By this, however, I do not mean, that so great a deviation has taken place, as to have rendered any considerable part of our language unintelligible to Englishmen; but merely, that so many corruptions have crept into our Enlgish, as to have become the subject of much animadversion and regret with the learned of Great Britain. And as we are hardly aware of the opinion entertained by them of the extent of these corruptions, it may be useful, if it should not be very flattering to our pride, to hear their remarks on this subject in their own words. We shall find that these corruptions censured, not be mere pretenders to learning, but (so far as the fact is to be ascertained from English publications,) by all the scholars of that country, who take an interest in American literature. In proof of this, I request the attention of the Academy to the follwoing extracts from several of the British Reviews; some of which are the most distinguished of the present day, and all of which together may be considered as expressing the general opinion of the literary men of Great Britain, who have attended to this subject. That all the remarks are just, to the extent in which they will naturally be understood, few of our countrymen will be willing to admit. . . .



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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Grammar, Language, Posted by Caroline Fuchs, Vocabulary

Item of the Day: The Young Woman’s Companion: or, Frugal Housewife (1811)

Full Title:  The Young Woman’s Companion: or, Frugal Housewife. Containing the most approved methods of pickling, preserving, potting, collaring, confectionary, managing and colouring foreign wines and spirits, making English wines, compounds, &c. &c. Also the art of cookery, containing directions for dressing all kinds of butchers’ meat, poultry, game, fish, &c. &c. &c. with the complete art of carving, illustrated and made plain by engravings. Likewise instructions for marketing. With the theory of brewing a malt liquor. To which are added, directions for letter writing, drawing, painting, &c. and several valuable miscellaneous pieces. Written by “A Very Distinguished Lady.” Contains several recipes and notes pinned into the margins by the owners. Printed by Russell and Allen in Manchester, 1811.


And particularly of the Emphasis belonging to some special Word or Words, in a Sentence.

 In order to read well, observe the following directions:  1.  Take pains to acquire a perfect knowledge of the sounds of the letters in general.  2.  Do not guess at a word at first sight, if you are not well acquainted with it, lest you get a habit of reading falsely.  3.  Pronounce every word clear and distinctly.  4.  Let the tone of your voice in reading be the same as in speaking.  5.  Do not read in a hurry, for fear of learning to stammer.  6.  Read so loud as to be heard by those about you, but not louder.  7.  Observe your pauses well, and never make any, where the sense will admit of none.  8.  Humour your voice a little according to the subject.  9.  Attend to those who read well, and endeavour to imitate their pronunciation.  10.  Read often before good judges, and be thankful when they correct you.  11.  Consider well the place of the emphasis in a sentence, and pronounce it accordingly.   By emphasis we mean the stress or force of voice that is laid on some particular word or words in a sentence, whereby the meaning and beauty of the whole may best appear; this, with respect to sentences, is the same as accent, with regard to syllables.

 The emphasis is generally placed upon the accented syllable of a word; but if there be a particular opposition between two words in a sentence, whereby one differs from the other but in part, the accent is sometimes removed from its common place, as in the following instance:  The sun shines upon the just and upon the unjust.  Here the stress of the voice is laid upon the first syllable in unjust, because it is opposed to just in the same sentence but without such an opposition, the accent would lie on its usual place, that is on the last syllable; as We must not imitate the unjust practices of others.

The great and general rule how to know the emphatical word in a sentence, is, to consider the chief design of the whole; but particular directions cannot be easily given, except that when words are evidently opposed to one another in a sentence, they are emphatical, and so is oftentimes the word which asks a question, as, Who what, when &c. but not always; for the emphasis must be varied according to the principal meaning of the speaker.

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Filed under 1810's, Culture, Early Republic, Posted by Rebecca Dresser, Women