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ACCUSTOMED for many years to associate with the most distinguished men in English literature, the conclusions we have formed upon various subjects may rather be considered theirs than our own.
Youth is so imitative that we often become the unconscious plagiarists of others, even of men whom we secretly despise, and whose decision we should refuse to accept, when the truth is that we ourselves are uttering their sentiments, modified by our own egotism.
The origin of every thought is so obscure, that it may be doubted whether any man living can claim the individuality of his opinions, however firmly he may exclusively consider them his own.
American literature has of late years been a favorite subject of discussion with the critical circles of London, and the works of the best authors of the Great Republic are as familiar to the well-informed classes of England as the writings of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and their contemporaries, to the enlightened Americans. The alacrity with which an English audience welcomes an author or a lecturer from the New World is too well known to need any proof: it has been acknowledged openly, since his return from the Fatherland, by one of the most illustrious of republicans, the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.
We do not seek by this plea to shelter ourselves, or to expect that it will secure to the views set forth in this book any deference not justly due to the opinions themselves ; we merely make this avowal to ačcount for the fact of our having presented these critical judgments to the public. With regard to the manner, we have not aimed at anything beyond a conversational style, which has no pretension to challenge comparison with a professed author.
Independently of this consideration, we may, perhaps, be permitted to state that our Poems and Plays have been well received by the English public, and favorably reviewed in the leading journals of London, among others by the New Quarterly, Church of England Quarterly, Athenæum, &c. We may likewise refer to the publication of “Chaucer Modernized,” in which undertaking our friends Wordsworth, Leigh Hunt, Horne, &c., cheerfully allowed us to partake. .
We think it due to the American public to make this statement, lest we should be accused of a certain presumption in thus critically considering the Authors of America. It must, however, be borne in mind, that possibly an Englishman familiar with their writings, is capable of arriving at a far juster estimate of their relative merits, than one of their own countrymen who may be swayed by personal or political bias.
Removed from this disturbing influence, he becomes better qualified to sum up impartially the excellences or defects of an author than one who has been himself mixed up with him.
The causes which operate on us are so subtle, that it is utterly impossible to come in contact with men without being influenced one way or the other by this personal familiarity : and when to this is added the fact of political or religious agreement or disagreement, the author is placed under a medium which either distorts or flatters.
We are aware it may be urged by some narrow-minded persons on the other hand, that the national prejudice which is too often taken for granted, may likewise prove an obstacle in the way of an impartial judgment; but the advancing liberality of the age will render this the opinion of a very small class, and we have only noticed the possibility of such a charge, to show that it has not escaped our attention, and to state that our volume will effectually refute such a suspicion.
We presume that the right to give an opinion cannot be disputed, seeing that it is assumed and exercised by every newspaper critic in the world. .
We trust to the indulgence of our readers for this egotistical statement, which has been forced from us by sundry parties connected with the American press, who have questioned our ability to form a literary opinion at all: we do not name this out of deference to that class of journalists, but chiefly as an apology for venturing to speak thus ex cathedrâ.
With this explanation, we lay our remarks on the most eminent authors of this Great Nation before our readers, reiterating that, owing to our having so frequently heard their merits discussed by the most distinguished critics of England, the views expressed in this book may rather be considered the result of their deliberations than our own individual opinion.