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studied in Europe and brought home the full spirit of that continental scholarship which during the present century has so dominated learning in America. As this spirit began to express itself in literary form, it united with our ancestral fondness for historic records to produce, just after the moment when formal oratory most flourished here, an eminent school of historical literature. Most of this history, however, deals with foreign subjects. The historians of New England were generally at their best when stirred by matters remote from any actual human experience enjoyed either by themselves or v by such forefathers as they could personally have known even by tradition.
Considering the relation of this school of history to the historical literature of England, one is inevitably reminded that the greatest English history, Gibbon's “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,” first appeared in the very year of our Declaration of Independence. In one aspect, of course, the temper of Gibbon is as far from romantic as possible. He is the first, and in certain aspects the greatest, of modern philosophical historians; and his style has all the formality of the century during which he wrote. In another aspect the relation of Gibbon's history to the England which bred him seems very like that of our New England histories to the country and the life which bred their writers. Gibbon and our own historians alike turned to a larger and more splendid field than was afforded by their national annals. Both alike were distinctly affected by an alert consciousness of what excellent work had been done in contemporary foreign countries. Both carefully expressed themselves with conscientious devotion to what they believed the highest literary canons. Both produced work which has lasted not only as history but as literature too. Gibbon wrote in the very year when America declared her independence of England; Prescott began his work in Boston nearly sixty years later. There is an aspect, then, in which our historical literature seems to lag behind
that of the mother country much as Irving's prose — contemporary with the full outburst of nineteenth-century romanticism in England — lags behind the prose of Goldsmith.
The name of Gibbon suggests another fact about our American historians which is not quite so obvious or so certain, but which may help us in our effort to define their national character. Gibbon's power was incomparably greater than that of any American writer ; but along with that power
Gibbon had a trait which no one can fail to observe, he V relished indecency. Whoever shares this relish will find in
the untranslated notes to many of his passages plenty of morsels which our present customs forbid us either to translate or to mention in general society. In our American historians there is nothing of the sort. Their writings may not much have enriched human imagination, but they have never be
fouled it. In the literature of every other country you will v find lubricity; in that of America hardly any. Foreigners are
apt to think this trait hypocritical; whoever knows the finer minds of New England will be disposed to believe it a matter not of conscientious determination but rather of instinctive preference.
Very cursory, all this; and there can be no doubt that the historians of New England, like the New England orators, might profitably be made the subject of minute and interest
ing separate study. Our own concern, however, is chiefly ✓ with pure letters. Before we can deal with them intelligently
we must glance at still other aspects of renascent New England. We have glanced at its oratory, and at its scholarship. We must now turn to its religion and its philosophy.
MARKED as was the change in the oratory and the scholarship of New England during the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the change in the dominant religious views of a community which had always been dominated by religion was more marked still. From the beginning till after the Revolution, the creed of New England had been the Calvinism of the emigrant Puritans. In 1809, William Ellery Channing, then a minister twenty-nine years old, wrote of this old faith in the following terms:
“ Calvinism teaches, that, in consequence of Adam's sin in eating the forbidden fruit, God brings into life all his posterity with a nature wholly corrupt, so that they are utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite to all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually. It teaches, that all mankind, having fallen in Adam, are under God's wrath and curse, and so made liable to all miseries in this life, to death itself, and to the pains of hell forever. It teaches, that, from this ruined race, God, out of his mere good pleasure, has elected a certain number to be saved by Christ, not induced to this choice by any foresight of their faith or good works, but wholly by his free grace and love; and that, having thus predestinated them to eternal life, he renews and sanctifies them by his almighty and special agency, and brings them into a state of grace, from which they cannot fall and perish. It teaches, that the rest of mankind he is pleased to pass over, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sins, to the honour of his justice and power; in other words, he leaves the rest to the corruption in which they were born, withholds the grace which is necessary to their recovery, and condemns them to most grievous torments in soul and body without intermission in hell-fire for ever.' Such is Calvinism, as gathered from the most authentic records of the doctrine. Whoever will consult the famous Assembly's Catechisms and Confession, will see the peculiarities of the system in all their length and breadth of deformity. A man of plain sense, whose spirit has not been broken to this creed by education or terror, will think that it is not necessary for us to travel to heathen countries, to learn how mournfully the human mind may misrepresent the Deity."
“How mournfully the human mind may misrepresent the Deity !” You will be at pains to find nine words which shall more thoroughly express the change which the Renaissance brought to the leading religious spirits of Boston.
The resulting alteration in dogmatic theology has given to the new school of New England divines the name of Unitarians. According to the old creed, which held salvation from Adam's fall to be attainable only through God's grace, won by the mediation of Jesus Christ, the divine character of Christ was essential to redemption ; without his superhuman aid all human beings were irrevocably doomed. But the moment you assumed human nature to contain adequate seeds of good, the necessity for a divine Redeemer disappeared, and redemption became only a matter of divine convenience. The second person of the Trinity having thus lost his mystic office, the third spread wing and vanished into the radiance of a new heaven. In this glorious region the New England Unitarians discerned singly and alone the one God, who had made man in his image. One almost perfect image they recognised in Jesus Christ; a great many inferior but still indubitable ones they found actually to populate the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Although this radical change in theology was what gave Unitarianism its name, the underlying feeling which gave it being had little concern with mystic dogmas. Whatever the philosophy of primitive Christianity, the philosophy of traditional Christianity had for centuries taught the depravity of human nature; this dogma the Puritans had brought to New England, where they had uncompromisingly preserved. it. Now, whatever your philosophy, this dogma does account for such social phenomena as occur in densely populated lands where economic pressure is strong. In our own great cities you need a buoyant spirit and a hopefully unobservant eye to perceive much besides evil; and if you compare Boston or New York with London or Paris, you can hardly avoid discerning, beneath the European civilisation which is externally lovelier than ours, depths of foulness to which we have not v yet sunk. The Europe of Calvin's time seems on the whole even more pervasively wicked; and more wicked still seems that decadent Roman Empire where Augustine formulated the dogmas which at last Channing so unfalteringly set aside. If you chance to believe in Hell, most people in crowded dense v societies really seem bound thither; and those who have the strength morally to resist such environment seem by contrast totally different from the mass of humanity.
We need hardly remind ourselves, however, that up to the time of Channing the history of America, and particularly of New England, had been a history of national inexperience. When Cotton Mather wrote his “ Magnalia” in the closing seventeenth century, his purpose was to prove that during the first seventy-five years of New England there had flourished and lived and died there so many regenerate human beings that a man of sense might almost statistically infer New England to be specially favoured by God. The governors of the region, and its preachers and teachers, not to speak of their many godly servants and followers, had revealed Christian graces to a degree which Mather's common-sense held to evidence an unprecedented outpouring of divine grace. In this contention there was an element of truth; compared with other races, the Yankee people, released for generations from the pressure of dense European life, found a considerable degree of goodness surprisingly practicable. This social fact resembled a familiar domestic one: an eldest child is apt to be angelic until some little brother gets big enough to interfere with him; and if by chance no little brother appears, the angelic traits will very likely persist until the child goes to school or