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The American Mind The E. T. Earl Lectures   By: (1860-1954)

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First Page:

THE AMERICAN MIND

The E. T. Earl Lectures

1912

By the Same Author

The American Mind Park Street Papers John Greenleaf Whittier: A Memoir Walt Whitman The Amateur Spirit A Study of Prose Fiction The Powers at Play The Plated City Salem Kittredge and Other Stories The Broughton House

The American Mind

By Bliss Perry

[Illustration: The Riverside Press]

Boston and New York

Houghton Mifflin Company

1912

COPYRIGHT, 1912, BY BLISS PERRY

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Published October 1912

TO

WALTER MORRIS HART

Preface

The material for this book was delivered as the E. T. Earl Lectures for 1912 at the Pacific Theological Seminary, Berkeley, California, and I wish to take this opportunity to express to the President and Faculty of that institution my appreciation of their generous hospitality.

The lectures were also given at the Lowell Institute, Boston, the Brooklyn Institute, and elsewhere, under the title "American Traits in American Literature." In revising them for publication a briefer title has seemed desirable, and I have therefore availed myself of Jefferson's phrase "The American Mind," as suggesting, more accurately perhaps than the original title, the real theme of discussion.

B. P.

CAMBRIDGE, 1912.

Contents

I. RACE, NATION, AND BOOK 3

II. THE AMERICAN MIND 47

III. AMERICAN IDEALISM 86

IV. ROMANCE AND REACTION 128

V. HUMOR AND SATIRE 166

VI. INDIVIDUALISM AND FELLOWSHIP 209

THE AMERICAN MIND

I

Race, Nation, and Book

Many years ago, as a student in a foreign university, I remember attacking, with the complacency of youth, a German history of the English drama, in six volumes. I lost courage long before the author reached the age of Elizabeth, but I still recall the subject of the opening chapter: it was devoted to the physical geography of Great Britain. Writing, as the good German professor did, in the triumphant hour of Taine's theory as to the significance of place, period, and environment in determining the character of any literary production, what could be more logical than to begin at the beginning? Have not the chalk cliffs guarding the southern coast of England, have not the fatness of the midland counties and the soft rainy climate of a North Atlantic island, and the proud, tenacious, self assertive folk that are bred there, all left their trace upon A Midsummer Night's Dream , and Every Man in his Humour and She Stoops to Conquer ? Undoubtedly. Latitude and longitude, soil and rainfall and food supply, racial origins and crossings, political and social and economic conditions, must assuredly leave their marks upon the mental and artistic productiveness of a people and upon the personality of individual writers.

Taine, who delighted to point out all this, and whose English Literature remains a monument of the defects as well as of the advantages of his method, was of course not the inventor of the climatic theory. It is older than Aristotle, who discusses it in his treatise on Politics . It was a topic of interest to the scholars of the Renaissance. Englishmen of the seventeenth century, with an unction of pseudo science added to their natural patriotism, discovered in the English climate one of the reasons of England's greatness. Thomas Sprat, writing in 1667 on the History of the Royal Society, waxes bold and asserts: "If there can be a true character given of the Universal Temper of any Nation under Heaven, then certainly this must be ascribed to our countrymen, that they have commonly an unaffected sincerity, that they love to deliver their minds with a sound simplicity, that they have the middle qualities between the reserved, subtle southern and the rough, unhewn northern people, that they are not extremely prone to speak, that they are more concerned what others will think of the strength than of the fineness of what they say, and that a universal modesty possesses them... Continue reading book >>




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