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The Knickerbocker, or New-York Monthly Magazine, April 1844 Volume 23, Number 4   By:

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T H E K N I C K E R B O C K E R.

VOL. XXIII. APRIL, 1844. NO. 4.



One of the admirers of Go√ęthe, commenting on his characteristic excellencies, has remarked that he is the most suggestive of writers. Were we to seek an epithet by which to describe the architectural remains and historical monuments of England, with reference to their impression on the mind of an observer, perhaps no better could offer itself than that which has been thus applied to the works of the great German. In the property of awakening reflection by bringing before the mind that series of events whose connection with the progress of modern civilization has been most direct and influential, and of recalling names which, to the American at least, sound like household words, they stand unrivalled. Our manners, our customs, our national constitution itself, may be said to have grown up beneath the shelter of these venerable structures, whose associations ally them in a manner scarcely less striking with those wider developments of social and political reason in which we believe the welfare of our species to be involved. Who is there, that, standing within 'the great hall of William Rufus,' can forget how often it has been the theatre of those mighty conflicts, in which, however slowly and reluctantly, error and prejudice have been compelled to relax their hold on the human mind? Dr. Johnson has spoken to us, in his usual stately phrase, of patriotism re invigorated and of piety warmed amid the scenes of Marathon and Iona; but where is the Marathon which appeals to us so forcibly as the field consecrated by the blood of a Hamden or a Falkland? and where the Iona which is so eloquent with recollections as the walls which have echoed to the voices of a Ridley and a Barrow?

It is true indeed, that the recollections of many other lands, as associated with their monuments, lay much stronger hold upon the imagination than those of England. Of the former we might say that there was about them more of the element of poetry; of the latter, that they furnish an ampler share of materials for reflection. One great moral, 'the comprehensive text of the Hebrew preacher,' the invariable 'vanity of vanities,' is alike inscribed upon all the vestiges of human greatness. For the rest, a serene and touching beauty lingers around and hallows every relic which attests the hand of Phidias, or marks the country of Pericles and Epaminondas. No lapse of time, no process of decay, will ever wholly exorcise that spirit of stateliness and command which sits enthroned amid the ruins of the 'Eternal City,' as her own Marius once sate amid the ruins of a rival capital. But in all that regards a common standard of opinions, institutions and interests, and in the facility of reasoning as respects these, from the experience and practice of one time and people to those of another, we cannot but feel that a vast gulf has interposed between our own age and that which is commemorated by the monuments of Greece and Rome. The venerable genius of antiquity, seated among crumbling arches and broken columns, has but little to say to us respecting those questions which most deeply agitate and unceasingly perplex the busy and the thinking part of mankind at the present day. No response are we to expect from that quarter, concerning our bank laws and our corn laws; our systems of credit and of commerce; our endless disquisitions on the balance of power and of parties, on the rights of suffrage and of conscience. While we reserve to the theorist the privilege of adorning his theme by allusions to the polity of Lycurgus and Numa, we are sensible that the practical statesman who trusts himself to such examples will be constantly liable to be deluded by false parallels and imperfect analogies. A voice, like that which is said to have startled the mariner of old on the coasts of Ionia, and to have announced to him the cessation of oracles, comes to us from all the remains of pagan antiquity, warning us that the spirit of that ancient civilization has departed with its forms: and while it bids us look forward to a new destiny for the human race, it teaches us that the maxims and the oracles by which that destiny must be guided, are to be sought elsewhere than in the Republic of Plato and the grottos of Egeria... Continue reading book >>

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