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authority. They who wish to see this subject fully treated, will do well to peruse “Cooper's Law of Libel”-particularly that portion of it which treats of ecclesiastical libels. It is replete with learning and argument; its style is clear, vigorous, and striking, although occasionally rough and abrupt; it is sometimes witty, and sometimes eloquent; it exhibits great power of condensation, notwithstanding it is frequently disfigured by repetitions; it is always fearless in the expression of opinions, and its legal argument is unanswerable.
Mr. Adams, having noticed the common law, proceeds to quote an act passed by South Carolina in 1712, prohibiting persons from travelling on Sunday, or employing their slaves at work on that day. But this law is obsolete. Persons are continually travelling on Sunday. The mail is carried and opened on Sunday. Passengers crowd the stages on Sunday. In fact, this act of 1712 is repealed by the Constitution of 1790. With regard to not employing slaves at work on Sunday, we would observe, that public opinion--which is stronger than the law-causes this to be observed. Independently of our own individual religious profession, which induces us to observe the Sabbath, we are satisfied that in a political point of view, the observance of the day is attended with beneficial effects. These have been frequently pointed out. It is a day of rest for those who have laboured hard throughout the rest of the previous week. As such, it invigorates both body and mind. The certain prospect of a holiday is exceedingly exhilarating. It diffuses cheerfulness over the heart. It gives the poor an opportunity to prepare for its enjoyment. It insures them a period of rest, which would otherwise depend on the caprice of the task-master. Sunday is indeed a day of jubilee and rest, of enjoyment and ease. Ordinary occupations are suspended: and if a cheerful heart be pleasant in the sight of God, to that day HE must look with peculiar delight! It is unnecessary to dwell on the advantages of Sunday as a period of rest for cattle-for horses, mules, oxen, &c.
These and other considerations, make it politic to have a fixed day of rest: and no reason can be given for preferring any other day to Sunday.
Mr. Adams seems to have a high relish for old laws on the subject of religion; and, we have no doubt, will pay equal reverence to those which regulate the conduct, and those which regulate the belief of individuals. There is an act intended to provide for the security of the province of South Carolina, and more especially of church-going people. It is to be found in pages 185 and 186, Grimke's Public Laws. It was enacted in 1743, made perpetual by revival act of 1783, and has never since been repealed. We commend it to Mr. Adams' notice. It enacts that “all male sons, under sixty years of age, who shall go on Sunday or Christ
mas-day, to any church or place of worship, without a gun or a good pair of horse-pistols in good order and fit for service, with at least six charges of gunpowder and ball; or who shall not carry the same into the church or other places of Divine worship, shall forfeit and pay the sum of 20s. current money,” We trust that hereafter Mr. Adams will not neglect the duty prescribed by this act, and that every Sunday he will be seen with a gun on his shoulder, in conformity with the law.
We have thus, at the risk of being tedious, in most instances laid before our readers the very words of the several provisions in most of our constitutions, on the subject of religion. It is the only fair way of examining the question now before us—a question of vital importance-a question between liberty and tyranny, between the rights of conscience on the one hand, and intolerance, bigotry, and superstition on the other. The argument on the common law will apply to most of the states—so that while we have apparently been confining ourselves to the law of South Carolina, we have in truth been discussing the general law of the country.
We have seen that the connexion of Christianity with civil government has been, for fifteen centuries, invariably productive of the most flagrant abuses and the grossest corruptions. We have shown that there is, and there can be no middle ground between perfect liberty of conscience and despotism-since to give government power to protect Christianity for instance, is to give it power to declare what is Christianity, and what is necessary for its protection—in other words to give it unlimited power. We have shown also that opinion, faith, belief, are involuntary; that no human power can rightly interfere with them; that the object of civil government should be the regulation and promotion of human happiness here on earth; and that it should confine itself to the conduct of individuals, and regulate the duty of man towards man; but should not interfere with the relation between man and God. We have shown that most of the states, in framing their constitutions, have been influenced by these considerations; that in our country, Christianity has no connexion with the law of the land, or our political institutions; but that although a vast majority of the people of the United States are Christians, they have refused to give the general government power to make any laws on the subject, and have guaranteed to every man liberty of conscience, without discrimination or preference of any sect.
Christianity requires no aid from force or persecution. She asks not to be guarded by fines and forfeitures. She stands secure in the armour of truth and reason. She seeks not to establish her principles by political aid and legal enactments. She seeks mildly and peaceably to establish them in the hearts of the people.
Art. V.-Sketches, by MRS. SIGOURNEY. 12mo. pp. 216. Phila
delphia: Key & Biddle: 1834.
“ It may be asked,” says the editor of a late Review, “are American writers to be treated thus rigidly? Will not some allowance be made for them because they are American? Is it not incumbent on every one animated with a proper feeling of patriotism, to cherish every literary effort of a fellow-countryman, especially if he happen to be one who occupies a prominent position in the public esteem, his reputation being then a part of the reputation of the country itself? These questions there is no hesitation to answer in the negative. They imply a wholly inadequate impression of the condition and present prospects of American literature; they tacitly assume it to be in an infant state, instead of having already advanced into at least the first stage of a vigorous manhood; and they betray an exaggerated estimate of the influence of criticism. American literature is no longer a sickly and sorry bantling, that must be kept alive by being ever held on the knee and fed with the inilk of encouragement, or the pap of flattery. It can now support itself without a prop, and is capable of digesting even the strong meat of reproof, occasionally administered to it by a reviewer, without any danger of sinking under the operation."
The sentiments contained in this short extract, though not perhaps free from error, are we think well adapted to the present state of American literature. That the great body of our authors, even including those who hold the highest rank in the estimation of their countrymen and of foreigners, stand in need rather of severe and impartial criticism, than of blind and undistinguishing flattery, is a truth, important as regards our further literary advancement, but by many disbelieved or disregarded. The time has gone by, if indeed such a time there ever was, when shame crimsoned the cheek of the American at the reproach and ridicule which transatlantic nations cast upon his intellectual labours; but our rapid advance in the paths of learning has not yet brought us to that state of perfection which would render criticism unavailing, and require us to lavish upon every production expressions of unbounded applause, without the trouble of exercising a discriminating judgment. Many persons seem to suppose, that because the works which issue from our press are often read with avidity and with approbation in other countries, even in those where, but a short time ago, it seemed to be the common interest to decry all American publications as infantile and unworthy of an enlightened age, we have therefore attained all that is desirable, and that we need no longer make use of means
adapted to promote further improvement. We do not say that such an opinion is ever expressed in the words which we have employed, or that any one, if the question were asked, whether, in this age of universal and rapid progression, our literature alone be not susceptible of greater improvement; whether it alone has, to all appearance, gained its highest elevation and utmost extent, would answer in the affirmative; but what then is the meaning of those who talk of the proud maturity, the full and vigorous strength of this literature? What signification can be attached to such expressions, reiterated as they are by so many tongues, if not that the greatest attainable degree of literary excellence has been already reached ? But since this mistake is so palpable, and since it may be considered as owing to confusion of ideas, or to the misuse of words, rather than as the offspring of a deliberate judgment, we leave it, after these remarks, and pass on to the consideration of a second error in regard to this subject, of greater moment than the first, since it is more widely diffused, and, at the same time, does not want its open and strenuous advocates. It is this error which is particularly combated in the remarks which we have quoted above, though perhaps not so much at large as the extent of its influence demands.
The great majority, indeed we may say all of those who have formed any deliberate and settled opinions respecting the present character and future prospects of American literature, must be agreed, that in this, as in every other field of labour, there is room for extensive improvement; but all are not agreed in regard to the means best adapted to foster the spirit of improvement, to promote a more full and manly development of mind. Many persons, while they willingly admit, that unsparing censure of the worthless productions of mere pretenders to literary fame, or of the accidental failures and eclipses of an acknowledged but unequal genius; that sober and enlightened praise, bestowed where justly merited ; in short, that impartial and discriminating criticism have done much for the promotion and advancement of intellectual enterprise in other countries, where learning has flourished for a longer period, and where the press sends forth a greater flood of publications than in our own; yet at the same time ask, in the language which we have quoted, “Are American writers to be treated thus rigidly?" Would it not be advisable to use less severity in judging of their productions, and even to withhold deserved reproof, for fear of damping literary ardour and enterprise ? Or, in other words, are there not cases in which lenity is to be preferred to strict justice? To these inquiries is added still another, founded upon the feeling, that as countrymen we ought to look upon ourselves as members of a sort of masonic brotherhood, bound to support each other in every endeavour, whether laudable or the contrary. It is demanded, " Is it not incumbent on every one,
animated with a proper feeling of patriotism, to cherish every literary effort of a fellow-countryman?"
In answering these questions, it will be necessary to make some methodical arrangement of the thoughts which occur to us. What then is the end to be attained in the cultivation and improvement of our national literature? That there is some end, must be evident to every mind. It cannot be our object merely to increase the number of American authors, and to raise the standard of genius;
pour forth from our press a greater supply of books in every department of learning, and these of greater excellence than heretofore. This would be but to labour in perfecting a powerful piece of machinery, without intending to apply its powers to any useful purpose. The only possible end to which the results of literary exertion can be applied, is the instruction and improvement, or the amusement of the community. Perfection in bookmaking would be altogether unavailing, were there no readers to be profited or pleased. Now, after this view of the subject, let us ask what stand the critic ought to take in consideration of his duties as a patriot? Let us suppose, for a moment, though we shall hereafter endeavour to prove the supposition incorrect-let us suppose that praise, bestowed indiscriminately upon every American production, simply because it is American, would have the beneficial result of cherishing our literature, and increasing the number of good writers; what effect would it produce among the reading portion of the community? It certainly would not be the part of the patriot, indulging, as he is supposed to do, a noble interest in the welfare and improvement of every one bearing the American name, to commend, by unmerited praise, the works of an inferior author, destitute alike of instruction or amusement, to persons anxiously searching after both. If we cannot rely upon the impartial justice of those capable of sitting in judgment upon the character of a work, what must be done? As it is impossible to read every thing, in order to judge for ourselves, we must either read whatever chances to fall in our way, sometimes meeting with proper food for our minds, but oftener with that which is unwholesome; or we must read nothing, if we would wish to avoid constant fatigue, disappointment, and injury. It would be as well that we had no national literature, if that literature were useless; it would be far better that we had none, were it really injurious.
But we have said that we thought the supposition made above to be entirely incorrect, and that we would endeavour to support this opinion. In doing so, we give an answer to the questions which we have before noticed, in regard to the expediency of treating American authors more leniently than others, for the encouragement of literary effort. We would not say, that those who can seriously propose these questions " betray an exaggerated estimate of the influence of criticism,” but that they betray a very