Page:The Scholar in a Republic.djvu/17

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.
15
THE SCHOLAR IN A REPUBLIC.

proof that our institutions had not lost all their native and distinctive life. She had grown tired of our parrot note and cold moonlight reflection of older civilizations. Lansdowne and Brougham could confess to Sumner that they had never read a page of their cotemporary, Daniel Webster; and you spoke to vacant eyes when you named Prescott, fifty years ago, to average Europeans; while Vienna asked, with careless indifference, "Seward, who is he?" But long before our ranks marched up State Street to the John Brown song, the banks of the Seine and of the Danube hailed the new life which had given us another and nobler Washington. Lowell foresaw him when forty years ago he sang of,—

"Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne;
 Yet that scaffold sways the future:
And behind the dim unknown
 Standeth God, within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own."

And yet the book-men, as a class, have not yet acknowledged him.

It is here that letters betray their lack of distinctive American character. Fifty million of men God gives us to mould; burning questions, keen debate, great interests trying to vindicate their right to be, sad wrongs brought to the bar of public judgment,—these are the people's schools. Timid scholarship either shrinks from sharing in these agitations, or denounces them as vulgar and dangerous interference by incompetent hands with matters above them. A chronic distrust of the people pervades the book-educated class of the North; they shrink from that free speech which is God's normal school for educating men, throwing upon them the grave responsibility of deciding great ques-