IN the original plan for publishing a selection from my essays in different kinds which have appeared in periodicals, I had aimed at more completeness of arrangement than has been attained in these two volumes. Selections had been made from essays on English literature, on Continental and American literature, and on Art. I had wished, beside, for a department in which to insert sketches of a miscellaneous character, in prose and verse.
It was proposed, in the critical pieces, to retain the extracts with which they were originally adorned, as this would give them far more harmony and interest for the general reader.
The translation, however, of the matter from a more crowded page to its present form has made such a difference, that I have been obliged to drop moat of the extracts from several of the pieces. Moreover, in approaching the end of the first number, I found myself obliged to omit more than half the essays I had proposed on the subject of English literature, the greater part of those on Art, and those on Continental literature and of a miscellaneous kind entirely. I find, indeed, that the matter which I had supposed could be comprised in two of these numbers would fill six or eight.
Had I been earlier aware of this, I should have made a different selection, and one which would do more justice to the range and variety of subjects which have been before my mind during the ten years that, in the intervals allowed me by other engagements, I have written for the public.
To those of my friends, who have often expressed a wish that I “could find time to write,” it will be a satisfaction to know that, though the last twenty months is the first period in my life when it has been permitted me to make my pen my chief means of expressing my thoughts, yet I have written enough, if what is afloat, and what lies hid in manuscript, were put together, to make a little library, quite large enough to exhaust the patience of the collector, if not of the reader. Should I do no more, I have at least sent my share of paper missives through the world.
The present selection contains some of my earliest and some of my latest expressions. I have not put dates to any of the pieces, though, in the earlier, I see much crudity, which I seem to have outgrown now, just as I hope I shall think ten years hence of what I write to-day. But I find an identity in the main view and ideas, a substantial harmony among these pieces, and I think those who have been interested in my mind at all, will take some pleasure in reading the youngest and crudest of these pieces, and will readily disown for me what I would myself disown.
Should these volumes meet with a kind reception, a more complete selection from my miscellanies will be offered to the public in due time. Should these not seem to be objects of interest I shall take the hint, and consign the rest to the peaceful seclusion of the garret.
I regret omitting some pieces explanatory of foreign authors, that would have more interest now than when those authors become, as I hope they will, familiar friends to the youth of my country. It has been one great object of my life to introduce here the works of those great geniuses, the flower and fruit of a higher state of development, which might give the young who are soon to constitute the state, a higher standard in thought and action than would be demanded of them by their own time. I have hoped that, by being thus raised above their native sphere, they would become its instructors and the faithful stewards of its best riches, not its tools or slaves. I feel with satisfaction that I have done a good deal to extend the influence of the great minds of Germany and Italy among my compatriots. Of our English contemporaries, as yet but partially known here, I have written notices of Milnes, Landor, and Julius Hare, which I regret being obliged to omit, as these writers are yet but little known. Bailey and Tennyson have now a fair chance of circulation, therefore my notices may sleep with the occasion that gave them birth. Tennyson, especially, needs no usher. He has only to be heard to command the audience of that “melodious thunder.”
Of the essays in the second volume, that on American literature is the only one, which has not, before, appeared in print. It is a very imperfect sketch; the theme was great and difficult, the time to be spared for its consideration was brief. It is, however, written with sincere and earnest feelings, and from a mind that cares for nothing but what is permanent and essential. It should, then, have some merit, if only in the power of suggestion. A year or two hence, I hope to have more to say upon this topic, or the interests it represents, and to speak with more ripeness both as to the matter and the form.
New York, July, 1846.
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