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Title: "Our Literature," Composition of Theodore B. Kingsbury for the Dialectic Society, September 1848: Electronic Edition.
Author: Kingsbury, Theodore Bryant, 1828-1913
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann and James W. Truman
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Amanda Page
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 34K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-05-31, Amanda Page finished TEI/XML encoding
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: "Our Literature," Composition of Theodore B. Kingsbury for the Dialectic Society, September 1848
Author: Kingsbury, Theodore Bryant, 1828-1913
Description: 8 pages, 9 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Politics and Government/Political Issues
Reading and Writing/Reading
Examples of Student Writing/Debating Society Writings
Editorial practices
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Document Summary

Kingsbury's composition defends American literature from charges that it cannot be great. America's beautiful scenery and spirit of inquiry, he argues, have already given rise to notable writers of many genres.
"Our Literature," Composition of Theodore B. Kingsbury , September 18481
Kingsbury, Theodore Bryant, 1828-1913

Cover page

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Our Literature.
It is not my our object in this composition, to vindicate our political institutions, our manners, morals and social organization from the illiberal, vindictive and bigoted assaults of the hired minions of despotism, for the space and time allowed me, will not admit of an extended review of the subject; but I we would say a word in favor of that Literature whose infancy was slandered, and whose progress has been dogged by the scoffs and sneers of those, whose pride and glory it should have been, to protect and foster it. It has struggled hitherto against many adverse circumstances. The very discovery and settlement of this country marked a new era in the history of the human mind. Since then, what may be called the practical concerns of life; the pursuits of gain and the rage for utility have, to a great extent, occupied the energies of all the civilized world; and few bright luminaries in Literature have any where made their appearance.
Very many causes have conspired to impede our progress as a Literary people—these we will not recapitulate. We cannot, however, forbear pointing out a striking difference existing in the respective promotion of English and American Literature. In England there are many princely estates enabling the possessors to obtain the costly means of prosecuting researches in science, or to reward excellence in literature and the polite arts; hereditary fortunes furnishing their inheritors with time and means for the long and constant cultivation of letters. Yet, notwithstanding all obstructions, every American citizen has a right to be proud of his country and his country's literature. 'Tis true our literature is yet in its infancy, yet, it is equally true that there are those numbered among our writers, the fame of whom would2 add even to the

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greatness of a Shakspeare or a Milton, a Goethe or a Dante. It is but yesterday, we took our place among the nations of the earth and it is not to be expected, that we should at once reach the summit of intellectual greatness. All that is valuable and destined to last is of slow growth, The mushroom may spring up in a night—but the sturdy oak is the growth of centuries. If we cannot boast of a Newton, a Locke, a Milton, a Scott or a Bacon; we have a Franklin, a Bryant, a Cooper, and Irving and a Presscott ,3 and among our female writers a Sedgewick and a Sigourney, with many others fast rising in fame, whose writings would adorn any period of English or German Literature.
American Literature is in one respect superior to that of every country on the globe, and this distinction alone should entitle it to the marked respect of all the Christian World. For the number of our authors in every department, there never have been as few, whose writings breathe an unhealthy morality. You will look in vain over the catalogue of American writers for the sneering Atheist, the plausible Infidel and the corrupt Libertine, each of whom has contributed so much to poison and contaminate the modern literature of other countries.
It has been said by some European Scholars that science and literature have in this country no governmental patronage, therefore high attainments are not to be expected. If we look into the history of ancient4 literature, we behold many noble and splendid specimens of intellectual greatness. But where were they reared? Not in the palaces of the great, nor under the sun-shine of Royal patronage,—but mostly upon the rugged soil and islands of ancient Greece. The muse of Homer never graced the halls of princes, and with the artificial charms of modern refinement she was also unacquainted. She breathed the pure airs of her native mountains and amidst their wild and beautiful scenery caught her inspiration. The philosophy of Plato, grew sublimely fair—not under the smiles of royal favor—but in groves

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of the academy, under the fostering influence of Liberty, its guardian genius. The eloquence of Demosthenes, before whose resistless power the armies of Macedonia retired, was the pride and ornament of independent Greece; all have read with the deepest sympathy and interest, how, his putting forth his energies in the cause of freedom, he expired, as his country's Star slowly descended into the abysmal depths of eternity's Ocean. We need not go back to the ancients for examples of human vigor and finished culture. But few of the illustrious names that grace the annals of English literature owe, their greatness or acquirements to the patronage of the crown. They wrote themselves into fame, and produced their immortal works unaided and alone, with not patronage but genius and unwearied industry.
Our clime and beautifully romantic scenery are highly suitable to and favorable to the intellectual development of the nation. For its influence is displayed in the energy of thought and feeling which characterize all classes, not less the uneducated than the learned and most accomplished scholar.
Who can behold our mountain rivulets, leaping among the rocks and stealing their way into the dark valley beneath, or linger upon the banks of our streams, amidst the rich and blooming foliage which adorns them, and not have his soul awakened to a glow of the most pleasurable emotion? Who can stand upon the shores of our broad majestic lakes, and gaze upon their unruffled expanse, bounded only by the distant horizon, and not feel his spirit subdued by the grandeur of the scene?—Who has not felt a mingling of sublime and pleasing sensations while gazing upon the flow of our mighty rivers—the wav wave of5 our lofty forests—and the awful grandeur

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of the mountains which the hand of nature in wild magnificence, has scattered over our country? While standing at the foot of our foaming cataracts, and looking up to the ocean of waters, which pour their immense volumes into the abyss below,—the soul itself seems lost in the sublimity of its own conception; the glory and greatness of man fades away; the majesty of God fills the soul—his voice alone is heard in the deep heavy thunders of the cataracts. And
And is there nothing in scenes like these to kindle the poets fire: to awaken the soul of the orator and to draw forth all his powers? Is there nothing to give strength and wings to genius? Can the philosopher gaze upon these scenes and not feel an conscious elevation of thought and intellect, which shall prompt him to new energy in exploring the untrodden feilds of science?
The spirit of inquiry into the fundamental principles of law, morals and politics, being here left free, is pushed with surprising rigor into useful discovery and investigation, while in other nations the genius of their authors, confined within a narrow circle, bestows its labors on dry and abstract science, on fiction & sickly romance. And even in the higher walks of literature we have taken a proud and honerable stand.
The historian is entitled perhaps to rank as the most noble and useful species of authors. And where is the historian of modern times whose light does not pale before the resplendant sun of our own Presscott ? Who among all this class of writers in Europe will compare with him in all the essential and important requisites of this character? Chaste and terse in diction; simple eloquent and grave in style; lively and perspicuous in narrative; stately and well sustained in sentiment, our matchless author has already taken his position by the side of the great masters of

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*his calling.6 Nor must it be forgotten that our writers of this class have to go travel beyond their own country for themes to employ their pens, for ours is yet in its infancy and the events of its career so far are soon told.
Next to history, biography should perhaps be ranked as most important; and here again we have a work that is the first of its kind. We are sorry to say that we have seen in so few libraries, the "Life of Columbus;" 7 and yet it is a book which no reader can commence without perusing its entire contents, and no one can travel over these without being afforded much amusement and solid instruction. Whether we consider the dignity and importance of the subject; the great and momentous events of which it treats, the eloquence and beauty of the composition, or the moral grandeur of the sentiment, no just critic can fail to bestow on the work his most unqualified commendation. It has another merit—perhaps not its least—it is from the pen of the good and immortal Irving. This writer alone would give a high tone to the literature of any country; and he will stand out, to the eyes of posterity, as the most prominent land-mark of his age. We shall attempt nothing in praise of Irving; who can do him justice? The "bard of Avon" tells us,
"To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw a perfume on the violet:
To smooth the ice, or add another hue
Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light
To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish
Is wasteful and rediculous excess:"8 and
wasteful and rediculous indeed it be for us to pronounce a panegyric upon him, for his fame is now known wherever books are read: his thoughts will continue to fascinate and instruct the world while man has a mind to appreciate and a heart to feel, whatever is

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is pleasing in fancy, pathetic chaste and sublime in sentiment and good in morals; while to the latest posterity and when our mother tongue shall speak only in the words of the past, his books will be the glory of the language in which they were written.
Another great Biographical work is "Marshall's life of Washington";9 a book whose theme is the grandest in human history, and whose style and sentiment would render illustrious a much more ignoble subject.
In the field of fiction we have had one writer who should bow his head only to the "Great Wizard of the North" as Sir Walter Scott was called. The Indian Novels of Cooper—not to speak of his splendid Sea novels—whose scenes are laid in the awful solitude of the forest, and on the wide and desolate prairie, and whose characters were the wild red men that roamed over them, have as much exciting incident, accurate delineation of character, and more grandeur of scenery, than the best productions of the author of Waverly. These are some of our most prominent authors, but there is a vast multitude of others of less note whose teeming productions are constantly enriching every branch of Literature. They are not voluminous; no high-sounding name grace their title page; nor are they ushered into the world in ponderous tomes whose potentous dimensions excite the awe of the vulgar and the reverence of the critic. Yet in their unpretending volumes may be found the richest treasures, the dust of purest gold.
In one department however there seems to be a lamentable deficiency; in the flowery field of poetry. The fair Muses it is said will not be wooed by our sturdy republicans, and reserve their smiles for more courtly gallants, in gayer climes. It is true the Harp of no great Master has yet sounded among us; still it is equally true that

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the inspiring genius of song is Liberty. And is not the American mind eminently poetical? No elaborate productions have made their appearance, though Bryant, Longfellow, Halleck and others have written well; yet thousands of the purest gems sparkle in the ephemeral literature of the day. Songs as sweet as the sweetest one's of Burns and Moore; odes, sonnets and refrains, breathing in numbers as harmonious as Pope's and as chaste as Wordsworth; the very soul of poetry way be found in many of our literary journals. But perhaps among the many causes which have impeded the growth of Poetry, may be assigned as the most prominent the all absorbing influence and power of her sister Eloquence.10 Here we are without a rival since the palmiest days of Greece & Rome. Here in is our Literature rich, splendid, glorious; here in have we given to the world "In words thoughts that breathe and words that burn",11 a profusion of the most gorgeous and magnificent treasures, and the sublime effusions of our Clays , our Websters, our Calhouns, our Corwins and our Choats, whose words are "sparks of immortality," will stand unrivalled amid the decay and mutations of Time, by the everlasting adamant of Cicero and Demosthenes.
Nor should we pass without notice the more humble branch of periodical literature—a branch in which we may challenge co[m]parison with the world. One of our Reviews—the North American 12 —has long since taken its place among the ablest in any country; our political organs would be disgraced by a comparison with those of any other nation, and in our newspapers generally there are more classical essays, more polished criticism, more pure wit and fun than can be found in any other similar pages. And the fact too, that so much information of every sort is thus cheaply and universally diffused, and that many of the most cultivated minds and brightest geniuses of the country, are engaged in enriching their columns, will account for the small number of costly works. But however bright

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and honorable is our literature, it has not reached its highest point. It is now but in the bud, and the time is far distant when it will open in its richest bloom. This is not with us figuratively speaking "a piping time of peace."13 It is for us a stirring age. A mighty career of action is yet to be run: great events are yet to happen and great achievements yet to be made. And from our auspicious beginning we have every reason to hope that a brilliant and glorious career is before us; that we will yet touch a point in national greatness and grandeur far in advance of any who have gone before us. If not, ours will atleast be no common fate. If our race is short, it will be marked by a succession of great events, and our race end if speedy will be like the throes and convulsions of expiring nature.
Then, when our minds have been sobered and our fancies tempered by the frost of age; then, in that time of repose and meditation will the literature of our country shine in all its splendor, and reflect a deathless glory over our aged and decaying republic. All that mighty intellect; all that diversified genius that is now boiling with a feverish excitement, with restless desire for achievement, will be calmed into a quiet contemplation of the past. And then, as it broods over the mighty deeds of by-gone times and the stupendous wrecks of fallen power and faded glory; or sits beneath the shadow of a pure republic, "whose bruised arms are hung up for monuments,"14 and whose career has been "a path of [love] light," of burning, shining light in the wide gloom of time,—illustrated by every virtue that can refine, humanize and ennoble our race; then, will the fruits of a new and glorious literature, unequalled in any age or any country, ripen to its full perfection; then, will burst forth a wild strain of song and harmony, compared to which the epic effusions of other nations, will be like the bubbling of their brooks by the thunders of Niagara.
Filed September 1848.

T.B. Kingsbury . Oxford N.C.


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. Written on eight numbered sheets, the composition once had been bound and subsequently unbound. It is endorsed "Composition/on/American Literature/Filed/September 1848./by/ TB.Kingsbury ./ Oxford/N.C."

2. Kingsbury wrote o on top of h.

3. American historian William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) was the author of The History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella the Catholic (1838) and The Conquest of Peru (1847), among other works.

4. Kingsbury wrote a on top of A, which has been erased.

5. Kingsbury wrote f on top of n.

6. The following footnote appears at the bottom of the page: "*It may not be uninteresting to know, that Baron Von Humbolt—the most remarkable man of his age,—before a society in Germany lately pronounced Presscott greatest of all historians."

7. Washington Irving, History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus , 4 vols. (London: John Murray, 1828).

8. William Shakespeare, King John , IV.ii (1623).

9. John Marshall, The Life of George Washington , 5 vols. (Philadelphia: C. P. Wayne, 1804).

10. Kingsbury wrote E on top of e.

11. Thomas Gray, "The Progress of Poesy," III.iii (1757).

12. North American; or, Weekly Journal of Politics, Science and Literature (Baltimore: S. Sands, 1800-50).

13. William Shakespeare, King Richard the Third , I.i (1597): "Why, I, in this weak piping time of peace,/Have no delight to pass away the time,/Unless to see my shadow in the sun/And descant on mine own deformity."

14. William Shakespeare, King Richard the Third , I.i (1597): "Our bruised arms hung up for monuments."