The Oxford Book of American Essays (Classic Reprint)

Brander Matthews


Excerpt from The Oxford Book of American Essays

The customary antithesis between "American" literature and "English" literature is unfortunate and misleading in that it seems to exclude American authors from the noble roll of those who have contributed to the literature of our mother-tongue. Of course, when we consider it carefully we cannot fail to see that the literature of a language is one and indivisible and that the nativity or the domicile of those who make it matters nothing. Just as Alexandrian literature is Greek, so American literature is English; and as Theocritus demands inclusion in any account of Greek literature, so Thoreau cannot be omitted from any history of English literature as a whole. The works of Anthony Hamilton and Rousseau, Mme. de Stael and M. Maeterlinck are not more indisputably a part of the literature of the French language than the works of Franklin and Emerson, of Hawthorne and Poe are part of the literature of the English language. Theocritus may never have set foot on the soil of Greece, and Thoreau never adventured himself on the Atlantic to visit the island-home of his ancestors; yet the former expressed himself in Greek and the latter in English, - and how can either be neglected in any comprehensive survey of the literature of his own tongue?

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