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An English Academy Of Literature
by [?]

[1]

We have Royal Societies for philosophers, for antiquaries, and for artists–none for men of letters! The lovers of philological studies have regretted the want of an asylum since the days of Anne, when the establishment of an English Academy of Literature was designed; but political changes occurred which threw out a literary administration. France and Italy have gloried in great national academies, and even in provincial ones. With us, the curious history and the fate of the societies at Spalding, Stamford, and Peterborough, whom their zealous founder lived to see sink into country clubs, is that of most of our rural attempts at literary academies! The Manchester society has but an ambiguous existence; and that of Exeter expired in its birth. Yet that a great purpose may be obtained by an inconsiderable number, the history of “The Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures,” etc., may prove; for that originally consisted only of twelve persons, brought together with great difficulty, and neither distinguished for their ability nor their rank.

The opponents to the establishment of an academy in this country may urge, and find Bruyere on their side, that no corporate body generates a single man of genius. No Milton, no Hume, no Adam Smith, will spring out of an academical community, however they may partake of one common labour. Of the fame, too, shared among the many, the individual feels his portion too contracted, besides that he will often suffer by comparison. Literature, with us, exists independent of patronage or association. We have done well without an academy; our dictionary and our style have been polished by individuals, and not by a society.

The advocates for such a literary institution may reply, that in what has been advanced against it we may perhaps find more glory than profit. Had an academy been established in this country, we should have possessed all our present advantages, with the peculiar ones of such an institution. A series of volumes composed by the learned of England had rivalled the precious “Memoirs of the French Academy,” probably more philosophical, and more congenial to our modes of thinking! The congregating spirit creates by its sympathy; an intercourse exists between its members which had not otherwise occurred; in this attrition of minds, the torpid awakens, the timid is emboldened, and the secluded is called forth; to contradict, and to be contradicted, is the privilege and the source of knowledge. Those original ideas, hints, and suggestions, which some literary men sometimes throw out once or twice during their whole lives, might here be preserved; and if endowed with sufficient funds, there are important labours, which surpass the means and industry of the individual, which would be more advantageously performed by such literary unions.

An academy of literature can only succeed by the same means in which originated all such academies–among individuals themselves. It will not be “by the favour of the MANY, but by the wisdom and energy of the FEW.” It is not even in the power of royalty to create at a word what can only be formed by the co-operation of the workmen themselves, and of the great taskmaster, Time!

Such institutions have sprung from the same principle, and have followed the same march. It was from a private meeting that “The French Academy” derived its origin; and the true beginners of that celebrated institution assuredly had no foresight of the object to which their conferences tended. Several literary friends at Paris, finding the extent of the city occasioned much loss of time in their visits, agreed to meet on a fixed day every week, and chose Conrart’s residence as centrical. They met for the purposes of general conversation, or to walk together, or, what was not least social, to partake in some refreshing collation. All being literary men, those who were authors submitted their new works to this friendly society, who, without jealousy or malice, freely communicated their strictures; the works were improved, the authors were delighted, and the critics were honest! Such was the happy life of the members of this private society during three or four years. Pelisson, the earliest historian of the French Academy, has delightfully described it: “It was such that, now when they speak of these first days of the Academy, they call it the golden age, during which, with all the innocence and freedom of that fortunate period, without pomp and noise, and without any other laws than those of friendship, they enjoyed together all which a society of minds, and a rational life, can yield of whatever softens and charms.”