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Scotch The Snake, Or Kill It?
by [?]

It has been said that our system of town meetings made our Revolution possible, by educating the people in self-government. But this was at most of partial efficacy, while the newspaper and telegraph, gather the whole nation into a vast town-meeting, where every one hears the affairs of the country discussed, and where the better judgment is pretty sure to make itself valid at last. No memorable thing is said or done, no invention or discovery is made, that some mention of it does not sooner or later reach the ears of a majority of Americans. It is this constant mental and moral stimulus which gives them the alertness and vivacity, the wide-awakeness of temperament, characteristic of dwellers in great cities, and which has been remarked on by English tourists as if it were a kind of physiological transformation. They seem to think we have lost something of that solidity of character which (with all other good qualities) they consider the peculiar inheritance of the British race, though inherited in an elder brother’s proportion by the favored dwellers in the British Isles. We doubt if any substantial excellence is lost by this suppling of the intellectual faculties, and bringing the nervous system nearer the surface by the absorption of superfluous fat. What is lost in bulk may be gained in spring. It is true that the clown, with his parochial horizon, his diet inconveniently thin, and his head conveniently thick, whose notion of greatness is a prize pig, and whose patriotism rises or falls with the strength of his beer, is a creature as little likely to be met with here as the dodo, his only rival in the qualities that make up a good citizen; but this is no result of climatic influences. Such creatures are the contemporaries of an earlier period of civilization than ours. Nor is it so clear that solidity is always a virtue, and lightness a vice in character, any more than in bread, or that the leaven of our institutions works anything else than a wholesome ferment and aeration. The experience of the last four years is enough to prove that sensibility may consist with tenacity of purpose, and that enthusiasm may become a permanent motive where the conviction of the worth of its object is profound and logical. There are things in this universe deeper and higher, more solid even, than the English Constitution. If that is the perfection of human wisdom and a sufficing object of faith and worship for our cousins over the water, on the other hand God’s dealing with this chosen people is preparing them to conceive of a perfection of divine wisdom, of a constitution in the framing of which man’s wit had no share, and which shall yet be supreme, as it is continually more or less plainly influential in the government of the world. We may need even sterner teaching than any we have yet had, but we have faith that the lesson will be learned at last.

If the assertion which we alluded to at the outset were true, if we, more than others, are apt to forget; the past in the present, the work of Mr. Moore[6] would do much in helping us to recover what we have lost. Had its execution been as complete as its plan was excellent, it would have left nothing to be desired. Its want of order may be charged upon the necessity of monthly publication; but there are other defects which this will hardly excuse. The editor seems to have become gradually helpless before the mass of material that heaped itself about him, and to have shovelled from sheer despair of selection. In the documentary part he is sufficiently, sometimes even depressingly full, and he has preserved a great deal of fugitive poetry from both sides, much of it spirited, and some of it vigorously original;[7] but he has frequently neglected to give his authorities. His extracts from the newspapers of the day, especially from Southern and foreign ones, are provokingly few, and his department of “incidents and rumors,” the true mirror of the time, inadequate both in quantity and quality. In spite of these defects, however, there is enough to recall vividly the features of the time at any marked period during the war, to renew the phases of feeling, to trace the slowly gathering current of opinion, and to see a definite purpose gradually orbing itself out of the chaos of plans and motives, hopes, fears, enthusiasms, and despondencies. We do not propose to review the book,–we might, indeed, almost as well undertake to review the works of Father Time himself,–but, relying chiefly on its help in piecing out our materials, shall try to freshen the memory of certain facts and experiences worth bearing in mind either for example or warning.