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One of the benign and useful offices of literature is to point out and uphold the poetry of Life and the common resources of Nature, to which habit is so apt to make us indifferent. It is a high distinction of English writers that they have, in so many instances, contributed standard works to this unpretending yet genial department of letters. Addison, Goldsmith, Steele, Hazlitt, Lamb, Hunt, and many others, at once suggest themselves as having illustrated the scope and gracefulness attainable through wise and kindly comments on Society, and an appreciative interpretation of the true and beautiful in Experience. The blended acuteness and enthusiasm of such urbane philosophers, brings them nearer the heart and comprehension of readers than more recondite and speculative inquirers. They make apparent the compensatory elements of human existence; they indicate the best means of refining our senses and keeping alive our better instincts; they disperse from familiar charms the mists of custom, and subdue the unhealthy devotion
to what is artificial and melodramatic, by refreshing the mind with the unperverted affinities of nature ; they afford a rational solace to the afflicted, and weave consoling associations into the narrow web of destiny. Without expounding Utopian social theories, or insisting upon a limited creed, they quietly suggest available food for reflection, and appropriate objects for sympathy; and accordingly minister to enlargement of thought, elevation of taste, and delicacy of feeling.
Dr. Webster, besides the usual definition of optimism (the belief that everything in nature is ordered for the best), gives to the word another signification, viz.“ that order of things in the universe that is adapted to produce the most good.” In both senses the applicability of the term Optimists to the class of writers alluded to, is obvious. They describe the genuine sources both of pleasure and improvement, and eloquently indicate that minor philosophy which cultivates the original and spontaneous resources of human life; which gratefully recognises natural laws, and seeks to observe them; and which practically maintains that Truth is the most satisfactory nutriment for the mind, Beauty for the imagination, and Love for the heart. They hold, as it were, the prism of sympathetic intelligence up to the common light of day, and cause its warm and brilliant, though latent hues, to reappear. They analyse daily life to discover truth, and celebrate the reign of beauty in order to kindle the spirit of love; and this is precisely the course of the genuine Optimist.
Comparatively humble as this species of literature may be in the estimation of highly practical or absolutely scientific authors, the intended service is noble, and, if worthily fulfilled, inspires affectionate and enduring regard, as is proved by the household fame such writers enjoy.
To follow, however deviously, the path of such genial explorers, may seem a bold, yet is certainly a justifiable experiment. I have endeavored to discuss some of the amenities of Life and phases of Society in this little volume, in the same spirit of humanity which has endeared this kind of writing to all lovers of English literature ; but in the opinions expressed, and the sentiments advocated, I am conscious of no impulse but that of honest conviction. In illustrating several of the topics I have cited poetical authority, not only because of its intrinsic charm, but to indicate how often what is flippantly termed the poetic view, coincides with natural fact and true philosophy. In this way, also, much indirect criticism is suggested, especially in regard to Shakspeare, whose relations to life and the universe are so intimate, that there is scarcely a theme connected with either, upon which judicious quotations from his plays will not throw a new and striking light.
Encouraged by the approbation bestowed upon several of these papers, on the part of those in whose candid opinion there is reason to trust, I frankly commit them, in their present form, to the public, hopeful
only that they will receive as charitable judgment as that awarded to previous attempts of a somewhat different character.
NEW YORK, March, 1850.
NEW ENGLAND PHILOSOPHY.
A COLLOQUIAL LECTURE.
“There are more things in Heaven and earth, Horatio,
In all communities there is a pervading theory of life, a set of principles which guide the mass, a few permanent ideas that actuate society. The English, for example, driven by a humid atmosphere to look within doors for cheerful associations, gather about them, with profusion, the means of physical wellbeing. Continental visitors to Great Britain are astonished at the perfection of domestic machinery, and the ingenious devices to secure ease and warmth, and render the dwelling a castle and a home. They at once recognise in such arrangements the idea of Comfort as the chief element in the philosophy of life. People on the other side of the channel, instead of concentrating their means of enjoyment, go abroad in search of them. The Parisian finds the glare of a public café more agreeable than the snug fire-side of a private room; he reads his gazette under the trees in a public garden, and finds no difficulty in making a companion of his neighbor at the theatre, piquing himself all the while more on being one of the French nation than for any individual qualities or possessions. By temperament and habit he directly seeks Pastime, as the end of his existence. If we pass to Italy, we discover a passion for music, great local pride in the fame of genius, universal taste and