Letter to a Young Contributor 9

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lected; and a modern magazine is of little value, unless
it has a Spartan at its head.
Strive always to remember--though it does not seem
intended that we should quite bring it home to ourselves
--that "To-Day is a king in disguise," and that this
American literature of ours will be just as classic a thing,
if we do our part, as any which the past has treasured.
There is a mirage over all literary associations. Keats
and Lamb seem to our young people to be existences
as remote and legendary as Homer, yet it is not an old
man's life since Keats was an awkward boy at the door
of Hazlitt's lecture-room, and Lamb was introducing
Talfourd to Wordsworth as his own only admirer. In
reading Spence's "Anecdotes," Pope and Addison
appear no farther off; and wherever I open Bacon's
"Essays," I am sure to end at last with that one magical
sentence, annihilating centuries, "When I was a child,
and Queen Elizabeth was in the flower of her years."
And this imperceptible transformation of the
commonplace present into the storied past applies
equally to the pursuits of war and to the serenest
works of peace. Be not misled by the excitements
of the moment into overrating the charms of military
life. In this chaos of uniforms, we seem to be
approaching times such as existed in England after
Waterloo, when the splenetic Byron declared that
the only distinction was to be a little undistinguished.
No doubt, war brings out grand and unexpected
qualities, and there is a perennial fascination in
the Elizabethan Raleighs and Sidneys, alike heroes
of pen and sword. But the fact is patent, that there is
scarcely any art whose rudiments are so easy to
acquire as the military; the manuals of tactics have
no difficulties comparable to those of the ordinary
professional text-books; and any one who can drill
a boat's crew or a ball-club can learn in a very few
weeks to drill a company or even a regiment. Given
in addition the power to command, to organize, and
to execute,--high qualities, though not rare in this
community,--and you have a man needing but time
and experience to make a general. More than this
can be acquired only by an exclusive absorption in
this one art; as Napoleon said, that, to have good
soldiers, a nation must be always at war.
If, therefore, duty and opportunity call, count it a
privilege to obtain your share in the new career;
throw yourself into it as resolutely and joyously as
if it were a summer-campaign in the Adirondack,
but never fancy for a moment that you have
discovered any grander or manlier life than you
might be leading at home. It is not needful here to
decide which is intrinsically the better thing, a
column of a newspaper or a column of attack,
Wordsworth's "Lines on Immortality" or Wellington's
Lines of Torres Vedras; each is noble, if nobly done,
though posterity seems to remember literature the
longest. The writer is not celebrated for having
been the favorite of the conqueror, but sometimes
the conqueror only for having favored or even for
having spurned the writer. "When the great Sultan
died, his power and glory departed from him,
and nothing remained but this one fact, that he
knew not the worth of Ferdousi." There is a
slight delusion in this dazzling glory. What a
fantastic whim the young lieutenants thought it,
when General Wolfe, on the even of battle, said
of Gray's "Elegy," "Gentlemen, I would rather
have written that poem than have taken Quebec."
Yet, no doubt, it is by the memory of that remark
that Wolfe will live the longest,--aided by the stray
line of another poet, still reminding us, not
needlessly, that "Wolfe's great name's co-temporal
with our own."
Once the poets and the sages were held to be
pleasing triflers, fit for hours of relaxation in the
lulls of war. Now the pursuits of peace are
recognized as the real, and war as the accidental.
It interrupts all higher avocations, as does the cry
of fire: when the fire is extinguished, the important
affairs of life are resumed. Six years ago the London