I liked this, so I’m sharing this.
I’m in Dr. Homestead’s Short Story class, and I was struck with the truth in one of our readings for this week. It comes from—of all places—an essay written by Herman Melville (Moby Dick) on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (The Scarlet Letter) collection of short stories, Mosses from an Old Manse. Regardless of its obscure origin, it’s good. Melville argues here against the prevalent defeatist mindset that many Americans hold about whether or not there are any “literary greats” yet to come:
But Shakespeare has been approached. There are minds that have gone as far as Shakespeare into the universe. And hardly a mortal man, who, at some time or another, has not felt as great thoughts in him as any you will find in Hamlet. We must not inferentially malign mankind for the sake of any one man, whoever he may be. This is too cheap a purchase of contentment for conscious mediocrity to make. Besides, this absolute and unconditional adoration of Shakespeare has grown to be a part of our Anglo-Saxon superstitions. The Thirty-Nine Articles are now forty. Intolerance has come to exist in this matter. You must believe in Shakespeare’s unapproachability, or quit the country… The great mistake seems to be, that even with those Americans who look forward to the coming of a great literary genius among us, they somehow fancy he will come in the costume of Queen Elizabeth’s day; be a writer of dramas founded upon old English history or the tales of Boccaccio. Whereas, great geniuses are parts of the times, they themselves are the times, and possess a corresponding coloring…
I laughed out loud while reading that. It’s pithy, isn’t it? I’ll be the first to admit that I can be quite the defeatist when it comes to my generation’s potential, and especially my own potential. There is hope, however. I believe Melville to be correct: we great geniuses (that’s you and me, by God’s grace) are ourselves the times, and are colored correspondingly. Thoughts?