Letter from CHARLES ELIOT NORTON to GEORGE PERKINS MARSH, dated February 22, 1864.
My dear Sir
Your very kind letter of 22 Jan reached me a few days since. I am very much obliged to you for the trouble you have taken concerning the Ms. of B. da Imola. -- Nothing could be more satisfactory than to have possession of Lord Vernon's copy of the Comment,--if the work is to be edited where the original mss. cannot be consulted. I have long had knowledge of this copy, & a description of it, but I had supposed that it was not to be obtained from Lord Vernon.
The fact that Lord Vernon himself, & then Sir James P.
Lacaita, should successively have entertained & abandoned the idea
of printing the Comment, I confess, staggers me a little. It would
seem that there existed some special difficulty to be overcome. Does it consist in the length of the Comment? "Seven folio volumes" is an indefinite description, but implies certainly a very considerable work.
If, however, these gentlemen should have abandoned the design of printing the
Comment from mere whim, or from pressure of other occupation, & not on
account of any unusual difficulty in the work itself,--that is a difficulty not to
be surmounted by patient study,-- -- I should be extremely glad to have the
manuscript sent to me,--or at least the earlier part of it. I will not, before
seeing it, say that it shall be printed, but I should wish to examine it with a view
to that end. I should therefore esteem it a great favor if Lord Vernon's consent
could be obtained to the sending
of it to me. In that case, it might be put into the hands of my London booksellers (who are also Lord Vernon's) -- T. & W. Boone, New Bond St., with directions to case it & ship it to me, & to inform me of the shipment in order that I might obtain insurance upon it.
I hope that you may have received a letter I sent you at the same time that I
despatched a small parcel of books to you. The books seem to have reached you, but
when your letter was written mine had not come to you. -- Its main purpose was to
thank you for your last preceding letter, and especially to beg you to give to
Lowell & myself in editing the North American Review
the invaluable assistance of your
pen. We are very desirous of giving to the Review the character & influence it ought to possess, & the chief difficulty in doing this is the difficulty of finding a sufficient number of able contributors. If the real students & real thinkers of the country will help us, we can make the Review serviceable to our national cause. Men's minds are roused by the events of the last three or four years, & there is a popular demand such as we have never before had for clear, sound thought, for thoroughness of learning, for serious criticism, & above all, for the most liberal & at the same time most searching discussion of the principles of religion, morals, politics, literature & art. -- The shallowness which has been the disgrace of so much of our literature, must cease to be characteristic of it. We are to have a new spirit
in letters as well as in government. Our literature is to become more & more democratic,--but this tendency ought to be and I think will be only favorable in the long run to its simplicity, directness, & force,--and to the breadth of the thought & depth of the learning of which it will be the expression. If we can educate our democracy in the right way, we shall have such a literature as the old countries have never known.
In the large correspondence with literary aspirants which the editing of the Review
brings me, I have frequent occasion to refer to your books on the
Eng. Lang. & Literature as models for their imitation. Most of our
young writers are content to write for those who are ignorant as
themselves;--& I refer them to your books as examples of the manner in which
a genuine scholar not only instructs the unlearned but also extends the limits
of knowledge, & gives instruction to those who are best acquainted with the subject that he treats.
I said in my former letter, & you will let me repeat it here, that I wished we might count you among the regular contributors to the Review. Is this too much to ask?
The most interesting books of late with us have been biographies;--Mr. Ticknor's elaborate, sumptuous (shall I say aristocratic?) life of
Prescott; Mr. Weiss's equally elaborate, poorly got up,
& thoroughly democratic life of Parker; the Beecher
family's Memoir of their father, the old Doctor, a book chock full of New
England & unintelligible outside of New England; theology, politics, ways of
life, ways of thought all of the Connecticut Hopkinsian
school; in marked contrast to this book is Hunt's Life of
Edward Livingston,--poorly executed but interesting,--Livingston probably
was as opposite a man to Lyman Beecher as could be found among
his contemporaries. -- These four books cover a large field of American thought,--and embrace a large arc of the circle of our civilization.
The great interest of these present days is the course & success of Sherman's Expedition. It is plainly one of the most important military movements that could be made, & promises to change the appearance of the whole war. At last we seem to be using our vast advantages with true military skill; & nothing could be better devised to weaken, distract & hem in the enemy than this movement supported as it is by other expeditions both on the right & the left.
The passage of the Enrollment Bill has struck a very heavy blow against Slavery in the Border States, especially in Kentucky where it has been very hard to reach. -- Emancipation works thus far as well as we could expect.
The interest of the politicians at this time is in the next Presidency. Mr. Lincoln seems to be the popular choice, & I shall be glad if he be the Union Candidate. Indeed it seems to me of great importance that he should remain in office. Chase unfortunately is against him, & is working very hard for the nomination. Many of the extreme radicals, especially the Germans, are against Mr. Lincoln, & in favor of some impracticable man. The Democrats have tried in vain to bend Gen Grant into a candidate for their party, but they have not found him pliable. The pure Copperheads stick to McClellan. His Report is out as a Campaign Document, but it is not a good one for political profit.
My wife begs to join my Mother & sisters in sending very kind regards to Mrs. Marsh & yourself. I am always,
Very sincerely YoursCharles Eliot Norton
References in this letter:
Benvenuto Rambaldi da Imola's commentary in Latin on the Divine Comedy was one of the earliest and most valuable discussions of Dante's great work.
George John Warren, Baron Vernon (1803-1866), lived mostly in Florence and published numerous Dante texts and commentaries.
Sir James P. Lacaita (1813-1895), educated as a lawyer at Naples, emigrated to England in 1852 but returned to become a member of the first Italian legislature 1861-65.
The North American Review, founded in 1815, was one of the most important American periodicals of the nineteenth century. James Russell Lowell was its editor, with Norton, from 1863 to 1872.
Lectures on the English Language, 1860 (revised and enlarged edition 1861), and The Origin and History of the English Language and of the Early Literature It Embodies, 1862.
George Ticknor (1791-1871), historian and scholar, published his biography of William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859), author of History of the Conquest of Mexico and History of the Conquest of Peru, in 1864.
John Weiss published Life and Correspondence of Theodore Parker, the Transcendentalist minister, in two volumes in 1864.
Charles Beecher, one of the thirteen children of Lyman Beecher (1775-1863), influential Presbyterian clergyman, edited the Autobiography and Correspondence of his father 1863-64.
Samuel Hopkins (1721-1803), a Congregational minister and disciple of Jonathan Edwards, promoted the doctrine of disinterested benevolence.
Charles Havens Hunt's Life of Edward Livingston, American jurist and statesman, was published in 1864.
During early February 1864, Union forces under General William Tecumseh Sherman crossed the state of Mississippi from Vicksburg to Meridian, destroying railroad tracks, bridges, and equipment along the way.
On March 3, 1863, the U.S. Congress had passed the Enrollment Act, a national conscription bill for men between twenty and forty-five.
Salmon P. Chase (1808-1873), U.S. Secretary of the Treasury 1861-64, had sought the Republican Presidential nomination in 1860 and allowed himself to be put foward as Lincoln's rival for the nomination in 1864, a move which prompted Lincoln to remove him from his post. Later the same year Chase was appointed Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ulysses S. Grant, after overseeing the defeat of Confederate forces at the battle of Chattanooga in November 1863, became general in chief of the Union armies on March 12, 1864.
General George B. McClellan, a favorite of the Peace Democrats, or "Copperheads," eventually ran for President on the Democratic ticket in 1864.