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XVII. Useful Arts : Architecture, Manufactures, Mechanics,
THE HISTORY of the origin and progress of a book is said to be more interesting to its author than to the general reader. However this axiom may hold good in most cases, mine would seem to be an exception, and to call upon me to explain why so large a volume upon American Literature should have been compiled by a foreigner; to state the circumstances in which it originated; to point out the objects I had in view; and to define the plan upon which it has been executed.
After having devoted some years to the active duties of an American Literary Agent, I found myself, in 1854, in possession of a mass of materials relating to American Literary History, sufficient as I then thought to warrant my throwing them into a definite form. The attempt was a novel one, and it proved eminently successful. Thus encouraged, I continued my researches and extended my plan; and now, after four years' assiduous application, submit the result, trusting that it will be welcomed as affording a tolerably full and impartial survey of American literary enterprise during the first half of the nineteenth century.
My object in attempting an American Bibliographical Guide has been twofold; on the one hand, to suggest the necessity of a more perfect work of its kind by an American, surrounded as he necessarily would be with the needful appliances; and, on the other, to supply to Europeans a guide to Anglo-American literature, a branch which by its rapid rise and increasing importance, begins to force itself more and more on our attention.
It is admitted on all hands that such a work is a desideratum; at the same time, nobody can be more alive to the disadvantages under which a foreigner must labour in attempting it than I have been. I have broken the ice; let us hope that the very deficiencies of my work will summon some competent American bibliographer into the field, who from his vantage-ground may find both time and inclination to amend my errors and supply my deficiencies.
A guide to American bibliography is, as just stated, a desideratum, called for by one of the daily increasing requirements of the age, for, bibliography, so to speak, is to the literary student what the lighthouse is to the mariner, without which he would be constantly in danger of hidden rocks and shipwreck, of disappointment and waste of energies, travelling fruitlessly perhaps over ground previously eminently preoccupied. Without catalogues literature itself would be like some huge pawnbroker's warehouse without a key to its contents, full of all that is costly and valuable, yet choked up by the rubbish which surrounds it, - that which is useful and valuable buried and lost to ready use, instead of being rendered at all times easy of access by means of system and arrangement. Literature is the store-house of the mind of the great human family, and of the past as well as of the present. That which has come down to us from age to age, with all its accumulations of modern science, will go down to posterity, and from it the then student of history,—the future Macaulay, if you will, will have to select his materials; and often, as the noble historian himself has done, find the most valuable to consist of works which in the eyes of contemporaries were deemed unworthy of notice, and contemptuously consigned to oblivion. To rescue these is the office of contemporaneous bibliography. How many records of the past are lost to us, because in ages gone by bibliography was not cultivated! How many important events in our history are only known to us from some rare single-leaf, a broad-side or proclamation, a cancelled leaf in an old chronicle, or a private and confidential warning, issued stealthily in the “mysterious column" of a newspaper !
But American bibliography is almost untrodden ground; and yet, how are we to give to the great Republic of North America her proper place amongst the intellectual nations of the earth without a knowledge of her literature ? She has, herself, risen with giant strength, and taken her position by the side of the most renowned countries of the world in all that concerns self-government, commerce, and the arts, which conduce to the civilization and happiness of the great family of mankind; but she has disregarded the importance of an authentic record of her literary progress, and allowed the productions of her rising intellect and matured knowledge to be confounded with those of the great Anglo-Saxon family from which she sprang. Brunet, Ebert, and Lowndes, imperfect as they must necessarily be, yet furnish the student with sufficient data to enable him to form an estimate of the present literature of Europe, and the past. To supplement what they have done, as far as the literature of North America is concerned, has been my principal object, and therefore, in enumerating the publications of America, I have purposely omitted all reprints of European productions, unless they have been enriched with notes and additions, or otherwise ingrafted into her literature.
Such then was the origin of my work, and such are the objects I proposed to myself in undertaking it. It remains now for me to state upon what plan and by what aids I have been enabled to accomplish the task I had set myself to do. It may be asked, why the volume