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By David Marr

Strains the enormous impression of Emerson on American literary and political suggestion

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I take the view that democracy just is a leading issue under discussion in such books and not an inert historical fact that can be taken for granted in the way, say, that the existence of a natural phenomenon like the Rocky Mountains or of a factitious entity like the federal judiciary can be. Indeed, to treat democracy as a neutral datum, as a way of life already achieved, is to start from an anti-democratic premise. If full participation in self-government, whether Page 6 representative or direct, is the criterion, then it is obvious that there has never been democracy in America.

As a constituted body of academic thought and practice, American literature suffers, like its confrere, American history, from a poverty of philosophical ideas. Though American literature, so constituted, is perhaps to be admired for elbowing its way into academic respectability in the 1920s, nostalgia for this Jacksonian upstart lumbering through the neo-Federalist drawing rooms of early-twentieth-century academia cannot make up for its philosophical emptiness. Even defenders of American literature against this positivism fall victim to it.

I do not see," Emerson had complained in "The American Scholar," "how any man can afford, for the sake of his nerves and his nap, to spare any action in which he can partake. It is pearls and rubies to his discourse. Drudgery, calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wisdom" (Emerson 1957, 70). James appears to have followed this advice to the letter. R. P. Blackmur tells the following story of the artist gathering his materials: Once, in the nineties, while James was staying in an English country house, the only child of a neighbor died of a sudden illness; and although Page 24 James had quarrelled with the neighbor and they had not been on speaking terms he announced to his host that he would attend the funeral of the little boy.

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