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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/607

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THE EVOLUTION OF COLONIES.

to England formed the first English library. So is it long with all new countries. To this day the book circulation of the United States is largely English; in contemporary colonies it is overwhelmingly English, almost wholly Spanish, exclusively French or Dutch. The second stage also repeats the literary history of the mother countries. Colonial literature is a prolongation of the parental literature and is at first commentative and imitative of that. In a school at Canterbury founded by two foreign monks English written literature took its birth. The literature of mediæval Europe was a continuation of Roman literature. This stage may last long. Seventy or eighty years after the Declaration of Independence the literature of New England was still English literature of a subtler strain—perhaps lacking the strength of the old home-brew, but with a finer flavor. Naturally, in far younger Australia even popular poetry is still imitative—the hand is that of Gordon or of Kendall, but the voice is Swinburne's. The beginnings of a truly national literature are humble. They are never scholastic, but always popular. As chapbooks, ballads, and songs were the sources of the æsthetic literature of modern Europe, the beginnings of general literature in the United States have been traced to the old almanacs which, besides medical recipes and advice to the farmer, contained some of the best productions of American authors. It is further evidence of the popular origin of native literature that some of its early specimens are works of humor. The most distinctive work of early Canadian and American authors is humorous, from Sam Slick to; but it would be rash to say who is the last avatar of the genius of humor. If an alien may say so without offense, Walt Whitman's poems, with their profound intuitions and artless metre, seem to be the start of a new æsthetic, and recall ancient Beowulf. Australian literature, after a much shorter apprenticeship, has lately, in both fiction and verse, again of a popular character, made a new departure that is instinct with life and grace and full of promise.

Literature and art have no independent value, but are merely the phonographic record of mental states, and would practically cease to exist (as they did during the middle ages) if these disappeared. The grand achievement of new, as of old, countries is man-making, and every colony creates a new variety. The chief agent is natural selection, of which the seamy side appears in vicissitudes of fortune. Here again the law prevails. These recapitulate those vicissitudes in early European societies which make picturesque the pages of Gregory of Tours. There are the same sudden rises, giddy prosperities, and inevitable falls. In the simple communities of ancient Greece the distance between antecedent and consequent was short, and the course of causation plain. Hence in myth and legend, in early his-