Nobility Wanted


IN a revealing article in the Saturday Evening Post Mr. Arthur Train, whose Mr. Tutt is the delight of many readers, had this to say of the literary world: ‘I have read my own stuff in print for nearly half a century — forty-eight years, to be exact. During that time I have seen authors “made” like movie stars, rise to glory, and, like the latter, fall; magazines in myriads appear, only to vanish into space; revolutionary changes in public taste; the honored names of one decade become the hissing of the next, again to achieve the later approval of critics; the art of writing often sink to a trade and authorship to big business.’

To many persons Mr. Train’s paragraph will seem a sufficient diagnosis of the ills which afflict American publishing. Some of these ills are universally recognized and deplored, but nobody seems to want to do anything about it. For the first time in its history, publishing faces redoubtable competition from other inventions—the motion picture and the radio; and it is natural, perhaps it is inevitable, that publishing should, in its effort to survive, adopt the weapons of the enemy. The movies advertise in superlatives, the radio plays up ‘personality appeal.’ Hence the adoption of phraseology from the circus in advertising books; hence the ‘making’ of books and authors by commercial ballyhoo, the whirligig rise and fall of magazines, the elaborate contracts covering serial rights, motion-picture rights, radio rights, reprint rights, and recitation rights; hence, in fact, everything that Mr. Train complains of.

But, though I admire Mr. Train’s modesty (for he does not describe himself as a misunderstood genius), I doubt whether he has got at the root of our difficulties, which seems to me to be this: why, about twenty-five or thirty years ago, did American literature break with a hundred-year-old tradition, and what can be done to get it back into the tradition to which it belongs? For literature is still a powerful imaginative medium which can support, or fail to support, the democratic tradition in the United States, and for something over a quarter of a century it has in the main unconsciously failed to support that tradition.

Over and against the paragraph from Mr. Train let me place a quotation from De Quincey. The passage is found in De Quincey’s discussion of the literature of knowledge and the literature of power. Here it is: ‘It is in relation to these great moral capacities that the literature of power . . . lives and has its field of action. . . . Tragedy, romance, fairy tale, or epopee, all alike restore to man’s mind the ideals of justice, of hope, of truth, of mercy, of retribution, which else (left to the support of daily life in its realities) would languish for want of sufficient illustration.’ And, a little later: ‘It is certain that, were it not for the literature of power, these ideals would often remain amongst us as mere notional forms; whereas, by the creative forces of man put forth in literature they gain a vernal life of restoration and germinate into vital activities. The commonest novel, by moving in alliance with human fears and hopes, with human instincts of wrong and right, sustains and quickens those affections.’

The essay of De Quincey was published in 1848; Mr. Train’s article appears ninety years later. Like Mr. Train, De Quincey was a professional writer — one who earns his living by his pen. The essays which a solitary student now and then opens, to marvel, one hopes, at the richness of their music, were contributed on the ordinary bargain-and-sale basis to the commercial periodicals of the nineteenth-century world. They were written from the same profit motive which leads the contemporary novelist to sell his manuscript to the highest bidder and to bargain shrewdly with Hollywood over the movie rights.

Mr. Train refers to his own writing as stuff in print. He tells us that the art of writing sinks into a trade, and authorship into big business. He says that the reputation of authors, like that of movie stars, is commercially made, and vanishes when commerce is satiated. De Quincey, on the other hand, does not refer to literature as stuff. So far as he is concerned, publishers and literary agents, authors’ contracts and serial rights, do not exist. They are the means to literature, not the end of writing. Literature is eternal. Its purpose is to restore to man’s mind the ideals of justice, of hope, of truth, of mercy, of retribution. Lest we hastily judge he is talking about the difficult air of the iced mountain’s top where Milton is supposed to dwell, he brings the argument down to the commonest novel, which, moving in alliance with human fears and hopes, sustains and quickens the affections.

Now it is easy to dispose of De Quincey by saying he is a Victorian. The opening sentence of my quotation gives him away at once. He speaks of the literature of power as having ‘its relation to the great moral capacities of man.’ It is of course axiomatic that everything moral is Victorian. We have given up the word as obsolescent. We no longer speak of the moral nature of man; we talk about his reactions. We do not think of human nature as something equipped with ideals of justice, of hope, of truth, of mercy, of retribution; we equip it with social attitudes, a psychological slant, endocrine glands, and a set of conditioned reflexes. Juxtapose Wordsworth and any book by Mr. Faulkner or Mr. Hemingway or Mr. Farrell, and we see how wrong De Quincey was in talking about the vernal life of restoration in literature.

The commercialization of letters is no new phenomenon. There are passages in Horace which hint that Roman poets occasionally sold out to the highest bidder; and anyone who reads a biography of John Murray, the great bookseller of De Quincey’s day, will learn that the Napoleon of publishers had a canny eye for a profitable cookbook.

And yet the tinge of sorrow in Mr. Train’s observations is not mere sentimentalism. A deep, ineradicable instinct tells us that there is more to literature than bargain and sale, adjectives and excitement. We think better of the muse than to bind her to Mercury, god of business. We assume that publishers exist for authors, and are a little ashamed to be told by Mr. Train that authors frequently exist for publishers. We were brought up to think of literature as something fine and a little mysterious, like classical music and the old masters.

To be sure (and in his essay De Quincey points this out) the word ‘literature’ is, as the Congressman so unfortunately said, like Cæsar’s wife — all things to all men. If by ‘literature’ we mean only the literary classics we read in school in order that we may safely forget them, these do not arouse the ballyhoo in publishers. And at the other end of the scale, if the writers of sensational serials want to be ballyhooed, it is of no consequence whether they are ballyhooed or not. But between these extremes there are scores of authors possessing talent and sincerity, just as there are scores of publishers loyal to the fine traditions of an honorable trade, who are swept regretfully before the flood. If they are to survive, they must give the public what it wants; and what the public wants is apparently determined by those who take the most advertising space to tell the public in startling adjectives that it wants what they want the public to want.

There is no harm in repeating a story of the days when Harold Bell Wright was sweeping the bookstores with his tales of ineffable cowboy virtue. Ellen Glasgow had just completed another of her admirable novels of Virginia life when a representative of her publishers came to see her. ‘Ellen,’ he asked, ‘why don’t you write an optimistic novel about the West?’ Miss Glasgow’s reply was prompt and efficacious. ‘If there is anything I know less about than the West,’ she replied, ‘it is optimism.’


That the direction of American letters, especially the direction of American fiction, has been away from De Quincey’s assumption is a fact so patent as to require no demonstration. Our literature has at the moment many virtues, — wonderful dexterity, high technical accomplishments, humor of a satiric or ironical order, truth to life (or at least the appearance of truth to certain aspects of life), a laudable interest in social amelioration, intellectual daring, — but it lacks, as Newman would say, the note of nobility. It lacks, in other words, precisely the quality which is central to De Quincey’s observation that literature should restore to our minds the ideals he enumerates, and I now wish to inquire into the causes of this situation.

At first sight the inquiry seems both vast and superficial. A thousand extraneous forces press upon the writer, to which he sensitively responds. We are living in an ignoble and savage time: why should we expect of literature more than the age itself can give? We live in a century which has seen the importance of man to the universe dwindle into nothingness; why should anyone attempt to reinstate him upon his old, imperial throne? We live in an age of big business and ballyhoo, the loudspeaker, the extravagant movie, flaring billboards, startling crimes, enormous crowds, hysterical propaganda, and mass emotionalism; the frail voice of the muse is naturally inaudible among these gigantic alarms. Why should the poet think well of the human race? Ours is an age of gigantic collapse, of enormous armies, of catastrophic wars, of world-wide depressions, of international bitternesses — to call upon nobility, to retreat into fatuous art, is simple cowardice.

These are powerful considerations, but I shall not discuss them. I shall turn instead to consider certain aspects of our own cultural development.

When this republic was founded, there was no doubt in the minds of many intelligent men that a new and better era had dawned. A new nation, founded in liberty and justice, its government the result of rational discussion, its fundamental tenet the principle that every active citizen should count as one and only as one — this meant that, set free from the old errors, modern civilization would flourish as never before. The hopefulness with which the Russian Revolution was first received among liberal minds is a modern parallel to this expectancy.

Civilization was felt to include the arts as well as commerce, and the art of literature was richly to develop when the new republic unchained men’s minds from the fatal delusions of Europe.

Having this purpose in mind, the first formal literary group in the country, the Connecticut Wits, sought diligently to create a literature worthy of the new nation. They sang the virtues of the American farmer. They celebrated the American landscape. In The Conspiracy of Kings, A Poem Addressed to the Inhabitants of Europe from another Quarter of the Globe, Joel Barlow castigated monarchical vice and eulogized republican virtue. Because the epic was the noblest form of literature, they sought to create the great American epic, and poems like The Conquest of Canaan and The Columbiad obediently appeared. The work of the Connecticut Wits is unread, their literary canons are obsolete, their style is often in the worst fashion of Regency periphrasis. But all literary fashions fade; what is now important is that they were sustained by the sincere belief that a noble original literature should be created in the United States.

About thirty years after the publication of the final version of The Columbiad, Emerson delivered his famous Phi Beta Kappa address, The American Scholar. There he summed up a discussion which had been going on for a quarter of a century. His address is based on a noble trust in American life. ’I read with some joy,’ he said, ‘of the auspicious signs of the coming days, as they glimmer already through poetry and art, through philosophy and science, through church and state.’ He did not repeat the mistake of the Connecticut Wits; he did not think that epic poetry was the only proof of literary nobility. ‘One of these signs,’ he said, ‘is the fact, that the same movement which effected the elevation of what was called the lowest class in the state, assumed in literature a very marked and as benign an aspect. Instead of the sublime and beautiful; the near, the low, the common, was explored and poetized. That, which had been negligently trodden under foot by those who were harnessing and provisioning themselves for long journeys into far countries, is suddenly found to be richer than all foreign parts.... I ask not for the great, the remote, the romantic; what is doing in Italy or Arabia; what is Greek art, or Provencal minstrelsy; I embrace the common, I explore and sit at the feet of the familiar, the low. Give me insight into today, and you may have the antique and future worlds.’

We have been embracing the common and sitting at the feet of the low almost continuously since the American acceptance of European naturalism, but does our literature give us that insight into today for which Emerson was ready to sacrifice the antique and future worlds? It gives us partial insight, to be sure, but most people do not find glimmering through it the poetry and art, the philosophy and science, which Emerson had in mind. Perhaps Emerson was mistaken; or perhaps, when one considers his serene belief that American literature would have the note of nobility, we have not understood what Emerson had in mind.

A little more than a quarter of a century after The American Scholar Whitman published Democratic Vistas. In this redundant but striking performance Whitman reaffirmed his belief in the nobility of our literary ideals. Here are some of his sprawling sentences: ‘In the prophetic literature of these States (the reader of my speculations will miss their principal stress unless he allows well for the point that a new Literature, perhaps a new Metaphysics, certainly a new Poetry, are to be, in my opinion, the only sure and worthy supports and expressions of the American Democracy,) Nature, true Nature, and the true idea of Nature, long absent, must, above all, become fully restored, enlarged, and must furnish the pervading atmosphere to poems, and the test of all high literary and esthetic compositions. . . . What is I believe called Idealism seems to me to suggest, (guarding against extravagance, and ever modified even by its opposite) the course of inquiry and desert of favor for our New World metaphysics, their foundation of and in literature, giving hue to all.'

Whitman uses words like ‘nature,’ ‘idealism,’ and ‘metaphysics’ in senses peculiar to himself; and, even after one understands his full meaning, it is possible to bring against him, as against Emerson, the objection that his intellectual assumptions are outmoded. But one nevertheless observes that he too thought that the nobility of the democratic ideal implies the nobility of a literary ideal; he agrees with his predecessors that there is a working relation between the republican experiment and the reinvigoration through a noble literature of the moral nature of man.

I turn next to a representative of the most despised and rejected of our literary groups, the writers of the genteel tradition. Critic after critic has made merry at their expense. The year after the essay was published which I am about to cite, the late John Macy wrote sardonically: ‘The American spirit may be figured as petitioning the Muses for twelve novelists, ten poets, and eight dramatists, to be delivered at the earliest possible moment.’ And of the genteel group the emptiest, in the opinion of some critics, was Professor Brander Matthews. Yet in an essay printed in 1907, entitled ' Literature in the New Century,’ Matthews described with startling accuracy the principal elements which have shaped American letters since that time. These were, he said, the scientific spirit, the spread of democracy, the assertion of nationality, and the cosmopolitan spirit. By the assertion of nationality he meant an interest in the melting-pot theory of the national life. By the spread of democracy he referred to the inclusion in literature of the lowest of mankind. By cosmopolitanism he had in mind the acceptance of European experimentation in order to avoid parochialism.

But what interests me even more is the conclusion of his essay, which runs: ‘It is the spirit of nationality which will help to supply the needful idealism. It will allow a man of letters to frequent the past without becoming archaic and to travel abroad without becoming exotic, because it will supply him always with a good reason for remaining a citizen of his own country.’ Expatriate writers in the last twenty-five or thirty years have not convinced themselves of the soundness of Matthews’s statement. Matthews was a university professor, and it is notorious that university professors are amiable gentlemen who cultivate a well-bred distress because there are not more nice books. Having read widely in the literature of the world, however, Matthews nevertheless joins the procession of witnesses in defining a tradition — the tradition that American literature should think well of the democratic experiment and, thinking well of it, become something admirable and fine.


The line of my argument hitherto has seemed to carry me into a stubborn hostility towards the world of contemporary books. This hostility is only apparent. It would be as foolish to condemn all recent writing as it would be to assume that all dead authors are good authors. American literature is today the most interesting literature in the English-speaking world — the British Empire has nothing to compare with it.

And there is no one having even a fragmentary knowledge of recent American literature but knows that it does not wholly lack the note of idealism. A poet like Sandburg is in the tradition of Lincoln and Whitman. A poem like John Brown’s Body would have pleased the Connecticut Wits, it is so magnificently what they wanted to create. A novel like Mr. Foster’s American Dream holds steadily before the reader the implication of its title. The fiction of Ellen Glasgow or Willa Cather is in the tradition. The excellence of our historical tales is that they show how the common man during crucial epochs of the past fought for and maintained liberty, as the books of Mr. James Boyd beautifully witness. From the left wing come Mr. Granville Hicks’s volumes, The Great Tradition and I Like America; and it is not necessary to subscribe to Mr. Hicks’s political philosophy to see that he is trying to define American idealism and make it a force for social justice and great art. Even the hardboiled school may plausibly claim that it is picturing violence and frustration and cruelty in order that the American conscience may be shaken by a sense of wrong. There is not a reader of this essay who could not add examples to those I have cited.

But, though the note of nobility is now and then overheard, the total effect of American literature upon disinterested criticism during the last twenty or thirty years can scarcely be defined as an effect of idealism. I do not mean merely that the commercial spirit (which Mr. Train deplores) is rampant; I think the malady lies deeper. And I offer the suggestion that a principal cause of our lost innocence has been the careless acceptance of powerful European influences without at the same time making the necessary adjustment of these forces to what seems to be the American tradition about the function of literature in the republic.

What have these influences been? They have principally been the influence of European realism and naturalism; the influence of European theories of the psychological nature of man, notably the influence of Freud; the influence of European politico-social theories, an example being Marxianism; the influence of European inventions in technique, from free verse to the fictional method of James Joyce; and the influence of intellectualist criticism, most familiar in the work of such expatriate Americans as Mr. Ezra Pound and Mr. T. S. Eliot. When, for example, Mr. Eliot proclaimed that he is conservative, Catholic, and royalist, he may have uttered a philosophic truth of profound importance to himself, but he clearly put himself out of line with the Connecticut Wits and Emerson and Whitman and Brander Matthews.

It is, of course, true that these influences brought with them notable gains. Realism and naturalism broke down artificial barriers and got rid of a genteel veneer. Anyone who passes from the novels of Howells to the novels of Mr. Dos Passos must see that fiction has been immensely invigorated. American interest in the psychology of the subconscious and the unconscious has permitted novelists, poets, and dramatists imaginatively to explore the rich chaos of inner life. American communism, the most literary of our political movements, has developed interesting critics, poets, and playwrights, and compelled us to rethink the problem of the relation of literature to society and of propaganda to art. The adoption of European techniques has widened the scope and the subtlety of our writers. Intellectualist criticism has raised the level of critical discussion and helped to make this century the richest century in critical writing the country has ever known.

But these gains do not hide a fundamental weakness in the situation. That weakness is the failure to integrate what was gained with the substance of the American literary tradition. Perhaps an analogy from painting will make clear what I mean. Since the foundation of the republic, American painters have gone abroad only to return neither European nor American. As a consequence, with a few exceptions like Winslow Homer, American painting has been an awkward compromise between the necessity of choosing themes suitable to painters trained in a European tradition and the desirability of selecting subjects expressive of American life. The problem of light in our climate is, for example, a problem apparently different from that offered by the climate and atmosphere of various European art centres, and — I speak under correction — it would appear that the same technique will not do for both. Such, at any rate, is the conclusion I draw from the work of painters like Grant Wood and Thomas Benton, who have, it seems to me, submerged or thrown away European technique for the presentation of vitality so direct that we do not exclaim, on seeing one of their pictures, ‘This is as good as anything in Europe of like kind,’ but rather, ‘This is truly American life.'

The error of the strange European conquest of American literature which is characteristic of the last twenty-five years is not at once apparent for the reason that it has been paradoxically disguised as a realistic approach to the actualities of the American scene. Twentieth-century literature has been consciously and even violently regional and ‘American.’ For the first time in history American writers have been awarded the Nobel Prize — for example, Sinclair Lewis and Eugene O’Neill. For the first time our literature has such vigor and richness as quite to overshadow the pale culture of the genteel tradition.

Have writers not concentrated upon area after area in the United States? We had not known the whole truth about New England until the rise of Mr. O’Neill. We had not known the whole truth about the Middle West until the arrival of novelists ranging from Sherwood Anderson through Mr. Lewis to Mr. Farrell. The South, formerly romanticized by Page and Cable, is now more truly pictured by Mr. Faulkner, Mr. Erskine Caldwell, Mr. Carl Carmer, and that perennial drama, Tobacco Road. The West was not rightly analyzed in Owen Wister’s The Virginian; but in such a novel as Slogum House, in such poems as those of Mr. Robinson Jeffers, it is truthfully presented. Why talk about the glories of our blood and state when Columbia is a land containing a cemetery like Spoon River, a town like Zenith City, a murder like An American Tragedy, a population which includes the idiot whose submental processes are set forth in The Sound and the Fury and the gentle nitwit whose desire to play with a woman’s hair leads to murder in Of Mice and Men?

In 1910 the idea of democracy was something we took for granted, and iconoclastic writers were correct in furiously reproaching us for our complacency. We failed to perceive that the American way of life had not brought happiness to thousands and thousands of our citizens. But now that the concept of democracy is threatened by militant barbarism in Europe and Asia, the question is no longer whether the American way of life is imperfect, but whether the democratic way of life offers any security at all in the darkness of mankind.

For, as force and brutality and unreason and horror increase, intelligent men, and many who are perhaps not so intelligent, are beginning to ask whether the idealism of the founders of the republic, of Emerson and Whitman, of Lincoln and Lee, of all those who, here or abroad, fought and died that liberty of conscience and conduct might become commonplace, was not a futile idealism. On the whole the majority of Americans do not yet incline to believe that it was futile. But when American readers are continually assailed through the imagination with pictures of life which in fact deny that intelligent living is anywhere possible, they may find it difficult to keep faith with the democratic ideal.

There is a profound disharmony between the assumptions of naturalism (including much psychological theory), as these are imaginatively worked out in literature, and the assumptions of democracy. If men are more or less able to make intelligent choices, democracy will work. But if man is merely a stupid creature whose supposed intelligence is operated in fact by forces over which his volition has no control, a mechanism motivated by primitive urges, an atomy subject to insane moments of cruelty and fear which it is the chief concern of the artist to register, an irrational being incompetent to manage his own life, yet highly competent to ruin the lives of others, faith in the possibility of the democratic way of life becomes well-nigh impossible.

If, to take a concrete example, the poems of Mr. Robinson Jeffers set forth the basic truths about human nature, democracy cannot work. The only government which can rule in the world he pictures is a government of force, because only a government of force can suppress and control the outrageous beings that we are. We confront once more the dilemma of the seventeenth century — the old dilemma which faced Hobbes and Locke. Either life is a bellum omnium inter omnes, a warfare even more savage than Hobbes imagined it to be, in which case we might as well be ruled by Leviathan, the corporate state; or it offers some opportunity for the average man to be both master of his fate and captain of his soul, in which case government may conceivably rest upon the rational consent of the governed.

The state of the world requires that we reaffirm our faith in the possibilities of the democratic way of life. Literary men have fought for and mainly won relatively complete liberty to write as they please. But when the result of this freedom is an imaginative literature which powerfully demonstrates that freedom is an illusion and volition a fraud, I am puzzled to know where the imaginative defenses of freedom are to be found. Sitting at the feet of the low and embracing the common seem mainly to result in the conviction that the high and the noble are shams, and that if we believe in rationality we are self-deceived. I do not desire a literature of propaganda, God knows; I ask nobody to surrender his honest convictions; I have no patience with that milk-and-water optimism which futile persons mistake for moral idealism, and I am not interested in the didactic. But writers who cry out against oppression here and abroad do not stop to realize that, when novel after novel is devoted to picturing the helplessness of man, the imaginative inference which readers eventually draw, however noble the writer’s original purpose may have been, is that man is helpless. Surely the time is ripe for some inspiriting word; surely our artists, themselves believers in democracy, owe us some firmer expression of that belief than we have had in most of the poetry, the fiction, and the drama which have appeared in the twentieth century.


We were once naïvely proud of being different from the effete monarchies of Europe. This belief had its parochial weakness, and those who insisted upon giving literature a wider and more cosmopolitan range were right. In the nineteenth century it was agreed that the problem of American letters was to create a noble literature expressive of the idealism of the republic. Now that our literature has passed beyond parochialism, by a strange paradox, the note of nobility is lost in discord. If optimism was our fault as late as 1910, may it not be that cynicism is our fault in 1939?

The implication of the American experiment and of American letters until recently has been that man, imperfect though he is, may consciously struggle towards justice and rationality. When, however, one examines many of the European influences which I have enumerated, one observes that their implications point in the opposite direction. The implication of naturalism is that men are the products of hereditary and environmental forces they are helpless to control. The implication of Frcudianism, as it has influenced American letters, is that the irrational is the most powerful urge in life. The implication of the Marxian theory of literature is that the class to which a human being more or less helplessly belongs conditions all that he does and all that he thinks. The implication of intellectualist criticism is that literature — true literature — is the property of a samurai class (the intelligentsia.) , which may properly ignore the vulgar herd. The implication of the American literary tradition, as I understand it, is, on the contrary, that in a democracy forces of reason and justice are released, and that literature, reflecting the ideals of society rather than merely mirroring its defects, will also insist that the human struggle has its nobler side.

It will of course be said that the powerful books of disillusion and despair which have appeared among us are really the products of a noble aim. Our humility would not be so low were our aspiration not so high. But, though this is something the writer may feel, it is not something he necessarily conveys to the reader. The paradox of our situation is, indeed, vast if this is the best defense that can be offered for ignobility!

Our writers seem, in truth, to be democratic by temperament, but antidemocratic in method. They cry out, to be sure, for liberty, equality, and fraternity, but their books too often brilliantly demonstrate that men are incapable of freedom, sympathy, or brotherhood. They have enriched letters by many borrowings, but they have not always seen where the logic of their imitation was leading them. They rightly praise Thomas Mann, but they seem incapable of his simple and eloquent assertion of the democratic principle. What is the good of getting up meetings to denounce the Fascist conquest of democratic Spain, and at the same time writing books to demonstrate that democracy is a failure in the United States? For democracy has not yet failed, though it has been weakened, and the principal reason why it is still a going concern, though battered and wounded and deserted by authors who should rally to its standard, is that there is a vast deal more idealism and good will among ordinary Americans than ever get pictured in the books that are written about them.

No one ever accused the late E. A. Robinson of being a sentimental optimist. No one looked deeper than he into the abysses of despair. Yet, skeptic though he was, his poetry does restore to man’s mind the ideals of justice, of hope, of truth, of mercy, of retribution. I am by no means certain that my analysis is at all points correct, but perhaps I cannot do better, to indicate what I am trying to get at, than to quote from ‘Man Against the Sky’: —

Shall we, because Eternity records
Too vast an answer for the time-born words
We spell, whereof so many are dead that once
In our capricious lexicons
Were so alive and final, hear no more
The Word itself, the living word
That none alive has ever heard
Or ever spelt,
And few have ever felt
Without the fears and old surrenderings
And terrors that began
When Death let fall a feather from his wings
And humbled the first man?
Because the weight of our humility . . .
Falls here too sore and there too tedious
Are we in anguish or complacency . . .
To pity ourselves and laugh at faith?
What folly is here that has not yet a name?

Emerson, Whitman, Robinson, Frost, Sandburg, MacLeish, and other poets have heard

The Word itself, the living word
That none alive has ever heard
Or ever spelt.

Dramatists are exploring the American way of life and finding in the American story kindness and hope as well as frustration and horror. Novelists over and beyond those I have hastily cited live in the traditional belief that democracy is not an illusion and ethical idealism a mockery. May we not gently require of other writers that, in the old Roman phrase, they take care lest the republic come to harm?