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H.L. Mencken (1880–1956). The American Language. 1921.

Page 83

who came of a Loyalist family, caused him to avoid any direct attack upon the English, he attacked them indirectly, and with great effect, by opposing an immediate and honorable success to their derisions. “The Spy” ran through three editions in four months; it was followed by his long line of thoroughly American novels; in 1834 he formally apologized to his countrymen for his early truancy in “Precaution.” Irving, too, soon adopted a bolder tone, and despite his English predilections, he refused an offer of a hundred guineas for an article for the Quarterly Review, made by Gifford in 1828, on the ground that “the Review has been so persistently hostile to our country that I cannot draw a pen in its service.”
  The same year saw the publication of the first edition of Webster’s American Dictionary of the English Language, and a year later followed Samuel L. Knapp’s “Lectures on American Literature,” the first history of the national letters ever attempted. Knapp, in his preface, thought it necessary to prove, first of all, that an American literature actually existed, and Webster, in his introduction, was properly apologetic, but there was no real need for timorousness in either case, for the American attitude toward the attack of the English was now definitely changing from uneasiness to defiance. The English critics, in fact, had overdone the thing, and though their clatter was to keep up for many years more, they no longer spread their old terror or had as much influence as of yore. Of a sudden, as if in answer to them, doubts turned to confidence, and then into the wildest sort of optimism, not only in politics and business, but also in what passed for the arts. Knapp boldly defied the English to produce a “tuneful sister” surpassing Mrs. Sigourney; more, he argued that the New World, if only by reason of its superior scenic grandeur, would eventually hatch a poetry surpassing even that of Greece and Rome. “What are the Tibers and Scamanders,” he demanded, “measured by the Missouri and the Amazon? Or what the loveliness of Illysus or Avon by the Connecticut or the Potomack?”
  In brief, the national feeling, long delayed at birth, finally leaped into being in amazing vigor. “One can get an idea of the strength of that feeling,” says R. O. Williams, “by glancing at almost any book taken at random from the American publications of the period.