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No critical task is more difficult and delicate than that of estimating the rank and analyzing the achievements of American authors. The student of the classical literature of Greece and Rome finds himself, notwithstanding the controversies of scholars, on well-defined ground, with all of which he can familiarize himself, and on which he can work in accordance with clear laws of criticism, unhindered by contemporary prejudice and error. He who takes up the history of some of the living literatures of the world, such as French, or Spanish, or German, or English, or Italian, can consider, if he will, the literary records of past times alone, not venturing upon dangerous questions affecting living authors. The reader of Russian or Norwegian books, which have, indeed, fewer predecessors in past centuries, has the advantage to be derived from the study of works which are closely related to the life and character of somewhat peculiar and isolated peoples, whose output can advantageously be considered by any contemporary foreigner.

In the case of our own literature the situation is different. In the first place, it may be noted that

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