A compelling idiosyncrasy of development originated in America's possessing exactly the same language as England. It was so important that in the early nineteenth century strategies were suggested to circumvent this perceived impediment of language, responsible for an absence of "national character" (Channing, "Essay" 311). (1) Walter Channing, interestingly, chose the word "character." Although by this period critics--including Charles Brockden Brown, William Cullen Bryant, Samuel Miller, and essayists for the Port Folio--noted successes (such as trade, science, the "Mechanic Arts" (2)), the language and literature were considered at times intractably non-original. (3) According to these nineteenth-century voices, language was a British prison on American soil. Ironically, the disparity between self-governing commercial success and this sense of a hand-me-down language put pressure on the word "originality." The adjective "original" began as it should, referentially, relating one country of origin to another, synonymous with another adjective such as "distinctive" in this sentence: "Our descriptions, of course, which must, if we ever have a poetry, be made in the language of another country, can never be distinctive" (Channing, "Essay" 309). It ended up abstract, self-evident, equivalent to "natural genius," a noun: "The importance of a national language to the rise and progress of the literature of a country, can be argued from all we know of every nation which has pretended to originality" (Channing, "Essay" 311). As essayists linked "character" quite literally over and over again to imitative language, they ended up ordering (commanding and lining up) a new protagonist of American stories, the ways and means of "originality," a precious commodity. Stripped of its colonial antecedent, however, this mold is tricky. Unlike Aristotle's definition of "character," in which characteristics are ascribable--whether to "bravery, temperance, generosity, magnificence, magnanimity, honor, mildness, friendliness in social intercourse [...]" (4)--"character" was made-to-order: "originality." But what can this look like?
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