1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/American Literature
The earliest books which are commonly described as the beginnings of American literature were written by men born and bred in England; they were published there; they were, in fact, an Begin-
nings.undivided part of English literature, belonging to the province of exploration and geographical description and entirely similar in matter and style to other works of voyagers and colonizers that illustrate the expansion of England. They contain the materials of history in a form of good Elizabethan narrative, always vigorous in language, often vivid and picturesque. John Smith (1579–1631) wrote the first of these, A True Relation of such Occurrences and Accidents of Note as hath happened in Virginia (1608), and he later added other accounts of the country to the north. William Strachey, a Virginian official of whom little is known biographically, described (1610) the shipwreck of Sir Thomas Gates on the Bermudas, which is believed to have yielded Shakespeare suggestions for The Tempest. Colonel Henry Norwood (d. 1689), hitherto unidentified, of Leckhampton, Gloucestershire, a person eminent for loyalty in the reign of Charles I. and distinguished in the civil wars, later governor of Tangiers and a member of parliament for Gloucester, wrote an account of his voyage to Virginia as an adventurer, in 1649. These are characteristic works of the earliest period, and illustrate variously the literature of exploration which exists in numerous examples and is preserved for historical reasons. The settlement of the colonies was, in general, attended by such narratives of adventure or by accounts of the state of the country or by documentary record of events. Thus George Alsop (b. 1638) wrote the Character of the Province of Maryland (1666), and Daniel Denton a Brief Description of New York (1670), and in Virginia the progress of affairs was dealt with by William Stith (1689–1755), Robert Beverly (f. 1700), and William Byrd (1674–1744). Each settlement in turn, as it came into prominence or provoked curiosity, found its geographer and annalist, and here and there sporadic pens essayed some practical topic. The product, however, is now an indistinguishable mass, and titles and authors alike are found only in antiquarian lore. The distribution of literary activity was very uneven along the sea-board; it was naturally greatest in the more thriving and important colonies, and bore some relation to their commercial prosperity and political activity and to the closeness of the connexion with the home culture of England. From the beginning New England, owing to the character of its people and its ecclesiastical rule, was the chief seat of the early literature, and held a position apart from the other colonies as a community characterized by an intellectual life. There the first printing press was set up, the first college founded, and an abundant literature was produced.
The characteristic fact in the Puritan colonies is that literature there was in the hands of its leading citizens and was a chief concern in their minds. There were books of exploration and description as in the other colonies, such as William Wood’s (d. 1629) New England’s Prospect (1634), and John Josselin’s New England’s Rarities (1672), and tales of adventure in the wilderness and on the sea, most commonly described as “remarkable providences,” in the vigorous Elizabethan narrative; but besides all this the magistracy and the clergy normally set themselves to the labour of history, controversy and counsel, and especially to the care of religion. The governors, beginning with William Bradford (1590–1657) of Plymouth, and John Winthrop (1588–1649) of Massachusetts Bay, wrote the annals of their times, and the line of historians was continued by Winslow,. Nathaniel Morton, Prince, Hubbard and Hutchinson. The clergy, headed by John Cotton (1585–1652), Thomas Hooker (1586?–1647), Nathaniel Ward (1579?–1652), Roger Williams (1600–1683), Richard Mather (1596–1669), John Eliot (1604–1690), produced sermons, platforms, catechisms, theological. dissertations, tracts of all sorts, and their line also was continued by Shepard, Norton, Wise, the later Mathers and scores of other ministers. The older clergy were not inferior in power or learning to the leaders of their own communion in England, and they commanded the same prose that characterizes the Puritan tracts. of the mother country; nor did the kind of writing deteriorate in their successors. This body of divines in successive generations gave to early New England literature its overwhelming ecclesiastical character; it was in the main a church literature, and its secular books also were controlled and coloured by the Puritan spirit. The pervasiveness of religion is well illustrated by the three books which formed through the entire colonial period the most popular domestic reading of the Puritan home. These were The Bay Psalm Book (1640), which was the first book published in America; Michael Wigglesworth’s (1631–1705) Day of Doom (1662), a doggerel poem; and the New England Primer (c. 1690), called “the Little Bible.” The sole voice heard in opposition was Thomas Morton’s satirical New English Canaan (1637), whose author was sent out of the colony for the scandal of Merrymount, but satire itself remained religious in Ward’s Simple Cobbler of Agawam (1647). Poetry was represented in Anne Bradstreet’s (1612–1672) The Tenth Muse lately sprung up in America (1650), and was continued by a succession of doggerel writers, mostly ministers or schoolmasters, Noyes, Oakes, Folger, Tompson, Byles and others. The world of books also included a good proportion of Indian war narratives and treatises relating to the aborigines. The close of the 17th century shows literature, however, still unchanged in its main position as the special concern of the leaders of the state. It is Chief-Justice Samuel Sewall’s (1652–1730) Diary (which remained in manuscript until 1878) that affords the most intimate view of the culture and habits of the community; and he was known to his contemporaries by several publications, one of which, The Selling of Joseph (1700), was the first American anti-slavery tract.
The literature of the first century, exemplified by these few titles, is considerable in bulk, and like colonial literature elsewhere is preserved for historical reasons. In general, it records the political progress and Puritanism.social conditions of the Puritan state, and the contents of the Puritan mind. The development of the original settlement took place without any violent check. Though the colony was continually recruited by fresh immigration, the original 20,000 who arrived before 1640 had established the principles of the state, and their will and ideas remained dominant after the Restoration as before. It was a theocratic state controlled by the clergy, and yet containing the principle of liberty. The second and third generations born on the soil, nevertheless, showed some decadence; notwithstanding the effort to provide against intellectual isolation and mental poverty by the foundation of Harvard College, they felt the effects of their situation across the sea and on the borders of a wilderness. The people were a hard-faring folk and engaged in a material struggle to establish the plantations and develop commerce on the sea; their other life was in religion soberly practised and intensely felt. They were a people of one book, in the true sense,—the Bible; it was the organ of their mental life as well as of their spiritual feelings. For them, it was in the place of the higher literature. But long resident there in the strip between the sea and the forest, cut off from the world and consigned to hard labour and to spiritual ardours, they developed a fanatical temper; their religious life hardened and darkened; intolerance and superstition grew. Time, nevertheless, ripened new changes, and the colony was to be brought back from its religious seclusion into the normal paths of modern development. The sign was contained, perhaps, most clearly in the change effected in the new charter granted by King William which made property the basis of the franchise in place of church-membership, and thus set the state upon an economic instead of a religious foundation. It is rather by men than by books that these times are remembered, but it is by the men who were writers of books. In general, the career of the three Mathers coincides with the history of the older Puritanism, and their personal characteristics reflect its stages as their writings contain its successive traits. Richard Mather, the emigrant, had been joint author in the composition of The Bay Psalm Book, and served the colony among the first of its leaders. It was in his son, Increase Mather (1639–1723), that the theocracy, properly speaking, culminated. He was not only a divine, president of Harvard College and a prolific writer; but he was dominant in the state, the chief man of affairs. It was he who, sent to represent the colony in England, received from King William the new charter. His son, Cotton Mather (1663–1728), succeeded to his father’s distinction; but the changed condition is reflected in his non-participation in affairs; he was a man of the study and led there a narrower life than his father’s had been. He was, nevertheless, the most broadly characteristic figure of the Puritan of his time. He was able and learned, abnormally laborious, leaving over 400 titles attributed to him; and at the same time he was an ascetic and visionary. The work by which he is best remembered, the Magnalia Christi Americana, or the Ecclesiastical History of New England from its First Planting in the Year 1620, unto the Year of our Lord 1698 (1702), is the chief historical monument of the period, and the most considerable literary work done in America up to that time. It is encyclopaedic in scope, and contains an immense accumulation of materials relating to life and events in the colony. There the New England of the 17th century is displayed. His numerous other works still further amplify the period, and taken all together his writings best illustrate the contents of Puritanism in New England. The power of the clergy was waning, but even in the political sphere it was far from extinction, and it continued under its scheme of church government to guard jealously the principles of liberty. In John Wise’s (1652–1725) Vindication of the Government of New England Churches (1717) a precursor of the Revolution is felt. It was in another sphere, however, that Puritanism in New England was to reach its height, intellectually and spiritually alike, in the brilliant personality of Jonathan Edwards (1703–1758), its last great product. He was free of affairs, and lived essentially the private life of a thinker. He displayed in youth extraordinary precocity and varied intellectual curiosity, and showed at the same early time a temperament of spiritual sensitiveness and religious ideality which suggests the youth of a poet rather than of a logician. It was not without a struggle that he embraced sincerely the Calvinistic scheme of divine rule, but he was able to reconcile the doctrine in its most fearful forms with the serenity and warmth of his own spirit; for his soul at all times seems as lucid as his mind, and his affections were singularly tender and refined. He served as minister to the church at Northampton; and, driven from that post, he was for eight years a missionary to the Indians at Stockbridge; finally he was made president of Princeton College, where after a few weeks' incumbency he died. The works upon which his fame is founded are Treatise concerning the Religious Affections (1746), On the Freedom of the Will (1754), Treatise on Original Sin (1758). They exhibit extraordinary reasoning powers and place him among the most eminent theologians. He contributed by his preaching great inspiring force to the revival, known as "the Great Awakening," which swept over the dry and formal Puritanism of the age and was its last great flame. In him New England idealism had come to the birth. He illustrates, better than all others, the power of Puritanism as a spiritual force; and in him only did that power reach intellectual expression in a memorable way for the larger world. The ecclesiastical literature of Puritanism, abundant as it was, produced no other work of power; nor did the Puritan patronage of literature prove fruitful in other fields. If Puritanism was thus infertile, it nevertheless prepared the soil. It impressed upon New England the stamp of the mind; the entire community was by its means intellectually as well as morally bred; and to its training and the predisposition it established in the genius of the people may be ascribed the respect for the book which has always characterized that section, the serious temper and elevation of its later literature and the spiritual quality of the imagination which is so marked a quality of its authors.
The secularization of life in New England, which went on concurrently with the decline of the clergy in social power, was incidental to colonial growth. The practical force of the people had always been Franklinstrong; material prosperity increased and a powerful class of merchants grew up; public questions multiplied in variety and gained in importance. The affairs of the world had definitely obtained the upper hand. The new spirit found its representative in the great figure of Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), who, born in Boston, early emigrated to Philadelphia, an act which in itself may be thought to forecast the transfer of the centre of interest to the west and south and specifically to that city where the congress was to sit. Franklin was a printer, and the books he circulated are an index to the uses of reading in his generation. Practical works, such as almanacs, were plentiful, and it is characteristic that Franklin’s name is, in literature, first associated with Poor Richard's Almanack (1732). The literature of the 18th century outside of New England continued to be constituted of works of exploration, description, colonial affairs, with some sprinkling of crude science and doctrines of wealth; but it yields no distinguished names or remembered titles. Franklin’s character subsumes the spirit of it. In him thrift and benevolence were main constituents; scientific curiosity of a useful sort and invention distinguished him; after he had secured a competence, public interests filled his mature years. In him was the focus of the federating impulses of the time, and as the representative of the colonies in England and during the Revolution in France, he was in his proper place as the greatest citizen of his country. He was, first of men, broadly interested in all the colonies, and in his mind the future began to be comprehended in its true perspective and scale; and for these reasons to him properly belongs the title of "the first American." The type of his character set forth in the Autobiography (1817) was profoundly American and prophetic of the plain people’s ideal of success in a democracy. It is by his character and career rather than by his works or even by his great public services that he is remembered; he is a type of the citizen-man. Older than his companions, and plain while they were of an aristocratic stamp, he greatens over them in the popular mind as age greatens over youth; but it was these companions who were to lay the foundations of the political literature of America. With the increasing political life lawyers as a class had naturally come into prominence as spokesmen and debaters. A young generation of orators sprang up, of whom James Otis (1725–1783) in the north, and Patrick Henry (1736–1799) in the south, were the most brilliant; and a group of statesmen, of whom the most notable were Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), James Madison (1751–1836), and Alexander Hamilton (1757–1804), held the political direction of the times; in the speeches and state-papers of these orators and statesmen and their fellows the political literature of the colonies came to hold the first place. The chief memorials of this literature are The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Federalist (1788), a treatise on the principles of free government, and Washington’s Addresses (1789–1793–1796). Thus politics became, in succession to exploration and religion, the most important literary element in the latter half of the 18th century.
The more refined forms of literature also began to receive intelligent attention towards the close of the period. The Revolution in passing struck out some sparks of balladry and song, but the inspiration of18th-century poetry and fiction. the spirit of nationality was first felt in poetry by Philip Freneau (1752–1832), whose Poems (1786) marked the best political achievement up to his time. Patriotism was also a ruling motive in the works of the three poets associated with Yale College, John Trumbull (1750–1831), Timothy Dwight (1752–1817), and Joel Barlow (1754–1812), authors respectively of McFingal (1782), a Hudibrastic satire of the Revolution, The Conquest of Canaan (1785), an epic, and The Vision of Columbus (1787), later remade into The Columbiad, also an epic. These poets gathered about them a less talented company, and all were denominated in common the “Hartford Wits,” by which name rather than by their works they are remembered. The national hymn, “Hail Columbia,” was composed by Joseph Hopkinson (1770–1842) in 1798. Fiction, in turn, was first cultivated by Charles Brockden Brown (1771–1810), a Philadelphian, who wrote six romantic novels (1798–1801) after the style of Godwin, but set in the conditions of the new world and mixing local description and observation with the material of mystery and terror. Fiction had been earlier attempted by Mrs Susanna Haswell Rowson, whose Charlotte Temple (1790) is remembered, and contemporaneously by Mrs Hannah Webster Foster in The Coquette (1797) and by Royall Tyler (1758–1826) in The Algerian Captive (1799); but to Brown properly belongs the title of the first American novelist, nor are his works without invention and intensity and a certain distinction that secure for them permanent remembrance. The drama formally began its career on a regular stage and with an established company, in 1786 at New York, with the acting of Royall Tyler’s comedy The Contrast; but the earliest American play was Thomas Godfrey’s (1736–1763) tragedy, The Prince of Parthia, acted in Philadelphia in 1767. William Dunlap (1766–1839) is, however, credited with being the father of the American theatre on the New York stage, where his plays were produced. One other earlier book deserves mention, John Woolman’s (1720–1772) Journal (1775), an autobiography with much charm. With these various attempts the 18th century was brought to an end. In 200 years no literary classic had been produced in America.
The new nation, which with the 19th century began its integral career, still retained the great disparities which originally existed between the diverse colonies. Political unity, the simplest of the social unities,The new nation. had been achieved; “a more perfect union,” in the language of the founders, had been formed; but even in the political sphere the new state bore in its bosom disuniting forces which again and again threatened to rive it apart until they were dissipated in the Civil War; and in the other spheres of its existence, intellectually, morally, socially, its unity was far from being accomplished. The expansion of its territory over the continental area brought new local diversity and prolonged the contrasts of border conditions with those of the long-settled communities. This state of affairs was reflected in the capital fact that there was no metropolitan centre in which the tradition and forces of the nation were concentrated. Washington was a centre of political administration; but that was all. The nation grew slowly, indeed, into consciousness of its own existence; but it was without united history, without national traditions of civilization and culture, and it was committed to the untried idea of democracy. It was founded in a new faith; yet at the moment that it proclaimed the equality of men, its own social structure and habit north and south contradicted the declaration, not merely by the fact of slavery, but by the life of its classes. The south long remained oligarchic; in the north aristocracy slowly melted away. The coincidence of an economic opportunity with a philosophic principle is the secret of the career of American democracy in its first century. The vast resources of an undeveloped country gave this opportunity to the individual, while the nation was pledged by its fundamental idea to material prosperity for the masses, popular education and the common welfare, as the supreme test of government. In this labour, subduing the new world to agriculture, trade and manufactures, the forces of the nation were spent, under the complication of maintaining the will of the people as the directing power; the subjugation of the soil and experience in popular government are the main facts of American history. In the course of this task the practice of the fine arts was hardly more than an incident. When anyone thinks of Greece, he thinks first of her arts; when anyone thinks of America, he thinks of her arts last. Literature, in the sense of the printed word, has had a great career in America; as the vehicle of use, books, journals, literary communication, educational works and libraries have filled the land; nowhere has the power of the printed word ever been so great, nowhere has the man of literary genius ever had so broad an opportunity to affect the minds of men contemporaneously. But, in the artistic sense, literature, at most, has been locally illustrated by a few eminent names.
The most obvious fact with regard to this literature is that—to adopt a convenient word—it has been regional. It has flourished in parts of the country, very distinctly marked, and is in each case affected by its environment and local culture; if it incorporates national elements at times, it seems to graft them on its own stock. The growth of literature in these favoured soils was slow and humble. There was no outburst of genius, no sudden movement, no renaissance; but very gradually a step was taken in advance of the last generation, as that had advanced upon its forefathers. The first books of true excellence were experiments; they seem almost accidents. The cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia were lettered communities; they possessed imported books, professional classes, men of education and taste. The tradition of literature was strong, especially in New England; there were readers used to the polite letters of the past. It was, however, in the main the past of Puritanism, both in England and at home, and of the 18th century in general, on which they were bred, with a touch ever growing stronger of the new European romanticism. All the philosophic ideas of the 18th century were current. What was most lacking was a standard self-applied by original writers; and in the absence of a great national centre of standards and traditions, and amid the poverty of such small local centres as the writers were bred in, they sought what they desired, not in England, not in any one country nor in any one literature, but in the solidarity of literature itself, in the republic of letters, the world-state itself,—the master-works of all European lands; they became either actual pilgrims on foreign soil or pilgrims of the mind in fireside travels. The foreign influences that thus entered into American literature are obvious and make a large part of its history; but the fact here brought out is that European literature and experience stood to American writers in lieu of a national centre; it was there that both standard and tradition were found.
American literature first began to exist for the larger world in the persons of Washington Irving (1785–1859) and James Fenimore Cooper (1789–1851). Their recognition was almost contemporaneous. The Sketch BookEarly 19th-century classics. (1810) was the first American book to win a great reputation in England, and The Spy (1821) was the first to obtain a similar vogue on the continent. The fame of both authors is associated with New York, and that city took the first place as the centre of the literature of the period. It was not that New York was more intellectual than other parts of the country; but it was a highly prosperous community, where a mercantile society flourished and consequently a certain degree of culture obtained. The first American literature was not the product of a raw democracy nor of the new nationality in any sense; there was nothing sudden or vehement in its generation; but, as always, it was the product of older elements in the society where it arose and flourished under the conditions of precedent culture. The family of Irving were in trade. Cooper's father was in the law. A third writer, William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), is associated with them, and though he announced his poetic talent precociously by Thanatopsis (1807), his Poems (1832), immediately republished in London, were the basis of his true fame. Born in Massachusetts, he lived his long life in New York, and was there a distinguished citizen. His father was a physician. All three men were not supremely endowed; they do not show the passion of genius for its work which marks the great writers; they were, like most American writers, men with the literary temperament, characteristically gentlemen, who essayed literature with varying power. If the quality of this early literature is to be appreciated truly, the fact of its provenance from a society whose cultivation was simple and normal, a provincial bourgeois society of a prosperous democracy, must be borne in mind. It came, not from the people, but from the best classes developed under preceding conditions.
Irving all his life was in the eyes of his countrymen, whatever their pride might be in him, more a travelled gentleman than one of themselves. He had come home to end his days at Sunnyside by Irving. the Hudson, but he had won his fame in foreign fields. In his youth the beginnings of his literary work were most humble—light contributions to the press. He was of a most social nature, warm, refined, humorous, a man belonging to the town. He was not seriously disposed, idled much, and surprised his fellow-citizens suddenly by a grotesque History of New York (1809), an extravaganza satirizing the Dutch element of the province. He discovered in writing this work his talent for humour and also one part of his literary theme, the Dutch tradition; but he did not so convince himself of his powers as to continue, and it was only after the failure of his commercial interests that, being thrown on himself for support, he published in London ten years later, at the age of thirty-six, the volume of sketches which by its success committed him to a literary career. In that work he found himself; sentiment and distinction of style characterized it, and these were his main traits. He remained abroad, always favoured in society and living in diplomatic posts in Spain and England, for seventeen years, and he later spent four years in Spain as minister. Spain gave him a larger opportunity than England for the cultivation of romantic sentiment, and he found there his best themes in Moorish legend and history. On his return to America he added to his subjects the exploration of the west; and he wrote, besides, biographies of Goldsmith and Washington. He was, as it turned out, a voluminous writer; yet his books successively seem the accident of his situation. The excellence of his work lies rather in the treatment than the substance; primarily, there is the pellucid style, which he drew from his love of Goldsmith, and the charm of his personality shown in his romantic interest, his pathos and humour ever growing in delicacy, and his familiar touch with humanity. He made his name American mainly by creating the legend of the Hudson, and he alone has linked his memory locally with his country so that it hangs over the landscape and blends with it for ever; he owned his nativity, too, by his pictures of the prairie and the fur-trade and by his life of Washington, who had laid his hand upon his head; but he had spent half his life abroad, in the temperamental enjoyment of the romantic suggestion of the old world, and by his writings he gave this expansion of sympathy and sentiment to his countrymen. If his temperament was native-born and his literary taste home-bred, and if his affections gave a legend to the countryside and his feelings expanded with the view of prairie and wilderness, and if he sought to honour with his pen the historic associations and memory of the land which had honoured him, it was, nevertheless, the trans-Atlantic touch that had loosed his genius and mainly fed it, and this fact was prophetic of the immediate course of American literature and the most significant in his career.
Cooper's initiation into literature was similar to that of Irving. He had received, perhaps, something more of scanty formal education, since he attended Cooper.Yale College for a season, but he early took to the sea and was a midshipman. He was thirty years old before he began to write, and it was almost an accident that after the failure of his first novel he finished The Spy, so deterring was the prejudice that no American book could succeed. He was, however, a man of great energy of life, great force of will; it was his nature to persist. The way once opened, he wrote voluminously and with great unevenness. His literary defects, both of surface and construction, are patent. It was not by style nor by any detail of plot or character that he excelled; but whatever imperfections there might be, his work was alive; it had body, motion, fire. He chose his subjects from aspects of life familiar to him in the woods or on the sea or from patriotic memories near to him in the fields of the Revolution. He thus established a vital connexion with his own country, and in so far he is the most national by his themes of any of the American writers. What he gave was the scene of the new world, both in the forest and by the fires of the Revolution and on the swift and daring American ships; but it was especially by his power to give the sense of the primitive wilderness and the ocean weather, and adventure there, that he won success. In France, where he was popular, this came as an echo out of the real world of the west to the dream of nature that had lately grown up in French literature; and, besides, of all the springs of interest native to men in every land adventure in the wild is, perhaps, the easiest to touch, the quickest and most inflaming to respond. Cooper stood for a true element in American experience and conditions, for the romance in the mere presence of primeval things of nature newly found by man and opening to his coming; this was an imaginative moment, and Cooper seized it by his imagination. He especially did so in the Indian elements of his tale, and gave permanent ideality to the Indian type. The trait of loftiness which he thus incorporated belongs with the impression of the virgin forest and prairie, the breadth, the silence and the music of universal nature. The distinction of his work is to open so great a scene worthily, to give it human dignity in rough and primitive characters seen in the simplicity of their being, and to fill it with peril, resourcefulness and hardihood. It is the only brave picture of life in the broad from an American pen. Scott, in inventing the romantic treatment of history in fiction, was the leader of the historical novel; but Cooper, except in so far as he employed the form, was not in a true sense an imitator of Scott; he did not create, nor think, nor feel, in Scott's way, and he came far short of the deep human power of Scott's genius. He was not great in character; but he was great in adventure, manly spirit and the atmosphere of the natural world, an Odysseyan writer, who caught the moment of the American planting in vivid and characteristic traits.
This same spirit, but limited to nature in her most elemental forms and having the simplest generic relations to human life, characterizes Bryant. He, too, had slender academic training, Bryantand came from the same social origins as Irving and Cooper; but, owing to his extraordinary boyish precocity, the family influences upon him and the kind of home he was bred in are more clearly seen. He framed his art in his boyhood on the model of 18th-century verse, and though he felt the liberalizing influences of Wordsworth later there always remained in his verse a sense of form that suggests a severer school than that of his English contemporaries. He lived the life of a journalist and public man in New York, but the poet in him was a man apart and he jealously guarded his talent in seclusion. Though he was at times abroad, he resembled Cooper in being unaffected by foreign residence; he remained home-bred. He wrote a considerable quantity of verse; but it is by a quality in it rather than by its contents that his poetry is recalled, and this quality exists most highly in the few pieces that are well known. To no verse is the phrase "native wood-notes wild" more properly applied. His poetry gives this deep impression of privacy; high, clear, brief in voice, and yet, as it were, as of something hidden in the sky or grove or brook, or as if the rock spoke, it is nature in her haunts; it is the voice of the peak, the forests, the cataracts, the smile of the blue gentian, the distant rosy flight of the water-fowl,—with no human element less simple than piety, death or the secular changes of time. It is, too, an expression of something so purely American that it seems that it must be as uncomprehended by one not familiar with the scene as the beauty of Greece or Italian glows; it is poetry locked in its own land. This presence of the pure, the pristine, the virginal in the verse, this luminousness, spaciousness, serenity in the land, this immemorialness of natural things, is the body and spirit of the true wild, such as Bryant’s eyes had seen it and as it had possessed his soul. In no other American poet is there this nearness to original awe in the presence of nature; nowhere is nature so slightly humanized, so cosmically felt, and yet poetized. Poetry of this sort must be small in amount; a few hundred lines contain it all; but they alone shrine the original grandeur, not so much of the American landscape, as of wild nature when first felt in the primitive American world.
American romanticism thus began with these three writers, who gave it characterization after all by only a few simple traits. There was in it no profound passion nor philosophy nor revolt; especially there was no morbidness. It was sprung from a new soil. The breath of the early American world was in Bryant’s poetry; he had freed from the landscape a Druidical nature-worship of singular purity, simple and grand, unbound by any conventional formulas of thought or feeling but deeply spiritual. The new life of the land filled the scene of Cooper; prairie, forest and sea, Indians, backwoodsmen and sailors, the human struggle of all kinds, gave it diversity and detail; but its life was the American spirit, the epic action of a people taking primitive possession, battling with its various foes, making its world. Irving, more brooding and reminiscent, gave legend to the landscape, transformed rudeness with humour and brought elements of picturesqueness into play; and in him, in whom the new race was more mature, was first shown that nostalgia for the past, which is everywhere a romantic trait but was peculiarly strong under American conditions. He was consequently more free in imagination than the others, and first dealt with other than American subjects, emancipating literature from provinciality of theme, while the modes of his romantic treatment, the way he felt about his subjects, still owed much to his American birth. In all this literature by the three writers there was little complexity, and there was no strangeness in their personalities. Irving was more genially human, Cooper more vitally intense; Bryant was the more careful artist in the severe limits of his art, which was simple and plain. Simplicity and plainness characterize all three; they were, in truth, simple American gentlemen, of the breeding and tastes that a plain democracy produced as its best, who, giving themselves to literature for a career, developed a native romanticism, which, however obvious and uncomplicated with philosophy, passion or moods, represented the first stage of American life with freshness of power, an element of ideal loftiness and much literary charm.
Though Irving, Cooper and Bryant were associated with New York, there was something sporadic in their germination. They have no common source; they stood apart; and their work neither overlapped nor blended, but remained self-isolated. None of them can be said to haveGeneral progress. founded a school, but Irving left a literary tradition and Cooper had followers in the field of historical fiction. The literary product up to the middle of the century presents generally from its early years the appearance of an indistinguishable mass, as in colonial days, in which neither titles nor authors are eminent. The association of American literature with the periodical press is, perhaps, the most important trait to be observed. New York and Philadelphia were book- markets, and local presses had long been at work issuing many reprints. Magazines in various degrees of importance sprang up in succession to the earlier imitations of English 18th-century periodicals, which abounded at the beginning of the century; and as time went on these were accompanied by a host of annuals of the English Keepsake variety. Philadelphia was especially distinguished by an early fertility in magazines, which later reached a great circulation, as in the case of Godey’s and Graham’s; the Knickerbocker became prominent in New York from 1833, when it was founded; Richmond had in The Southern Literary Messenger the chief patron of southern writers from 1834, and there were abortive ventures still farther south in Charleston. These various periodicals and like publications were the literary arena, the place of ambition for young and old, for known and unknown, and there literary fame and what little money came of its pursuit were found. Minor poetry flourished in it; sketches, tales, essays, every sort of writing in prose multiplied there. A change in the atmosphere of letters is also to be noted. The 18th century was fairly left behind. The Philadelphian reprint of Galignani’s Paris edition of Keats, Shelley and Coleridge had brought in the new romantic poetry with wide effect; and Disraeli, Bulwer and, later, Dickens are felt in the prose; in verse, especially by women, Mrs Hemans and Mrs Browning ruled the moment. The product was large. In poetry it was displayed on the most comprehensive scale in Rufus Wilmot Griswold’s (1815–1857) collections of American verse, made in the middle of the century. Mrs Lydia Sigourney (1791–1865), a prolific writer, and Mrs Maria Gowan Brooks (1795–1845), known as Southey’s “Maria del Occidente,” a more ambitious aspirant, the “Davidson sisters,” (1808–1825: 1823–1838), and Alice (1820–1871) and Phoebe Cary (1824–1871) illustrate the work of the women; and Richard Henry Wilde (1789–1847), George Pope Morris (1802–1864), Charles Fenno Hoffman (1806–1884) and Willis Gaylord Clark (1810–1841) may serve for that of men. In this verse, and in the abundant prose as well, the sentimentality of the period is strongly marked; it continued to the times of the Civil War. Two poets of a better type, Joseph Rodman Drake (1795–1820), distinguished by delicacy of fancy, and Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790–1867), who showed ardour and a real power of phrase, are remembered from an earlier time for their brotherhood in verse, but Drake died young and Halleck was soon sterilized, so that the talents of both proved abortive. The characteristic figure that really exemplifies this secondary literature at its best is Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806–1867) who, though born in Portland, Maine, was the chief littérateur of the Knickerbocker period. He wrote abundantly in both verse and prose, and was the first of the journalist type of authors, a social adventurer with facile powers of literary entertainment, a man of the town and immensely popular. He was the sentimentalist by profession, and his work, transitory as it proved, was typical of a large share of the taste, talent and ambition of the contemporary crowd of writers. Neighbouring him in time and place are the authors of various stripe, known as “the Literati,” whom Poe described in his critical papers, which, in connexion with Griswold’s collections mentioned above, are the principal current source of information concerning the bulk of American literature in that period.
This world of the magazines, the Literati and sentimentalism, was the true milieu of Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849). Born in Boston, his mother a pleasing English actress and his father a dissipated stage-struck youth of a Baltimore family, left an orphan in childhood,Poe. he was reared in the Virginian home of John Allan, a merchant of Scottish extraction; he received there the stamp of southern character. He was all his life characteristically a southerner, with southern ideals of character and conduct, southern manners towards both men and women and southern passions. He showed precocity in verse, but made his real début in prose as editor of The Southern Literary Messenger at Richmond in 1835. He was by his talents committed to a literary career, and being usually without definite means of support he followed the literary market, first to Philadelphia and later to New York. He was continuously associated with magazines as editor, reviewer or contributor; they were his means of sustenance; and, whether as cause or effect, this mode of life fell in with the nature of his mind, which was a contemporary mind. He was perhaps better acquainted with contemporary work in literature than any of his associates; he took his first cues from Disraeli and Bulwer and Moore, and he was earliest to recognize Tennyson and Mrs Browning; his principal reading was always in the magazines. He was, however, more than a man of literary temperament like Irving and Cooper; he was a child of genius. As in their case, there was something sporadic in his appearance on the scene. He had no American origins, but only American conditions of life. In fact he bore little relation to his period, and so far as he was influenced, it was for the worse; he transcended the period, essentially, in all his creative work. He chose for a form of expression the sketch, tale or short story, and he developed it in various ways. From the start there was a melodramatic element in him, itself a southern trait and developed by the literary influence of Disraeli and Bulwer on his mind. He took the tale of mystery as his special province; and receiving it as a mystery that was to be explained, after the recent masters of it, he saw its fruitful lines of development in the fact that science had succeeded to superstition as the source of wonder, and also in the use of ratiocination as a mode of disentanglement in the detective story. Brilliant as his success was in these lines, his great power lay in the tale of psychological states as a mode of impressing the mind with the thrill of terror, the thrall of fascination, the sense of mystery. It is by his tales in these several sorts that he won, more slowly than Irving or Cooper and effectually only after his death, continental reputation; at present no American author is so securely settled in the recognition of the world at large, and he owes this, similarly to Cooper, to the power of mystery over the human mind universally; that is, he owes it to his theme, seconded by a marvellous power to develop it by the methods of art. He thus added new traits to American romanticism, but as in the case of Irving’s Spanish studies there is no American element in the theme; he is detached from his local world, and works in the sphere of universal human nature, nor in his treatment is there any trace of his American birth. He is a world author more purely than any other American writer. Though it is on his tales that his continental reputation necessarily rests, his temperament is more subtly expressed in his verse, in which that fond of which his tales are the logical and intelligible growth gives out images and rhythms, the issue of morbid states, which affect the mind rather as a form of music than of thought. Emotion was, in art, his constant aim, though it might be only so simple a thing as the emotion of colour as in his landscape studies; and in his verse, by an unconscious integration and flow of elements within him it must be thought, he obtained emotional effects by images which have no intellectual value, and which float in rhythms so as to act musically on the mind and arouse pure moods of feeling absolutely free of any other contents. Such poems must be an enigma to most men, but others are accessible to them, and derive from them an original and unique pleasure; they belong outside of the intellectual sphere. It is by virtue of this musical quality and immediacy that his poetry is characterized by genius; in proportion; as it has meaning of an intelligible sort it begins to fade and lower; so far as “Lenore” and “Annie” and “Annabel Lee” are human, they are feeble ghosts of that sentimentality which was so rife in Poe’s time and so maudlin in his own personal relations; and except for a half-dozen pieces, in which his quality of rhythmical fascination is supreme, his verse as a whole is inferior to the point of being commonplace. Small as the quantity of his true verse is, it more sustains his peculiar genius in American eyes than does his prose; and this is because it is so unique. He stands absolutely alone as a poet with none like him; in his tales, as an artist, he is hardly less solitary, but he has some ties of connexion or likeness with the other masters of mystery. Poe lived in poverty and died in misery; but without him romanticism in America would lose its most romantic figure, and American literature the artist who, most of all its writers, had the passion of genius for its work.
Poe left even less trace of himself in the work of others than did Irving, Cooper and Bryant. He stands in succession to them, and closed the period so far as it contributed to American romanticism anything distinguished, original or permanent. The ways already opened had, however, been trod, and most notably in fiction. The treatment of manners and customs, essentially in Irving’s vein, was pleasingly cultivated in Maryland by John Pendleton Kennedy (1795–1870) in Swallow Barn (1832) and similar tales of Old Dominion life. In Virginia, Beverly Tucker (1784–1851) in The Partisan Leader (1836), noticeable for its prophecy of secession, and John Esten Cooke (1830–1886) in The Virginia Comedians (1854), also won a passing reputation. The champion in the south, however, was William Gilmore Simms (1806–1870), born in Charleston, a voluminous writer of both prose and verse, who undertook to depict, on the same scale as Cooper and in his manner, the settlement of the southern territory and its Indian and revolutionary history; but of his many novels, of which the characteristic examples are The Yemassee (1835), The Partisan '(1835) and Beauchampe (1842), none attained literary distinction. The sea-novel was developed by Herman Melville (1819–1891) in Typee (1846) and its successors, but these tales, in spite of their being highly commended by lovers of adventure, have taken no more hold than the work of Simms. Single novels of wide popularity appeared from time to time, of which a typical instance was The Wide, Wide World (1850) by Susan Warner (1819–1885). The grade of excellence was best illustrated, perhaps, for the best current fiction which was not to be incorporated in literature, by the novels of Catharine Maria Sedgwick (1789–1867), of a western Massachusetts family, in Hope Leslie (1827) and its, successors. The distinct Knickerbocker strain was best preserved by James Kirke Paulding (1778–1860) among the direct imitators of Irving; but the better part of the Irving tradition, its sentiment, social grace and literary flavour, was not noticeable until it awoke in George William Curtis (1824–1892), born a New Englander but, like Bryant, a journalist and public man of New York, whose novels, notes of travel and casual brief social essays brought that urbane style to an end, as in Donald Grant Mitchell (born 1822) the school of sentiment, descended from the same source, died not unbecomingly in the Reveries of a Bachelor (1850) and Dream Life (1851). Two poets, just subsequent to Poe, George Henry Boker (1823–1890) and Thomas Buchanan Read (1822–1872), won a certain distinction, the former especially in the drama, in the Philadelphia group. The single popular songs, “The Star-Spangled Banner” (1813), by Francis Scott Key (1779–1843) of Maryland, “America” (1832) by Samuel Francis Smith (1808–1895) of Massachusetts, and “Home, Sweet Home” (1823) by John Howard Payne (1792–1852) of New York, may also be appropriately recorded here. The last distinct literary personality to emerge from the miscellany of talent in the middle of the century, in the middle Atlantic states, was James Bayard Taylor (1825–1878), who, characteristically a journalist, gained reputation by his travels, poems and novels, but in spite of brilliant versatility and a high ambition failed to obtain permanent distinction. His translation of Faust (1870) is his chief title to remembrance; but the later cultivation of the oriental motive in American lyrical poetry owes something to his example.
In New England, which succeeded to New York as the chief source of literature of high distinction, the progress of culture in the post-Revolutionary period was as normal and gradual as elsewhere in the country; there was noNew
ship violence of development, no sudden break, but the growth of knowledge and taste went slowly on in conjunction with the softening of the Puritan foundation of thought, belief and practice. What most distinguished literature in New England from that to the west and south was its connexion with religion and scholarship, neither of which elements was strong in the literature that has been described. The neighbourhood of Harvard College to Boston was a powerful influence in the field of knowledge and critical culture. The most significant fact in respect to scholarship, however, was the residence abroad of George Ticknor (1791–1871), author of The History of Spanish Literature (1849), of Edward Everett (1794–1865), the orator, and of George Bancroft (1800–1891), author of the History of the United States (1834–1874), who as young men brought back new ideals of learning. The social connexion of Boston, not only with England but with the continent, was more constant, varied and intimate than fell to the fortune of any other city, and owing to the serious temper of the community the intellectual commerce with the outer world through books was more profound. Coleridge was early deeply influential on the thought of the cultivated class, and to him Carlyle, who found his first sincere welcome and effectual power there, succeeded. The influence of both combined to introduce, and to secure attention for, German writers. Translation, as time went on, followed, and German thought was also further sustained and advanced in the community by Frederick Henry Hedge (1805–1890), a philosophical theologian, who conducted a propaganda of German ideas. The activity of the group about him is significantly marked by the issue of the series of Specimens of Foreign Standard Literature (1838), edited by George Ripley (1802–1880), the critic, which was the first of its kind in America. French ideas, as time went on, were also current, and the field of research extended to the Orient, the writings of which were brought forward especially in connexion with the Transcendental Movement to which all these foreign studies contributed. In New England, in other words, a close, serious and vital connexion was made, for the first time, with the philosophic thought of the world and with its tradition even in the remote past. Unitarianism, which was the form in which the old Puritanism dissolved in the cultivated class, came in with the beginning of the century, and found its representative in the gentle character, refined intelligence and liberal humanity of William Ellery Channing (1780–1842), who has remained its chief apostle. It was the expression of a moral maturing and intellectual enlightenment that took place with as little disturbance as ever marked religious evolution in any community. The people at large remained evangelical, but they also felt in a less degree the softening and liberalizing tendency; nevertheless it was mainly in the field of Unitarianism that literature flourished, as was natural, and Transcendentalism was a phenomenon that grew out of Unitarianism, being indeed the excess of the movement of enlightenment and the extreme limit of intuitionalism, individualism and private judgment. These two factors, religion and scholarship, gave to New England literature its serious stamp and academic quality; but the preparatory stage being longer, it was slower to emerge than the literature of the rest of the country.
The first stirrings of romanticism in New England were felt, as in the country to the south, by men of literary temperament in a sympathetic enjoyment and feeble imitation of the contemporary English romantic school of fiction exemplified by Mrs Radcliffe, Lewis and Godwin. Washington Allston (1779–1843), the painter, born in South Carolina but by education and adoption a citizen of Cambridge, showed the taste in Monaldi (1841), and Richard Henry Dana (1787–1879) in Paul Felton (1833); in his poem of the same date, “The Buccaneer,” the pseudo-Byronic element, which belongs to the conception of character and passion in this school of fiction, appears. These elder writers illustrate rather the stage of imaginative culture at the period, and show by their other works also—Allston by his poems “The Sylphs of the Seasons” (1813), and Dana by his abortive periodical The Idle Man (1821) issued at New York—their essential sympathy with the literary conditions reigning before the time of Irving. They both were post-Revolutionary, and advanced American culture in other fields rather than imagination, Allston in art and Dana in criticism, as editor of The North American Review, which was founded in 1815, and was long the chief organ of serious thought and critical learning, influential in the dissemination of ideas and in the maintenance of the intellectual life. The influence of their personality in the community, like that of Channing, with whom they were closely connected, was of more importance than any of their works.
The definite moment of the appearance of New England in literature in the true sense was marked by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s (1803–1882) Nature (1836), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s (1804–1864) Twice-Told Tales (1837) and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s (1807–1882) Voices of the Night (1839). Of this group of men Longfellow is the most national figure, and from the point of view of literary history the most significant by virtue of what he contributed to American romanticism in the large. He felt the conscious desire of the people forEmerson:
Longfellow. an American literature, and he obeyed it in the choice of his subjects. He took national themes, and his work is in this respect the counterpart in poetry to that of Cooper in prose. In Hiawatha (1855) he poetized the Indian life; and, though the scene and figures of the poem are no more localized than the happy hunting-grounds, the ideal of the life of the aborigines in the wilderness is given with freshness and primitive charm and with effect on the imagination. It is the sole survivor of many poetic attempts to naturalize the Indian in literature, and will remain the classic Indian poem. In Evangeline (1847), The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858) and The New England Tragedies (1868), he depicted colonial life. As he thus embodied national tradition in one portion of his work, he rendered national character in another, and with more spontaneity, in those domestic poems of childhood and the affections, simple moods of the heart in the common lot, which most endeared him as the poet of the household. These are American poems as truly as his historical verse, though they are also universal for the English race. In another large portion of his work he brought back from the romantic tradition of Europe, after Irving’s manner, motives which he treated for their pure poetic quality, detached from anything American, and he also translated much foreign verse from the north and the south of Europe, including Dante’s Divine Comedy (1867). He has, more than any other single writer, reunited America with the poetic past of Europe, particularly in its romance. The same serenity of disposition that marked Irving and Bryant characterized his life; and his art, more varied than Bryant’s or Irving’s, has the same refinement, being simple and so limpid as to deceive the reader into an oblivion of its quality and sometimes into an unwitting disparagement of what seems so plain and natural as to be commonplace. In Longfellow, as in Irving, one is struck by that quietude, which is so prevailing a characteristic of American literature, and which proceeds from its steady and even flow from sources that never knew any disturbance or perturbation. The life, the art, the moods are all calm; deep passion is absent.
Hawthorne was endowed with a soul of more intense brooding, but he remained within the circle of this peace. He developed in solitude exquisite grace of language, and in other respects was an artist, the mate of Poe in the tale and exceeding Poe in significance since he used symbolism for effects of truth. He, like Longfellow, embodied the national tradition, in this case the Puritan past; but he seized the subject, not in its historical aspects and diversity of character and event, but psychologically in its moral passion in The Scarlet Letter (1850), and less abstractly, more picturesquely, more humanly, in its blood tradition, in The House of the Seven Gables. In his earlier work, as an artist, he shows the paucity of the materials in the environment, especially in his tales; but when his residence in Italy and England gave into his hands larger opportunity, he did not succeed so well in welding Italy with America in The Marble Faun (1860), or England with America in his experimental attempts at the work which he left uncompleted, as he had done in the Puritan romances. He had, however, added a new domain to American romanticism; and, most of all these writers, he blended moral truth with fiction; he, indeed, spiritualized romance, and without loss of human reality,—a rare thing in any literature. Both Longfellow and Hawthorne were happy in reconciling their art with their country: both, not less than Poe, were universal artists, but they incorporated the national past in their art and were thereby more profoundly American.
Emerson, whose work lay in the religious sphere, not unlike Jonathan Edwards at an earlier time of climax but in a different way, marked the issue of Puritanism in pure idealism, and was more contemporaneously associated with life in the times than were the purely imaginative writers. He was the central figure of Transcendentalism, and apart from his specific teachings stood for the American spirit, disengaged from authority, independent, personal, responsible only to himself. He reached a revolutionary extreme, but he had not arrived at it by revolutionary means; without storm or stress, with characteristic peacefulness, he came to the great denials, and without much concerning himself with them turned to his own affirmations of spiritual reality, methods of life and personal results. Serenity was his peculiar trait; amid all the agitation about him he was entirely unmoved, lived calmly and wrote with placid power, concentrating into the slowly:wrought sentences of his Essays (1841–1875) the spiritual essence and moral metal of a life lived to God, to himself and to his fellow-men. He, more than any other single writer, reunited American thought with the philosophy of the world; more than all others, he opened the ways of liberalism, wherever they may lead. He was an emancipator of the mind. In his Poems (1847–1867), though the abstract and the concrete often find themselves awkward mates, his philosophic ideas are put forth under forms of imagination and his personal life is expressed with nobility; his poetic originality, though so different in kind, is as unique as Poe’s, and reaches a height of imaginative faculty not elsewhere found in American verse. His poetry belongs more peculiarly to universal art, so pure in general is its philosophic content and so free from any temporal trait is the style; but it is as distinguished for the laconic expression of American ideas, minted with one blow, as his prose is for the constant breathing of the American spirit. It is the less possible to define the American traits in Emerson, because they constituted the man. He was as purely an American type as Lincoln. The grain of the man is in his work also; and the best that his prose and verse contain is his personal force. In him alone is genius felt as power; in the others it impresses one primarily as culture, modes of artistic faculty, phases of temperament. In this, too, he brings to mind Jonathan Edwards, the other climax of the religious spirit in New England; in Edwards it was intellectual power, in Emerson it was moral power; in both it was indigenous, power springing from what was most profound in the historic life of the community.
Three other names, John Greenleaf Whittier (1807–1892), Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894), James Russell Lowell (1819–1891), complete the group of the greater writers of New England. Whittier: Holmes: Lowell.Holmes was a more local figure, by his humour and wit and his mental acuteness a Yankee and having the flavour of race, but neither in his verse nor his novels reaching a high degree of excellence and best known by The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table (1858), which is the Yankee prose classic. His contemporary reputation was largely social and owed much to the length of his life, but his actual hold on literature already seems slight and his work of little permanent value. Whittier stands somewhat apart as the poet of the soil and also because of his Quakerism; he was first eminent as the poet of the anti-slavery movement, to which he contributed much stirring verse, and later secured a broader fame by Snowbound (1866) and his religious poems of simple piety, welcome to every faith; he was also a balladist of local legends. In general he is the voice of the plain people without the medium of academic culture, and his verse though of low flight is near to their life and faith. Lowell first won distinction by The Biglow Papers (1848), which with the second series (1886) is the Yankee classic in verse, and is second only to his patriotic odes in maintaining his poetic reputation; his other verse, variously romantic in theme and feeling, and latterly more kindred to English classic style, shows little originality and was never popularly received; it is rather the fruit of great talent working in close literary sympathy with other poets whom from time to time he valued. His prose consists in the main of literary studies in criticism, a field in which he held the first rank. Together with Holmes and Whittier he gives greater body, diversity and illustration to the literature of New England; but in the work of none of these is there the initiative or the presence of single genius that characterize Emerson, Hawthorne and Longfellow. Lowell was a scholar with academic ties, a patriot above party, master of prose and verse highly developed and finished, and at times of a lofty strain owing to his moral enthusiasm; Whittier was a Quaker priest, vigorous in a great cause of humanity, with fluent power to express in poetry the life of the farm, the roadside and the legends that were like folklore in the memory of the settlement; Holmes was a town wit and master of occasional verse, with notes here and there of a higher strain in single rare poems.
The secondary literature that accompanied the work of these writers was abundant. It was largely the product of Transcendentalism and much of it gathered about Emerson. In The Dial (1840) Transcen-
dentalism.the organ of Transcendentalism, he introduced to the public his young friend, Henry David Thoreau (1817–1862), author of Walden (1854) and the father of the nature-writers, who as a hermit-type has had some European vogue and shows an increasing hold as an exception among men, but whose work has little literary distinction; and together with him, his companion, William Ellery Channing (1818–1901), a poet who has significance only in the transcendentalist group. With them should be named Emerson’s coeval, Amos Bronson Alcott (1799–1888), the patriarch of the so-called Concord philosophers, better esteemed for his powers of monologue than as a writer in either prose or verse. Emerson’s associate-editor in The Dial was Sarah Margaret Fuller, afterwards Marchioness d’Ossoli (1810–1850), a woman of extraordinary qualities and much usefulness, who is best remembered by her Woman in the Nineteenth Century (1844), but contributed no permanent work to literature. She was a leading figure at Brook Farm, the socialistic community founded by members of the group, and especially by Ripley, who like her afterwards emigrated to New York and together with her began a distinguished critical career in connexion with The New York Tribune. Transcendentalism produced also its peculiar poet in Jones Very (1813–1881), whose Poems (1839) have original quality though slight merit, and its novelist in Sylvester Judd (1813–1853), whose Margaret (1845) is a unique work in American fiction. Other transcendentalist poets were Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813–1892), and Charles Timothy Brooks (1813–1883), who translated Faust (1856), besides a score of minor names. Outside of this group Thomas William Parsons (1819–1892), who translated Dante’s Inferno (1843), was a poet of greater distinction, but his product was slight. The prose of the movement, though abundant, yielded nothing that is remembered.
The literary life of Boston was, however, by no means confined within this circle of thought. It was most distinguished in the field of history, where indeed the writers rivalled the History.imaginative authors in public fame. They were, besides George Bancroft already mentioned, John Gorham Palfrey (1796–1881), author of The History of New England (1858), William Hickling Prescott (1796–1859), whose field was Spanish and Spanish-American history, John Lothrop Motley (1814–1877), whose attention was given to Dutch history, and Jared Sparks (1789–1866), whose work lay in biography. In the writings of Prescott and Motley the romanticism of the period is clearly felt, and they attained the highest distinction in the literary school of history of the period.Oratory also flourished in Daniel Webster (1782–1852), Edward Everett (1794–1865), Rufus Choate (1799–1859), Wendell Phillips (1811–1884), Charles Sumner (1811–1874), and Robert Charles Oratory.Winthrop (1809–1894), the last survivor of a long line of fiery or classic oratory in which New England was especially distinguished and had rivalry only from Henry Clay (1777–1852) of Virginia, and John Caldwell Calhoun (1782–1850) of South Carolina. The church also produced two powerful speakers in Theodore Parker (1810–1860), the protagonist of the liberals in Boston, and Henry Ward Beecher (1813–1887), who sustained a liberal form of New England congregationalism in Brooklyn, New York, where he made Plymouth Church a national pulpit. The single memorable novel of the period was Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe’s (1811–1896) Fiction.Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), which had a world-wide vogue; it is the chief contribution of the anti-slavery movement to American literature and stands for plantation life in the old south. Another female writer, Mrs Lydia Maria Child (1802–1880), remembered by her Philothea (1836), deserves mention in the line of notable American women who served their generation in literary ways and by devotion to public causes. Criticism was served excellently by Edwin Percy Whipple (1819– 1885), and less eminently by Henry Theodore Tuckerman (1813–1871), who emigrated to New York; but scholarship in general flourished under the protection of Scholar-
ship. Harvard College, where Ticknor, Longfellow and Lowell maintained a high ideal of literary knowledge and judgment in the chair they successively filled, and were accompanied in English by Francis James Child (1825–1896), whose English and Scottish Ballads, first issued in 1858, was brought to its final and monumental form in 1892. Cornelius Conway Felton (1807–1862), president of Harvard College, stood for Greek culture, but the classical influence was little in evidence. Elsewhere in New England George Perkins Marsh (1801–1882) of Vermont, long minister to Italy, and William Dwight Whitney (1827–1894) of Yale, were linguistic scholars of high distinction. The development of the colleges into universities was already prophesied in the presence and work of these men. Outside of New England scholarship had been illustrated in New York by Charles Anthon (1797–1867), the classical editor, by the Duyckincks, Evert Augustus (1816–1878) and George Long (1823–1863), editors of the Cyclopaedia of American Literature (1855), and by Giulian Crommelin Verplanck (1786–1870), editor of Shakespeare (1846).
New England thus, standing somewhat apart, produced a characteristic literature, more deeply rooted in the community than was the case elsewhere; and this literature, blending with Character-
of New England literature.what was produced to the south and west, became a predominant share of what has been nationally accepted as standard American literature. It is also the more profound and scholarly share; and if quantity as well as quality be counted, and, as is proper, Bryant be included as the product of Puritan culture, it is the more artistic share. American standard literature, so constituted, belongs to romanticism, and is a phase of the romanticism which was then the general mood of literature; but it is a native product, with traits of its own and inward development from local conditions, not only apparent by its themes, but by its distinct evolution. Though it owed much to contact with Europe through its travelled scholars and its intellectual commerce by means of translations and imported books, and often dealt with matter detached from America both in prose and poetry, it was essentially self-contained. It was, in a marked way, free from the passions whose source was the French Revolution and its after-throes from 1789 to 1848; it is by this fact that it differs most from European romanticism. Just as the Puritan Rebellion in England left the colonies untouched to their own development, the political revolutions in Europe left the new nation unaffected to its normal evolution. There was never any revolution, in the French sense, in America, whether social, political, religious or literary; its great historical changes, such as the termination of English rule, the passing away of Puritanism, the abolition of slavery with the consequent destruction of the old South, were in a true sense conservative changes, normal phases of new life. In literature this state of things is reflected in the absence in it of any disturbance, its serenity of mood, its air of quiet studies. It is shown especially in its lack of passion. The only ardours displayed by its writers are moral, patriotic or religious, and in none of them is there any sense of conflict. The life which they knew was wholesome, regular, still free from urban corruption, the experience of a plain, prosperous and law-abiding people. None of these writers, though like Hawthorne they might deal with sin or like Poe with horror and a lover’s despair at death, struck any tragic note. No tragedy was written, no love-poetry, no novel of passion. No literature is so maiden-pure. It is by refinement rather than power that it is most distinguished, by taste and cultivation, by conscientiousness in art, in poetic and stylistic craft; it is romance retrospectively seen in the national past, or conjured out of foreign lands by reminiscent imagination, or symbolically created out of fantasy; and this is supplemented by poetry of the domestic affections, the simple sorrows, all “that has been and may be again” in daily human lives, and by prose similarly related to a well-ordered life. If it is undistinguished by any work of supreme genius, it reflects broadly and happily and in enduring forms the national tradition and character of the land in its dawning century.
The original impulse of this literature had spent its force by 1861—that is, before the Civil War. The greater writers had, in general, already done their characteristic work, and though the survivors continued to produce till toward the close of the century, their works contained no new element and were at most mellow fruits of age. The war itself, like the Revolution, left little trace in literature beyond a few popular songs and those occasional poems which the older poets wrote in the course of the conflict. Their attitude toward it and (with the exception of Whittier and Lowell) toward the anti-slavery movement which led up to it was rather that of citizens than of poets, though in the verse of Longfellow and Emerson there is the noble stamp of the hour, the impress of liberty, bravery and sorrow. Lowell is the exception; he found in the Commemoration Ode (1865) his loftiest subject and most enduring fame. The work began to fall into new hands, and a literature since the war grew up, which was, however, especially in poetry, a continuation of romanticism and contained its declining force. It was contributed to from all parts of the older country, and also from the west, and a generation has now added its completed work to the sum. No author, in this late period, has received the national welcome to the same degree as the men of the elder time; none has had such personal distinction, eminence or public affection; and none has found such honourable favour abroad, either in England or on the continent. Poetry has felt the presence of the art of Tennyson, which has maintained an extreme sensitiveness among the poets to artistic requirements of both material and technique; and it also has taken colour from the later English schools. It has, however, yielded its pre-eminent position to prose. The novel has displaced romance as the highest form of fiction, and the essay has succeeded the review as the form of criticism. The older colleges have grown into universities, and public libraries have multiplied throughout the north and west. The literature of information, meant for the popularization of knowledge of all kinds, has been put forth in great quantity, and the annual increase in the production of books keeps pace with the general growth of the country. Literature of distinction, however, makes but a small part of this large mass.
In poetry the literary tradition was continued in Boston by Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836–1907), essentially a stylist in verse, brief, definite, delicate, who carried the lighter graces of Later
writers. the art, refinement, wit, polish, to a high point of excellence. His artistic consanguinity is with Herrick and Landor, and he takes motive and colour for his verse from every land, as his predecessors had done, but with effects less rich. He divided attention between drama and lyric, but as his dramas look strictly to the stage, it is on the lyrics that his reputation rests. He was master also of an excellent prose and wrote novels, sketches of travel, and especially stories, strongly marked by humour, surprise and literary distinction. In New York, Edmund Clarence Stedman (1833–1908) became the chief representative of the literary profession. He was both poet and critic, and won reputation in the former and the first rank in the latter field. His Victorian Poets (1875) and Poets of America (1885), followed by comprehensive anthologies (1894–1900), together with The Nature and Elements of Poetry (1892), are the principal critical work of his generation, and indeed the sole work that is eminent. His verse, less practised as time went on, was well wrought and often distinguished by flashes of spirited song and balladry. With him is associated his elder friend, Richard Henry Stoddard (1825–1903), who made his appearance before the Civil War, and whose verse belongs in general character to the style of that earlier period and is as rapidly forgotten. Both Stedman and Stoddard were of New England birth, as was also the third to be mentioned, William Winter (born 1836), better known as the lifelong dramatic critic of the metropolis. The last of the New York poets of established reputation, Richard Watson Gilder (b. 1844 in New Jersey; d. 1909), was at first affiliated with the school of Rossetti, and his work in general, Five Books of Song (1894), strongly marked by artistic susceptibility, is in a high degree refined and delicate. In the country at large popular success, in England as well as in America, was won by Charles Godfrey Leland (1824–1903), in Hans Breitmann’s Ballads (1871), humorous poems in the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect. Born in Philadelphia, he spent the greater part of his mature life abroad and wrote numerous works on diverse topics, but his reputation is chiefly connected with his books on gypsy life and lore. Another foreign resident who deserves mention was William Wetmore Story (1819–1895), the sculptor, of Massachusetts, connected with the Boston group, whose verse and prose gave him the rank of a litterateur. The South again entered into literature with the work of Sidney Lanier (1842–1881), in succession to Henry Timrod (1829–1867) and Paul Hamilton Hayne (1830–1886), who find a place rather by the affection in which they are held at the South than by positive merit. Lanier showed originality and a true poetic gift, but his talents were little effectual. From the West humorous poetry was produced by Francis Bret Harte (1839–1902), born in Albany, in The Heathen Chinee (1870) and similar verse, but he is better remembered as the artistic narrator of western mining life in his numerous stories and novels. Verse of a similar kind also first brought into literary notice John Hay (1838–1905), in Pike County Ballads (1871), who also wrote in prose; but his reputation was rather won as a statesman in the closing years of his life. Minor poets of less distinction but with a vein superior to that of the earlier period, more excellent in workmanship and more coloured with imagination and mood, arose in all parts, of whom the most notable are Julia Ward Howe (born 1819), in Boston, the venerable friend of many good causes, Henry Howard Brownell (1820–1872) of Rhode Island, author of the most vigorous and realistic poetry of the Civil War, War Lyrics (1866), Edward Rowland Sill (1841–1887), born in Connecticut but associated with California, Henry Van Dyke (born 1852), in New York, better known by his prose in tale and essay, Silas Weir Mitchell (born 1830), in Philadelphia, whose repute as a novelist has overshadowed his admirable verse, Eugene Field (1850–1895) of Chicago, James Whitcomb Riley (born 1853) of Indiana, both distinguished for their humorous and childhood verse, and Joaquin Miller (born 1841) of Oregon, whose first work, Songs of the Sierras (1871), had in it much of the spirit of the wild land, the colour of the desert, the free, adventurous character of the filibuster, all strangely mixed with pseudo-Byronic passions.
Apart from all these, whether minor or major poets, stands Walt Whitman (1819–1892), whose Leaves of Grass (1855) first appeared. before the war, but whose fame is associated rather with its Whitman.successive editions and its companion volumes, and definitely dated, perhaps, from 1867. He received attention in England, as did Miller, on an assumption that his works expressed the new and original America, the unknown democracy, and he has had some vogue in Germany mainly owing to his naturalism. His own countrymen, however, steadily refuse to accept him as representative of themselves, and his naturalism is uninteresting to them, while on the other hand a group apparently increasing in critical authority treat his work as significant. It is, in general, only by those few fine lyrics which have found a place in all anthologies of American verse that he is well known and highly valued in his own land.
The chief field of literary activity has been found in the novel, and nowhere has the change been so marked as here. The romantic treatment of the novel practically disappeared, and in its The later novel.place came the realistic or analytic treatment, rendering manners by minute strokes of observation or dissecting motives psychologically. This amounted to a substitution of the French art of fiction, in some of its forms, for the English tradition of broad ideality and historical picturesqueness. The protagonist of the reform was William Dean Howells (born 1837), a cultivated literary scholar, and a various writer of essays, travel sketches, poetry and plays, editor of many magazines and books, whose career in letters has been more laborious and miscellaneous than any other contemporary, but whose main work has been the long series of novels that he has put forth almost annually throughout the period. He not only wrote fiction, but he endeavoured to make known to Americans fiction as it was practised in other lands, Russia, Italy, Spain, and to bring the art that was dearest to him into line with the standard of the European world. He was an apostle of the realistic school, and directed his teaching to the advocacy of the novel of observation, which records life in its conditions and attempts to realize what is in the daily lives and experience of man rather than what belongs to adventure, imagination or the dreaming part of life. Of his works, The Lady of the Aroostook (1879), The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885), A Hazard of New Fortunes (1889), are characteristic examples. He won a popular vogue, and if it is now less than it was, it is because after a score of years tastes and fashions change. The conscientiousness of his art continues the tradition of American writers in that respect, and he is master of an affable style. His work, including all its phases, is the most important body of work done in his generation. Henry James (born 1843), who mainly resided abroad, is his compeer, and in a similar way has followed French initiative. He also has been a various writer of criticism and travel and the occasional essay; but his equally long series of novels sustains his reputation. He has developed the psychological treatment of fiction, and of his work The Portrait of a Lady (1881), The Princess Casamassima (1886) and The Tragic Muse (1890) are characteristic. He has had less vogue owing to both matter and style, but in certain respects his power, more intellectual than that of Howells, has greater artistic elements, while the society with which he deals is more complex. He is really a cosmopolitan writer and has no other connexion with America than the accident of birth. A third novelist, also a foreign resident, Francis Marion Crawford (1854–1909), falls into the same category. A prolific novelist, in the beaten track of story-telling, he has always a story to tell and excellent narrative power. The work regarded as most important from his hand is Saracinesca (1887) and its sequels; but his subjects are cosmopolitan, his talent is personal, and he has no effectual connexion with his own country. The romantic tradition of the older time was continued by Lew Wallace (1827–1905) of Indiana, a distinguished general and diplomat, in his Mexican tale, The Fair God (1873), and his oriental romances, Ben Hur (1880), one of the most widely circulated of American books, and The Prince of India (1893). A mode of the novel which was wholly unique was practised by Francis Richard Stockton (1834–1902) in his droll tales, of which Rudder Grange (1879) is the best known.
The principal minor product of the novel lay in the provincial tale. The new methods easily lent themselves to the portraiture of local conditions, types and colour. Every part of the country had its writers who recorded its traits in this way. For New England Mrs Harriet Beecher Stowe described the older life in Old Town Folks (1869), and was succeeded by Sarah Orne Jewett (1849–1909) and Mary Eleanor Wilkins (born 1862). The West was notably treated by Edward Eggleston (1837–1902) in The Hoosier School Master (1871), Mary Hallock Foote (born 1847) in Led-Horse Claim (1883) and Hamlin Garland (born 1860) in Main Travelled Roads (1891). The South was represented by Mary Noailles Murfree [“Charles Egbert Craddock”] (born 1850) in In the Tennessee Mountains (1884) and its successors, by Thomas Nelson Page (born 1853) in Marse Chan (1887) and other tales of the reconstruction in Virginia, and with most literary grace by George Washington Cable (born 1844), whose novels of Louisiana are remarkable for their poetic charm. The list is sufficiently illustrative of the general movement, which made what was called the dialect novel supreme for the season. This was succeeded by a revival of the historical novel in local fields, of which Winston Churchill (born 1871) in Richard Carvel (1899) is the leading exponent, and together with it the sword and dagger tale of the Dumas type, the special contemporary plot invented by Anthony Hope, and romance in its utmost forms of adventure and extravagance, came in like a flood at the close of the Spanish War. There were during the period from 1870 to 1900 many other writers of fiction, who often proceeded in conventional and time-honoured ways to tell their tale, but none of them is especially significant for the general view or as showing any tendencies of an original sort. The pietistic novel, for example, was produced with immense popularity by Edward Payson Roe (1838–1888), who shared the same vogue as Josiah Gilbert Holland (1819–1881), and both fell heir to the same audience which in the earlier period had welcomed The Wide, Wide World with the same broad acceptance.
The essay, and the miscellaneous work which may be classed with it, was cultivated with most distinction by Thomas Wentworth Higginson (born 1823), one of the Boston group, a writer of the greatest versatility, as Essayists.in his life he followed many employments, from that of preaching in a Unitarian pulpit to that of commanding a negro regiment in the Civil War. He has written good verse and excellent prose, and his familiar style, often brilliant with life and wit, especially becomes the social essay or reminiscent paper in which he excelled, and gives agreeableness to his writings in every form. Atlantic Essays (1871) is a characteristic book; and, in general, in his volumes is to be found a valuable fund of reminiscence about the literature and the times of his long life, not elsewhere so abundant or entertaining. Charles Dudley Warner (1829–1900) of Hartford, also in close touch in the later years with the Boston group, was more gifted with gentle humour and of a literary temperament that made the social essay his natural expression. He won popularity by My Summer in a Garden (1870), and was the author of many volumes of travel and several novels, but the familiar essay, lighted with humour and touched with a reminiscence of the Irving quality in sentiment, was his distinctive work. The long life of Edward Everett Hale (1822–1909), minister at Boston, was fruitful in many miscellaneous volumes, including fiction of note, The Man Without a Country (1868), but the most useful writing from his pen falls into prose resembling the essay in its form and manner of address, though cousin, too, to the sermon. John Burroughs (b. 1837) of New York carried on in essay form the nature tradition of Thoreau, touched with Emersonianism in the thought, and after his example books of mingled observation, sentiment and literary quality, with an out-of-door atmosphere, have multiplied.
American humour often cultivates a form akin to the essay, but it also falls into the mould of the tale or scene from life. In the period before the Civil War, to sum up the whole subject in this place, it had the traits Humour.which it has since maintained, as its local tang, of burlesque, extravaganza, violence, but it recorded better an actual state of manners and scene of life in raw aspects. Its noteworthy writers were Seba Smith (1792–1868) of Maine, author of the Letters of Major Jack Downing, which began to appear in the press in 1830; Augustus Baldwin Longstreet of Georgia in Georgia Scenes (1835); William Tappan Thompson (1812–1882), born in Ohio but associated with the. South by descent and residence, in Major Jones' Courtship (1840), a Georgian publication; Joseph G. Baldwin (1815–1864) in Flush Times in Alabama and Mississippi (1853); and Benjamin Penhallow Shillaber (1814–1890) in Life and Sayings of Mrs Partington (1854). A fresh form, attended by whimsicality, appears in George Horatio Derby’s (1823–1861) Phoenixiana (1855). In the war-times Robert Henry Newell (1836–1901) and David Ross Locke (1833–1888), respectively known as “Orpheus C. Kerr” and “Petroleum V. Nasby” cultivated grotesque orthography in a characteristic vein of wit; and with more quaintness and drollery Henry Wheeler Shaw (1818–1885) and Charles Farrar Browne (1834–1867), known as “Josh Billings” and “Artemus Ward,” won immense popularity which extended to England. These latter writers were men of Northern birth, but of Western and wandering journalistic experience as a rule. Their works make up a body of what is known as “American humour,” a characteristic native product of social conditions and home talent. One poet, John Godfrey Saxe (1816–1887) of Vermont, attempted something similar in literary verse after the style of Tom Hood. The heir to this tradition of farce, drollery and joke was Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835–1910), known as “Mark Twain,” born in Missouri, who raised it to an extraordinary height of success and won world-wide reputation as a great and original humorist. His works, however, include a broader compass of fiction, greater humanity and reality, and ally him to the masters of humorous creation. Joel Chandler Harris (1848–1908) of Georgia introduced a new variety in Nights with Uncle Remus (1883), which is literary negro folklore, and Finley Peter Dunne (born 1857) of Chicago, the creator of “Mr Dooley,” continues the older American style in its original traits.
History was represented in this period with a distinction not inferior to that of the elder group by Francis Parkman (1823–1863) of Boston, who, however, really belongs with the preceding age by his affiliations; his History.series of histories fell after the Civil War by their dates of publication, but they began with History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851); he was the contemporary of Lowell and differed from the other members of the elder group, who survived, only by the fact of the later maturing of his work. He was not less eminent than Motley and Prescott and his history is of a more modern type. In the next generation the field of American history was cultivated by many scholars, and a large part of local history and of national biography was for the first time recorded. James Ford Rhodes’s (1848) History of the United States (1892) holds standard rank; the various writings of John Fiske (1842–1901), distinguished also as a philosophical writer, in the colonial and revolutionary periods are valued both for scholarship and for excellent literary style; and Theodore Roosevelt’s (born 1858) The Winning of the West (1889) and his several biographical studies deserve mention by their merit as well as for his eminent position. The historians, however, have seldom sought literary excellence, and their works belong rather to learning than to literature. The same statement is true of the scholarship of the universities in general, where the spirit of literary study has changed. In the department of scholarship little requires mention beyond Horace Howard Furness’s (born 1833) lifelong work on his Variorum Edition of Shakespeare, the Shakespearian labours of Henry Norman Hudson (1814–1886) and Richard Grant White (1821–1885), the Chaucerian studies of Thomas Raynesford Lounsbury (born 1838) of Yale, and the translations of Dante (1867, 1892) by Charles Eliot Norton (1827–1908) of Harvard.
The period has been one of great literary activity, effort and ambition, but it affects one by its mass rather than its details; it presents few eminent names. The romantic motives fixed in early colonizing history Modern
Ideas.as a taking possession of the land by a race of Puritans, pioneers, river-voyagers, backwoodsmen, argonauts, have been exhausted; and no new motives have been found. The national tradition has been absorbed and incorporated, so far as literature was able to accomplish this. The national character on the other hand has been expressed rather in local types, the colour of isolated communities and provincial conditions for their picturesque value and human truth, and in commonplace characters of average life; but no broadly ideal types of the old English tradition have been created, and the great scene of life has not been staged after the manner of the imaginative masters of the past. There has been no product of ideas since Emerson; he was, indeed, the sole author who received and fertilized ideas as such, and he has had no successor. America is, in truth, perhaps intellectually more remote from Europe than in its earlier days. The contact of its romanticism with that of Europe was, as has been seen, imperfect, but its touch with the later developments and reactions of the movement in Europe is far more imperfect. With Tolstoy, Ibsen, d’Annunzio, Zola, Nietzsche, Maeterlinck, Sudermann, the American people can have no effectual touch; their social tradition and culture make them impenetrable to the present ideas of Europe as they are current in literary forms. Nor has anything been developed from within that is fertile in literature. The political unity of the nation is achieved, but it is not an integral people in other respects. It has not the unity of England or France or even of the general European mind; it rather contains such disparate elements as characterize the Roman or the Turkish empire. It is cleft by political tradition and in social moral conviction, north and south, and by intellectual strata of culture east and west; it is still a people in the making. Its literature has been regional, as was said, centred in New England, New York, Philadelphia, contributed to sporadically from the South, growing up in Western districts like Indiana or germinating in Louisville in Kentucky, abundant in California, but always much dependent on the culture of its localities; it blends to some extent in the mind of the national reading public, but not very perfectly. The universities have not, on the whole, been its sources or fosterers, and they are now filled with research, useful for learning but impotent for literature. The intellectual life is now rather to be found in social, political and natural science than elsewhere; the imaginative life is feeble, and when felt is crude; the poetic pulse is imperceptible.