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Outlines of English and American Literature by William J. Long

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settlement of Jamestown, in 1607, to the Stamp Act of 1765. The
literature of this early age shows two general characteristics, one
historical, the other theological. The Colonists believed that they
were chosen by God to establish a new nation of freemen; hence
their tendency to write annals and to preserve every document that
might be of use to the future republic. Moreover, they were for the
most part religious men and women; they aimed to give their
children sound education and godly character; hence their
insistence on schools and universities (seven colleges were quickly
founded in the wilderness) for the training of leaders of the
people; hence also the religious note which sounds through nearly
all their writing.

In our review of the Colonial period we noted four classes of
writers: (i) The annalists and historians, of whom Bradford and
Byrd were selected as typical of two classes of writers who appear
constantly in our own and other literatures. (2) The poets, of whom
Wigglesworth, Anne Bradstreet and Godfrey are the most notable. (3)
A few characteristic books dealing with nature and the Indians,
which served readers of those days in the place of fiction. (4)
Theological writers, among whom Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards
are the most conspicuous.

The Revolutionary period extends from 1765 to the close of the
century. A large part of the literature of this period deals, in
the early years, with the strife of Loyalists and Patriots or, in
the later years, with the word wars of Federalists and
Anti-Federalists. These are the political parties into which
America was divided by the Revolution and by the question of the
Constitution. In general, Revolutionary writing has a practical
bent in marked contrast with the theological spirit of Colonial

Our study of Revolutionary literature includes: (1) Benjamin
Franklin who marks the transition from Colonial to Revolutionary
times, from spiritual to worldly interests. (2) Revolutionary
poetry, with its numerous ballads and political satires; the effort
of the Hartford Wits to establish a national literature; and the
work of Philip Freneau, who was a romantic poet at heart, but who
was led aside by the strife of the age into political and satiric
writing. (3) Orators and statesmen, of whom Otis and Henry,
Hamilton and Jefferson were selected as typical. (4) Miscellaneous
writers such as Paine, Crevecoeur, Carver, Abigail Adams and John
Woolman who reflected the life of the times from various angles.
(5) Charles Brockden Brown, and the beginning of American fiction.

SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections in Cairns, Selections
from Early American Writers; Trent and Wells, Colonial Prose and
Poetry; Stedman and Hutchinson, Library of American Literature, and
other anthologies (see "Selections" in the General Bibliography). A
convenient volume containing a few selections from every important
American author is Calhoun and MacAlarney, Readings from American
Literature (Ginn and Company).

Bradford's Of Plimoth Plantation and John Smith's Settlement of
Virginia, in Maynard's Historical Readings. Chronicles of the
Pilgrims, in Everyman's Library. Various records of early American
history and literature, in Old South Leaflets (Old South Meeting
House, Boston). Franklin's Autobiography, in Standard English
Classics, Holt's English Readings and several other school editions
(see "Texts" in General Bibliography). Poor Richard's Almanac, in
Riverside Literature. The Federalist and Letters from an American
Farmer, in Everyman's Library. Woolman's Journal, in Macmillan's
Pocket Classics.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. For reference works covering the entire field of
American history and literature see the General Bibliography. The
following works deal with the Colonial and Revolutionary periods.

_HISTORY_. Fisher, The Colonial Era; Thwaite, The Colonies;
Fiske, Old Virginia and her Neighbors, Beginnings of New England,
Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America.

Winsor, Handbook of the Revolution; Sloane, French War and the
Revolution; Fisher, Struggle for American Independence; Fiske, A
Critical Period of American History; Hart, Formation of the Union.

Studies of social life in Earle, Home Life in Colonial Days;
Fisher, Men, Women and Manners of Colonial Times; Crawford,
Romantic Days in the Early Republic.

_LITERATURE_. Tyler, History of American Literature,
1607-1765, and Literary History of the Revolution; Sears, American
Literature of the Colonial and National Periods; Marble, Heralds of
American Literature (a few Revolutionary authors); Patterson,
Spirit of the American Revolution as Revealed in the Poetry of the
Period; Loshe, The Early American Novel (includes a study of
Charles Brockden Brown).

Life of Franklin, by Bigelow, 3 vols., by Parton, 2 vols., by
McMaster, by Morse, etc. Lives of other Colonial and Revolutionary
worthies in American Statesmen, Makers of America, Cyclopedia of
American Biography, etc. (see "Biography" in General Bibliography).

_FICTION_. A few historical novels dealing with Colonial times
are: Cooper, Satanstoe, The Red Rover; Kennedy, Rob of the Bowl;
Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter; Motley, Merry Mount; Cooke, The
Virginia Comedians; Carruthers, Cavaliers of Virginia; Austin,
Standish of Standish; Barr, The Black Shilling; Mary Johnston, To
Have and to Hold.

Novels with a Revolutionary setting are: Cooper, The Spy, The
Pilot; Simms, The Partisan, Katherine Walton; Kennedy, Horseshoe
Robinson; Winthrop, Edwin Brothertoft; Eggleston, A Carolina
Cavalier; Maurice Thompson, Alice of Old Vincennes; Mitchell, Hugh
Wynne; Churchill, Richard Carvel; Gertrude Atherton, The Conqueror.



Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind, the gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
Before him only shoreless seas.
The good mate said, "Now must we pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone:
Brave Admiral, speak; what shall I say?"
"Why say, 'Sail on! sail on! and on!'"

Joaquin Miller, "Columbus"

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND. It was in the early part of the nineteenth
century that America began to be counted among the great nations of
the world, and it was precisely at that time that she produced her
first national literature, a literature so broadly human that it
appealed not only to the whole country but to readers beyond the
sea. Irving, Cooper and Bryant are commonly regarded as the first
notable New World writers; and we may better understand them and
their enthusiastic young contemporaries if we remember that they
"grew up with the country"; that they reflected life at a time when
America, having won her independence and emerged from a long period
of doubt and struggle, was taking her first confident steps in the
sun and becoming splendidly conscious of her destiny as a leader
among the world's free people.


Indeed, there was good reason for confidence in those early days;
for never had a young nation looked forth upon a more heartening
prospect. The primitive hamlets of Colonial days had been replaced
by a multitude of substantial towns, the somber wilderness by a
prosperous farming country. The power of a thousand rivers was
turning the wheels of as many mills or factories, and to the
natural wealth of America was added the increase of a mighty
commerce with other nations. By the Louisiana Purchase and the
acquisition of Florida her territory was vastly increased, and
still her sturdy pioneers were pressing eagerly into more spacious
lands beyond the Mississippi. Best of all, this enlarging nation,
once a number of scattered colonies holding each to its own course,
was now the Union; her people were as one in their patriotism,
their loyalty, their intense conviction that the brave New World
experiment in free government, once scoffed at as an idle dream,
was destined to a glorious future. American democracy was not
merely a success; it was an amazing triumph. Moreover, this
democracy, supposed to be the weakest form of government, had
already proved its power; it had sent its navy abroad to humble the
insolent Barbary States, and had measured the temper of its soul
and the strength of its arm in the second war with Great Britain.

In fine, the New World had brought forth a hopeful young giant of a
nation; and its hopefulness was reflected, with more of zeal than
of art, in the prose and poetry of its literary men. Just as the
enthusiastic Elizabethan spirit reflected itself in lyric or drama
after the defeat of the Armada, so the American spirit seemed to
exult in the romances of Cooper and Simms; in the verse of
Pinckney, Halleck, Drake and Percival; in a multitude of national
songs, such as "The American Flag," Warren's Address, "Home Sweet
Home" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." We would not venture to liken
one set of writings to the other, for we should be on the weak side
of an Elizabethan comparison; we simply note that a great national
enthusiasm was largely responsible for the sudden appearance of a
new literature in the one land as in the other.

LITERARY ENVIRONMENT. In the works of four writers, Irving, Cooper, Bryant
and Poe, we have the best that the early national period produced; but we
shall not appreciate these writers until we see them, like pines in a wood,
lifting their heads over numerous companions, all drawing their nourishment
from the same soil and air. The growth of towns and cities in America had
led to a rapid increase of newspapers, magazines and annuals (collections
of contemporary prose and verse), which called with increasing emphasis for
poems, stories, essays, light or "polite" literature. The rapid growth of
the nation set men to singing the old psalm of _Sursum Corda_, and
every man and woman who felt the impulse added his story or his verse to
the national chorus. When the first attempt at a summary of American
literature was made in 1837, the author, Royal Robbins, found more than two
thousand living writers demanding his attention.


It was due, one must think, to geography rather than to any spirit of
sectionalism, to difficulty of travel between the larger towns rather than
to any difference of aim or motive, that the writers of this period
associated themselves in a number of so-called schools or literary centers.
New York, which now offered a better field for literary work than Boston or
Philadelphia, had its important group of writers called the Knickerbocker
School, which included Fitz-Greene Halleck and Joseph Rodman Drake, both
poets and cheerful satirists of New World society; the versatile Nathaniel
Parker Willis, writer of twenty volumes of poems, essays, stories and
sketches of travel; and James Kirke Paulding, also a voluminous writer, who
worked with Irving in the _Salmagundi_ essays and whose historical
novels, such as _The Dutchman's Fireside_ (1831), are still mildly
interesting. [Footnote: Irving, Cooper and Bryant are sometimes classed
among the Knickerbockers; but the work of these major writers is national
rather than local or sectional, and will be studied later in detail.]


In the South was another group of young writers, quite as able and
enthusiastic as their northern contemporaries. Among these we note
especially William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), whose _Yemassee_,
_Border Beagles_, _Katherine Walton_ and many other historical
romances of Colonial and Revolutionary days were of more than passing
interest. He was a high-minded and most industrious writer, who produced
over forty volumes of poems, essays, biographies, histories and tales; but
he is now remembered chiefly by his novels, which won him the title of "the
Cooper of the South." At least one of his historical romances should be
read, partly for its own sake and partly for a comparison with Cooper's
work in the same field. Thus _The Yemassee_ (1835), dealing with
frontier life and Indian warfare, may be read in connection with Cooper's
_The Deerslayer_ (1841), which has the same general theme; or _The
Partisan_ (1835), dealing with the bitter struggle of southern Whigs and
Tories during the Revolution, may well be compared with Cooper's _The
Spy_ (1821), which depicts the same struggle in a northern environment.


Other notable writers of the South during this period were Richard Henry
Wilde the poet, now remembered by the song (from an unfinished opera)
beginning, "My life is like the summer rose"; William Wirt, the essayist
and biographer; and John Pendleton Kennedy, writer of essays and stories
which contain many charming pictures of social life in Virginia and
Maryland in the days "before the war."


In New England was still another group, who fortunately avoided the name of
any school. Sparks, Prescott, Ticknor, Story, Dana,--the very names
indicate how true was Boston to her old scholarly traditions. Meanwhile
Connecticut had its popular poet in James Gates Percival; Maine had its
versatile John Neal; and all the northern states were reading the "goody
goody" books of Peter Parley (Samuel Goodrich), the somewhat Byronic
_Zophiel_ and other emotional poems of Maria Gowen Brooks (whom
Southey called "Maria del Occidente"), and the historical romances of
Catherine Sedgwick and Sarah Morton.


The West also (everything beyond the Alleghenies was then the West) made
its voice heard in the new literature. Timothy Flint wrote a very
interesting _Journal_ from his missionary experiences, and a highly
colored romance from his expansive imagination; and James Hall drew some
vigorous and sympathetic pictures of frontier life in _Letters from the
West_, _Tales of the Border_ and _Wilderness and Warpath_.

There are many other writers who won recognition before 1840, but those we
have named are more than enough; for each name is an invitation, and
invitations when numerous are simply bothersome. For example, the name of
Catherine Sedgwick invites us to read _Hope Leslie_ and _The
Linwoods_, both excellent in their day, and still interesting as
examples of the novels that won fame less than a century ago; or the name
of Kennedy leads us to _Swallow Barn_ (alluring title!) with its
bright pictures of Virginia life, and to _Horseshoe Robinson_, a crude
but stirring tale of Revolutionary heroism. The point in naming these minor
writers, once as popular as any present-day favorite, is simply this: that
the major authors, whom we ordinarily study as typical of the age, were not
isolated figures but part of a great romantic movement in literature; that
they were influenced on the one hand by European letters, and on the other
by a host of native writers who were all intent on reflecting the expanding
life of America in the early part of the nineteenth century.

* * * * *


A very pleasant writer is Irving, a man of romantic and somewhat
sentimental disposition, but sound of motive, careful of workmanship,
invincibly cheerful of spirit. The genial quality of his work may be due to
the fact that from joyous boyhood to serene old age he did very much as he
pleased, that he lived in what seemed to him an excellent world and wrote
with no other purpose than to make it happy. In summarizing his career an
admirer of Irving is reminded of what the Book of Proverbs says of wisdom:
"Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace."


The historian sees another side of Irving's work. Should it be asked, "What
did he do that had not been as well or better done before him?" the first
answer is that the importance of any man's work must be measured by the age
in which he did it. A schoolboy now knows more about electricity than ever
Franklin learned; but that does not detract from our wonder at Franklin's
kite. So the work of Irving seems impressive when viewed against the gray
literary dawn of a century ago. At that time America had done a mighty work
for the world politically, but had added little of value to the world's
literature. She read and treasured the best books; but she made no
contribution to their number, and her literary impotence galled her
sensitive spirit. As if to make up for her failure, the writers of the
Knickerbocker, Charleston and other "schools" praised each other's work
extravagantly; but no responsive echo came from overseas, where England's
terse criticism of our literary effort was expressed in the scornful
question, "Who reads an American book?"

Irving answered that question effectively when his _Sketch Book_,
_Bracebridge Hall_ and _Tales of a Traveller_ found a multitude
of delighted readers on both sides of the Atlantic. His graceful style was
hardly rivaled by any other writer of the period; and England, at a time
when Scott and Byron were playing heroic parts, welcomed him heartily to a
place on the literary stage. Thus he united the English and the American
reader in a common interest and, as it were, charmed away the sneer from
one face, the resentment from the other. He has been called "father of our
American letters" for two reasons: because he was the first to win a
lasting literary reputation at home and abroad, and because of the
formative influence which his graceful style and artistic purpose have ever
since exerted upon our prose writers.


LIFE. Two personal characteristics appear constantly in Irving's
work: the first, that he was always a dreamer, a romance seeker;
the second, that he was inclined to close his eyes to the heroic
present and open them wide to the glories, real or imaginary, of
the remote past. Though he lived in an American city in a day of
mighty changes and discoveries, he was far less interested in the
modern New York than in the ancient New Amsterdam; and though he
was in Europe at the time of the Napoleonic wars, he apparently saw
nothing of them, being then wholly absorbed in the battles of the
long-vanished Moors. Only once, in his books of western
exploration, did he seriously touch the vigorous life of his own
times; and critics regard these books as the least important of all
his works.

[Sidenote: BOYHOOD]

He was born in New York (1783) when the present colossal city was a
provincial town that retained many of its quaint Dutch
characteristics. Over all the straggling town, from the sunny
Battery with its white-winged ships to the Harlem woods where was
good squirrel shooting, Irving rambled at ease on many a day when
the neighbors said he ought to have been at his books. He was the
youngest of the family; his constitution was not rugged, and his
gentle mother was indulgent. She would smile when he told of
reading a smuggled copy of the _Arabian Nights_ in school,
instead of his geography; she was silent when he slipped away from
family prayers to climb out of his bedroom window and go to the
theater, while his sterner father thought of him as sound asleep in
his bed.

Little harm came from these escapades, for Irving was a merry lad
with no meanness in him; but his schooling was sadly neglected. His
brothers had graduated from Columbia; but on the plea of delicate
health he abandoned the idea of college, with a sigh in which there
was perhaps as much satisfaction as regret. At sixteen he entered a
law office, where he gave less time to studying Blackstone than to
reading novels and writing skits for the newspapers.


This happy indifference to work and learning, this disposition to
linger on the sunny side of the street, went with Irving through
life. Experimentally he joined his brothers, who were in the
hardware trade; but when he seemed to be in danger of consumption
they sent him to Europe, where he enjoyed himself greatly, and
whence he returned perfectly well. Next he was sent on business to
England; and there, when the Irving Brothers failed, their business
having been ruined by the War of 1812, Irving manfully resolved to
be no longer a burden on others and turned to literature for his
support. With characteristic love of doing what he liked he refused
a good editorial position (which Walter Scott obtained for him) and
busied himself with his _Sketch Book_ (1820). This met with a
generous welcome in England and America, and it was followed by the
equally popular _Bracebridge Hall_ and _Tales of a
Traveller_. By these three works Irving was assured not only of
literary fame but, what was to him of more consequence, of his
ability to earn his living.

[Sidenote: LIFE ABROAD]

Next we find him in Spain, whither he went with the purpose of
translating Navarrete's _Voyages of Columbus_, a Spanish book,
in which he saw a chance of profit from his countrymen's interest
in the man who discovered America. Instead of translating another
man's work, however, he wrote his own _Life and Times of
Columbus_ (1828). The financial success of this book (which is
still our most popular biography of the great explorer) enabled
Irving to live comfortably in Spain, where he read diligently and
accumulated the material for his later works on Spanish history.


By this time Irving's growing literary fame had attracted the
notice of American politicians, who rewarded him with an
appointment as secretary of the legation at London. This pleasant
office he held for two years, but was less interested in it than in
the reception which English men of letters generously offered him.
Then he apparently grew homesick, after an absence of seventeen
years, and returned to his native land, where he was received with
the honor due to a man who had silenced the galling question, "Who
reads an American book?"


The rest of Irving's long life was a continued triumph. Amazed at
first, and then a little stunned by the growth, the hurry, the
onward surge of his country, he settled back into the restful past,
and was heard with the more pleasure by his countrymen because he
seemed to speak to them from a vanished age. Once, inspired by the
tide of life weeping into the West, he journeyed beyond the
Mississippi and found material for his pioneering books; but an
active life was far from his taste, and presently he built his
house "Sunnyside" (appropriate name) at Tarrytown on the Hudson.
There he spent the remainder of his days, with the exception of
four years in which he served the nation as ambassador to Spain.
This honor, urged upon him by Webster and President Tyler, was
accepted with characteristic modesty not as a personal reward but
as a tribute which America had been wont to offer to the profession
of letters.

CHIEF WORKS OF IRVING. A good way to form a general impression of Irving's
works is to arrange them chronologically in five main groups. The first,
consisting of the _Salmagundi_ essays, the _Knickerbocker
History_ and a few other trifles, we may call the Oldstyle group, after
the pseudonym assumed by the author. [Footnote: Ever since Revolutionary
days it had been the fashion for young American writers to use an assumed
name. Irving appeared at different times as "Jonathan Oldstyle," "Diedrich
Knickerbocker" and "Geoffrey Crayon, Gent."] The second or Sketch-Book
group includes the _Sketch Book_, _Bracebridge Hall_ and _Tales
of a Traveller_. The third or Alhambra group, devoted to Spanish and
Moorish themes, includes _The Conquest of Granada_, _Spanish Voyages
of Discovery_, _The Alhambra_ and certain similar works of a later
period, such as _Moorish Chronicles_ and _Legends of the Conquest of
Spain_. The fourth or Western group contains _A Tour on the
Prairies_, _Astoria_ and _Adventures of Captain Bonneville_.
The fifth or Sunnyside group is made up chiefly of biographies, _Oliver
Goldsmith_, _Mahomet and his Successors_ and _The Life of
Washington_. Besides these are some essays and stories assembled under
the titles of _Spanish Papers_ and _Wolfert's Roost_.

The _Salmagundi_ papers and others of the Oldstyle group would have
been forgotten long ago if anybody else had written them. In other words,
our interest in them is due not to their intrinsic value (for they are all
"small potatoes") but to the fact that their author became a famous
literary man. Most candid readers would probably apply this criticism also
to the _Knickerbocker History_, had not that grotesque joke won an
undeserved reputation as a work of humor.


The story of the Knickerbocker fabrication illustrates the happy-go-lucky
method of all Irving's earlier work. He had tired of his _Salmagundi_
fooling and was looking for variety when his eyes lighted on Dr. Mitchill's
_Picture of New York_, a grandiloquent work written by a prominent
member of the Historical Society. In a light-headed moment Irving and his
brother Peter resolved to burlesque this history and, in the approved
fashion of that day, to begin with the foundation of the world. Then Peter
went to Europe on more important business, and Irving went on with his joke
alone. He professed to have discovered the notes of a learned Dutch
antiquarian who had recently disappeared, leaving a mass of manuscript and
an unpaid board-bill behind him. After advertising in the newspapers for
the missing man, Irving served notice on the public that the profound value
of Knickerbocker's papers justified their publication, and that the
proceeds of the book would be devoted to paying the board-bill. Then
appeared, in time to satisfy the aroused curiosity of the Historical
Society, to whom the book was solemnly dedicated, the _History of New
York from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty, by
Diedrich Knickerbocker_ (1809).

This literary hoax made an instant sensation; it was denounced for its
scandalous irreverence by the members of the Historical Society, especially
by those who had Dutch ancestors, but was received with roars of laughter
by the rest of the population. Those who read it now (from curiosity, for
its merriment has long since departed, leaving it dull as any
thrice-repeated joke) are advised to skip the first two books, which are
very tedious fooling, and to be content with an abridged version of the
stories of Wouter van Twiller, William the Testy and Peter the Headstrong.
These are the names of real Dutch governors of New Amsterdam, and the dates
given are exact dates; but there history ends and burlesque begins. The
combination of fact and nonsense and the strain of gravity in which
absurdities are related have led some critics to place the _Knickerbocker
History_ first in time of the notable works of so-called American humor.
That is doubtless a fair classification; but other critics assert that real
humor is as purely human as a smile or a tear, and has therefore no
national or racial limitations.

[Sidenote: SKETCH BOOK]

The _Sketch Book_, chief of the second group of writings, is perhaps
the best single work that Irving produced. We shall read it with better
understanding if we remember that it was the work of a young man who,
having always done as he pleased, proceeds now to write of whatever
pleasant matter is close at hand. Being in England at the time, he
naturally finds most of his material there; and being youthful, romantic
and sentimental, he colors everything with the hue of his own disposition.
He begins by chatting of the journey and of the wide sea that separates him
from home. He records his impressions of the beautiful English country,
tells what he saw or felt during his visit to Stratford on Avon, and what
he dreamed in Westminster Abbey, a place hallowed by centuries of worship
and humanized by the presence of the great dead. He sheds a ready tear over
a rural funeral, and tries to make us cry over the sorrows of a poor widow;
then to relieve our feelings he pokes a bit of fun at John Bull. Something
calls his attention to Isaac Walton, and he writes a Waltonian kind of
sketch about a fisherman. In one chapter he comments on contemporary
literature; then, as if not quite satisfied with what authors are doing, he
lays aside his record of present impressions, goes back in thought to his
home by the Hudson, and produces two stories of such humor, charm and
originality that they make the rest of the book appear almost commonplace,
as the careless sketches of a painter are forgotten in presence of his
inspired masterpiece.

These two stories, the most pleasing that Irving ever wrote, are "Rip van
Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." They should be read if one reads
nothing else of the author's twenty volumes.

[Illustration: RIP VAN WINKLE]


The works on Spanish themes appeal in different ways to different readers.
One who knows his history will complain (and justly) that Irving is
superficial, that he is concerned with picturesque rather than with
important incidents; but one who likes the romance of history, and who
reflects that romance plays an important part in the life of any people,
will find the legends and chronicles of this Spanish group as interesting
as fiction. We should remember, moreover, that in Irving's day the romance
of old Spain, familiar enough to European readers, was to most Americans
still fresh and wondrous. In emphasizing the romantic or picturesque side
of his subject he not only pleased his readers but broadened their horizon;
he also influenced a whole generation of historians who, in contrast with
the scientific or prosaic historians of to-day, did not hesitate to add the
element of human interest to their narratives.

[Sidenote: THE ALHAMBRA]

The most widely read of all the works of the Spanish group is _The
Alhambra_ (1832). This is, on the surface, a collection of
semihistorical essays and tales clustering around the ancient palace, in
Granada, which was the last stronghold of the Moors in Europe; in reality
it is a record of the impressions and dreams of a man who, finding himself
on historic ground, gives free rein to his imagination. At times, indeed,
he seems to have his eye on his American readers, who were then in a
romantic mood, rather than on the place or people he was describing. The
book delighted its first critics, who called it "the Spanish Sketch Book";
but though pleasant enough as a romantic dream of history, it hardly
compares in originality with its famous predecessor.


Except to those who like a brave tale of exploration, and who happily have
no academic interest in style, Irving's western books are of little
consequence. In fact, they are often omitted from the list of his important
works, though they have more adventurous interest than all the others
combined. _A Tour on the Prairies_, which records a journey beyond the
Mississippi in the days when buffalo were the explorers' mainstay, is the
best written of the pioneer books; but the _Adventures of Captain
Bonneville_, a story of wandering up and down the great West with plenty
of adventures among Indians and "free trappers," furnishes the most
excitement. Unfortunately this journal, which vies in interest with
Parkman's _Oregon Trail_, cannot be credited to Irving, though it
bears his name on the title-page. [Footnote: The _Adventures_ is
chiefly the work of a Frenchman, a daring free-rover, who probably tried in
vain to get his work published. Irving bought the work for a thousand
dollars, revised it slightly, gave it his name and sold it for seven or
eight times what he paid for it. In _Astoria_, the third book of the
western group, he sold his services to write up the records of the fur
house established by John Jacob Astor, and made a poor job of it.]

Mentioned by Irving in "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"]


Of the three biographies _Oliver Goldsmith_ (1849) is the best,
probably because Irving had more sympathy and affinity with the author of
"The Deserted Village" than with Mahomet or Washington. The _Life of
Washington_ (1855-1859) was plainly too large an undertaking for
Irving's limited powers; but here again we must judge the work by the
standards of its own age and admit that it is vastly better than the
popular but fictitious biographies of Washington written by Weems and other
romancers. Even in Irving's day Washington was still regarded as a demigod;
his name was always printed in capitals; and the rash novelist who dared to
bring him into a story (as Cooper did in _The Spy_) was denounced for
his lack of reverence. In consequence of this false attitude practically
all Washington's biographers (with the exception of the judicious Marshall)
depicted him as a ponderously dignified creature, stilted, unlovely,
unhuman, who must always appear with a halo around his head. Irving was too
much influenced by this absurd fashion and by his lack of scholarship to
make a trustworthy book; but he gave at least a touch of naturalness and
humanity to our first president, and set a new biographical standard by
attempting to write as an honest historian rather than as a mere

AN APPRECIATION OF IRVING. The three volumes of the Sketch-Book group and
the romantic _Alhambra_ furnish an excellent measure of Irving's
literary talent. At first glance these books appear rather superficial,
dealing with pleasant matters of no consequence; but on second thought
pleasant matters are always of consequence, and Irving invariably displays
two qualities, humor and sentiment, in which humanity is forever
interested. His humor, at first crude and sometimes in doubtful taste (as
in his _Knickerbocker History_) grew more refined, more winning in his
later works, until a thoughtful critic might welcome it, with its kindness,
its culture, its smile in which is no cynicism and no bitterness, as a true
example of "American" humor,--if indeed such a specialized product ever
existed. His sentiment was for the most part tender, sincere and manly.
Though it now seems somewhat exaggerated and at times dangerously near to
sentimentality, that may not be altogether a fault; for the same criticism
applies to Longfellow, Dickens and, indeed, to most other writers who have
won an immense audience by frankly emphasizing, or even exaggerating, the
honest sentiments that plain men and women have always cherished both in
life and in literature.


The style of Irving, with its suggestion of Goldsmith and Addison (who were
his first masters), is deserving of more unstinted praise. A "charming"
style we call it; and the word, though indefinite, is expressive of the
satisfaction which Irving's manner affords his readers. One who seeks the
source of his charm may find it in this, that he cherished a high opinion
of humanity, and that the friendliness, the sense of comradeship, which he
felt for his fellow men was reflected in his writing; unconsciously at
first, perhaps, and then deliberately, by practice and cultivation. In
consequence, we do not read Irving critically but sympathetically; for
readers are like children, or animals, in that they are instinctively drawn
to an author who trusts and understands them.

Thackeray, who gave cordial welcome to Irving, and who called him "the
first ambassador whom the New World of letters sent to the Old," was deeply
impressed by the fact not that the young American had an excellent prose
style but that "his gate was forever swinging to visitors." That is an
illuminating criticism; for we can understand the feeling of the men and
women of a century ago who, having read the _Sketch Book_, were eager
to meet the man who had given them pleasure by writing it. In brief, though
Irving wrote nothing of great import, though he entered not into the stress
of life or scaled its heights or sounded its deeps, we still read him for
the sufficient but uncritical reason that we like him.

In this respect, of winning our personal allegiance, Irving stands in
marked contrast to his greatest American contemporary, Cooper. We read the
one because we are attracted to the man, the other for the tale he has to

* * * * *


Bryant has been called "the father of American song," and the year 1821,
when his first volume appeared, is recorded as the natal year of American
poetry. Many earlier singers had won local reputations, but he was the
first who was honored in all the states and who attained by his poetry
alone a dominating place in American letters.

That was long ago; and times have changed, and poets with them. In any
collection of recent American verse one may find poems more imaginative or
more finely wrought than any that Bryant produced; but these later singers
stand in a company and contribute to an already large collection, while
Bryant stood alone and made a brave beginning of poetry that we may
honestly call native and national. Before he won recognition by his
independent work the best that our American singers thought they could do
was to copy some English original; but after 1821 they dared to be
themselves in poetry, as they had ever been in politics. They had the
successful Bryant for a model, and the young Longfellow was one of his
pupils. Moreover, he stands the hard test of time, and seems to have no
successor. He is still our Puritan poet,--a little severe, perhaps, but
American to the core,--who reflects better than any other the rugged spirit
of that puritanism which had so profoundly influenced our country during
the early, formative days of the republic.


LIFE. In the boyhood of Bryant we shall find the inspiration for
all his enduring work. He was of Pilgrim stock, and was born (1794)
in the little village of Cummington, in western Massachusetts.
There, with the Berkshire Hills and the ancient forest forever in
sight, he grew to man's stature, working on the farm or attending
the district school by day, and reading before the open fire at
night. His father was a physician, a scholarly man who directed his
son's reading. His mother was a Puritan, one of those quiet,
inspiring women who do their work cheerfully, as by God's grace,
and who invariably add some sign or patent of nobility to their
sons and daughters. There was also in the home a Puritan
grandfather who led the family devotions every evening, and whose
prayers with their rich phraseology of psalm or prophecy were
"poems from beginning to end." So said Bryant, who attributed to
these prayers his earliest impulse to write poetry.

Between these two influences, nature without and puritanism within,
the poet grew up; in their shadow he lived and died; little else of
consequence is reflected in the poems that are his best memorial.

[Sidenote: THE CITIZEN]

The visible life of Bryant lies almost entirely outside the realm
of poesie. He as fitted for Williams by country ministers, as was
customary in that day; but poverty compelled him to leave college
after two brief terms. Then he studied law, and for nine or ten
years practiced his profession doggedly, unwillingly, with many a
protest at the chicanery he was forced to witness even in the
sacred courts of justice. Grown weary of it at last, he went to New
York, found work in a newspaper office, and after a few years'
apprenticeship became editor of _The Evening Post_, a position
which he held for more than half a century. His worldly affairs
prospered; he became a "leading citizen" of New York, prominent in
the social and literary affairs of a great city; he varied the
routine of editorship by trips abroad, by literary or patriotic
addresses, by cultivating a country estate at Long Island. In his
later years, as a literary celebrity, he loaned his name rather too
freely to popular histories, anthologies and gift books, which
better serve their catchpenny purpose if some famous man can be
induced to add "tone" to the rubbish.

[Sidenote: THE POET]

And Bryant's poetry? Ah, that was a thing forever apart from his
daily life, an almost sacred thing, to be cherished in moments
when, his day's work done, he was free to follow his spirit and
give outlet to the feelings which, as a strong man and a Puritan,
he was wont to restrain. He had begun to write poetry in childhood,
when his father had taught him the value of brevity or compression
and "the difference between poetic enthusiasm and fustian."
Therefore he wrote slowly, carefully, and allowed ample time for
change of thought or diction. So his early "Thanatopsis" was hidden
away for years till his father found and published it, and made
Bryant famous in a day. All this at a time when English critics
were exalting "sudden inspiration," "sustained effort" and poems
"done at one sitting."

Once Bryant had found himself (and the blank verse and simple
four-line stanza which suited his talent) he seldom changed, and he
never improved. His first little volume, _Poems_ (1821),
contains some of his best work. In the next fifty years he added to
the size but not to the quality of that volume; and there is little
to indicate in such poems as "Thanatopsis" and "The Flood of Years"
that the one was written by a boy of seventeen and the other by a
sage of eighty. His love of poetry as a thing apart from life is
indicated by the fact that in old age, to forget the grief
occasioned by the death of his wife, he gave the greater part of
six years to a metrical translation of the Greek poet Homer. That
he never became a great poet or even fulfilled his early promise is
due partly to his natural limitations, no doubt, but more largely
to the fact that he gave his time and strength to other things. And
a poet is like other men in that he cannot well serve two masters.

THE POETRY OF BRYANT. Besides the translation of the _Iliad_ and the
_Odyssey_ there are several volumes of prose to Bryant's credit, but
his fame now rests wholly on a single book of original poems. The best of
these (the result of fifty years of writing, which could easily be printed
on fifty pages) may be grouped in two main classes, poems of death and
poems of nature; outside of which are a few miscellaneous pieces, such as
"The Antiquity of Freedom," "Planting of the Apple Tree" and "The Poet," in
which he departs a little from his favorite themes.

[Sidenote: POEMS OF DEATH]

Bryant's poems on death reflect something of his Puritan training and of
his personal experience while threatened with consumption; they are also
indicative of the poetic fashion of his age, which was abnormally given to
funereal subjects and greatly influenced by such melancholy poems as Gray's
"Elegy" and Young's "Night Thoughts." He began his career with
"Thanatopsis" (or "View of Death"), a boyhood piece which astonished
America when it was published in 1817, and which has ever since been a
favorite with readers. The idea of the poem, that the earth is a vast
sepulcher of human life, was borrowed from other poets; but the stately
blank verse and the noble appreciation of nature are Bryant's own. They
mark, moreover, a new era in American poetry, an original era to replace
the long imitative period which had endured since Colonial times. Other and
perhaps better poems in the same group are "The Death of the Flowers," "The
Return of Youth" and "Tree Burial," in which Bryant goes beyond the pagan
view of death presented in his first work.

That death had a strange fascination for Bryant is evident from his
returning again and again to a subject which most young poets avoid. Its
somber shadow and unanswered question intrude upon nearly all of his nature
pieces; so much so that even his "June" portrays that blithe, inspiring
month of sunshine and bird song as an excellent time to die. It is from
such poems that one gets the curious idea that Bryant never was a boy, that
he was a graybeard at sixteen and never grew any younger.


It is in his poems of nature that Bryant is at his best. Even here he is
never youthful, never the happy singer whose heart overflows to the call of
the winds; he is rather the priest of nature, who offers a prayer or hymn
of praise at her altar. And it may be that his noble "Forest Hymn" is
nearer to a true expression of human feeling, certainly of primitive or
elemental feeling, than Shelley's "Skylark" or Burns's "Mountain Daisy."
Thoreau in one of his critical epigrams declared it was not important that
a poet should say any particular thing, but that he should speak in harmony
with nature; that "the tone of his voice is the main thing." If that be
true, Bryant is one of our best poets. He is always in harmony with nature
in her prevailing quiet mood; his voice is invariably gentle, subdued,
merging into the murmur of trees or the flow of water,--much like Indian
voices, but as unlike as possible to the voices of those who go to nature
for a picnic or a camping excursion.

Among the best of his nature poems are "To a Waterfowl" (his most perfect
single work), "Forest Hymn," "Hymn to the Sea," "Summer Wind," "Night
Journey of a River," "Autumn Woods," "To a Fringed Gentian," "Among the
Trees," "The Fountain" and "A Rain Dream." To read such poems is to
understand the fact, mentioned in our biography, that Bryant's poetry was a
thing apart from his daily life. His friends all speak of him as a
companionable man, receptive, responsive, abounding in cheerful anecdote,
and with a certain "overflowing of strength" in mirth or kindly humor; but
one finds absolutely nothing of this genial temper in his verse. There he
seems to regard all such bubblings and overflowings as unseemly levity (lo!
the Puritan), which he must lay aside in poetry as on entering a church. He
is, as we have said, the priest of nature, in whom reverence is uppermost;
and he who reads aloud the "Forest Hymn," with its solemn organ tone, has
an impression that it must be followed by the sublime invitation, "O come,
let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker."



Though Bryant is always serious, it is worthy of note that he is never
gloomy, that he entirely escapes the pessimism or despair which seizes upon
most poets in times of trouble. Moreover, he has a lighter mood, not gay
but serenely happy, which finds expression in such poems as "Evening Wind,"
"Gladness of Nature" and especially "Robert of Lincoln." The exuberance of
the last-named, so unlike anything else in Bryant's book of verse, may be
explained on the assumption that not even a Puritan could pull a long face
in presence of a bobolink. The intense Americanism of the poet appears in
nearly all his verse; and occasionally his patriotism rises to a prophetic
strain, as in "The Prairie," for example, written when he first saw what
was then called "the great American desert." It is said that the honeybee
crossed the Mississippi with the first settlers, and Bryant looks with
kindled imagination on this little pioneer who

Fills the savannas with his murmurings,
And hides his sweets, as in the golden age,
Within the hollow oak. I listen long
To his domestic hum, and think I hear
The sound of that advancing multitude
Which soon shall fill these deserts. From the ground
Comes up the laugh of children, the soft voice
Of maidens, and the sweet and solemn hymn
Of Sabbath worshippers. The low of herds
Blends with the rustling of the heavy grain
Over the dark brown furrows. All at once
A fresher wind sweeps by, and breaks my dream,
And I am in the wilderness alone.

OUR PIONEER POET. From one point of view our first national poet is a
summary of all preceding American verse and a prophecy of better things to
come. To be specific, practically all our early poetry shows the
inclination to moralize, to sing a song and then add a lesson to it. This
is commonly attributed to Puritan influence; but in truth it is a universal
poetic impulse, a tribute to the early office of the bard, who was the
tribal historian and teacher as well as singer. This ancient didactic or
moralizing tendency is very strong in Bryant. To his first notable poem,
"Thanatopsis," he must add a final "So live"; and to his "Waterfowl" must
be appended a verse which tells what steadfast lesson may be learned from
the mutable phenomena of nature.

Again, most of our Colonial and Revolutionary poetry was strongly (or
weakly) imitative, and Bryant shows the habit of his American predecessors.
The spiritual conception of nature revealed in some of his early poems is a
New World echo of Wordsworth; his somber poems of death indicate that he
was familiar with Gray and Young; his "Evening Wind" has some suggestion of
Shelley; we suspect the influence of Scott's narrative poems in the
neglected "Stella" and "Little People of the Snow." But though influenced
by English writers, the author of "Thanatopsis" was too independent to
imitate them; and in his independence, with the hearty welcome which it
received from the American public, we have a prophecy of the new poetry.


The originality and sturdy independence of Bryant are clearly shown in his
choice of subjects. In his early days poetry was formal and artificial,
after the manner of the eighteenth century; the romantic movement had
hardly gained recognition in England; Burns was known only to his own
countrymen; Wordsworth was ridiculed or barely tolerated by the critics;
and poets on both sides of the Atlantic were still writing of larks and
nightingales, of moonlight in the vale, of love in a rose-covered cottage,
of ivy-mantled towers, weeping willows, neglected graves,--a medley of
tears and sentimentality. You will find all these and little else in _The
Garland_, _The Token_ and many other popular collections of the
period; but you will find none of them in Bryant's first or last volume.
From the beginning he wrote of Death and Nature; somewhat coldly, to be
sure, but with manly sincerity. Then he wrote of Freedom, the watchword of
America, not as other singers had written of it but as a Puritan who had
learned in bitter conflict the price of his heritage:

O Freedom! thou art not, as poets dream,
A fair young girl, with light and delicate limbs,
And wavy tresses gushing from the cap
With which the Roman master crowned his slave
When he took off the gyves. A bearded man,
Armed to the teeth, art thou; one mailed hand
Grasps the broad shield, and one the sword; thy brow,
Glorious in beauty though it be, is scarred
With tokens of old wars; thy massive limbs
Are strong with struggling.

He wrote without affectation of the Past, of Winter, of the North Star, of
the Crowded Street, of the Yellow Violet and the Fringed Gentian. If the
last-named poems now appear too simple for our poetic taste, remember that
simplicity is the hardest to acquire of all literary virtues, and that it
was the dominant quality of Bryant. Remember also that these modest flowers
of which he wrote so modestly had for two hundred years brightened our
spring woods and autumn meadows, waiting patiently for the poet who should
speak our appreciation of their beauty. Another century has gone, and no
other American poet has spoken so simply or so well of other neglected
treasures: of the twin flower, for example, most fragrant of all blooms; or
of that other welcome-nodding blossom, beloved of bumblebees, which some
call "wild columbine" and others "whippoorwill's shoes."

In a word, Bryant was and is our pioneer poet in the realm of native
American poetry. As Emerson said, he was our first original poet, and was
original because he dared to be sincere.

* * * * *


In point of time Cooper is the first notable American novelist. Judging by
the booksellers, no other has yet approached him in the sustained interest
of his work or the number of his readers.

[Sidenote: THE MAN]

On first analysis we shall find little in Cooper to account for his abiding
popularity. The man himself was not exactly lovable; indeed, he had almost
a genius for stirring up antagonism. As a writer he began without study or
literary training, and was stilted or slovenly in most of his work. He was
prone to moralize in the midst of an exciting narrative; he filled
countless pages with "wooden" dialogue; he could not portray a child or a
woman or a gentleman, though he was confident that he had often done so to
perfection. He did not even know Indians or woodcraft, though Indians and
woodcraft account for a large part of our interest in his forest romances.


One may enjoy a good story, however, without knowing or caring for its
author's peculiarities, and the vast majority of readers are happily not
critical but receptive. Hence if we separate the man from the author, and
if we read _The Red Rover_ or _The Last of the Mohicans_ "just
for the story," we shall discover the source of Cooper's power as a writer.
First of all, he has a tale to tell, an epic tale of heroism and manly
virtue. Then he appeals strongly to the pioneer spirit, which survives in
all great nations, and he is a master at portraying wild nature as the
background of human life. The vigor of elemental manhood, the call of
adventure, the lure of primeval forests, the surge and mystery of the
sea,--these are written large in Cooper's best books. They make us forget
his faults of temper or of style, and they account in large measure for his
popularity with young readers of all nations; for he is one of the few
American writers who belong not to any country but to humanity. At present
he is read chiefly by boys; but half a century or more ago he had more
readers of all classes and climes than any other writer in the world.

LIFE. The youthful experiences of Cooper furnished him with the
material for his best romances. He was born (1789) in New Jersey;
but while he was yet a child the family removed to central New
York, where his father had acquired an immense tract of wild land,
on which he founded the village that is still called Cooperstown.
There on the frontier of civilization, where stood the primeval
forest that had witnessed many a wild Indian raid, the novelist
passed his boyhood amid the picturesque scenes which he was to
immortalize in _The Pioneers_ and _The Deerslayer_.

[Sidenote: HIS TRAINING]

Cooper picked up a little "book learning" in a backwoods school and
a little more in a minister's study at Albany. At thirteen he
entered Yale; but he was a self-willed lad and was presently
dismissed from college. A little later, after receiving some scant
nautical training on a merchantman, he entered the navy as
midshipman; but after a brief experience in the service he married
and resigned his commission. That was in 1811, and the date is
significant. It was just before the second war with Great Britain.
The author who wrote so much and so vividly of battles, Indian
raids and naval engagements never was within sight of such affairs,
though the opportunity was present. In his romances we have the
product of a vigorous imagination rather than of observation or


His literary work seems now like the result of whim or accident.
One day he flung down a novel that he was reading, declaring to his
wife that he could write a better story himself. "Try it,"
challenged his wife. "I will," said Cooper; and the result was
_Precaution_, a romance of English society. He was then a
farmer in the Hudson valley, and his knowledge of foreign society
was picked up, one must think, from silly novels on the subject.

Strange to say, the story was so well received that the gratified
author wrote another. This was _The Spy_ (1821), dealing with
a Revolutionary hero who had once followed his dangerous calling in
the very region in which Cooper was now living. The immense success
of this book fairly drove its author into a career. He moved to New
York City, and there quickly produced two more successful romances.
Thus in four years an unknown man without literary training had
become a famous writer, and had moreover produced four different
types of fiction: the novel of society in _Precaution_, the
historical romance in _The Spy_, and the adventurous romance
of forest and of ocean in _The Pioneers_ and _The Pilot_.


Cooper now went abroad, as most famous authors do. His books,
already translated into several European languages, had made him
known, and he was welcomed in literary circles; but almost
immediately he was drawn into squabbles, being naturally inclined
that way. He began to write political tirades; and even his
romances of the period (_The Bravo_, _The Heidenmauer_,
_The Headsman_) were devoted to proclaiming the glories of
democracy. Then he returned home and proceeded to set his
countrymen by the ears (in such books as _Home as Found_) by
writing too frankly of their crudity in contrast with the culture
of Europe. Then followed long years of controversy and lawsuits,
during which our newspapers used Cooper scandalously, and Cooper
prosecuted and fined the newspapers. It is a sorry spectacle, of no
interest except to those who would understand the bulk of Cooper's
neglected works. He was an honest man, vigorous, straightforward,
absolutely sincere; but he was prone to waste his strength and
embitter his temper by trying to force his opinion on those who
were well satisfied with their own. He had no humor, and had never
pondered the wisdom of "Who drives fat oxen should himself be fat."


The last years of his life were spent mostly at the old home at
Cooperstown, no longer a frontier settlement but a thriving
village, from which Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook had long since
departed. Before his death (1851) the fires of controversy had sunk
to ashes; but Cooper never got over his resentment at the public,
and with the idea of keeping forever aloof he commanded that none
of his private papers be given to biographers. It is for lack of
such personal letters and documents that no adequate life of Cooper
has yet been written.

COOPER'S WORKS. There are over sixty volumes of Cooper, but to read them
all would savor of penance rather than of pleasure. Of his miscellaneous
writings only the _History of the Navy_ and _Lives of Distinguished
Naval Officers_ are worthy of remembrance. Of his thirty-two romances
the half, at least, may be ignored; though critics may differ as to whether
certain books (_The Bravo_ and _Lionel Lincoln_, for example)
should be placed in one half or the other. There remain as the measure of
Cooper's genius some sixteen works of fiction, which fall naturally into
three groups: the historical novels, the tales of pioneer life, and the
romances of the sea.

[Sidenote: THE SPY]

_The Spy_ was the first and probably the best of Cooper's historical
romances. Even his admirers must confess that it is crudely written, and
that our patriotic interest inclines us to overestimate a story which
throws the glamor of romance over the Revolution. Yet this faulty tale
attempts to do what very few histories have ever done fairly, namely, to
present both sides or parties of the fateful conflict; and its unusual
success in this difficult field may be explained by a bit of family
history. Cooper was by birth and training a stanch Whig, or Patriot; but
his wife, to whom he was devotedly attached, was the daughter of an
unbending Tory, or Loyalist; and his divided allegiance is plainly apparent
in his work. Ordinarily his personal antagonisms, his hatred of "Yankees,"
Puritans and all politicians of the other party, are dragged into his
stories and spoil some of them; but in _The Spy_ he puts his
prejudices under restraint, tells his tale in an impersonal way, dealing
honestly with both Whigs and Tories, and so produces a work having the
double interest of a good adventure story and a fair picture of one of the
heroic ages of American history.

Aside from its peculiar American interest, _The Spy_ has some original
and broadly human elements which have caused it, notwithstanding its
dreary, artificial style, to be highly appreciated in other countries, in
South American countries especially. The secret of its appeal lies largely
in this, that in Harvey Birch, a brave man who serves his country without
hope or possibility of reward, Cooper has strongly portrayed a type of the
highest, the most unselfish patriotism.

The other historical novels differ greatly in value. Prominent among them
are _Mercedes of Castile_, dealing with Columbus and the discovery of
America; _Satanstoe_ and _The Wept of Wish-Ton-Wish_, depicting
Colonial life in New York and New England respectively; and _Lionel
Lincoln_, which is another story of the Revolution, more labored than
_The Spy_ and of less sustained interest.


Cooper's first sea story, _The Pilot_ (1823), was haphazard enough in
both motive and method, [Footnote: The Waverley novels by "the great
unknown" were appearing at this time. Scott was supposed to be the author
of them, but there was much debate on the subject. One day in New York a
member of Cooper's club argued that Scott could not possibly have written
_The Pirate_ (which had just appeared), because the nautical skill
displayed in the book was such as only a sailor could possess. Cooper
maintained, on the contrary, that _The Pirate_ was the work of a
landsman; and to prove it he declared that he would write a sea story as it
should be written; that is, with understanding as well as with imagination.
_The Pilot_ was the result.] but it gave pleasure to a multitude of
readers, and it amazed critics by showing that the lonely sea could be a
place of romantic human interest. Cooper was thus the first modern novelist
of the ocean; and to his influence we are partly indebted for the stirring
tales of such writers as Herman Melville and Clark Russell. A part of the
action of _The Pilot_ takes place on land (the style and the
characters of this part are wretchedly stilted), but the chief interest of
the story lies in the adventures of an American privateer commanded by a
disguised hero, who turns out to be John Paul Jones. Cooper could not
portray such a character, and his effort to make the dashing young captain
heroic by surrounding him with a fog of mystery is like his labored attempt
to portray the character of Washington in _The Spy_. On the other
hand, he was thoroughly at home on a ship or among common sailors; his sea
pictures of gallant craft driven before the gale are magnificent; and Long
Tom Coffin is perhaps the most realistic and interesting of all his
characters, not excepting even Leatherstocking.

Another and better romance of the sea is _The Red Rover_ (1828). In
this story the action takes place almost wholly on the deep, and its vivid
word pictures of an ocean smiling under the sunrise or lashed to fury by
midnight gales are unrivaled in any literature. Other notable books of the
same group are _The Water Witch_, _Afloat and Ashore_ and _Wing
and Wing_. Some readers will prize these for their stories; but to
others they may appear tame in comparison with the superb descriptive
passages of _The Red Rover_.


When Cooper published _The Pioneers_ (1823) he probably had no
intention of writing a series of novels recounting the adventures of Natty
Bumppo, or Leatherstocking, and his Indian friend Chingachgook; otherwise
he would hardly have painted so shabby a picture of these two old heroes,
neglected and despised in a land through which they had once moved as
masters. Readers were quick to see, however, that these old men had an
adventurous past, and when they demanded the rest of the story Cooper wrote
four other romances, which are as so many acts in the stirring drama of
pioneer life. When these romances are read, therefore, they should be taken
in logical sequence, beginning with _The Deerslayer_, which portrays
the two heroes as young men on their first war trail, and following in
order with _The Last of the Mohicans_, _The Pathfinder_, _The
Pioneers_ and _The Prairie_. If one is to be omitted, let it be
_The Pathfinder_, which is comparatively weak and dull; and if only
one is to be read, _The Last of the Mohicans_ is an excellent choice.

After nearly a century of novel writing, these five books remain our most
popular romances of pioneer days, and Leatherstocking is still a winged
name, a name to conjure with, in most civilized countries. Meanwhile a
thousand similar works have come and gone and been forgotten. To examine
these later books, which attempt to satisfy the juvenile love of Indian
stories, is to discover that they are modeled more or less closely on the
original work of the first American novelist.

COOPER'S SCENES AND CHARACTERS. Even in his outdoor romances Cooper was
forever attempting to depict human society, especially polite society; but
that was the one subject he did not and could not understand. The sea in
its grandeur and loneliness; the wild lakes, stretching away to misty,
unknown shores or nestling like jewels in their evergreen setting; the
forest with its dim trails, its subdued light, its rustlings, whisperings,
hints of mystery or peril,--these are his proper scenes, and in them he
moves as if at ease in his environment.

[Illustration: COOPER'S CAVE
Scene of Indian fight in _The Last of the Mohicans_]

In his characters we soon discover the same contrast. If he paints a hero
of history, he must put him on stilts to increase his stature. If he
portrays a woman, he calls her a "female," makes her a model of decorum,
and bores us by her sentimental gabbing. If he describes a social
gathering, he instantly betrays his unfamiliarity with real society by
talking like a book of etiquette. But with rough men or manly men on land
or sea, with half-mutinous crews of privateers or disciplined man-of-war's
men, with woodsmen, trappers, Indians, adventurous characters of the border
or the frontier,--with all these Cooper is at home, and in writing of them
he rises almost to the height of genius.


If we seek the secret of this contrast, we shall find it partly in the
author himself, partly in a popular, half-baked philosophy of the period.
That philosophy was summed up in the words "the return to nature," and it
alleged that all human virtues flow from solitude and all vices from
civilization. Such a philosophy appealed strongly to Cooper, who was
continually at odds with his fellows, who had been expelled from Yale, who
had engaged in many a bitter controversy, who had suffered abuse from
newspapers, and who in every case was inclined to consider his opponents as
blockheads. No matter in what society he found himself, in imagination he
was always back in the free but lawless atmosphere of the frontier village
in which his youth was spent. Hence he was well fitted to take the point of
view of Natty Bumppo (in _The Pioneers_), who looked with hostile eyes
upon the greed and waste of civilization; hence he portrayed his uneducated
backwoods hero as a brave and chivalrous gentleman, without guile or fear
or selfishness, who owed everything to nature and nothing to society.
Europe at that time was ready to welcome such a type with enthusiasm. The
world will always make way for him, whether he appears as a hero of fiction
or as a man among men.

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS. The faults of Cooper--his stilted style and
slipshod English, his tedious moralizing, his artificial dialogue, his
stuffed gentlemen and inane "females," his blunders in woodcraft--all these
are so easily discovered by a casual reader that the historian need not
linger over them. His virtues are more interesting, and the first of these
is that he has a story to tell. Ever since Anglo-Saxon days the
"tale-bringer" has been a welcome guest, and that Cooper is a good
tale-bringer is evident from his continued popularity at home and abroad.
He may not know much about the art of literature, or about psychology, or
about the rule that motives must be commensurate with actions; but he knows
a good story, and that, after all, is the main thing in a novel.

Again, there is a love of manly action in Cooper and a robustness of
imagination which compel attention. He is rather slow in starting his tale;
but he always sees a long trail ahead, and knows that every turn of the
trail will bring its surprise or adventure. It is only when we analyze and
compare his plots that we discover what a prodigal creative power he had.
He wrote, let us say, seven or eight good stories; but he spoiled ten times
that number by hasty or careless workmanship. In the neglected _Wept of
Wish-Ton-Wish_, for example, there is enough wasted material to furnish
a modern romancer or dramatist for half a lifetime.


Another fine quality of Cooper is his descriptive power, his astonishing
vigor in depicting forest, sea, prairie,--all the grandeur of wild nature
as a background of human heroism. His descriptions are seldom accurate, for
he was a careless observer and habitually made blunders; but he painted
nature as on a vast canvas whereon details might be ignored, and he
reproduced the total impression of nature in a way that few novelists have
ever rivaled. It is this sustained power of creating a vast natural stage
and peopling it with elemental men, the pioneers of a strong nation, that
largely accounts for Cooper's secure place among the world's fiction


Finally, the moral quality of Cooper, his belief in manhood and womanhood,
his cleanness of heart and of tongue, are all reflected in his heroes and
heroines. Very often he depicts rough men in savage or brutal situations;
but, unlike some modern realists, there is nothing brutal in his morals,
and it is precisely where we might expect savagery or meanness that his
simple heroes appear as chivalrous gentlemen "without fear and without
reproach." That he was here splendidly true to nature and humanity is
evident to one who has met his typical men (woodsmen, plainsmen, lumbermen,
lonely trappers or timber-cruisers) in their own environment and
experienced their rare courtesy and hospitality. In a word, Cooper knew
what virtue is, virtue of white man, virtue of Indian, and he makes us know
and respect it. Of a hundred strong scenes which he has vividly pictured
there is hardly one that does not leave a final impression as pure and
wholesome as the breath of the woods or the sea.

* * * * *

EDGAR ALLAN POE (1809-1849)

It is a pleasant task to estimate Irving or Bryant, but Poe offers a hard
nut for criticism to crack. The historian is baffled by an author who
secretes himself in the shadow, or perplexed by conflicting biographies, or
put on the defensive by the fact that any positive judgment or opinion of
Poe will almost certainly be challenged.

At the outset, therefore, we are to assume that Poe is one of the most
debatable figures in our literature. His life may be summed up as a pitiful
struggle for a little fame and a little bread. When he died few missed him,
and his works were neglected. Following his recognition in Europe came a
revival of interest here, during which Poe was absurdly overpraised and the
American people berated for their neglect of a genius. Then arose a
literary controversy which showed chiefly that our critics were poles apart
in their points of view. Though the controversy has long endured, it has
settled nothing of importance; for one reader regards Poe as a literary
_poseur_, a writer of melodious nonsense in verse and of grotesque
horrors in prose; while another exalts him as a double master of poetry and
fiction, an artist without a peer in American letters.

Somewhere between these extremes hides the truth; but we shall not here
attempt to decide whether it is nearer one side or the other. We note
merely that Poe is a writer for such mature readers as can appreciate his
uncanny talent. What he wrote of abiding interest or value to young people
might be printed in a very small book.

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH. Notwithstanding all that has been written
about Poe, we do not and cannot know him as we know most other
American authors, whose lives are as an open book. He was always a
secretive person, "a lover of mystery and retreats," and such
accounts of his life as he gave out are not trustworthy. He came
from a good Maryland family, but apparently from one of those
offshoots that are not true to type. His father left the study of
law to become a strolling actor, and presently married an English
actress. It was while the father and mother were playing their
parts in Boston that Edgar was born, in 1809.

[Illustration: EDGAR ALLAN POE]

Actors led a miserable life in those days, and the Poes were no
exception. They died comfortless in Richmond; their three children
were separated; and Edgar was adopted by John Allan, a wealthy
tobacco merchant. It was in the luxurious Allan home that the boy
began the drinking habits which were his bane ever afterwards.


The Allans were abroad on business from 1815 to 1820, and during
these years Edgar was at a private school in the suburbs of London.
It was the master of that school who described the boy as a clever
lad spoiled by too much pocket money. The prose tale "William
Wilson" has some reflection of these school years, and, so far as
known, it is the only work in which Poe introduced any of his
familiar experiences.

Soon after his return to Richmond the boy was sent to the
University of Virginia, where his brilliant record as a student was
marred by his tendency to dissipation. After the first year Mr.
Allan, finding that the boy had run up a big gambling debt, took
him from college and put him to work in the tobacco house.
Whereupon Edgar, always resentful of criticism, quarreled with his
foster father and drifted out into the world. He was then at
eighteen, a young man of fine bearing, having the taste and manners
of a gentleman, but he had no friend in the world, no heritage of
hard work, no means of earning a living.



Next we hear vaguely of Poe in Boston where he published a tiny
volume, _Tamerlane and Other Poems, by a Bostonian_ (1827).
Failing to win either fame or money by his poetry he enlisted in
the army under an assumed name and served for about two years. Of
his army life we know nothing, nor do we hear of him again until
his foster father secured for him an appointment to the military
academy at West Point. There Poe made an excellent beginning, but
he soon neglected his work, was dismissed, and became an Ishmael
again. After trying in vain to secure a political office he went to
Baltimore, where he earned a bare living by writing for the
newspapers. The popular but mythical account of his life (for which
he himself is partly responsible) portrays him at this period in a
Byronic role, fighting with the Greeks for their liberty.


His literary career began in 1833 when his "Manuscript Found in a
Bottle" won for him a prize offered by a weekly newspaper. The same
"Manuscript" brought him to the attention of John Pendleton
Kennedy, who secured for him a position on the staff of the
_Southern Literary Messenger_. He then settled in Richmond,
and in his grasp was every thing that the heart of a young author
might desire. He had married his cousin, Virginia Clem, a beautiful
young girl whom he idolized; he had a comfortable home and an
assured position; Kennedy and other southern writers were his loyal
friends; the _Messenger_ published his work and gave him a
reputation in the literary world of America. Fortune stood smiling
beside him, when he quarreled with his friends, left the Messenger
and began once more his struggle with poverty and despair.


It would require a volume to describe the next few years, and we
must pass hurriedly over them. His pen was now his only hope, and
he used it diligently in an effort to win recognition and a living.
He tried his fortune in different cities; he joined the staffs of
various periodicals; he projected magazines of his own. In every
project success was apparently within his reach when by some
weakness or misfortune he let his chance slip away. He was living
in Fordham (a suburb of New York, now called the Bronx) when he did
his best work; but there his wife died, in need of the common
comforts of life; and so destitute was the home that an appeal was
made in the newspapers for charity. One has but to remember Poe's
pride to understand how bitter was the cup from which he drank.

After his wife's death came two frenzied years in which not even
the memory of a great love kept him from unmanly wooing of other
women; but Poe was then unbalanced and not wholly responsible for
his action. At forty he became engaged to a widow in Richmond, who
could offer him at least a home. Generous friends raised a fund to
start him in life afresh; but a little later he was found
unconscious amid sordid surroundings in Baltimore. He died there,
in a hospital, before he was able to give any lucid account of his
last wanderings. It was a pitiful end; but one who studies Poe at
any part of his career has an impression of a perverse fate that
dogs the man and that insists on an ending in accord with the rest
of the story.

THE POETRY OF POE. Most people read Poe's poetry for the melody that is in
it. To read it in any other way, to analyze or explain its message, is to
dissect a butterfly that changes in a moment from a delicate, living
creature to a pinch of dust, bright colored but meaningless. It is not for
analysis, therefore, but simply for making Poe more intelligible that we
record certain facts or principles concerning his verse.


Perhaps the first thing to note is that Poe is not the poet of smiles and
tears, of joy and sorrow, as the great poets are, but the poet of a single
mood,--a dull, despairing mood without hope of comfort. Next, he had a
theory (a strange theory in view of his mood) that the only object of
poetry is to give pleasure, and that the pleasure of a poem depends largely
on melody, on sound rather than on sense. Finally, he believed that poetry
should deal with beauty alone, that poetic beauty is of a supernal or
unearthly kind, and that such beauty is forever associated with melancholy.
To Poe the most beautiful imaginable object was a beautiful woman; but
since her beauty must perish, the poet must assume a tragic or despairing
attitude in face of it. Hence his succession of shadowy Helens, and hence
his wail of grief that he has lost or must soon lose them.

[Sidenote: THE RAVEN]

All these poetic theories, or delusions, appear in Poe's most widely known
work, "The Raven," which has given pleasure to a multitude of readers. It
is a unique poem, and its popularity is due partly to the fact that nobody
can tell what it means. To analyze it is to discover that it is extremely
melodious; that it reflects a gloomy mood; that at the root of its sorrow
is the mysterious "lost Lenore"; and that, as in most of Poe's works, a
fantastic element is introduced, an "ungainly fowl" addressed with
grotesque dignity as "Sir, or Madame," to divert attention from the fact
that the poet's grief is not simple or human enough for tears:

And the Raven, never flitting, still is sitting, _still_ is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted--nevermore!

Equally characteristic of the author are "To One in Paradise," "The
Sleeper" and "Annabel Lee,"--all melodious, all in hopeless mood, all
expressive of the same abnormal idea of poetry. Other and perhaps better
poems are "The Coliseum," "Israfel," and especially the second "To Helen,"
beginning, "Helen, thy beauty is to me."

Young readers may well be content with a few such lyrics, leaving the bulk
of Poe's poems to such as may find meaning in their vaporous images. As an
example, study these two stanzas from "Ulalume," a work which some may find
very poetic and others somewhat lunatic:

The skies they were ashen and sober;
The leaves they were crisped and sere--
The leaves they were withering and sere;
It was night in the lonesome October
Of my most immemorial year;
It was hard by the dim lake of Auber,
In the misty mid region of Weir--
It was down by the dank tarn of Auber,
In the ghoul-haunted woodland of Weir.

Here once, through an alley Titanic
Of cypress, I roamed with my soul--
Of cypress, with Psyche, my soul.
These were days when my heart was volcanic
As the scoriac rivers that roll--
As the lavas that restlessly roll
Their sulphurous currents down Yaanek,
In the ultimate climes of the pole--
That groan as they roll down Mount Yaanek,
In the realms of the boreal pole.

This is melodious, to be sure, but otherwise it is mere word juggling, a
stringing together of names and rimes with a total effect of lugubrious
nonsense. It is not to be denied that some critics find pleasure in
"Ulalume"; but uncritical readers need not doubt their taste or
intelligence if they prefer counting-out rimes, "The Jabberwock," or other
nonsense verses that are more frankly and joyously nonsensical.

POE'S FICTION. Should it be asked why Poe's tales are nearly all of the
bloodcurdling variety, the answer is that they are a triple reflection of
himself, of the fantastic romanticism of his age, and of the taste of
readers who were then abnormally fond of ghastly effects in fiction. Let us
understand these elements clearly; for otherwise Poe's horrible stories
will give us nothing beyond the mere impression of horror.


To begin with the personal element, Poe was naturally inclined to
morbidness. He had a childish fear of darkness and hobgoblins; he worked
largely "on his nerves"; he had an abnormal interest in graves, ghouls and
the terrors which preternatural subjects inspire in superstitious minds. As
a writer he had to earn his bread; and the fiction most in demand at that
time was of the "gothic" or _Mysteries of Udolpho_ kind, with its
diabolical villain, its pallid heroine in a haunted room, its medley of
mystery and horror. [Footnote: As Richardson suggests, the popular novels
of Poe's day are nearly all alike in that they remind us of the fat boy in
_Pickwick_, who "just wanted to make your flesh creep." Jane Austen
(and later, Scott and Cooper) had written against this morbid tendency, but
still the "gothic" novel had its thousands of shuddering readers on both
sides of the Atlantic.] At the beginning of the century Charles Brockden
Brown had made a success of the "American gothic" (a story of horror
modified to suit American readers), and Poe carried on the work of Brown
with precisely the same end in view, namely, to please his audience. He
used the motive of horror partly because of his own taste and training, no
doubt, but more largely because he shrewdly "followed the market" in
fiction. Then as now there were many readers who enjoyed, as Stevenson
says, being "frightened out of their boots," and to such readers he
appealed. His individuality and, perhaps, his chief excellence as a
story-writer lay in his use of strictly logical methods, in his ability to
make the most impossible yarn seem real by his reasonable way of telling
it. Moreover, he was a discoverer, an innovator, a maker of new types,
since he was the first to introduce in his stories the blend of calm,
logical science and wild fancy of a terrifying order; so he served as an
inspiration as well as a point of departure for Jules Verne and other
writers of the same pseudo-scientific school.


Poe's numerous tales may be grouped in three or four classes. Standing by
itself is "William Wilson," a story of double personality (one good and one
evil genius in the same person), to which Stevenson was indebted in his
_Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde_. Next are the tales of
pseudo-science and adventure, such as "Hans Pfaall" and the "Descent into
the Maelstrom," which represent a type of popular fiction developed by
Jules Verne, H. G. Wells and many others, all of whom were more or less
influenced by Poe. A third group may be called the ingenious-mystery
stories. One of the most typical of these is "The Gold Bug," a tale of
cipher-writing and buried treasure, which contains the germ, at least, of
Stevenson's _Treasure Island_. To the same group belong "The Murders
in the Rue Morgue" and other stories dealing with the wondrous acumen of a
certain Dupin, who is the father of "Old Sleuth," "Sherlock Holmes" and
other amateur detectives who do such marvelous things in fiction,--to
atone, no doubt, for their extraordinary dullness in real life.

Still another group consists of phantom stories,--ghastly yarns that serve
no purpose but to make the reader's spine creep. The mildest of these
horrors is "The Fall of the House of Usher," which some critics place at
the head of Poe's fiction. It is a "story of atmosphere"; that is, a story
in which the scene, the air, the vague "feeling" of a place arouse an
expectation of some startling or unusual incident. Many have read this
story and found pleasure therein; but others ask frankly, "Why bother to
write or to read such palpable nonsense?" With all Poe's efforts to make it
real, Usher's house is not a home or even a building in which dwells a man;
it is a vacuum inhabited by a chimera. Of necessity, therefore, it tumbles
into melodramatic nothingness the moment the author takes leave of it.

[Sidenote: WHAT TO READ]

If it be asked, "What shall one read of Poe's fiction?" the answer must
depend largely upon individual taste. "The Gold Bug" is a good story,
having the adventurous interest of finding a pirate's hidden gold; at
least, that is how most readers regard it, though Poe meant us to be
interested not in the gold but in his ingenious cryptogram or secret
writing. The allegory of "William Wilson" is perhaps the most original of
Poe's works; and for a thriller "The House of Usher" may be recommended as
the least repulsive of the tales of horror. To the historian the chief
interest of all these tales lies in the influence which they have exerted
on a host of short-story writers at home and abroad.


AN ESTIMATE OF POE. Any summary of such a difficult subject is
unsatisfactory and subject to challenge. We shall try here simply to
outline Poe's aim and method, leaving the student to supply from his own
reading most of the details and all the exceptions.

Poe's chief purpose was not to tell a tale for its own sake or to portray a
human character; he aimed to produce an effect or impression in the
reader's mind, an impression of unearthly beauty in his poems and of
unearthly horror in his prose. Some writers (Hawthorne, for example) go
through life as in a dream; but if one were to judge Poe by his work, one
might think that he had suffered a long nightmare. Of this familiar
experience, his youth, his army training, his meeting with other men, his
impressions of nature or humanity, there is hardly a trace in his work; of
despair, terror and hallucinations there is a plethora.

[Sidenote: HIS METHOD]

His method was at once haphazard and carefully elaborated,--a paradox, it
seems, till we examine his work or read his records thereof. In his poetry
words appealed to him, as they appeal to some children, not so much for
their meaning as for their sound. Thus the word "nevermore," a gloomy,
terrible word, comes into his mind, and he proceeds to brood over it. The
shadow of a great loss is in the word, and loss meant to Poe the loss of
beauty in the form of a woman; therefore he invents "the lost Lenore" to
rime with his "nevermore." Some outward figure of despair is now needed,
something that will appeal to the imagination; and for that Poe selects the
sable bird that poets have used since Anglo-Saxon times as a symbol of
gloom or mystery. Then carefully, line by line, he hammers out "The Raven,"
a poem which from beginning to end is built around the word "nevermore"
with its suggestion of pitiless memories.

Or again, Poe is sitting at the bedside of his dead wife when another word
suddenly appeals to him. It is Shakespeare's

Duncan is in his grave;
After life's fitful fever he sleeps well.

And from that word is born "For Annie," with an ending to the first stanza
which is an epitome of the poem, and which Longfellow suggested as a
fitting epitaph for Poe's tomb:

And the fever called "Living"
Is conquered at last.

He reads Coleridge's "Rime of the Ancient Mariner," and his "Manuscript
Found in a Bottle" is the elaborated result of his chance inspiration. He
sees Cooper make a success of a sea tale, and Irving of a journal of
exploration; and, though he knows naught of the sea or the prairie, he
produces his hair-raising _Arthur Gordon Pym_ and his _Journal of
Julius Rodman_. Some sailor's yarn of a maelstrom in the North Sea comes
to his ears, and he fabricates a story of a man who went into the
whirlpool. He sees a newspaper account of a premature burial, and his
"House of Usher" and several other stories reflect the imagined horror of
such an experience. The same criticism applies to his miscellaneous
thrillers, in which with rare cunning he uses phantoms, curtains, shadows,
cats, the moldy odor of the grave,--and all to make a gruesome tale
inspired by some wild whim or nightmare.

In fine, no other American writer ever had so slight a human basis for his
work; no other ever labored more patiently or more carefully. The unending
controversy over Poe commonly reduces itself to this deadlock: one reader
asks, "What did he do that was worth a man's effort in the doing?" and
another answers, "What did he do that was not cleverly, skillfully done?"

* * * * *

SUMMARY. The early part of the nineteenth century (sometimes called
the First National period of American letters) was a time of
unusual enthusiasm. The country had recently won its independence
and taken its place among the free nations of the world; it had
emerged triumphant from a period of doubt and struggle over the
Constitution and the Union; it was increasing with amazing rapidity
in territory, in population and in the wealth which followed a
successful commerce; its people were united as never before by
noble pride in the past and by a great hope for the future. It is
not surprising, therefore, that our first really national
literature (that is, a literature which was read by practically the
whole country, and which represented America to foreign nations)
should appear in this expansive age as an expression of the
national enthusiasm.


The four chief writers of the period are: Irving, the pleasant
essayist, story-teller and historian; Bryant, the poet of primeval
nature; Cooper, the novelist, who was the first American author to
win world-wide fame; and Poe, the most cunning craftsman among our
early writers, who wrote a few melodious poems and many tales of
mystery or horror. Some critics would include also among the major
writers William Gilmore Simms (sometimes called "the Cooper of the
South"), author of many adventurous romances dealing with pioneer
life and with Colonial and Revolutionary history.

The numerous minor writers of the age are commonly grouped in local
schools. The Knickerbocker school, of New York, includes the poets
Halleck and Drake, the novelist Paulding, and one writer of
miscellaneous prose and verse, Nathaniel P. Willis, who was for a
time more popular than any other American writer save Cooper. In
the southern school (led by Poe and Simms) were Wilde, Kennedy and
William Wirt. The West was represented by Timothy Flint and James
Hall. In New England were the poets Percival and Maria Brooks, the
novelists Sarah Morton and Catherine Sedgwick, and the historians
Sparks and Bancroft. The writers we have named are merely typical;
there were literally hundreds of others who were more or less
widely known in the middle of the last century.


The first common characteristic of these writers was their
patriotic enthusiasm; the second was their romantic spirit. The
romantic movement in English poetry was well under way at this
time, and practically all our writers were involved in it. They
were strongly influenced, moreover, by English writers of the
period or by settled English literary traditions. Thus, Irving
modeled his style closely on that of Addison; the early poetry of
Bryant shows the influence of Wordsworth; the weird tales of Poe
and his critical essays were both alike influenced by Coleridge;
and the quickening influence of Scott appears plainly in the
romances of Cooper. The minor writers were even more subject to
foreign influences, especially to German and English romanticism.
There was, however, a sturdy independence in the work of most of
these writers which stamps it as original and unmistakably
American. The nature poetry of Bryant with its rugged strength and
simplicity, the old Dutch legends and stories of Irving, the
pioneer romances of Cooper and Simms, the effective short stories
of Poe,--these have hardly a counterpart in foreign writings of the
period. They are the first striking expressions of the new American
spirit in literature.

SELECTIONS FOR READING. Irving's Sketch Book, in Standard English
Classics and various other school editions (see "Texts" in General
Bibliography); The Alhambra, in Ginn and Company's Classics for
Children; parts of Bracebridge Hall, in Riverside Literature;
Conquest of Granada and other works, in Everyman's Library.

Selections from Bryant, in Riverside Literature and Pocket

Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, in Standard English Classics and
other school editions; the five Leatherstocking tales, in
Everyman's Library; The Spy, in Riverside Literature.

Selections from Poe, prose and verse, in Standard English Classics,
Silver Classics, Johnson's English Classics, Lake English Classics.

Simms's The Yemassee, in Johnson's English Classics. Typical
selections from minor authors of the period, in Readings from
American Literature and other anthologies (see "Selections" in
General Bibliography).

BIBLIOGRAPHY. For works covering the whole field of American
history and literature see the General Bibliography. The following
are recommended for a special study of the early part of the
nineteenth century.

_HISTORY_. Adams, History of the United States, 1801-1817, 9
vols.; Von Holst, Constitutional and Political History, 1787-1861,
8 vols.; Sparks, Expansion of the American People; Low, The
American People; Expedition of Lewis and Clarke, in Original
Narratives Series (Scribner); Page, The Old South; Drake, The
Making of the West.

_LITERATURE_. There is no good literary history devoted to
this period. Critical studies of the authors named in the text may
be found in Richardson's American Literature and other general
histories. For the lives of minor authors see Adams, Dictionary of
American Authors, or Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography.

_Irving_. Life and Letters, by P. M. Irving, 4 vols., in
Crayon edition of Irving's works. Life by Warner, in American Men
of Letters; by Hill, in American Authors; by Boynton (brief), in
Riverside Biographies.

Essays by Brownell, in American Prose Masters; by Payne, in Leading
American Essayists; by Perry, in A Study of Prose Fiction; by
Curtis, in Literary and Social Addresses.

_Bryant_. Life, by Godwin, 2 vols.; by Bigelow, in American
Men of Letters; by Curtis. Wilson, Bryant and his Friends.

Essays, by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Curtis, in Orations and
Addresses; by Whipple, in Literature and Life; by Burton, in
Literary Leaders.

_Cooper_. Life, by Lounsbury, in American Men of Letters; by
Clymer (brief), in Beacon Biographies.

Essays, by Erskine, in Leading American Novelists; by Brownell, in
American Prose Masters; by Matthews, in Gateways to Literature.

_Poe_. Life, by Woodberry, in American Men of Letters; by
Trent, in English Men of Letters; Life and Letters, 2 vols., by

Essays, by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Brownell, in American
Prose Masters; by Burton, in Literary Leaders; by Higginson, in
Short Studies of American Authors; by Andrew Lang, in Letters to
Dead Authors; by Gates, in Studies and Appreciations; by Gosse, in
Questions at Issue.

_Simms_. Life, by Trent, in American Men of Letters. Critical
studies by Moses, in Literature of the South; by Link, in Pioneers
of Southern Literature; by Wauchope, in Writers of South Carolina.

_FICTION_. A few novels dealing with the period are: Brown,
Arthur Merwyn; Kennedy, Swallow Barn; Paulding, Westward Ho; Mrs.
Stowe, The Minister's Wooing; Cooke, Leather Stocking and Silk;
Eggleston, The Circuit Rider, The Hoosier Schoolmaster; Winthrop,
John Brent.



The muffled drum's sad roll has beat
The soldier's last tattoo;
No more on Life's parade shall meet
That brave and fallen few.
On Fame's eternal camping-ground
Their silent tents are spread,
And Glory guards, with solemn round,
The bivouac of the dead.

O'Hara, "The Bivouac of the Dead"

POLITICAL HISTORY. To study the history of America after 1840 is to
have our attention drawn as by a powerful lodestone to the Civil
War. It looms there in the middle of the nineteenth century, a
stupendous thing, dominating and dwarfing all others. To it
converge many ways that then seemed aimless or wandering, the
unanswered questions of the Constitution, the compromises of
statesmen, the intrigues of politicians, the clamor of impatient
reformers, the silent degradation of the slave. And from it, all
its passion and suffering forgotten, its heroism remembered,
proceed the unexpected blessings of a finer love of country, a
broader sense of union, a surer faith in democracy, a better
understanding of the spirit of America, more gratitude for her
glorious past, more hope for her future. So every thought or
mention of the mighty conflict draws us onward, as the first sight
of the Rockies, massive and snow crowned, lures the feet of the
wanderer on the plains.

We shall not attempt here to summarize the war between the South
and the North or even to list its causes and consequences. The
theme is too vast. We note only that the main issues of the
conflict, state rights and slavery, had been debated for the better
part of a century, and might still have found peaceful solution had
they not been complicated by the minor issues of such an age of
agitation as America never saw before and, as we devoutly hope, may
never see again.

[Illustration: "The Man" (Abraham Lincoln)]


Such agitation was perhaps inevitable in a country that had grown
too rapidly for its government to assimilate the new possessions.
By the Oregon treaty, the war with Mexico and the annexation of
Texas vast territories had suddenly been added to the Union, each
with its problem that called for patient and wise deliberation, but
that a passionate and half-informed Congress was expected to settle
overnight. With the expansion of territory in the West came a
marvelous increase of trade and wealth in the North, and a
corresponding growth in the value of cotton and slave labor in the
South. Then arose an economic strife; the agricultural interests of
one part of the country clashed with the manufacturing interests of
another (in such matters as the tariff, for example), and in the
tumult of party politics it was impossible to reach any harmonious
adjustment. Finally, the violent agitation of the slave question
forced it to the front not simply as a moral or human but as a
political issue; for the old "balance of power" between the states
was upset when the North began to outstrip the South in population,
and every state was then fiercely jealous of its individual rights
and obligations in a way that we can now hardly comprehend.

As a result of these conflicting interests and the local or
sectional passions which they aroused, there was seldom a year
after 1840 when the country did not face a situation of extreme
difficulty or danger. Indeed, even while Webster was meditating his
prophetic oration with its superb climax of "Liberty and Union, now
and forever, one and inseparable," many of the most thoughtful
minds, south and north, believed that Congress faced a problem
beyond its power to solve; that no single government was wise
enough or strong enough to meet the situation, especially a
government divided against itself.


In the midst of the political tumult, which was increased by the
clamor of agitators and reformers, came suddenly the secession of a
state from the Union, an act long threatened, long feared, but
which arrived at last with the paralyzing effect of a thunderbolt.
Then the clamor ceased; minor questions were swept aside as by a
tempest, and the main issues were settled not by constitutional
rights, not by orderly process of law or the ballot, but by the
fearful arbitrament of the sword. And even as the thunderbolt fell
and the Union trembled, came also unheralded one gaunt, heroic,
heaven-sent man to lead the nation in its hour of peril:

Oh, slow to smite and swift to spare,
Gentle and merciful and just!
Who in the fear of God didst bear
The sword of power, a nation's trust!

Such is an outline of the period of conflict, an outline to which
the political measures or compromises of the time, its sectional
antagonism, its score of political parties, its agitators,
reformers, and all other matters of which we read confusedly in the
histories, are but so many illuminating details.

SOCIAL AND INTELLECTUAL CHANGES. The mental ferment of the period
was almost as intense as its political agitation. Thus, the
antislavery movement, which aimed to rescue the negro from his
servitude, was accompanied by a widespread communistic attempt to
save the white man from the manifold evils of our competitive
system of industry. Brook Farm [Footnote: This was a Massachusetts
society, founded in 1841 by George Ripley. It included Hawthorne,
Dana and Curtis in its large membership, and it had the support of
Emerson, Greeley, Channing, Margaret Fuller and a host of other
prominent men and women] was the most famous of these communities;
but there were more than thirty others scattered over the country,
all holding property in common, working on a basis of mutual
helpfulness, aiming at a nobler life and a better system of labor
than that which now separates the capitalist and the workingman.


This brave attempt at human brotherhood, of which Brook Farm was
the visible symbol, showed itself in many other ways: in the
projection of a hundred social reforms; in the establishment of
lyceums throughout the country, where every man with a message
might find a hearing. In education our whole school system was
changed by applying the methods of Pestalozzi, a Swiss reformer;
for the world had suddenly become small, thanks to steam and
electricity, and what was spoken in a corner the newspapers
immediately proclaimed from the housetops. In religious circles the
Unitarian movement, under Channing's leadership, gained rapidly in
members and in influence; in literature the American horizon was
broadened by numerous translations from the classic books of
foreign countries; in the realm of philosophy the western mind was
stimulated by the teaching of the idealistic system known as


Emerson was the greatest exponent of this new philosophy, which
made its appearance here in 1836. It exalted the value of the
individual man above society or institutions; and in dealing with
the individual it emphasized his freedom rather than his subjection
to authority, his soul rather than his body, his inner wealth of
character rather than his outward possessions. It taught that
nature was an open book of the Lord in which he who runs may read a
divine message; and in contrast with eighteenth-century philosophy
(which had described man as a creature of the senses, born with a
blank mind, and learning only by experience), it emphasized the
divinity of man's nature, his inborn ideas of right and wrong, his
instinct of God, his passion for immortality,--in a word, his
higher knowledge which transcends the knowledge gained from the
senses, and which is summarized in the word "Transcendentalism."

We have described this in the conventional way as a new philosophy,
though in truth it is almost as old as humanity. Most of the great
thinkers of the world, in all ages and in all countries, have been
transcendentalists; but in the original way in which the doctrine
was presented by Emerson it seemed like a new revelation, as all
fine old things do when they are called to our attention, and it
exercised a profound influence on our American life and literature.

LITERATURE OF THE PERIOD. The violent political agitation and the profound
social unrest of the period found expression in multitudinous works of
prose or verse; but the curious fact is that these are all minor works, and
could without much loss be omitted from our literary records. They are
mostly sectional in spirit, and only what is national or human can long

[Sidenote: MINOR WORKS]

To illustrate our criticism, the terrible war that dominates the period
never had any worthy literary expression; there are thousands of writings
but not a single great poem or story or essay or drama on the subject. The
antislavery movement likewise brought forth its poets, novelists, orators
and essayists; some of the greater writers were drawn into its whirlpool of
agitation, and Whittier voiced the conviction that the age called for a man
rather than a poet in a cry which was half defiance and half regret:

Better than self-indulgent years
The outflung heart of youth,
Than pleasant songs in idle ears
The tumult of the truth!

That was the feeling in the heart of many a promising young southern or
northern poet in midcentury, just as it was in 1776, when our best writers
neglected literature for political satires against Whigs or Tories. Yet of
the thousand works which the antislavery agitation inspired we can think of
only one, Mrs. Stowe's _Uncle Tom's Cabin_, which lives with power to
our own day; and there is something of universal human nature in that
famous book, written not from knowledge or experience but from the
imagination, which appeals broadly to our human sympathy, and which makes
it welcome in countries where slavery as a political or a moral issue has
long since been forgotten.


Though the ferment of the age produced no great books, it certainly
influenced our literature, making it a very different product from that of
the early national period. For example, nearly every political issue soon
became a moral issue; and there is a deep ethical earnestness in the essays
of Emerson, the poems of Longfellow and the novels of Hawthorne which sets
them apart, as of a different spirit, from the works of Irving, Poe and

Again, the mental unrest of the period showed itself in a passion for new
ideas, new philosophy, new prose and poetry. We have already spoken of the
transcendental philosophy, but even more significant was the sudden
broadening of literary interest. American readers had long been familiar
with the best English poets; now they desired to know how our common life
had been reflected by poets of other nations. In answer to that desire
came, first, the establishment of professorships of _belles-lettres_
in our American colleges; and then a flood of translations from European
and oriental literatures. As we shall presently see, every prominent writer
from Emerson to Whitman was influenced by new views of life as reflected in
the world's poetry. Longfellow is a conspicuous example; with his songs
inspired by Spanish or German or Scandinavian originals he is at times more
like an echo of Europe than a voice from the New World.


[Sidenote: AN AGE OF POETRY]

Finally, this period of conflict was governed more largely than usual by
ideals, by sentiment, by intense feeling. Witness the war, with the heroic
sentiments which it summoned up south and north. As the deepest human
feeling cannot be voiced in prose, we confront the strange phenomenon of an
American age of poetry. This would be remarkable Poetry enough to one who
remembers that the genius of America had hitherto appeared practical and
prosaic, given to action rather than speech, more concerned to "get on" in
life than to tell what life means; but it is even more remarkable in view
of the war, which covers the age with its frightful shadow. As Lincoln, sad
and overburdened, found the relief of tears in the beautiful ending of
Longfellow's "Building of the Ship," so, it seems, the heart of America,
torn by the sight of her sons in conflict, found blessed relief in songs of
love, of peace, of home, of beauty,--of all the lovely and immortal ideals
to which every war offers violent but impotent contradiction. And this may
be the simple explanation of the fact that the most cherished poems
produced by any period of war are almost invariably its songs of peace.

* * * * *



When Longfellow sent forth his _Voices of the Night_, in 1839, that
modest little volume met with a doubly warm reception. Critics led by Poe
pounced on the work to condemn its sentimentality or moralizing, while a
multitude of readers who needed no leader raised a great shout of welcome.

Now as then there are diverse critical opinions of Longfellow, and
unfortunately these opinions sometimes obscure the more interesting facts:

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