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The American Spirit in Literature, by Bliss Perry

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feverish. A taint of old-world eroticism and despair hovers like
a miasma over his magnificent panorama of the wilderness. Cooper,
like Scott, is masculine.

He was a Knickerbocker only by adoption. Born in New Jersey, his
childhood was spent in the then remote settlement of Cooperstown
in Central New York. He had a little schooling at Albany, and a
brief and inglorious career at Yale with the class of 1806. He
went to sea for two years, and then served for three years in the
United States Navy upon Lakes Ontario and Champlain, the very
scene of some of his best stories. In 1811 he married, resigned
from the Navy, and settled upon a little estate in Westchester
County, near New York. Until the age of thirty, he was not in the
least a bookman, but a healthy, man of action. Then, as the
well-known anecdote goes, he exclaims to his wife, after reading
a stupid English novel, "I believe I could write a better story
myself." "Precaution" (1820) was the result, but whether it was
better than the unknown English book, no one can now say. It was
bad enough. Yet the next year Cooper published "The Spy," one of
the finest of his novels, which was instantly welcomed in England
and translated in France. Then came, in swift succession, "The
Pioneers," the first Leather-Stocking tale in order of
composition, and "The Pilot," to show that Scott's "Pirate" was
written by a landsman! "Lionel Lincoln" and "The Last of the
Mohicans" followed. The next seven years were spent in Europe,
mainly in France, where "The Prairie" and "The Red Rover" were
written. Cooper now looked back upon his countrymen with eyes of
critical detachment, and made ready to tell them some of their
faults. He came home to Cooperstown in 1833, the year after
Irving's return to America. He had won, deservedly, a great fame,
which he proceeded to imperil by his combativeness with his
neighbors and his harsh strictures upon the national character,
due mainly to his lofty conception of the ideal America. He
continued to spin yarns of sea and shore, and to write naval
history. The tide of fashion set against him in the
eighteen-forties when Bulwer and Dickens rode into favor, but the
stouthearted old pioneer could afford to bide his time. He died
in 1851, just as Mrs. Stowe was writing "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Two generations have passed since then, and Cooper's place in our
literature remains secure. To have written our first historical
novel, "The Spy," our first sea-story, "The Pilot," and to have
created the Leather-Stocking series, is glory enough. In his
perception of masculine character, Cooper ranks with Fielding.
His sailors, his scouts and spies, his good and bad Indians, are
as veritable human figures as Squire Western. Long Tom Coffin,
Harvey Birch, Hawk-Eye, and Chingachgook are physically and
morally true to life itself. Read the Leather-Stocking books in
the order of the events described, beginning with "The
Deerslayer," then "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Pathfinder,"
"The Pioneers", and ending with the vast darkening horizon of
"The Prairie" and the death of the trapper, and one will feel how
natural and inevitable are the fates of the personages and the
alterations in the life of the frontier. These books vary in
their poetic quality and in the degree of their realism, but to
watch the evolution of the leading figure is to see human life in
its actual texture.

Clever persons and pedantic persons have united to find fault
with certain elements of Cooper's art. Mark Twain, in one of his
least inspired moments, selected Cooper's novels for attack.
Every grammar school teacher is ready to point out that his style
is often prolix and his sentences are sometimes ungrammatical.
Amateurs even criticize Cooper's seamanship, although it seemed
impeccable to Admiral Mahan. No doubt one must admit the
"helplessness, propriety, and incapacity" of most of Cooper's
women, and the dreadfulness of his bores, particularly the
Scotchmen, the doctors, and the naturalists. Like Sir Walter,
Cooper seems to have taken but little pains in the deliberate
planning of his plots. Frequently he accepts a ready-made formula
of villain and hero, predicament and escape, renewed crisis and
rescue, mystification and explanation, worthy of a third-rate
novelist. His salvation lies in his genius for action, the beauty
and grandeur of his landscapes, the primitive veracity of his
children of nature. Cooper was an elemental man, and he
comprehended, by means of something deeper than mere artistic
instinct, the feelings of elemental humanity in the presence of
the wide ocean or of the deep woods. He is as healthy and sane as
Fielding, and he possesses an additional quality which all of the
purely English novelists lack. It was the result of his youthful
sojourn in the wilderness. Let us call it the survival in him of
an aboriginal imagination. Cooper reminds one somehow of a
moose--an ungraceful creature perhaps, but indubitably big, as
many a hunter has suddenly realized when he has come unexpectedly
upon a moose that whirled to face him in the twilight silence of
a northern wood.

Something of this far-off and gigantic primitivism inheres also
in the poetry of William Cullen Bryant. His portrait, with the
sweeping white beard and the dark folds of the cloak, suggests
the Bard as the Druids might have known him. But in the
eighteen-thirties and forties, Mr. Bryant's alert, clean-shaven
face, and energetic gait as he strode down Broadway to the
"Evening Post" office, suggested little more than a vigorous and
somewhat radical editor of an increasingly prosperous Democratic
newspaper. There was nothing of the Fringed Gentian or Yellow
Violet about him. Like so many of the Knickerbockers, Bryant was
an immigrant to New York; in fact, none of her adopted men of
letters have represented so perfectly the inherited traits of the
New England Puritan. To understand his long, and honorable public
life it is necessary to know something of the city of his choice,
but to enter into the spirit of his poetry one must go back to
the hills of western Massachusetts.

Bryant had a right to his cold-weather mind. He came from
Mayflower stock. His father, Dr. Peter Bryant of Cummington, was
a sound country physician, with liberal preferences in theology,
Federalist views in politics, and a library of seven hundred
volumes, rich in poetry. The poet's mother records his birth in
her diary in terse words which have the true Spartan tang: "Nov.
3, 1794. Stormy, wind N. E. Churned. Seven in the evening a son
born." Two days later the November wind shifted. "Nov. 5, 1794.
Clear, wind N. W. Made Austin a coat. Sat up all day. Went into
the kitchen." The baby, it appears, had an abnormally large head
and was dipped, day after day, in rude hydropathy, into an icy
spring. A precocious childhood was followed by a stern, somewhat
unhappy, but aspiring boyhood. The little fellow, lying prone
with his brothers before the firelight of the kitchen, reading
English poetry from his father's library, used to pray that he
too might become a poet. At thirteen he produced a satire on
Jefferson, "The Embargo," which his proud Federalist father
at Boston in 1808. The youth had nearly one year at Williams
College, over the mountain ranges to the west. He wished to
continue his education at Yale, but his father had no money for
this greater venture, and the son remained at home. There, in the
autumn of 1811, on the bleak hills, he composed the first draft
of "Thanatopsis." He was seventeen, and he had been reading
Blair's "Grave" and the poems of the consumptive Henry Kirke
He hid his verses in a drawer, and five years later his father
found them, shed tears over them, and sent them to the "North
American Review," where they were published in September, 1817.

In the meantime the young man had studied law, though with
dislike of it, and with the confession that he sometimes read
"The Lyrical Ballads" when he might have been reading Blackstone.
One December afternoon in 1815, he was walking from Cummington to
Plainfield--aged twenty-one, and looking for a place in which to
settle as a lawyer. Across the vivid sunset flew a black duck, as
solitary and homeless as himself. The bird seemed an image of his
own soul, "lone wandering but not lost." Before he slept that
night he had composed the poem "To a Waterfowl." No more
authentic inspiration ever visited a poet, and though Bryant
wrote verse for more than sixty years after that crimson sky had
paled into chill December twilight, his lines never again
vibrated with such communicative passion.

Bryant's ensuing career revealed the steady purpose, the
stoicism, the reticence of the Puritan. It was highly successful,
judged even by material standards. "Thanatopsis" had been
instantly regarded in 1817 as the finest poem yet produced in
America. The author was invited to contribute to the "North
American Review" an essay on American poetry, and this, like all
of Bryant's prose work, was admirably written. He delivered his
Harvard Phi Beta Kappa poem, "The Ages," in 1821, the year of
Emerson's graduation. After a brief practice of the law in Great
Barrington, he entered in 1826 into the unpromising field of
journalism in New York. While other young Knickerbockers wasted
their literary strength on trifles and dissipated their moral
energies, Bryant held steadily to his daily task. His life in
town was sternly ascetic, but he allowed himself long walks in
the country, and he continued to meditate a somewhat thankless
Muse. In 1832 he visited his brothers on the Illinois prairies,
and stopped one day to chat with a "tall awkward uncouth lad" of
racy conversational powers, who was leading his company of
volunteers into the Black Hawk War. The two men were destined to
meet again in 1860, when Bryant presided at that Cooper Union
address of Lincoln's which revealed to New York and to the
country that the former captain of volunteers was now a king of
men. Lincoln was embarrassed on that occasion, it is said, by
Bryant's fastidious, dignified presence. Not so Nathaniel
Hawthorne, who had seen the poet in Rome, two years before.
"There was a weary look in his face," wrote Hawthorne, "as if he
were tired of seeing things and doing things. . . .He uttered
neither passion nor poetry, but excellent good sense, and
accurate information, on whatever subject transpired; a very
pleasant man to associate with, but rather cold, I should
imagine, if one should seek to touch his heart with one's own."
Such was the impression Bryant made upon less gifted men than
Hawthorne, as he lived out his long and useful life in the
Knickerbocker city. Toward the close of it he was in great demand
for public occasions; and it was after delivering a speech
dedicating a statue to Mazzini in Central Park in 1878, when
Bryant was eighty-four, that a fit of dizziness caused a fall
which proved fatal to the venerable poet. It was just seventy
years since Dr. Peter Bryant had published his boy's verses on
"The Embargo."

Although Bryant's poetry has never roused any vociferous
excitement, it has enduring qualities. The spiritual
preoccupations of many a voiceless generation of New England
Puritans found a tongue at last in this late-born son of theirs.
The determining mood of his best poems, from boyhood to old age,
was precisely that thought of transiency, "the eternal flow of
things," which colored the imaginations of the first colonists.
This is the central motive of "Thanatopsis," "To a Waterfowl,"
"The Rivulet," "A Forest Hymn," "An Evening Revery," "The Crowded
Street," "The Flood of Years." All of these tell the same story
of endless change and of endless abiding, of varying eddies in
the same mighty stream of human existence. Bryant faced the
thought as calmly, as majestically, at seventeen as when he wrote
"The Flood of Years" at eighty-two. He is a master of
description, though he has slight gift for narrative or drama,
and he rarely sounds the clear lyric note. But everywhere in his
verse there is that cold purity of the winter hills in Western
Massachusetts, something austere and elemental which reaches
kindred spirits below the surface on which intellect and passion
have their play, something more primitive, indeed, than human
intellect or passion and belonging to another mode of being,
something "rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun."

A picture of the Knickerbocker era is not complete without its
portraits of the minor figures in the literary life of New York
up to the time of the Civil War. But the scope of the present
volume does not permit sketches of Paulding and Verplanck, of
Halleck and his friend Drake, of N. P. Willis and Morris and
Woodworth. Some of these are today only "single-poem" men, like
Payne, the author of "Home Sweet Home," just as Key, the author
of "The Star-Spangled Banner," is today a "single-poem" man of an
earlier generation. Their names will be found in such limbos of
the dead as Griswold's "Poets and Poetry of America" and Poe's
"Literati." They knew "the town" in their day, and pleased its
very easily pleased taste. The short-lived literary magazines of
the eighteen-forties gave them their hour of glory. As
representatives of passing phases of the literary history of New
York their careers are not without sentimental interest, but few
of them spoke to or for the country as a whole. Two figures,
indeed, stand out in sharp contrast with those habitual strollers
on Broadway and frequenters of literary gatherings, though each
of them was for a while a part of Knickerbocker New York. To all
appearances they were only two more Bohemians like the rest, but
the curiosity of the twentieth century sets them apart from their
forgotten contemporaries. They are two of the unluckiest--and yet
luckiest--authors who ever tried to sell a manuscript along
Broadway. One of them is Edgar Allan Poe and the other is Walt
Whitman. They shall have a chapter to themselves.

But before turning to that chapter, we must look back to New
England once more and observe the blossoming-time of its ancient
commonwealths. During the thirty years preceding the Civil War
New England awoke to a new life of the spirit. So varied and rich
was her literary productiveness in this era that it still remains
her greatest period, and so completely did New England writers of
this epoch voice the ideals of the nation that the great majority
of Americans, even today, regard these New Englanders as the
truest literary exponents of the mind and soul of the United
States. We must take a look at them.


To understand the literary leadership of New England during the
thirty years immediately preceding the Civil War it is necessary
to recall the characteristics of a somewhat isolated and peculiar
people. The mental and moral traits of the New England colonists,
already glanced at in an earlier chapter, had suffered little
essential modification in two hundred years. The original racial
stock was still dominant. As compared with the middle and
southern colonies, there was relatively little immigration, and
this was easily assimilated. The physical remoteness of New
England from other sections of the country, and the stubborn
loyalty with which its inhabitants maintained their own standards
of life, alike contributed to their sense of separateness. It is
true, of course, that their mode of thinking and feeling had
undergone certain changes. They were among the earliest theorists
of political independence from Great Britain, and had done their
share, and more, in the Revolution. The rigors of their early
creed had somewhat relaxed, as we have seen, by the end of the
seventeenth century, and throughout the eighteenth there was a
gradual progress toward religious liberalism. The population
steadily increased, and New England's unremitting struggle with a
not too friendly soil, her hardihood upon the seas, and her
keenness in trade, became proverbial throughout the country. Her
seaport towns were wealthy. The general standards of living
remained frugal, but extreme poverty was rare. Her people still
made, as in the earliest days of the colonies, silent and
unquestioned sacrifices for education, and her chief seats of
learning, Harvard and Yale, remained the foremost educational
centers of America. But there was still scant leisure for the
quest of beauty, and slender material reward for any practitioner
of the fine arts. Oratory alone, among the arts of expression,
commanded popular interest and applause. Daniel Webster's
audiences at Plymouth in 1820 and at Bunker Hill in 1825 were not
inferior to similar audiences of today in intelligence and in
responsiveness. Perhaps they were superior. Appreciation of the
spoken word was natural to men trained by generations of
thoughtful listening to "painful" preaching and by participation
in the discussions of town-meeting. Yet appreciation of secular
literature was rare, and interest in the other arts was almost

Then, beginning in the eighteen-twenties, and developing rapidly
after 1830, came a change, a change so startling as to warrant
the term of "the Renascence of New England." No single cause is
sufficient to account for this "new birth." It is a good
illustration of that law of "tension and release," which the late
Professor Shaler liked to demonstrate in all organic life. A long
period of strain was followed by an age of expansion, freedom,
release of energy. As far as the mental life of New England was
concerned, something of the new stimulus was due directly to the
influence of Europe. Just as the wandering scholars from Italy
had brought the New Learning, which was a revival of the old
learning, into England in the sixteenth century, so now young New
England college men like Edward Everett and George Ticknor
brought home from the Continent the riches of German and French
scholarship. Emerson's description of the impression made by
Everett's lectures in 1820, after his return from Germany, gives
a vivid picture of the new thirst for foreign culture. "The North
American Review" and other periodicals, while persistently urging
the need of a distinctively national literature, insisted also
upon the value of a deeper knowledge of the literature of the
Continent. This was the burden of Channing's once famous article
on "A National Literature" in 1823: it was a plea for an
independent American school of writers, but these writers should
know the best that Europe had to teach.

The purely literary movement was connected, as the great name of
Channing suggests, with a new sense of freedom in philosophy and
religion. Calvinism had mainly done its work in New England. It
had bred an extraordinary type of men and women, it had, helped
to lay some of the permanent foundations of our democracy, and it
was still destined to have a long life in the new West and in the
South. But in that stern section of the country where its
influence had been most marked there was now an increasingly
sharp reaction against its determinism and its pessimism. Early
in the nineteenth century the most ancient and influential
churches in Boston and the leading professors at Harvard had
accepted the new form of religious liberalism known as
Unitarianism. The movement spread throughout Eastern
Massachusetts and made its way to other States. Orthodox and
liberal Congregational churches split apart, and when Channing
preached the ordination sermon for Jared Sparks in Baltimore in
1819, the word Unitarian, accepted by the liberals with some
misgiving, became the recognized motto of the new creed. It is
only with its literary influence that we are here concerned, yet
that literary influence became so potent that there is scarcely a
New England writer of the first rank, from Bryant onward, who
remained untouched by it.

The most interesting and peculiar phase of the new liberalism has
little directly to do with the specific tenets of theological
Unitarianism, and in fact marked a revolt against the more
prosaic and conventional pattern of English and American
Unitarian thought. But this movement, known as Transcendentalism,
would have been impossible without a preliminary and liberalizing
stirring of the soil. It was a fascinating moment of release for
some of the most brilliant and radical minds of New England. Its
foremost representative in our literature was Ralph Waldo
Emerson, as its chief exponents in England were Coleridge and
Carlyle. We must understand its meaning if we would perceive the
quality of much of the most noble and beautiful writing produced
in New England during the Golden Age.

What then is the significance of the word Transcendental?
Disregarding for the moment the technical development of this
term as used by German and English philosophers, it meant for
Emerson and his friends simply this: whatever transcends or goes
beyond the experience of the senses. It stressed intuition rather
than sensation, direct perception of ultimate truth rather than
the processes of logic. It believed in man's ability to apprehend
the absolute ideas of Truth, Rectitude, Goodness. It resembled
the Inner Light of the Quaker, though the Quaker traced this to a
supernatural illumination of the Holy Spirit, while the
Transcendentalist believed that a vision of the eternal realities
was a natural endowment of the human mind. It had only to be
trusted. Stated in this form, it is evident that we have here a
very ancient doctrine, well known in the literature of India and
of Greece. It has been held by countless persons who have never
heard of the word Transcendentalism. We need go no further back
than Alexander Pope, a Roman Catholic, whom we find declaring: "I
am so certain of the soul's being immortal that I seem to feel it
within me, as it were by intuition." Pope's friend Swift, a dean
of the Church of England and assuredly no Transcendentalist,
defined vision as seeing the things that are invisible.

Now turn to some of the New England men. Dr. C. A. Bartol, a
disciple of Emerson, maintained that "the mistake is to make the
everlasting things subjects of argument instead of sight."
Theodore Parker declared to his congregation:

"From the primitive facts of consciousness given by the power of
instinctive intuition, I endeavored to deduce the true notion of
God, of justice and futurity . . . . I found most help in the
works of Immanuel Kant, one of the profoundest thinkers of the
world, though one of the worst writers, even in Germany; if he
did not always furnish conclusions I could rest in, he yet gave
me the true method, and put me on the right road. I found certain
great primal Intuitions of Human Nature, which depend on no
logical process of demonstration, but are rather facts of
consciousness given by the instinctive action of human nature
itself. I will mention only the three most important which
pertain to Religion. 1. The Instinctive Intuition of the Divine,
the consciousness that there is a God. 2. The Instinctive
Intuition of the Just and Right, a consciousness that there is a
Moral Law, independent of our will, which we ought to keep. 3.
The Instinctive Intuition of the Immortal, a consciousness that
the Essential Element of man, the principle of Individuality,
never dies."

This passage dates from 1859, and readers of Bergson may like to
compare it with the contemporary Frenchman's saying: "The
analytical faculties can give us no realities."

Let us next hear Emerson himself, first in an early letter to his
brother Edward: "Do you draw the distinction of Milton,
Coleridge, and the Germans between Reason and Understanding? I
think it a philosophy itself, and, like all truth, very
practical. Reason is the highest faculty of the soul, what we
mean often by the soul itself: it never reasons, never proves, it
simply perceives, it is vision. The understanding toils all the
time, compares, contrives, adds, argues; near-sighted, but
strong-sighted, dwelling in the present, the expedient, the
customary." And in 1833, after he had left the Unitarian pulpit,
Emerson made in his diary this curious attempt to reconcile the
scriptural language of his ancestral profession to the new
vocabulary of Transcendentalism: "Jesus Christ was a minister of
the pure Reason. The beatitudes of the Sermon on the Mount are
all utterances of the mind contemning the phenomenal world . . .
. The understanding can make nothing of it. 'Tis all nonsense.
The Reason affirms its absolute verity . . . . St. Paul marks the
distinction by the terms natural man and spiritual man. When
Novalis says, 'It is the instinct of the Understanding to
contradict the Reason,' he only translates into a scientific
formula the doctrine of St. Paul, 'The Carnal Mind is enmity
against God.'"

One more quotation must suffice. It is from a poem by a forgotten
Transcendentalist, F. G. Tuckerman.

"No more thy meaning seek, thine anguish plead;
But, leaving straining thought and stammering word,
Across the barren azure pass to God;
Shooting the void in silence, like a bird--
A bird that shuts his wings for better speed!"

It is obvious that this "contemning the phenomenal world," this
"revulsion against the intellect as the sole source of truth," is
highly dangerous to second-class minds. If one habitually prints
the words Insight, Instinct, Intuition, Consciousness with
capitals, and relegates equally useful words like senses,
experience, fact, logic to lower-case type, one may do it because
he is a Carlyle or an Emerson, but the chances are that he is
neither. Transcendentalism, like all idealistic movements, had
its "lunatic fringe," its camp-followers of excitable, unstable
visionaries. The very name, like the name Methodist, was probably
bestowed upon it in mockery, and this whole perturbation of staid
New England had its humorous side. Witness the career of Bronson
Alcott. It is also true that the glorious affirmations of these
seers can be neither proved nor disproved. They made no
examination and they sought no validation of consciousness. An
explorer in search of the North Pole must bring back proofs of
his journey, but when a Transcendentalist affirms that he has
reached the far heights of human experience and even caught sight
of the gods sitting on their thrones, you and I are obliged to
take his word for it. Sometimes we hear such a man gladly, but it
depends upon the man, not upon the trustworthiness of the method.
Finally it should be observed that the Transcendental movement
was an exceedingly complex one, being both literary, philosophic,
and religious; related also to the subtle thought of the Orient,
to mediaeval mysticism, and to the English Platonists; touched
throughout by the French Revolutionary theories, by the Romantic
spirit, by the new zeal for science and pseudo-science, and by
the unrest of a fermenting age.

Our present concern is with the impact of this cosmopolitan
current upon the mind and character of a few New England writers.
Channing and Theodore Parker, Margaret Fuller and Alcott, Thoreau
and Emerson, are all representative of the best thought and the
noblest ethical impulses of their generation. Let us choose first
the greatest name: a sunward-gazing spirit, and, it may be, one
of the very Sun-Gods.

The pilgrim to Concord who stops for a moment in the village
library to study French's statue of Emerson will notice the
asymmetrical face. On one side it is the face of a keen Yankee
farmer, but seen from the other side it is the countenance of a
seer, a world's man. This contrast between the parochial Emerson
and the greater Emerson interprets many a puzzle in his career.
Half a mile beyond the village green to the north, close to the
"rude bridge" of the famous Concord fight in 1775, is the Old
Manse, once tenanted and described by Hawthorne. It was built by
Emerson's grandfather, a patriot chaplain in the Revolution, who
died of camp-fever at Ticonderoga. His widow married Dr. Ezra
Ripley, and here Ralph Waldo Emerson and his brothers passed many
a summer in their childhood. Half a mile east of the village, on
the Cambridge turnpike, is Emerson's own house, still sheltered
by the pines which Thoreau helped him to plant in 1838. Within
the house everything is unchanged: here are the worn books, pen
and inkstand, the favorite pictures upon the wall. Over the ridge
to the north lies the Sleepy Hollow cemetery where the poet
rests, with the gravestones of Hawthorne and the Alcotts, Thoreau
and William James close by.

But although Concord is the Emerson shrine, he was born in
Boston, in 1803. His father, named William like the grandfather,
was also, like the Emerson ancestors for many generations, a
clergyman--eloquent, liberal, fond of books and music, highly
honored by his alma mater Harvard and by the town of Boston,
where he ministered to the First Church. His premature death in
1811 left his widow with five sons--one of them feebleminded--and
a daughter to struggle hard with poverty. With her husband's
sister, the Calvinistic "Aunt Mary Moody" Emerson, she held,
however, that these orphaned boys had been "born to be educated."
Arid educated the "eager blushing boys" were, at the Boston Latin
School and at Harvard College, on a regimen of "toil and want and
truth and mutual faith." There are many worse systems of pedagogy
than this. Ralph was thought less persistent than his steady
older brother William, and far less brilliant than his gifted,
short-lived younger brothers, Edward and Charles. He had an
undistinguished career at Harvard, where he was graduated in
1821, ranking thirtieth in a class of fifty-nine. Lovers of irony
like to remember that he was the seventh choice of his classmates
for the position of class poet. After some desultory teaching to
help his brothers, he passed irregularly through the Divinity
School, his studies often interrupted by serious ill-health. "If
they had examined me," he said afterward of the kindly professors
in the Divinity School, "they never would have passed me." But
approve him they did, in 1826, and he entered decorously upon the
profession of his ancestors, as associate minister of the Second
Church in Boston. His "Journals," which are a priceless record of
his inner life, at this and later periods, reveal the rigid
self-scrutiny, the tender idealism, with which he began his
ministerial career.

But as a scheme of life for Ralph Waldo Emerson this vocation
would not satisfy. The sexton of the Second Church thought that
the young man was not at his best at funerals. Father Taylor, the
eccentric Methodist, whom Emerson assisted at a sailor's Bethel
near Long Wharf, considered him "one of the sweetest souls God
ever made," but as ignorant of the principles of the New
Testament as Balaam's ass was of Hebrew grammar. By and by came
an open difference with his congregation over the question of
administering the Communion. "I am not interested in it," Emerson
admitted, and he wrote in his "Journal" the noble words: "It is
my desire, in the office of a Christian minister, to do nothing
which I cannot do with my whole heart." His resignation was
accepted in 1832. His young wife had died of consumption in the
same year. He now sailed for Italy, France, and England, a
memorable journey which gave him an acquaintance with Landor,
Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Carlyle, but which was even more
significant in sending him, as he says, back to himself, to the
resources of his own nature. "When shows break up," wrote Whitman
afterward, "what but oneself is sure?" In 1834 and 1835 we find
Emerson occupying a room in the Old Manse at Concord, strolling
in the quiet fields, lecturing or preaching if he were invited to
do so, but chiefly absorbed in a little book which he was
beginning to write--a new utterance of a new man.

This book, the now famous "Nature" of 1836, contains the essence
of Emerson's message to his generation. It is a prose essay, but
written in the ecstatic mood of a poet. The theme of its
meditation is the soul as related to Nature and to God. The soul
is primal; Nature, in all its bountiful and beautiful
commodities, exists for the training of the soul; it is the
soul's shadow. And every soul has immediate access to Deity. Thus
the utility and beauty and discipline of Nature lift the soul
Godward. The typical sentence of the book is this: "The sun
shines today also"; that is to say: the world is still alive and
fair; let us lift up our hearts! Only a few Americans of 1836
bought this singular volume, but Emerson went serenely forward.
He had found his path.

In 1837 he delivered the well-known Phi Beta Kappa oration at
Harvard on "The American Scholar." Emerson was now thirty-four;
he had married a second time, had bought a house of his own in
Concord, and purposed to make a living by lecturing and writing.
His address in Cambridge, though it contained no reference to
himself, was after all a justification of the way of life he had
chosen: a declaration of intellectual independence for himself
and his countrymen, an exhortation of self-trust to the
individual thinking man. "If the single man plant himself
indomitably on his instincts and there abide, the huge world will
come round to him." Such advice to cut loose from the moorings of
the past was not unknown in Phi Beta Kappa orations, though it
had never been so brilliantly phrased; but when Emerson applied
precisely the same doctrine, in 1838, to the graduating class at
the Harvard Divinity School, he roused a storm of disapproval. "A
tempest in our washbowl," he wrote coolly to Carlyle, but it was
more than that. The great sentence of the Divinity School
address, "God is, not was; he speaketh, not spake," was the
emphasis of a superb rhetorician upon the immediacy of the soul's
access to God. It has been the burden of a thousand prophets in
all religions. The young priests of the Divinity School, their
eyes wearied with Hebrew and Greek, seem to have enjoyed
Emerson's injunction to turn away from past records and
historical authorities and to drink from the living fountain of
the divine within themselves; but to the professors, "the stern
old war-gods," this relative belittlement of historical
Christianity seemed blasphemy. A generation passed before Emerson
was again welcomed by his alma mater.

The reader who has mastered those three utterances by the Concord
Transcendentalist in 1836, 1837, and 1838 has the key to Emerson.
He was a seer, not a system-maker. The constitution of his mind
forbade formal, consecutive, logical thought. He was not a
philosopher in the accepted sense, though he was always
philosophizing, nor a metaphysician in spite of his curious
searchings in the realm of metaphysics. He sauntered in books as
he sauntered by Walden Pond, in quest of what interested him; he
"fished in Montaigne," he said, as he fished in Plato and Goethe.
He basketed the day's luck, good or bad as it might be, into the
pages of his private "Journal," which he called his savings-bank,
because from this source he drew most of the material for his
books. The "Journal" has recently been printed, in ten volumes.
No American writing rewards the reader more richly. It must be
remembered that Emerson's "Essays," the first volume of which
appeared in 1841, and the last volumes after his death in 1882,
represent practically three stages of composition: first the
detached thoughts of the "Journal;" second, the rearrangement of
this material for use upon the lecture platform; and finally, the
essays in their present form. The oral method thus predominates:
a series of oracular thoughts has been shaped for oratorical
utterance, not oratorical in the bombastic, popular American
sense, but cunningly designed, by a master of rhetoric, to
capture the ear and then the mind of the auditor.

Emerson's work as a lecturer coincided with the rise of that
Lyceum system which brought most of the American authors, for
more than a generation, into intimate contact with the public,
and which proved an important factor in the aesthetic and moral
cultivation of our people. No lecturer could have had a more
auspicious influence than Emerson, with his quiet dignity, his
serene spiritual presence, his tonic and often electrifying
force. But if he gave his audiences precious gifts, he also
learned much from them. For thirty years his lecturing trips to
the West brought him, more widely than any New England man of
letters, into contact with the new, virile America of the great
Mississippi valley. Unlike many of his friends, he was not
repelled by the "Jacksonism of the West"; he rated it a
wholesome, vivifying force in our national thought and life. The
"Journal" reveals the essential soundness of his Americanism.
Though surrounded all his life by reformers, he was himself
scarcely a reformer, save upon the single issue of anti-slavery.
Perhaps he was at bottom too much of a radical to be swept off
his feet by any reform.

To our generation, of course, Emerson presents himself as an
author of books, and primarily as an essayist, rather than as a
winning, entrancing speaker. His essays have a greater variety of
tone than is commonly recognized. Many of them, like "Manners,"
"Farming," "Books," "Eloquence," "Old Age," exhibit a shrewd
prudential wisdom, a sort of Yankee instinct for "the milk in the
pan," that reminds one of Ben Franklin. Like most of the greater
New England writers, he could be, on occasion, an admirable local
historian. See his essays on "Life and Letters in New England,"
"New England Reformers," "Politics," and the successive entries
in his "Journal" relating to Daniel Webster. He had the happiest
gift of portraiture, as is witnessed by his sketches of
Montaigne, of Napoleon, of Socrates (in the essay on Plato), of
his aunt Mary Moody Emerson, of Thoreau, and of various types of
Englishmen in his "English Traits." But the great essays, no
doubt, are those like "Self-Reliance," "Compensation," "The
Over-Soul," "Fate," "Power," "Culture," "Worship," and
"Illusions." These will puzzle no one who has read carefully that
first book on "Nature." They all preach the gospel of intuition,
instinctive trust in the Universe, faith in the ecstatic moment
of vision into the things that are unseen by the physical eye.
Self-reliance, as Emerson's son has pointed out, means really
God-reliance; the Over-Soul--always a stumbling-block to
Philistines--means that high spiritual life into which all men
may enter and in which they share the life of Deity. Emerson is
stern enough in expounding the laws of compensation that run
through the universe, but to him the chief law is the law of the
ever-ascending, victorious soul.

This radiant optimism permeates his poems. By temperament a
singer as well as a seer and sayer, Emerson was nevertheless
deficient in the singing voice. He composed no one great poem,
his verse presents no ideas that are not found in his prose. In
metre and rhyme he is harsh and willful. Yet he has marvelous
single phrases and cadences. He ejaculates transports and
ecstasies, and though he cannot organize and construct in verse,
he is capable here and there of the true miracle of transforming
fact and thought into true beauty. Aldrich used to say that he
would rather have written Emerson's "Bacchus" than any American

That the pure, high, and tonic mind of Emerson was universal in
its survey of human forces, no one would claim. Certain
limitations in interest and sympathy are obvious. "That horrid
burden and impediment of the soul which the churches call sin,"
to use John Morley's words, occupied his attention but little.
Like a mountain climber in a perilous pass, he preferred to look
up rather than down. He does not stress particularly those old
human words, service and sacrifice. "Anti-scientific, antisocial,
anti-Christian" are the terms applied to him by one of his most
penetrating critics. Yet I should prefer to say "un-scientific,"
"unsocial," and "non-Christian," in the sense in which Plato and
Isaiah are non-Christian. Perhaps it would be still nearer the
truth to say, as Mrs. Lincoln said of her husband, "He was not a
technical Christian." He tends to underestimate institutions of
every kind; history, except as a storehouse of anecdote, and
culture as a steady mental discipline. This is the price he pays
for his transcendental insistence upon the supreme value of the
Now, the moment of insight. But after all these limitations are
properly set down, the personality of Ralph Waldo Emerson remains
a priceless possession to his countrymen. The austere serenity of
his life, and the perfection with which he represents the highest
type of his province and his era, will ultimately become blended
with the thought of his true Americanism. A democrat and
liberator, like Lincoln, he seems also destined like Lincoln to
become increasingly a world's figure, a friend and guide to
aspiring spirits everywhere. Differences of race and creed are
negligible in the presence of such superb confidence in God and
the soul.

Citizens of Concord in May, 1862, hearing that Henry Thoreau, the
eccentric bachelor, had just died of consumption in his mother's
house on Main Street, in his forty-fifth year, would have smiled
cannily at the notion that after fifty years their townsman's
literary works would be published in a sumptuous twenty-volume
edition, and that critics in his own country and in Europe would
rank him with Ralph Waldo Emerson. Yet that is precisely what has
happened. Our literature has no more curious story than the
evolution of this local crank into his rightful place of
mastership. In his lifetime he printed only two books, "A Week on
the Concord and Merrimac Rivers"--which was even more completely
neglected by the public than Emerson's "Nature"--and "Walden,"
now one of the classics, but only beginning to be talked about
when its shy, proud author penned his last line and died with the
words "moose" and "Indian" on his lips.

Thoreau, like all thinkers who reach below the surface of human
life, means many different things to men of various temperaments.
Collectors of human novelties, like Stevenson, rejoice in his
uniqueness of flavor; critics, like Lowell, place him, not
without impatient rigor. To some readers he is primarily a
naturalist, an observer, of the White of Selborne school; to
others an elemental man, a lover of the wild, a hermit of the
woods. He has been called the poet-naturalist, to indicate that
his powers of observation were accompanied, like Wordsworth's, by
a gift of emotional interpretation of the meaning of phenomena.
Lovers of literature celebrate his sheer force and penetration of
phrase. But to the student of American thought Thoreau's prime
value lies in the courage and consistency with which he
endeavored to realize the gospel of Transcendentalism in his own
inner life.

Lovers of racial traits like to remember that Thoreau's
grandfather was an immigrant Frenchman from the island of Jersey,
and that his grandmother was Scotch and Quaker. His father made
lead pencils and ground plumbago in his own house in Concord. The
mother was from New Hampshire. It was a high-minded family. All
the four children taught school and were good talkers. Henry,
born in 1817, was duly baptized by good Dr. Ripley of the Old
Manse, studied Greek and Latin, and was graduated at Harvard in
1837, the year of Emerson's Phi Beta Kappa address. Even in
college the young man was a trifle difficult. "Cold and
unimpressible," wrote a classmate. "The touch of his hand was
moist and indifferent. He did not care for people." "An
unfavorable opinion has been entertained of his disposition to
exert himself," wrote President Quincy confidentially to Emerson
in 1837, although the kindly President, a year later, in
recommending Thoreau as a school-teacher, certified that "his
rank was high as a scholar in all the branches and his morals and
general conduct unexceptionable and exemplary."

Ten years passed. The young man gave up school-keeping, thinking
it a loss of time. He learned pencil-making, surveying, and farm
work, and found that by manual labor for six weeks in the year he
could meet all the expenses of living. He haunted the woods and
pastures, explored rivers and ponds, built the famous hut on
Emerson's wood-lot with the famous axe borrowed from Alcott, was
put in jail for refusal to pay his polltax, and, to sum up much
in little, "signed off" from social obligations. "I, Henry D.
Thoreau, have signed off, and do not hold myself responsible to
your multifarious uncivil chaos named Civil Government." When his
college class held its tenth reunion in 1847, and each man was
asked to send to the secretary a record of achievement, Thoreau
wrote: "My steadiest employment, if such it can be called, is to
keep myself at the top of my condition and ready for whatever may
turn up in heaven or on earth." There is the motto of
Transcendentalism, stamped upon a single coin.

For "to be ready for whatever may turn up" is Thoreau's racier,
homelier version of Emerson's "endless seeker"; and Thoreau, more
easily than Emerson, could venture to stake everything upon the
quest. The elder man had announced the programme, but by 1847 he
was himself almost what Thoreau would call a "committed man,"
with family and household responsibilities, with a living to
earn, and bound, like every professional writer and speaker, to
have some measure of regard for his public. But Thoreau was ready
to travel lightly and alone. If he should fail in the great
adventure for spiritual perfection, it was his own affair. He had
no intimates, no confidant save the multitudinous pages of his
"Journal," from which--and here again he followed Emerson's
example--his future books were to be compiled. Many of his most
loyal admirers will admit that such a quest is bound, by the very
conditions of the problem, to be futile. Hawthorne allegorized it
in "Ethan Brand," and his quaint illustration of the folly of
romantic expansion of the self apart from the common interests of
human kind is the picture of a dog chasing its own tail. "It is
time now that I begin to live," notes Thoreau in the "Journal,"
and he continued to say it in a hundred different ways until the
end of all his journalizing, but he never quite captured the
fugitive felicity. The haunting pathos of his own allegory has
moved every reader of "Walden:" "I long ago lost a hound, a bay
horse, and a turtle-dove, and am still on their trail." Precisely
what he meant it is now impossible to say, but surely he betrays
a doubt in the ultimate efficacy of his own system of life. He
bends doggedly to the trail, for Henry Thoreau is no quitter, but
the trail leads nowhere, and in the latest volumes of the
"Journals" he seems to realize that he has been pursuing a
phantom. He dived fearlessly and deep into himself, but somehow
he failed to grasp that pearl of great price which all the
transcendental prophets assured him was to be had at the cost of

This is not to say that this austere and strenuous athlete came
up quite empty-handed. Far from it. The byproducts of his toil
were enough to have enriched many lesser men, and they have given
Thoreau a secure fame. From his boyhood he longed to make himself
a writer, and an admirable writer he became. "For along time," he
says in "Walden," "I was reporter to a journal, of no very wide
circulation, whose editor has never seen fit to print the bulk of
my contributions, and, as is too common with writers, I got only
my labor for my pains. However, in this case my pains were their
reward." Like so many solitaries, he experienced the joy of
intense, long-continued effort in composition, and he was artist
enough to know that his pages, carefully assembled from his note
books, had pungency, form, atmosphere. No man of his day, not
even Lowell the "last of the bookmen," abandoned himself more
unreservedly to the delight of reading. Thoreau was an
accomplished scholar in the Greek and Roman classics, as his
translations attest. He had some acquaintance with several modern
languages, and at one time possessed the best collection of books
on Oriental literature to be found in America. He was drenched in
the English poetry of the seventeenth century. His critical
essays in the "Dial," his letters and the bookish allusions
throughout his writings, are evidence of rich harvesting in the
records of the past. He left some three thousand manuscript pages
of notes on the American Indians, whose history and character had
fascinated him from boyhood. Even his antiquarian hobbies gave
him durable satisfaction. Then, too, he had deep delight in his
life-long studies in natural history, in his meticulous
measurements of river currents, in his notes upon the annual
flowering of plants and the migration of birds. The more
thoroughly trained naturalists of our own day detect him now and
again in error as to his birds and plants, just as specialists in
Maine woodcraft discover that he made amusing, and for him
unaccountable, blunders when he climbed Katahdin. But if he was
not impeccable as a naturalist or woodsman, who has ever had more
fun out of his enthusiasm than Thoreau, and who has ever
stimulated as many men and women in the happy use of their eyes?
He would have had slight patience with much of the sentimental
nature study of our generation, and certainly an intellectual
contempt for much that we read and write about the call of the
wild; but no reader of his books can escape his infection for the
freedom of the woods, for the stark and elemental in nature.
Thoreau's passion for this aspect of life may have been selfish,
wolflike, but it is still communicative.

Once, toward the close of his too brief life, Thoreau "signed on"
again to an American ideal, and no man could have signed more
nobly. It was the cause of Freedom, as represented by John Brown
of Harper's Ferry. The French and Scotch blood in the furtive
hermit suddenly grew hot. Instead of renouncing in disgust the
"uncivil chaos called Civil Government," Thoreau challenged it to
a fight. Indeed he had already thrown down the gauntlet in
"Slavery in Massachusetts," which Garrison had published in the
"Liberator" in 1854. And now the death upon the scaffold of the
old fanatic of Ossawatomie changed Thoreau into a complete
citizen, arguing the case and glorifying to his neighbors the
dead hero. "It seems as if no man had ever died in America
before; for in order to die you must first have lived . . . . I
hear a good many pretend that they are going to die . . . .
Nonsense! I'll defy them to do it. They haven't got life enough
in them. They'll deliquesce like fungi, and keep a hundred
eulogists mopping the spot where they left off. Only half a dozen
or so have died since the world began." Such passages as this
reveal a very different Thoreau from the Thoreau who is supposed
to have spent his days in the company of swamp-blackbirds and
woodchucks. He had, in fact, one of the highest qualifications
for human society, an absolute honesty of mind. "We select
granite," he says, "for the underpinning of our houses and barns;
we build fences of stone; but we do not ourselves rest on an
underpinning of granite truth, the lowest primitive rock. Our
sills are rotten . . . . In proportion as our inward life fails,
we go more constantly and desperately to the postoffice. You may
depend upon it, that the poor fellow who walks away with the
greatest number of letters, proud of his extensive
correspondence, has not heard from himself this long time."

This hard, basic individualism was for Thoreau the foundation of
all enduring social relations, and the dullest observer of
twentieth century America can see that Thoreau's doctrine is
needed as much as ever. His sharp-edged personality provokes
curiosity and pricks the reader into dissent or emulation as the
case may be, but its chief ethical value to our generation lies
in the fact that here was a Transcendentalist who stressed, not
the life of the senses, though he was well aware of their
seductiveness, but the stubborn energy of the will.

The scope of the present book prevents more than a glimpse at the
other members of the New England Transcendental group. They are a
very mixed company, noble, whimsical, queer, impossible. "The
good Alcott," wrote Carlyle, "with his long, lean face and
figure, with his gray worn temples and mild radiant eyes; all
bent on saving the world by a return to acorns and the golden
age; he comes before one like a venerable Don Quixote, whom
nobody can laugh at without loving." These words paint a whole
company, as well as a single man. The good Alcott still awaits an
adequate biographer. Connecticut Yankee, peddler in the South,
school-teacher in Boston and elsewhere, he descended upon
Concord, flitted to the queer community of Fruitlands, was
starved back to Concord, inspired and bored the patient Emerson,
talked endlessly, wrote ineffective books, and had at last his
apotheosis in the Concord School of Philosophy, but was chiefly
known for the twenty years before his death in 1888 as the father
of the Louisa Alcott who wrote "Little Women." "A tedious
archangel," was Emerson's verdict, and it is likely to stand.

Margaret Fuller, though sketched by Hawthorne, analyzed by
Emerson, and painted at full length by Thomas Wentworth
Higginson, is now a fading figure--a remarkable woman, no doubt,
one of the first of American feminists, suggesting George Eliot
in her physical unattractiveness, her clear brain, her touch of
sensuousness. She was an early-ripe, over-crammed scholar in the
classics and in modern European languages. She did loyal, unpaid
work as the editor of the "Dial," which from 1840 to 1844 was the
organ of Transcendentalism. She joined the community at Brook
Farm, whose story has been so well told by Lindsay Swift. For a
while she served as literary editor of the "New York Tribune"
under Horace Greeley. Then she went abroad, touched Rousseau's
manuscripts at Paris with trembling, adoring fingers, made a
secret marriage in Italy with the young Marquis Ossoli, and
perished by shipwreck, with her husband and child, off Fire
Island in 1850.

Theodore Parker, like Alcott and "Margaret," an admirable Greek
scholar, an idealist and reformer, still lives in Chadwick's
biography, in Colonel Higginson's delightful essay, and in the
memories of a few liberal Bostonians who remember his tremendous
sermons on the platform of the old Music Hall. He was a Lexington
farmer's son, with the temperament of a blacksmith, with
enormous, restless energy, a good hater, a passionate lover of
all excellent things save meekness. He died at fifty, worn out,
in Italy.

But while these three figures were, after Emerson and Thoreau,
the most representative of the group, the student of the
Transcendental period will be equally interested in watching its
influence upon many other types of young men: upon future
journalists and publicists like George William Curtis, Charles A.
Dana, and George Ripley; upon religionists like Orestes Brownson,
Father Hecker, and James Freeman Clarke; and upon poets like
Jones Very, Christopher. P. Cranch, and Ellery Channing. There
was a sunny side of the whole movement, as T. W. Higginson and F.
B. Sanborn, two of the latest survivors of the ferment, loved to
emphasize in their talk and in their books; and it was shadowed
also by tragedy and the pathos of unfulfilled desires. But as one
looks back at it, in the perspective of three-quarters of a
century, it seems chiefly something touchingly fine. For all
these men and women tried to hitch their wagon to a star.


Moving in and out of the Transcendentalist circles, in that great
generation preceding the Civil War, were a company of other
men--romancers, poets, essayists, historians--who shared in the
intellectual liberalism of the age, but who were more purely
artists in prose and verse than they were seekers after the
unattainable. Hawthorne, for example, sojourned at Concord and at
Brook Farm with some of the most extreme types of transcendental
extravagance. The movement interested him artistically and he
utilized it in his romances, but personally he maintained an
attitude of cool detachment from it. Longfellow was too much of
an artist to lose his head over philosophical abstractions;
Whittier, at his best, had a too genuine poetic instinct for the
concrete; and Lowell and Holmes had the saving gift of humor.
Cultivated Boston gentlemen like Prescott, Motley, and Parkman
preferred to keep their feet on the solid earth and write
admirable histories. So the mellow years went by. Most of the
widely-read American books were being produced within twenty
miles of the Boston State House. The slavery issue kept growling,
far away, but it was only now and then, as in the enforcement of
the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, that it was brought sharply home
to the North. The "golden forties" were as truly golden for New
England as for idle California. There was wealth, leisure, books,
a glow of harvest-time in the air, though the spirit of the
writers is the spirit of youth.

Nathaniel Hawthorne, our greatest writer of pure romance, was
Puritan by inheritance and temperament, though not in doctrine or
in sympathy. His literary affiliations were with the English and
German Romanticists, and he possessed, for professional use, the
ideas and vocabulary of his transcendental friends. Born in Salem
in 1804, he was descended from Judge Hawthorne of Salem
Witchcraft fame, and from a long line of sea-faring ancestors. He
inherited a morbid solitariness, redeemed in some measure by a
physical endowment of rare strength and beauty. He read Spenser,
Rousseau, and the "Newgate Calendar," was graduated at Bowdoin,
with Longfellow, in the class of 1825, and returned to Salem for
thirteen brooding lonely years in which he tried to teach himself
the art of story-writing. His earliest tales, like Irving's, are
essays in which characters emerge; he is absorbed in finding a
setting for a preconceived "moral"; he is in love with allegory
and parable. His own words about his first collection of stories,
"Twice-Told Tales," have often been quoted: "They have the pale
tint of flowers that blossomed in too retired a shade." Yet they
are for the most part exquisitely written. After a couple of
years in the Boston Custom-House, and a residence at the
socialistic community of Brook Farm, Hawthorne made the happiest
of marriages to Sophia Peabody, and for nearly four years dwelt
in the Old Manse at Concord. He described it in one of the ripest
of his essays, the Preface to "Mosses from an Old Manse," his
second collection of stories. After three years in the
Custom-House at Salem, his dismissal in 1849 gave him leisure to
produce his masterpiece, "The Scarlet Letter," published in 1850.
He was now forty-six. In 1851, he published "The House of the
Seven Gables," "The Wonder-Book," and "The Snow Image, and Other
Tales." In 1852 came "The Blithedale Romance," a rich ironical
story drawn from his Brook Farm experience. Four years in the
American Consulate at Liverpool and three subsequent years of
residence upon the Continent saw no literary harvest except
carefully filled notebooks and the deeply imaginative moral
romance, "The Marble Faun." Hawthorne returned home in 1860 and
settled in the Wayside at Concord, busying himself with a new,
and, as was destined, a never completed story about the elixir of
immortality. But his vitality was ebbing, and in May, 1864, he
passed away in his sleep. He rests under the pines in Sleepy
Hollow, near the Alcotts and the Emersons.

It is difficult for contemporary Americans to assess the value of
such a man, who evidently did nothing except to write a few
books. His rare, delicate genius was scarcely touched by passing
events. Not many of his countrymen really love his writings, as
they love, for instance the writings of Dickens or Thackeray or
Stevenson. Everyone reads, at some time of his life, "The Scarlet
Letter," and trembles at its passionate indictment of the sin of
concealment, at its agonized admonition, "Be true! Be true!"
Perhaps the happiest memories of Hawthorne's readers, as of
Kipling's readers, hover about his charming stories for children;
to have missed "The Wonder-Book" is like having grown old without
ever catching the sweetness of the green world at dawn. But our
public has learned to enjoy a wholly different kind of style,
taught by the daily journals, a nervous, graphic, sensational,
physical style fit for describing an automobile, a department
store, a steamship, a lynching party. It is the style of our day,
and judged by it Hawthorne, who wrote with severity, conscience,
and good taste, seems somewhat old-fashioned, like Irving or
Addison. He is perhaps too completely a New Englander to be
understood by men of other stock, and has never, like Poe and
Whitman, excited strong interest among European minds.

Yet no American is surer, generation after generation, of finding
a fit audience. Hawthorne's genius was meditative rather than
dramatic. His artistic material was moral rather than physical;
he brooded over the soul of man as affected by this and that
condition and situation. The child of a new analytical age, he
thought out with rigid accuracy the precise circumstances
surrounding each one of his cases and modifying it. Many of his
sketches and short stories and most of his romances deal with
historical facts, moods, and atmospheres, and he knew the past of
New England as few men have ever known it. There is solid
historical and psychological stuff as the foundation of his
air-castles. His latent radicalism furnished him with a
touchstone of criticism as he interpreted the moral standards of
ancient communities; no reader of "The Scarlet Letter" can forget
Hawthorne's implicit condemnation of the unimaginative harshness
of the Puritans. His own judgment upon the deep matters of the
human conscience was stern enough, but it was a universalized
judgment, and by no means the result of a Calvinism which he
hated. Over-fond as he was in his earlier tales of elaborate,
fanciful, decorative treatment of themes that promised to point a
moral, in his finest short stories, such as "The Ambitious
Guest," "The Gentle Boy," "Young Goodman Brown," "The Snow
"The Great Stone Face," "Drowne's Wooden Image," "Rappacini's
Daughter," the moral, if there be one, is not obtruded. He loves
physical symbols for mental and moral states, and was poet and
Transcendentalist enough to retain his youthful affection for
parables; but his true field as a story-teller is the erring,
questing, aspiring, shadowed human heart.

"The Scarlet Letter," for instance, is a study of a universal
theme, the problem of concealed sin, punishment, redemption. Only
the setting is provincial. The story cannot be rightly estimated,
it is true, without remembering the Puritan reverence for
physical purity, the Puritan reverence for the
magistrate-minister--differing so widely from the respect of
Latin countries for the priest--the Puritan preoccupation with
life of the soul, or, as more narrowly construed by Calvinism,
the problem of evil. The word Adultery, although suggestively
enough present in one of the finest symbolical titles ever
devised by a romancer, does not once occur in the book. The sins
dealt with are hypocrisy and revenge. Arthur Dimmesdale, Hester
Prynne, and Roger Chillingworth are developing, suffering, living
creatures, caught inextricably in the toils of a moral situation.
By an incomparable succession of pictures Hawthorne exhibits the
travail of their souls. In the greatest scene of all, that
between Hester and Arthur in the forest, the Puritan framework of
the story gives way beneath the weight of human passion, and we
seem on the verge of another and perhaps larger solution than was
actually worked out by the logic of succeeding events. But
though the book has been called Christless, prayerless, hopeless,
no mature person ever reads it without a deepened sense of the
impotence of all mechanistic theories of sin, and a new vision of
the intense reality of spiritual things. "The law we broke," in
Dimmesdale's ghostly words, was a more subtle law than can be
graven on tables of stone and numbered as the Seventh

The legacy of guilt is likewise the theme of "The House of the
Seven Gables," which Hawthorne himself was inclined to think a
better book than "The Scarlet Letter." Certainly this story of
old Salem is impeccably written and its subtle handling of tone
and atmosphere is beyond dispute. An ancestral curse, the
visitation of the sins of the fathers upon the children, the
gradual decay of a once sound stock, are motives that Ibsen might
have developed. But the Norseman would have failed to rival
Hawthorne's delicate manipulation of his shadows, and the no less
masterly deftness of the ultimate mediation of a dark inheritance
through the love of the light-hearted Phoebe for the latest
descendant of the Maules. In "The Blithedale Romance" Hawthorne
stood for once, perhaps, too near his material to allow the rich
atmospheric effects which he prefers, and in spite of the
unforgetable portrait of Zenobia and powerful passages of
realistic description, the book is not quite focussed. In "The
Marble Faun" Hawthorne comes into his own again. Its central
problem is one of those dark insoluble ones that he loves: the
influence of a crime upon the development of a soul. Donatello,
the Faun, is a charming young creature of the natural sunshine
until his love for the somber Miriam tempts him to the commission
of murder: then begins the growth of his mind and character.
Perhaps the haunting power of the main theme of the book has
contributed less to its fame than the felicity of its
descriptions of Rome and Italy. For Hawthorne possessed, like
Byron, in spite of his defective training in the appreciation of
the arts, a gift of romantic discernment which makes "The Marble
Faun," like "Childe Harold," a glorified guide-book to the
Eternal City.

All of Hawthorne's books, in short, have a central core of
psychological romance, and a rich surface finish of description.
His style, at its best, has a subdued splendor of coloring which
is only less wonderful than the spiritual perceptions with which
this magician was endowed. The gloom which haunts many of his
pages, as I have said elsewhere, is the long shadow cast by our
mortal destiny upon a sensitive soul. The mystery is our mystery,
perceived, and not created, by that finely endowed mind and
heart. The shadow is our shadow; the gleams of insight, the soft
radiance of truth and beauty, are his own.

A college classmate of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow summed up the
Portland boy's character in one sentence: "It appeared easy for
him to avoid the unworthy." Born in 1807, of Mayflower stock that
had distinguished itself for bravery and uprightness, the youth
was graduated from Bowdoin at eighteen. Like his classmate
Hawthorne, he had been a wide and secretly ambitious reader, and
had followed the successive numbers of Irving's "Sketch Book," he
tells us, "with ever increasing wonder and delight." His college
offered him in 1826 a professorship of the modern languages, and
he spent three happy years in Europe in preparation. He taught
successfully at Bowdoin for five or six years, and for eighteen
years, 1836 to 1854, served as George Ticknor's successor at
Harvard, ultimately surrendering the chair to Lowell. He early
published two prose volumes, "Hyperion" and "Outre-mer,"
Irvingesque romances of European travel. Then came, after ten
years of teaching and the death of his young wife, the sudden
impulse to write poetry, and he produced, "softly excited, I know
not why," "The Reaper and the Flowers, a Psalm of Death." From
that December morning in 1838 until his death in 1882 he was
Longfellow the Poet.

His outward life, like Hawthorne's, was barren of dramatic
incident, save the one tragic accident by which his second wife,
the mother of his children, perished before his eyes in 1861. He
bore the calamity with the quiet courage of his race and
breeding. But otherwise his days ran softly and gently, enriched
with books and friendships, sheltered from the storms of
circumstance. He had leisure to grow ripe, to remember, and to
dream. But he never secluded himself, like Tennyson, from normal
contacts with his fellowmen. The owner of the Craigie House was a
good neighbor, approachable and deferential. He was even
interested in local Cambridge politics. On the larger political
issues of his day his Americanism was sound and loyal. "It is
disheartening," he wrote in his Cambridge journal for 1851, "to
see how little sympathy there is in the hearts of the young men
here for freedom and great ideas." But his own sympathy never
wavered. His linguistic talent helped him to penetrate the
secrets of alien ways of thought and speech. He understood Italy
and Spain, Holland and France and Germany. He had studied them on
the lips of their living men and women and in the books where
soldier and historian, priest and poet, had inscribed the record
of five hundred years. From the Revival of Learning to the middle
of the nineteenth century, Longfellow knew the soul of Europe as
few men have known it, and he helped to translate Europe to
America. His intellectual receptivity, his quick eye for color
and costume and landscape, his ear for folklore and ballad, his
own ripe mastery of words, made him the most resourceful of
international interpreters. And this lover of children, walking
in quiet ways, this refined and courteous host and gentleman,
scholar and poet, exemplified without self-advertisement the
richer qualities of his own people. When Couper's statue of
Longfellow was dedicated in Washington, Hamilton Mabie said: "His
freedom from the sophistication of a more experienced country;
his simplicity, due in large measure to the absence of social
self-consciousness; his tranquil and deep-seated optimism, which
is the effluence of an unexhausted soil; his happy and confident
expectation, born of a sense of tremendous national vitality; his
love of simple things in normal relations to world-wide interests
of the mind; his courage in interpreting those deeper experiences
which craftsmen who know art but who do not know life call
commonplaces; the unaffected and beautiful democracy of his
spirit--these are the delicate flowers of our new world, and as
much a part of it as its stretches of wilderness and the
continental roll of its rivers."

Longfellow's poetic service to his countrymen has thus become a
national asset, and not merely because in his three best known
narrative poems, "Evangeline," "Hiawatha," and "The Courtship of
Miles Standish," he selected his themes from our own history.
"The Building of the Ship," written with full faith in the
troubled year of 1849, is a national anthem. "It is a wonderful
gift," said Lincoln, as he listened to it, his eyes filled with
tears, "to be able to stir men like that." "The Skeleton in
Armor," "A Ballad of the French Fleet," "Paul Revere's Ride,"
"The Wreck of the Hesperus," are ballads that stir men still. For
all of his skill in story-telling in verse--witness the "Tales of
a Wayside Inn"--Longfellow was not by nature a dramatist, and his
trilogy now published under the title of "Christus," made up of
"The Divine Tragedy," "The Golden Legend," and "New England
Tragedies," added little to a reputation won in other fields. His
sonnets, particularly those upon "Chaucer," "Milton," "The Divina
Commedia," "A Nameless Grave," "Felton," "Sumner," "Nature," "My
Books," are among the imperishable treasures of the English
language. In descriptive pieces like "Keramos" and "The Hanging
of the Crane," in such personal and occasional verses as "The
Herons of Elmwood," "The Fiftieth Birthday of Agassiz," and the
noble "Morituri Salutamus" written for his classmates in 1875, he
exhibits his tenderness of affection and all the ripeness of his
technical skill. But it was as a lyric poet, after all, that he
won and held his immense audience throughout the English-speaking
world. Two of the most popular of all his early pieces, "The
Psalm of Life" and "Excelsior," have paid the price of a too apt
adjustment to the ethical mood of an earnest moment in our
national life. We have passed beyond them. And many readers may
have outgrown their youthful pleasure in "Maidenhood," "The Rainy
Day," "The Bridge," "The Day is Done," verses whose simplicity
lent themselves temptingly to parody. Yet such poems as "The
Belfry of Bruges," "Seaweed," "The Fire of Driftwood," "The
Arsenal at Springfield," "My Lost Youth," "The Children's Hour,"
and many another lyric, lose nothing with the lapse of time.
There is fortunately infinite room for personal preference in
this whole matter of poetry, but the confession of a lack of
regard for Longfellow's verse must often be recognized as a
confession of a lessening love for what is simple, graceful, and
refined. The current of contemporary American taste, especially
among consciously clever, half-trained persons, seems to be
running against Longfellow. How soon the tide may turn, no one
can say. Meanwhile he has his tranquil place in the Poet's Corner
of Westminster Abbey. The Abbey must be a pleasant spot to wait
in, for the Portland boy.

Oddly enough, some of the over-sophisticated and
under-experienced people who affect to patronize Longfellow
assume toward John Greenleaf Whittier an air of deference. This
attitude would amuse the Quaker poet. One can almost see his dark
eyes twinkle and the grim lips tighten in that silent laughter in
which the old man so much resembled Cooper's Leather-Stocking.
Whittier knew that his friend Longfellow was a better artist than
himself, and he also knew, by intimate experience as a maker of
public opinion, how variable are its judgments. Whittier
represents a stock different from that of the Longfellows, but
equally American, equally thoroughbred: the Essex County Quaker
farmer of Massachusetts. The homestead in which he was born in
1807, at East Haverhill, had been built by his
great-great-grandfather in 1688. Mount Vernon in Virginia and the
Craigie House in Cambridge are newer than this by two
generations. The house has been restored to the precise aspect it
had in Whittier's boyhood: and the garden, lawn, and brook, even
the door-stone and bridle-post and the barn across the road are
witnesses to the fidelity of the descriptions in "Snow-Bound."
The neighborhood is still a lonely one. The youth grew up in
seclusion, yet in contact with a few great ideas, chief among
them Liberty. "My father," he said, "was an old-fashioned
Democrat, and really believed in the Preamble of the Bill of
Rights which reaffirmed the Declaration of Independence." The
taciturn father transmitted to his sons a hatred of kingcraft and
priestcraft, the inward moral freedom of the Quaker touched with
humanitarian passion. The spirit of a boyhood in this homestead
is veraciously told in "The Barefoot Boy," "School-Days,"
"Snow-Bound," "Ramoth Hill," and "Telling the Bees." It was a
chance copy of Burns that revealed to the farmer lad his own
desire and capacity for verse-writing. When he was nineteen, his
sister sent his "Exile's Departure" to William Lloyd Garrison,
then twenty, and the editor of the "Newburyport Free Press." The
neighbors liked it, and the tall frail author was rewarded with a
term at the Haverhill Academy, where he paid his way, in old
Essex County fashion, by making shoes.

He had little more formal schooling than this, was too poor to
enter college, but had what he modestly called a "knack at
rhyming," and much facility in prose. He turned to journalism and
politics, for which he possessed a notable instinct. For a while
he thought he had "done with poetry and literature." Then in
1833, at twenty-six, came Garrison's stirring letter bidding him
enlist in the cause of Anti-Slavery. He obeyed the call, not
knowing that this new allegiance to the service of humanity was
to transform him from a facile local verse-writer into a national
poet. It was the ancient miracle of losing one's life and finding
it. For the immediate sacrifice was very real to a youth trained
in quietism and non-resistance, and well aware, as a Whig
journalist, of the ostracism visited upon the active
Abolitionists. Whittier entered the fight with absolute courage
and with the shrewdest practical judgment of weapons and tactics.
He forgot himself. He turned aside from those pleasant fields of
New England legend and history to which he was destined to return
after his warfare was accomplished. He had read the prose of
Milton and of Burke. He perceived that negro emancipation in the
United States was only a single and immediate phase of a
universal movement of liberalism. The thought kindled his
imagination. He wrote, at white heat, political and social verse
that glowed with humanitarian passion: lyrics in praise of
fellow-workers, salutes to the dead, campaign songs, hymns,
satires against the clergy and the capitalists, superb sectional
poems like "Massachusetts to Virginia," and, more nobly still,
poems embodying what Wordsworth called "the sensation and image
of country and the human race."

Whittier had now "found himself" as a poet. It is true that his
style remained diffuse and his ear faulty, but his countrymen,
then as now uncritical of artistic form, overlooked the blemishes
of his verse, and thought only of his vibrant emotion, his scorn
of cowardice and evil, his prophetic exaltation. In 1847 came the
first general collection of his poems, and here were to be found
not merely controversial verses, but spirited "Songs of Labor,"
pictures of the lovely Merrimac countryside, legends written in
the mood of Hawthorne or Longfellow, and bright bits of foreign
lore and fancy. For though Whittier never went abroad, his quiet
life at Amesbury gave him leisure for varied reading, and he
followed contemporary European politics with the closest
interest. He emerged more and more from the atmosphere of faction
and section, and, though he retained to the last his Quaker
creed, he held its simple tenets in such undogmatic and winning
fashion that his hymns are sung today in all the churches.

When "The Atlantic Monthly" was established in 1857, Whittier was
fifty. He took his place among the contributors to the new
magazine not as a controversialist but as a man of letters, with
such poems as "Tritemius," and "Skipper Ireson's Ride."
Characteristic productions of this period are "My Psalm,"
"Cobbler Keezar's Vision," "Andrew Rykman's Prayer," "The Eternal
Goodness"--poems grave, sweet, and tender. But it was not until
the publication of "Snow-Bound" in 1866 that Whittier's work
touched its widest popularity. He had never married, and the
deaths of his mother and sister Elizabeth set him brooding, in
the desolate Amesbury house, over memories of his birthplace, six
miles away in East Haverhill. The homestead had gone out of the
hands of the Whittiers, and the poet, nearing sixty, set himself
to compose an idyll descriptive of the vanished past. No artist
could have a theme more perfectly adapted to his mood and to his
powers. There are no novel ideas in "Snow-Bound," nor is there
any need of them, but the thousands of annual pilgrims to the old
farmhouse can bear witness to the touching intimacy, the homely
charm, the unerring rightness of feeling with which Whittier's
genius recreated his own lost youth and painted for all time a
true New England hearthside.

Whittier was still to write nearly two hundred more poems, for he
lived to be eighty-five, and he composed until the last. But his
creative period was now over. He rejoiced in the friendly
recognition of his work that came to him from every section of a
reunited country. His personal friends were loyal in their
devotion. He followed the intricacies of American politics with
the keen zest of a veteran in that game, for in his time he had
made and unmade governors and senators. "The greatest politician
I have ever met," said James G. Blaine, who had certainly met
many. He had an income from his poems far in excess of his needs,
but retained the absolute simplicity of his earlier habits. When
his publishers first proposed the notable public dinner in honor
of his seventieth birthday he demurred, explaining to a member of
his family that he did not want the bother of "buying a new pair
of pants"--a petty anecdote, but somehow refreshing. So the
rustic, shrewd, gentle old man waited for the end. He had known
what it means to toil, to fight, to renounce, to eat his bread in
tears, and to see some of his dreams come true. We have had, and
shall have, more accomplished craftsmen in verse, but we have
never bred a more genuine man than Whittier, nor one who had more
kinship with the saints.

A few days before Whittier's death, he wrote an affectionate poem
in celebration of the eighty-third birthday of his old friend of
the Saturday Club, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes. This was in 1892.
The little Doctor, rather lonely in his latest years, composed
some tender obituary verses at Whittier's passing. He had already
performed the same office for Lowell. He lingered himself until
the autumn of 1894, in his eighty-sixth year--"The Last Leaf," in
truth, of New England's richest springtime.

"No, my friends," he had said in "The Autocrat of the Breakfast
Table," "I go (always, other things being equal) for the man who
inherits family traditions and the cumulative humanities of at
least four or five generations." The Doctor came naturally by his
preference for a "man of family," being one himself. He was a
descendant of Anne Bradstreet, the poetess. "Dorothy Q.," whom he
had made the most picturesque of the Quincys, was his
great-grandmother. Wendell Phillips was his cousin. His father,
the Rev. Abiel Holmes, a Yale graduate, was the minister of the
First Church in Cambridge, and it was in its "gambrel-roofed"
parsonage that Oliver Wendell was born in 1809.

"Know old Cambridge? Hope you do--
Born there? Don't say so! I was, too.
Nicest place that was ever seen--
Colleges red and Common green."

So he wrote, in scores of passages of filial devotion, concerning
the village of his boyhood and the city of Boston. His best-known
prose sentence is: "Boston State House is the hub of the Solar
System." It is easy to smile, as indeed he did himself, at such
fond provinciality, but the fact remains that our literature as a
whole sadly needs this richness of local atmosphere. A nation of
restless immigrants, here today and "moved on" tomorrow, has the
fibres of its imagination uprooted, and its artists in their
eager quest of "local color" purchase brilliancy at the cost of
thinness of tone, poverty of association. Philadelphia and
Boston, almost alone among the larger American cities, yield the
sense of intimacy, or what the Autocrat would call "the
cumulative humanities. "

Young Holmes became the pet and the glory of his class of 1829 at
Harvard. It was only in 1838 that their reunions began, but
thereafter they held fifty-six meetings, of which Holmes attended
fifty and wrote poems for forty-three. Many of "the Boys" whom he
celebrated became famous in their own right, but they remain "the
Boys" to all lovers of Holmes's verses. His own career as a poet
had begun during his single year in the Law School. His later
years brought him some additional skill in polishing his lines
and a riper human wisdom, but his native verse-making talent is
as completely revealed in "Old Ironsides," published when he was
twenty-one, and in "The Last Leaf," composed a year or two later,
as in anything he was to write during the next half-century. In
many respects he was a curious survival of the cumulative
humanities of the eighteenth century. He might have been, like
good Dr. Arbuthnot, an ornament of the Augustan age. He shared
with the English Augustans a liking for the rhymed couplet, an
instinctive social sense, a feeling for the presence of an
imaginary audience of congenial listeners. One still catches the
"Hear! Hear!" between his clever lines. In many of the traits of
his mind this "Yankee Frenchman" resembled such a typical
eighteenth century figure as Voltaire. Like Voltaire, he was
tolerant--except toward Calvinism and Homeopathy. In some of the
tricks of his prose style he is like a kindlier Sterne. His knack
for vers de societe was caught from Horace, but he would not have
been a child of his own age without the additional gift of
rhetoric and eloquence which is to be seen in his patriotic poems
and his hymns. For Holmes possessed, in spite of all his
limitations in poetic range, true devotion, patriotism, humor,
and pathos.

His poetry was in the best sense of the word "occasional," and
his prose was only an incidental or accidental harvest of a long
career in which his chief duty was that of a professor of anatomy
in the Harvard Medical School. He had studied in Paris under
sound teachers, and after some years of private practice won the
appointment which he held, as active and emeritus professor, for
forty-seven years. He was a faithful, clear, and amusing
lecturer, and printed two or three notable medical essays, but
his chief Boston reputation, in the eighteen-fifties, was that of
a wit and diner-out and writer of verses for occasions. Then came
his great hour of good luck in 1857, when Lowell, the editor of
the newly-established "Atlantic Monthly," persuaded him to write
"The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table." It was the public's luck
also, for whoever had been so unfortunate as not to be born in
Boston could now listen--as if across the table--to Boston's best
talker. Few volumes of essays during the last sixty years have
given more pleasure to a greater variety of readers than is
yielded by "The Autocrat." It gave the Doctor a reputation in
England which he naturally prized, and which contributed to his
triumphal English progress, many years later, recorded pleasantly
in "Our Hundred Days." "The Professor at the Breakfast Table" and
"The Poet at the Breakfast Table" are less successful variations
of "The Autocrat." Neither professors nor poets are at their best
at this meal. Holmes wrote three novels--of which "Elsie Venner,"
a somewhat too medical story, is the best remembered--memoirs of
his friends Emerson and Motley, and many miscellaneous essays.
His life was exceptionally happy, and his cheery good opinion of
himself is still contagious. To pronounce the words Doctor Holmes
in any company of intelligent Americans is the prologue to a
smile of recognition, comprehension, sympathy. The word Goldsmith
has now lost, alas, this provocative quality; the word Stevenson
still possesses it. The little Doctor, who died in the same year
as Stevenson, belonged like him to the genial race of friends of
mankind, and a few of his poems, and some gay warm-hearted pages
of his prose, will long preserve his memory. But the Boston which
he loved has vanished as utterly as Sam Johnson's London.

James Russell Lowell was ten years younger than Holmes, and
though he died three years before the Doctor, he seems, for other
reasons than those of chronology, to belong more nearly to the
present. Although by birth as much of a New England Brahmin as
Holmes, and in his later years as much of a Boston and Cambridge
idol, he nevertheless touched our universal American life on many
sides, represented us worthily in foreign diplomacy, argued the
case of Democracy with convincing power, and embodied, as more
perfect artists like Hawthorne and Longfellow could never have
done, the subtleties and potencies of the national temperament.
He deserves and reveals the closest scrutiny, but his personality
is difficult to put on paper. Horace Scudder wrote his biography
with careful competence, and Ferris Greenslet has made him the
subject of a brilliant critical study. Yet readers differ widely
in their assessment of the value of his prose and verse, and in
their understanding of his personality.

The external facts of his career are easy to trace and must be
set down here with brevity. A minister's son, and descended from
a very old and distinguished family, he was born at Elmwood in
Cambridge in 1819. After a somewhat turbulent course, he was
graduated from Harvard in 1838, the year of Emerson's "Divinity
School Address." He studied law, turned Abolitionist, wrote
poetry, married the beautiful and transcendental Maria White, and
did magazine work in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. He was
thought by his friends in the eighteen-fifties to be "the most
Shakespearian" man in America. When he was ten years out of
college, in 1848, he published "The Biglow Papers" (First
Series), "A Fable for Critics," and "The Vision of Sir Launfal."
After a long visit to Europe and the death of his wife, he gave
some brilliant Lowell Institute lectures in Boston, and was
appointed Longfellow's successor at Harvard. He went to Europe
again to prepare himself, and after entering upon his work as a
teacher made a happy second marriage, served for four years as
the first editor of "The Atlantic," and helped his friend Charles
Eliot Norton edit "The North American Review." The Civil War
inspired a second series of "Biglow Papers" and the magnificent
"Commemoration Ode" of 1865. Then came volume after volume of
literary essays, such as "Among My Books" and "My Study Windows,"
and an occasional book of verse. Again he made a long sojourn in
Europe, resigned his Harvard professorship, and in 1877 was
appointed Minister to Spain. After three years he was transferred
to the most important post in our diplomatic service, London. He
performed his duties with extraordinary skill and success until
1885, when he was relieved. His last years were spent in Elmwood,
the Cambridge house where he was born, and he was still writing,
in almost as rich a vein as ever, when the end came in 1891.

Here was certainly a full and varied life, responsive to many
personal moods and many tides of public feeling. Lowell drew
intellectual stimulus from enormously wide reading in classical
and modern literatures. Puritanically earnest by inheritance, he
seems also to have inherited a strain of levity which he could
not always control, and, through his mother's family, a dash of
mysticism sometimes resembling second sight. His physical and
mental powers were not always in the happiest mutual adjustment:
he became easily the prey of moods and fancies, and knew the
alternations from wild gaiety of spirits to black despair. The
firm moral consistency of Puritanism was always his, yet his
playful remark about belonging in a hospital for incurable
children had a measure of truth in it also.

Both his poetry and his prose reveal a nature never quite
integrated into wholeness of structure, into harmony with itself.
His writing, at its best, is noble and delightful, full of human
charm, but it is difficult for him to master a certain
waywardness and to sustain any note steadily. This temperamental
flaw does not affect the winsomeness of his letters, unless to
add to it. It is lost to view, often, in the sincerity and pathos
of his lyrics, but it is felt in most of his longer efforts in
prose, and accounts for a certain dissatisfaction which many
grateful and loyal readers nevertheless feel in his criticism.
Lowell was more richly endowed by nature and by breadth of
reading than Matthew Arnold, for instance, but in the actual
performance of the critical function he was surpassed in method
by Arnold and perhaps in inerrant perception, in a limited field,
by Poe.

It was as a poet, however, that he first won his place in our
literature, and it is by means of certain passages in the "Biglow
Papers" and the "Commemoration Ode" that he has most moved his
countrymen. The effectiveness of The "Present Crisis" and "Sir
Launfal," and of the "Memorial Odes," particularly the "Ode to
Agassiz," is likewise due to the passion, sweetness, and splendor
of certain strophes, rather than to the perfection of these poems
as artistic wholes. Lowell's personal lyrics of sorrow, such as
"The Changeling," "The First SnowFall," "After the Burial," have
touched many hearts.

His later lyrics are more subtle, weighted with thought, tinged
with autumnal melancholy. He was a most fertile composer, and,
like all the men of his time and group, produced too much. Yet
his patriotic verse was so admirable in feeling and is still so
inspiring to his readers that one cannot wish it less in
quantity; and in the field of political satire, such as the two
series of "Biglow Papers," he had a theme and a method precisely
suited to his temperament. No American has approached Lowell's
success in this difficult genre: the swift transitions from rural
Yankee humor to splendid scorn of evil and to noblest idealism
reveal the full powers of one of our most gifted men. The
preacher lurked in this Puritan from first to last, and the war
against Mexico and the Civil War stirred him to the depths.

His prose, likewise, is a school of loyalty. There was much of
Europe in his learning, as his memorable Dante essay shows, and
the traditions of great English literature were the daily
companions of his mind. He was bookish, as a bookman should be,
and sometimes the very richness and whimsicality of his bookish
fancies marred the simplicity and good taste of his pages. But
the fundamental texture of his thought and feeling was American,
and his most characteristic style has the raciness of our soil.
Nature lovers like to point out the freshness and delicacy of his
reaction to the New England scene. Thoreau himself, whom Lowell
did not like, was not more veracious an observer than the author
of "Sunthin' in the Pastoral Line," "Cambridge Thirty Years Ago,"
and "My Garden Acquaintance." Yet he watched men as keenly as he
did "laylocks" and bobolinks, and no shrewder American essay has
been written than his "On a Certain Condescension in Foreigners."
Wit and humor and wisdom made him one of the best talkers of his
generation. These qualities pervade his essays and his letters,
and the latter in particular reveal those ardors and fidelities
of friendship which men like Emerson and Thoreau longed after
without ever quite experiencing. Lowell's cosmopolitan
reputation, which was greatly enhanced in the last decade of his
life, seemed to his old associates of the Saturday Club only a
fit recognition of the learning, wit, and fine imagination which
had been familiar to them from the first. To hold the old friends
throughout his lifetime, and to win fresh ones of a new
generation through his books, is perhaps the greatest of Lowell's
personal felicities.

While there are no other names in the literature of New England
quite comparable with those that have just been discussed, it
should be remembered that the immediate effectiveness and
popularity of these representative poets and prose writers were
dependent upon the existence of an intelligent and responsive
reading public. The lectures of Emerson, the speeches of Webster,
the stories of Hawthorne, the political verse of Whittier and
Lowell, presupposed a keen, reflecting audience, mentally and
morally exigent. The spread of the Lyceum system along the line
of westward emigration from New England as far as the Mississippi
is one tangible evidence of the high level of popular
intelligence. That there was much of the superficial and the
spread-eagle in the American life of the eighteen-forties is
apparent enough without the amusing comments of such English
travellers as Dickens, Miss Martineau, and Captain Basil Hall.
But there was also genuine intellectual curiosity and a general
reading habit which are evidenced not only by a steady growth of
newspapers and magazines but also by the demand for substantial
books. Biography and history began to be widely read, and it was
natural that the most notable productiveness in historical
writing should manifest itself in that section of the country
where there were libraries, wealth, leisure for the pursuits of
scholarship, a sense of intimate concern with the great issues
of the past, and a diffusion of intellectual tastes throughout
the community. It was no accident that Sparks and Ticknor,
Bancroft and Prescott, Motley and Parkman, were Massachusetts

Jared Sparks, it is true, inherited neither wealth nor leisure.
He was a furious, unwearied toiler in the field of our national
history. Born in 1789, by profession a Unitarian minister, he
began collecting the papers of George Washington by 1825. John
Marshall, the great jurist, had published his five-volume life of
his fellow Virginian a score of years earlier. But Sparks
proceeded to write another biography of Washington and to edit
his writings. He also edited a "Library of American Biography,"
wrote lives of Franklin and Gouverneur Morris, was professor of
history and President of Harvard, and lived to be seventy-seven.
As editor of the writings of Franklin and Washington, he took
what we now consider unpardonable liberties in altering the text,
and this error of judgment has somewhat clouded his just
reputation as a pioneer in historical research.

George Bancroft, who was born in 1800, and died, a
horseback-riding sage, at ninety-one, inherited from his
clergyman father a taste for history. He studied in Germany after
leaving Harvard, turned schoolmaster, Democratic politician and
office-holder, served as Secretary of the Navy, Minister to
England and then to the German Empire, and won distinction in
each of his avocations, though the real passion of his life was
his "History of the United States," which he succeeded in
bringing down to the adoption of the Constitution. The first
volume, which appeared in 1834, reads today like a stump speech
by a sturdy Democratic orator of the Jacksonian period. But there
was solid stuff in it, nevertheless, and as Bancroft proceeded,
decade after decade, he discarded some of his rhetoric and
philosophy of democracy and utilized increasingly the vast stores
of documents which his energy and his high political positions
had made it possible for him to obtain. Late in life he condensed
his ten great volumes to six. Posterity will doubtless condense
these in turn, as posterity has a way of doing, but Bancroft the
historian realized his own youthful ambition with a completeness
rare in the history of human effort and performed a monumental
service to his country. He was less of an artist, however, than
Prescott, the eldest and in some ways the finest figure of the
well-known Prescott-Motley-Parkman group of Boston historians.
All of these men, together with their friend George Ticknor, who
wrote the "History of Spanish Literature" and whose own "Life and
Letters" pictures a whole generation, had the professional
advantages of inherited wealth, and the opportunity to make
deliberate choice of a historical field which offered freshness
and picturesqueness of theme. All were tireless workers in spite
of every physical handicap; all enjoyed social security and the
rich reward of full recognition by their contemporaries. They had
their world as in their time, as Chaucer makes the Wife of Bath
say of herself, and it was a pleasant world to live in.

Grandson of "Prescott the Brave" of Bunker Hill, and son of the
rich Judge Prescott of Salem, William Hickling Prescott was born
in 1796, and was graduated from Harvard in 1814. An accident in
college destroyed the sight of one eye, and left him but a
precarious use of the other. Nevertheless he resolved to emulate
Gibbon, whose "Autobiography" had impressed him, and to make
himself "an historian in the best sense of the term." He studied
arduously in Europe, with the help of secretaries, and by 1826,
after a long hesitation, decided upon a "History of the Reign of
Ferdinand and Isabella." In ten years the three volumes were
finished. "Pursuing the work in this quiet, leisurely way,
without over-exertion or fatigue," wrote Prescott, "or any sense
of obligation to complete it in a given time, I have found it a
continual source of pleasure." It was published at his own
expense on Christmas Day, 1837, and met with instantaneous
success. "My market and my reputation rest principally with
England," he wrote in 1838--a curious footnote, by the way, to
Emerson's Phi Beta Kappa Address of the year before. But America
joined with England, in praising the new book. Then Prescott
turned to the "Conquest of Mexico," the "Conquest of Peru," and
finally to his unfinished "History of the Reign of Philip II." He
had, as Dean Milman wrote him, "the judgment to choose noble
subjects." He wrote with serenity and dignity, with fine balance
and proportion. Some of the Spanish documents upon which he
relied have been proved less trustworthy than he thought, but
this unsuspected defect in his materials scarcely impaired the
skill with which this unhasting, unresting painter filled his
great canvases. They need retouching, perhaps, but the younger
historians are incompetent for the task. Prescott died in 1859,
in the same year as Irving, and he already seems quite as remote
from the present hour.

His young friend Motley, of "Dutch Republic" fame, was another
Boston Brahmin, born in the year of Prescott's graduation from
college. He attended George Bancroft's school, went to Harvard in
due course, where he knew Holmes, Sumner, and Wendell Phillips,
and at Gottingen became a warm friend of a dog-lover and duelist
named Bismarck. Young Motley wrote a couple of unsuccessful
novels, dabbled in diplomacy, politics, and review-writing, and
finally, encouraged by Prescott, settled down upon Dutch history,
went to Europe to work up his material in 1851, and, after five
years, scored an immense triumph with his "Rise of the Dutch
Republic." He was a brilliant partisan, hating Spaniards and
Calvinists; and wrote all the better for this bias. He was an
admirable sketcher of historical portraits, and had Macaulay's
skill in composing special chapters devoted to the tendencies and
qualities of an epoch or to the characteristics of a dynasty.
Between 1860 and 1868 he produced the four volumes of the
"History of the United Netherlands." During the Civil War he
served usefully as American minister to Vienna, and in 1869 was
appointed minister to London. Both of these appointments ended
unhappily for him. Dr. Holmes, his loyal admirer and biographer,
does not conceal the fact that a steadier, less excitable type of
public servant might have handled both the Vienna situation and
the London situation without incurring a recall. Motley continued
to live in England, where his daughters had married, and where,
in spite of his ardent Americanism, he felt socially at home. His
last book was "The Life and Death of John of Barneveld." His
"Letters," edited after his death in 1877 by George William
Curtis, give a fascinating picture of English life among the
cultivated and leisurely classes. The Boston merchant's son was a
high-hearted gentleman, and his cosmopolitan experiences used to
make his stay-at-home friend, Oliver Wendell Holmes, feel rather
dull and provincial in comparison. Both were Sons of Liberty, but
Motley had had the luck to find in "brave little Holland" a
subject which captivated the interest of Europe and gave the
historian international fame. He had more eloquence than the
Doctor, and a far more varied range of prose, but there may be
here and there a Yankee guesser about the taste of future
generations who will bet on "The Autocrat," after all.

The character and career of Francis Parkman afford curious
material to the student of New England's golden age. In the
seventy years of his heroic life, from 1823 to 1893, all the
characteristic forces of the age reached their culmination and
decline, and his own personality indicates some of the violent
reactions produced by the over-strain of Transcendentalism. For
here was a descendant of John Cotton, and a clergyman's son, who
detested Puritanism and the clergy; who, coming to manhood in the
eighteen-forties, hated the very words Transcendentalism,
Philosophy, Religion, Reform; an inheritor of property, trained
at Harvard, and an Overseer and Fellow of his University, who
disliked the ideals of culture and refinement; a member of the
Saturday Club who was bored with literary talk and literary
people; a staunch American who despised democracy as thoroughly
as Alexander Hamilton, and thought suffrage a failure; a
nineteenth century historian who cared nothing for philosophy,
science, or the larger lessons of history itself; a fascinating
realistic writer who admired Scott, Byron, and Cooper for their
tales of action, and despised Wordsworth and Thoreau as
effeminate sentimentalists who were preoccupied with themselves.
In Parkman "the wheel has come full circle," and a movement that
began with expansion of self ended in hard Spartan repression,
even in inhibition of emotion.

Becoming "enamoured of the woods" at sixteen, Parkman chose his
life work at eighteen, and he was a man who could say proudly: "I
have not yet abandoned any plan which I ever formed." "Before the
end of the sophomore year," he wrote in his autobiography, "my
various schemes had crystallized into a plan of writing the story
of what was then known as the 'Old French War,' that is, the war
that ended in the conquest of Canada, for here, as it seemed to
me, the forest drama was more stirring and the forest stage more
thronged with appropriate actors than in any other passage of our
history. It was not till some years later that I enlarged the
plan to include the whole course of the American conflict between
France and England, or, in other words, the history of the
American forest: for this was the light in which I regarded it.
My theme fascinated me, and I was haunted with wilderness images
day and night." To understand "the history of the American
forest" young Parkman devoted his college vacations to long trips
in the wilderness, and in 1846, two years after graduation, he
made the epoch-making journey described in his first book, "The
Oregon Trail."

"The Conspiracy of Pontiac," a highly-colored narrative in two
volumes appearing in 1851, marks the first stage of his
historical writing. Then came the tragedy of shattered health,
and for fourteen years Parkman fought for life and sanity, and
produced practically nothing. He had had to struggle from his
college days with an obscure disorder of the brain, aggravated by
the hardships of his Oregon Trail journey, and by ill-considered
efforts to harden his bodily frame by over-exertion. His disease
took many forms--insomnia, arthritis, weakness of sight,
incapacity for sustained thought. His biographer Farnham says
that "he never saw a perfectly well day during his entire
literary career." Even when aided by secretaries and copyists,
six lines a day was often the limit of his production. His own
Stoic words about the limitations of his eyesight are
characteristic: "By reading for one minute, and then resting for
an equal time, this alternate process may gradually be continued
for about half an hour. Then, after a sufficient interval, it may
be repeated, often three or four times in the course of the day.
By this means nearly the whole of the volume now offered has been
composed." There is no more piteous or inspiring story of a fight
against odds in the history of literature.

For after his fortieth year the enemy gave way a little, and book
after book somehow got itself written. There they stand upon the
shelves, a dozen of them--"The Pioneers of France," "The Jesuits
in North America," "La Salle," "The Old Regime," "Frontenac,"
"Montcalm and Wolfe," "A Half-Century of Conflict"--the boy's
dream realized, the man's long warfare accomplished. The history
of the forest, as Parkman saw it, was a pageant with the dark
wilderness for a background, and, for the actors, taciturn
savages, black-robed Jesuits, intrepid explorers, soldiers of
France--all struggling for a vast prize, all changing, passing,
with a pomp and color unknown to wearied Europe. It was a superb
theme, better after all for an American than the themes chosen by
Prescott and Ticknor and Motley, and precisely adapted to the
pictorial and narrative powers of the soldier-minded, soldier-
hearted author.

The quality which Parkman admired most in men--though he never
seems to have loved men deeply, even his own heroes--was strength
of will. That was the secret of his own power, and the sign, it
must be added, of the limitations of this group of historians who
came at the close of the golden age. Whatever a New England will
can accomplish was wrought manfully by such admirable men as
Prescott and Parkman. Trained intelligence, deliberate selection
of subject, skillful cultivation of appropriate story-telling and
picture-painting style, all these were theirs. But the "wild
ecstasy" that thrilled the young Emerson as he crossed the bare
Common at sunset, the "supernal beauty" of which Poe dreamed in
the Fordham cottage, the bay horse and hound and turtle-dove
which Thoreau lost long ago and could not find in his but at
Walden, these were something which our later Greeks of the New
England Athens esteemed as foolishness.


Enter now two egotists, who have little in common save their
egotism, two outsiders who upset most of the conventional
American rules for winning the literary race, two men of genius,
in short, about whom we are still quarreling, and whose
distinctive quality is more accurately perceived in Europe than
it has ever been in the United States.

Both Poe and Whitman were Romanticists by temperament. Both
shared in the tradition and influence of European Romanticism.
But they were also late comers, and they were caught in the more
morbid and extravagant phases of the great European movement
while its current was beginning to ebb. Their acquaintance with
its literature was mainly at second-hand and through the medium
of British and American periodicals. Poe, who was older than
Whitman by ten years, was fifteen when Byron died, in 1824. He
was untouched by the nobler mood of Byron, though his verse was
colored by the influence of Byron, Moore, and Shelley. His prose
models were De Quincey, Disraeli, and Bulwer. Yet he owed more to
Coleridge than to any of the Romantics. He was himself a sort of
Coleridge without the piety, with the same keen penetrating
critical intelligence, the same lovely opium-shadowed dreams,
and, alas, with something of the same reputation as a deadbeat.

A child of strolling players, Poe happened to be born in Boston,
but he hated "Frog-Pondium"--his favorite name for the city of
his nativity--as much as Whistler hated his native town of
Lowell. His father died early of tuberculosis, and his mother,
after a pitiful struggle with disease and poverty, soon followed
her husband to the grave. The boy, by physical inheritance a
neurasthenic, though with marked bodily activity in youth, was
adopted by the Allans, a kindly family in Richmond, Virginia. Poe
liked to think of himself as a Southerner. He was sent to school
in England, and in 1826, at seventeen, he attended for nearly a
year the newly founded University of Virginia. He was a dark,
short, bow-legged boy, with the face of his own Roderick Usher.
He made a good record in French and Latin, read, wrote and
recited poetry, tramped on the Ragged Mountains, and did not
notably exceed his companions in drinking and gambling. But his
Scotch foster-father disapproved of his conduct and withdrew him
from the University. A period of wandering followed. He enlisted
in the army and was stationed in Boston in 1827, when his first
volume, "Tamerlane," was published. In 1829 he was in Fortress
Monroe, and published "Al Aaraf" at Baltimore. He entered West
Point in 1830, and was surely, except Whistler, the strangest of
all possible cadets. When he was dismissed in 1831, he had
written the marvellous lines "To Helen," "Israfel," and "The City
in the Sea." That is enough to have in one's knapsack at the age
of twenty-two.

In the eighteen years from 1831 to 1849, when Poe's unhappy life
came to an end in a Baltimore hospital, his literary activity was
chiefly that of a journalist, critic, and short story writer. He
lived in Baltimore, Richmond, Philadelphia, and New York. Authors
who now exploit their fat bargains with their publishers may have
forgotten that letter which Poe wrote back to Philadelphia the
morning after he arrived with his child-wife in New York: "We are
both in excellent spirits . . . . We have now got four dollars
and a half left. To-morrow I am going to try and borrow three
dollars, so that I may have a fortnight to go upon." When the
child-wife died in the shabby cottage at Fordham, her wasted body
was covered with the old army overcoat which Poe had brought from
West Point. If Poe met some of the tests of practical life
inadequately, it must be remembered that his health failed at
twenty-five, that he was pitiably poor, and that the slightest
indulgence in drink set his overwrought nerves jangling.
Ferguson, the former office-boy of the "Literary Messenger,"
judged this man of letters with an office-boy's firm and
experienced eye: "Mr. Poe was a fine gentleman when he was sober.
He was ever kind and courtly, and at such times everyone liked
him. But when he was drinking he was about one of the most
disagreeable men I have ever met." "I am sorry for him," wrote C.
F. Briggs to Lowell. "He has some good points, but taken
altogether, he is badly made up." "Badly made up," no doubt, both
in body and mind, but all respectable and prosperous Pharisees
should be reminded that Poe did not make himself; or rather, that
he could not make himself over. Very few men can. Given Poe's
temperament, and the problem is insoluble. He wrote to Lowell in
1844: "I have been too deeply conscious of the mutability and
evanescence of temporal things to give any continuous effort to
anything--to be consistent in anything. My life has been
WHIM--impulse--passion--a longing for solitude--a scorn of all
things present in an earnest desire for the future." It is the
pathetic confession of a dreamer. Yet this dreamer was also a
keen analyzer, a tireless creator of beautiful things. In them he
sought and found a refuge from actuality. The marvel of his
career is, as I have said elsewhere, that this solitary,
embittered craftsman, out of such hopeless material as negations
and abstractions, shadows and superstitions, out of disordered
fancies and dreams of physical horror and strange crime, should
have wrought structures of imperishable beauty.

Let us notice the critical instinct which he brought to the task
of creation. His theory of verse is simple, in fact too simple to
account for all of the facts. The aim of poetry, according to
Poe, is not truth but pleasure--the rhythmical creation of
beauty. Poetry should be brief, indefinite, and musical. Its
chief instrument is sound. A certain quaintness or grotesqueness
of tone is a means for satisfying the thirst for supernal beauty.
Hence the musical lyric is to Poe the only true type of poetry; a
long poem does not exist. Readers who respond more readily to
auditory than to visual or motor stimulus are therefore Poe's
chosen audience. For them he executes, like Paganini, marvels
upon his single string. He has easily recognizable devices: the
dominant note, the refrain, the "repetend," that is to say the
phrase which echoes, with some variation, a phrase or line
already used. In such poems as "To Helen," "Israfel," "The
Haunted Palace," "Annabel Lee," the theme, the tone, the melody
all weave their magic spell; it is like listening to a
lute-player in a dream.

That the device often turns into a trick is equally true. In "The
Bells" and "The Raven" we detect the prestidigitator. It is
jugglery, though such juggling as only a master-musician can
perform. In "Ulalume" and other showpieces the wires get crossed
and the charm snaps, scattering tinsel fragments of nonsense
verse. Such are the dangers of the technical temperament
unenriched by wide and deep contact with human feeling.

Poe's theory of the art of the short story is now familiar
enough. The power of a tale, he thought, turned chiefly if not
solely upon its unity, its harmony of effect. This is illustrated
in all of his finest stories. In "The Fall of the House of Usher"
the theme is Fear; the opening sentence strikes the key and the
closing sentence contains the climax. In the whole composition
every sentence is modulated to the one end in view. The autumn
landscape tones with the melancholy house; the somber chamber
frames the cadaverous face of Roderick Usher; the face is an
index of the tumultuous agitation of a mind wrestling with the
grim phantom Fear and awaiting the cumulative horror of the final
moment. In "Ligeia," which Poe sometimes thought the best of all
his tales, the theme is the ceaseless life of the will, the

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