Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Outlines of English and American Literature by William J. Long

Part 10 out of 10

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 1.2 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

Snow-Storm," "Days," "Fable," "Forbearance," "The Titmouse" and
"Wood-Notes." In another class are his philosophical poems devoted to
transcendental doctrines. The beginner will do well to skip these, since
they are more of a puzzle than a source of pleasure. In a third class are
poems of more personal interest, such as the noble "Threnody," a poem of
grief written after the death of Emerson's little boy; "Good-Bye," in which
the poet bids farewell to fame as he hies him to the country; "To Ellen,"
which half reveals his love story; "Written in Rome," which speaks of the
society he found in solitude; and the "Concord Hymn," written at the
dedication of Battle Monument, with its striking opening lines:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.

PROSE WORKS. Perhaps the most typical of Emerson's prose works is his first
book, to which he gave the name _Nature_ (1836). In this he records
not his impressions of bird or beast or flower, as his neighbor Thoreau was
doing in _Walden_, but rather his philosophy of the universe. "Nature
always wears the colors of the spirit"; "Every animal function, from the
sponge up to Hercules, shall hint or thunder to man the laws of right and
wrong, and echo the ten commandments"; "The foundations of man are not in
matter but in spirit, and the element of spirit is eternity,"--scores of
such expressions indicate that Emerson deals with the soul of things, not
with their outward appearance. Does a flower appeal to him? Its scientific
name and classification are of no consequence; like Wordsworth, he would
understand what thought of God the flower speaks. To him nature is a mirror
in which the Almighty reflects his thought; again it is a parable, a little
story written in trees or hills or stars; frequently it is a living
presence, speaking melodiously in winds or waters; and always it is an
inspiration to learn wisdom at first hand:

"Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers.
It writes biographies, histories, criticisms. The foregoing
generations beheld God and Nature face to face; we, through their
eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the
universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of
insight, and not of tradition?"

The last quotation might well be an introduction to Emerson's second work,
_The American Scholar_ (1837), which was a plea for laying aside
European models and fronting life as free men in a new world. Holmes called
this work "our intellectual Declaration of Independence," and it was
followed by a succession of volumes--_Essays_, _Representative
Men_, _Conduct of Life_, _Society and Solitude_ and several
others--all devoted to the same two doctrines of idealism and


Among these prose works the reader must make his own selection. All are
worth reading; none is easy to read; even the best of them is better
appreciated in brief instalments, since few can follow Emerson long without
wearying. _English Traits_ is a keen but kindly criticism of "our
cousins" overseas, which an American can read with more pleasure than an
Englishman. _Representative Men_ is a series of essays on Plato,
Shakespeare, Napoleon and other world figures, which may well be read in
connection with Carlyle's _Heroes and Hero Worship_, since the two
books reflect the same subject from widely different angles. Carlyle was in
theory an aristocrat and a force-worshiper, Emerson a democrat and a
believer in ideals. One author would relate us to his heroes in the
attitude of slave to master, the other in the relation of brothers and

[Sidenote: THE ESSAYS]

Of the shorter prose works, collected in various volumes of _Essays_,
we shall name only a few in two main groups, which we may call the ideal
and the practical. In the first group are such typical works as "The
Over-Soul," "Compensation," "Spiritual Laws" and "History"; in the latter
are "Heroism," "Self-Reliance," "Literary Ethics" (an address to young
collegians), "Character" and "Manners."

It is difficult to criticize such writings, which have a daring originality
of thought and a springlike freshness of expression that set them apart
from all other essays ancient or modern. They are the most quotable, the
fittest to "point a moral or adorn a tale" that have ever appeared in our
literature; but they are also disjointed, oracular, hard to follow; and the
explanation is found in the manner of their production. When Emerson
projected a new lecture or essay he never thought his subject out or
ordered it from beginning to end. That would have been another man's way of
doing it. He collected from his notebooks such thoughts as seemed to bear
upon his subject, strung them together, and made an end when he had enough.
The connection or relation between his thoughts is always frail and often
invisible; some compare it with the thread which holds the pearls of a
necklace together; others quote with a smile the epigram of Goldwin Smith,
who said that he found an Emersonian essay about as coherent as a bag of
marbles. And that suggests a fair criticism of all Emerson's prose; namely,
that it is a series of expressions excellent in themselves but having so
little logical sequence that a paragraph from one essay may be placed at
the beginning, middle or end of any other, where it seems to be equally at

THE DOCTRINE OF EMERSON. Since we constantly hear of "idealism" in
connection with Emerson, let us understand the word if we can; or rather
the fact, for idealism is the most significant quality of humanity. The
term will be better understood if we place it beside "materialism," which
expresses an opposite view of life. The difference may be summarized in the
statement that the idealist is a man of spirit, or idea, in that he trusts
the evidence of the soul; while the materialist is a man of flesh, or
sense, in that he believes only what is evident to the senses. One judges
the world by himself; the other judges himself by the world.

To illustrate our meaning: the materialist, looking outward, sees that the
world is made up of force-driven matter, of gas, carbon and mineral; and he
says, "Even so am I made up." He studies an object, sees that it has its
appointed cycle of growth and decay, and concludes, "Even so do I appear
and vanish." To him the world is the only reality, and the world perishes,
and man is but a part of the world.

[Sidenote: THE IDEALIST]

The idealist, looking first within, perceives that self-consciousness is
the great fact of life, and that consciousness expresses itself in words or
deeds; then he looks outward, and is aware of another Consciousness that
expresses itself in the lowly grass or in the stars of heaven. Looking
inward he finds that he is governed by ideas of truth, beauty, goodness and
duty; looking outward he everywhere finds evidence of truth and beauty and
moral law in the world. He sees, moreover, that while his body changes
constantly his self remains the same yesterday, to-day and forever; and
again his discovery is a guide to the outer world, with its seedtime and
harvest, which is but the symbol or garment of a Divine Self that abides
without shadow of change in a constantly changing universe. To him the only
reality is spirit, and spirit cannot be harmed by fire or flood; neither
can it die or be buried, for it is immortal and imperishable.

Such, in simple words, was the idealism of Emerson, an idealism that was
born in him and that governed him long before he became involved in
transcendentalism, with its scraps of borrowed Hindu philosophy. It gave
message or meaning to his first work, _Nature_, and to all the
subsequent essays or poems in which he pictured the world as a symbol or
visible expression of a spiritual reality. In other words, nature was to
Emerson the Book of the Lord, and the chief thing of interest was not the
book but the idea that was written therein.


Having read the universe and determined its spiritual quality, Emerson
turned his eyes on humanity. Presently he announced that a man's chief
glory is his individuality; that he is a free being, different from every
other; that his business is to obey his individual genius; that he should,
therefore, ignore the Past with its traditions, and learn directly "from
the Divine Soul which inspires all men." Having announced that doctrine, he
spent the rest of his life in illustrating or enlarging it; and the sum of
his teaching was, "Do not follow me or any other master; follow your own
spirit. Never mind what history says, or philosophy or tradition or the
saints and sages. The same inspiration which led the prophets is yours for
the taking, and you have your work to do as they had theirs. Revere your
own soul; trust your intuition; and whatever you find in your heart to do,
do it without doubt or fear, though all the world thunder in your ears that
you must do otherwise. As for the voice of authority, 'Let not a man quit
his belief that a popgun is a popgun, though the anointed and honorable of
the earth affirm it to be the crack of doom.'"


Such was Emerson's pet doctrine of individualism. It appeared with
startling vigor in _The American Scholar_ at a time when our writers
were prone to imitate English poetry, German sentimentality or some other
imported product. It came also with good grace from one whose life was
noble, but it had a weak or dangerous or grotesque side that Emerson
overlooked. Thus, every crank or fanatic or rainbow-chaser is also an
individualist, and most of them believe as strongly as Emerson in the
Over-Soul. The only difference is that they do not have his sense or
integrity or humor to balance their individualism. While Emerson exalted
individual liberty he seemed to forget that America is a country devoted to
"liberty under law," and that at every period of her history she has had
need to emphasize the law rather than the liberty. Moreover, individualism
is a quality that takes care of itself, being finest in one who is least
conscious of his own importance; and to study any strongly individual
character, a Washington or a Lincoln for example, is to discover that he
strove to be true to his race and traditions as well as to himself. Hence
Emerson's doctrine, to live in the Present and have entire confidence in
yourself, needs to be supplemented by another: to revere the Past with its
immortal heroes, who by their labor and triumph have established some
truths that no sane man will ever question.


There are other interesting qualities of Emerson, his splendid optimism,
for instance, which came partly from his spiritual view of the universe and
partly from his association with nature; for the writer who is in daily
contact with sunshine or rain and who trusts his soul's ideals of truth and
beauty has no place for pessimism or despair; even in moments of darkness
he looks upward and reads his lesson:

Teach me your mood, O patient stars,
Who climb each night the ancient sky,
Leaving on space no shade, no scars,
No trace of age, no fear to die!

Though he was and still is called a visionary, there is a practical quality
in his writing which is better than anything you will find in _Poor
Richard's Almanac_. Thus the burden of Franklin's teaching was the value
of time, a lesson which the sage of Concord illuminates as with celestial
light in his poem "Days," and to which he brings earth's candle in his
prose essay "Work and Days." [Footnote: The two works should be read in
connection as an interesting example of Emerson's use of prose and verse to
reflect the same idea. Holmes selects the same two works to illustrate the
essential difference between prose and poetry. See Holmes, _Ralph Waldo
Emerson_, p. 310.] Indeed, the more one reads Emerson the more is one
convinced that he is our typical New World writer, a rare genius who
combines the best qualities of Franklin and Edwards, having the practical
sense of the one and the spiritual insight of the other. [Footnote: In 1830
Channing published an essay, "National Literature," in which he said that
Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Edwards were the only writers up to that
time who had worthily presented the American mind, with its practical and
ideal sides, to foreign readers.] With his idealism and individuality, his
imagination that soars to heaven but is equally at home on solid earth, his
sound judgment to balance his mysticism, his forceful style that runs from
epigram to sustained eloquence, his straight-fibered manhood in which
criticism finds nothing to pardon or regret,--with all these sterling
qualities he is one of the most representative writers that America has
ever produced.

* * * * *


Some great writers belong to humanity, others to their own land or people.
Hawthorne is in the latter class apparently, for ever since Lowell rashly
characterized him as "the greatest imaginative genius since Shakespeare"
our critics commonly speak of him in superlatives. Meanwhile most European
critics (who acclaim such unequal writers as Cooper and Poe, Whitman and
Mark Twain) either leave Hawthorne unread or else wonder what Americans
find in him to stir their enthusiasm.

The explanation is that Hawthorne's field was so intensely local that only
those who are familiar with it can appreciate him. Almost any reader can
enjoy Cooper, since he deals with adventurous men whom everybody
understands; but Hawthorne deals with the New England Puritan of the
seventeenth century, a very peculiar hero, and to enjoy the novelist one
must have some personal or historic interest in his subject. Moreover, he
alienates many readers by presenting only the darker side of Puritanism. He
is a man who never laughs and seldom smiles in his work; he passes over a
hundred normal and therefore cheerful homes to pitch upon some gloomy
habitation of sin or remorse, and makes that the burden of his tale. In no
other romancer do we find genius of such high order at work in so barren a

LIFE. There is an air of reserve about Hawthorne which no biography
has ever penetrated. A schoolmate who met him daily once said, "I
love Hawthorne; I admire him; but I do not know him. He lives in a
mysterious world of thought and imagination which he never permits
me to enter." That characterization applies as well to-day as when
it was first spoken, almost a century ago. To his family and to a
very few friends Hawthorne was evidently a genial man, [Footnote:
Intimate but hardly trustworthy pictures of Hawthorne and his
family are presented by his son, Julian Hawthorne, in _Nathaniel
Hawthorne and his Wife_. A dozen other memoirs have appeared;
but Hawthorne did not want his biography written, and there are
many unanswered questions in the story of his life.] but from the
world and its affairs he always held aloof, wrapped in his mantle
of mystery.

A study of his childhood may help us to understand the somber
quality of all his work. He was descended from the Puritans who
came to Boston with John Winthrop, and was born in the seaport of
Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. He was only four years old when his
father, a sea captain, died in a foreign port; whereupon the mother
draped herself in weeds, retired from the sight of neighbors, and
for the next forty years made life as funereal as possible. Besides
the little boy there were two sisters in the family, and the elder
took her meals in her own room, as did the mother. The others went
about the darkened house on tiptoe, or peeped out at the world
through closed shutters.


The shadow of that unnatural home was upon Hawthorne to the end of
his life; it accounts in part for his shyness, his fear of society,
his lack of interest in his own age or nation.


At seventeen Hawthorne went to Bowdoin College, where Longfellow
was his classmate and Franklin Pierce (later President of the
United States) one of his friends. His college life seems to have
been happy, even gay at times; but when he graduated (1825) and his
classmates scattered to find work in the world he returned to his
Salem home and secluded himself as if he had no interest in
humanity. It was doubtful, he said afterwards, whether a dozen
people knew of his existence in as many years.

All the while he was writing, gathering material for his romances
or patiently cultivating his fine style. For days he would brood
over a subject; then he would compose a story or parable for the
magazines. The stamp of originality was on all these works, but
they were seldom accepted. When they returned to him, having found
no appreciative editor, he was apt to burn them and complain that
he was neglected. Studying the man as he reveals himself at this
time in his _Note-Books_ (published in a garbled edition by
the Hawthorne family), one has the impression that he was a shy,
sensitive genius, almost morbidly afraid of the world. From a
distance he sent out his stories as "feelers", when these were
ignored he shrank into himself more deeply than before.

Where Hawthorne worked.]

Love brought him out of his retreat, as it has accomplished many
another miracle. When he became engaged his immediate thought was
to find work, and one of his friends secured a position for him in
the Boston customhouse, where he weighed coal until he was replaced
by a party spoilsman. [Footnote: Hawthorne profited three times by
the spoils system. When his Boston experience was repeated at Salem
he took his revenge in the opening chapter of _The Scarlet
Letter_, which ridicules those who received political jobs from
the other party.] There were no civil-service rules in those days.
Hoping to secure a home, he invested his savings in Brook Farm,
worked there for a time with the reformers, detested them, lost his
money and gained the experience which he used later in his
_Blithedale Romance_. Then he married, and lived in poverty
and great happiness for four years in the "Old Manse" at Concord.
Another friend obtained for him political appointment as surveyor
of the Salem customhouse; again he was replaced by a spoilsman, and
again he complained bitterly. The loss proved a blessing, however,
since it gave him leisure to write _The Scarlet Letter_, a
novel which immediately placed Hawthorne in the front rank of
American writers.


He was now before an appreciative world, and in the flush of fine
feeling that followed his triumph he wrote _The House of the
Seven Gables, A Wonder Book_ and _The Snow Image_.
Literature was calling him most hopefully when, at the very prime
of life, he turned his back on fortune. His friend Pierce had been
nominated by the Democrats (1852), and he was asked to write the
candidate's biography for campaign purposes. It was hardly a worthy
task, but he accepted it and did it well. When Pierce was elected
he "persuaded" Hawthorne to accept the office of consul at
Liverpool. The emoluments, some seven thousand dollars a year,
seemed enormous to one who had lived straitly, and in the four
years of Pierce's administration our novelist saved a sum which,
with the income from his books, placed him above the fear of want.
Then he went for a long vacation to Italy, where he collected the
material for his _Marble Faun_. But he wrote nothing more of


The remainder of his life was passed in a pleasant kind of
hermitage in Emerson's village of Concord. His habits of solitude
and idleness ("cursed habits," he called them) were again upon him;
though he began several romances--_Dr. Grimshawe's Secret_,
_Septimius Felton_, _The Ancestral Footstep_ and _The
Dolliver Romance_--he never made an end of them. In his work he
was prone to use some symbol of human ambition, and the symbol of
his own later years might well have been the unfinished manuscript
which lay upon the coffin when his body was laid under the pines in
the old Concord burying ground (1864). His friend Longfellow has
described the scene in his beautiful poem "Hawthorne."

SHORT STORIES AND SKETCHES. Many young people become familiar with
Hawthorne as a teller of bedtime stories long before they meet him in the
role of famous novelist. In his earlier days he wrote _Grandfather's
Chair_ (modeled on a similar work by Scott), dealing with Colonial
legends, and broadened his field in _Biographical Stories for
Children_. Other and better works belonging to the same juvenile class
are _A Wonder Book_ (1851) and _Tanglewood Tales_ (1853), which
are modern versions of the classic myths and stories that Greek mothers
used to tell their children long ago.


The best of Hawthorne's original stories are collected in _Twice-Told
Tales_, _Mosses from an Old Manse_ and _The Snow Image and Other
Twice-Told Tales_. As the bulk of this work is rather depressing we
select a few typical tales, arranging them in three groups. In the first
are certain sketches, as Hawthorne called them, which aim not to tell a
story but to give an impression of the past. "The Old Manse" (in _Mosses
from an Old Manse_) is an excellent introduction to this group. Others
in which the author comes out from the gloom to give his humor a glimpse of
pale sunshine are "A Rill from the Town Pump," "Main Street," "Little
Annie's Ramble," "Sights from a Steeple" and, as suggestive of Hawthorne's
solitary outings, "Footprints on the Seashore."

[Sidenote: ALLEGORIES]

In the second group are numerous allegories and symbolical stories. To
understand Hawthorne's method of allegory [Footnote: An allegory is a
figure of speech (in rhetoric) or a story (in literature) in which an
external object is described in such a way that we apply the description to
our own inner experience. Many proverbs, such as "People who live in glass
houses should not throw stones," are condensed allegories. So also are
fables and parables, such as the fable of the fox and the grapes, or the
parable of the lost sheep. Bunyan's famous allegory, The Pilgrim's
Progress, describes a journey from one city to another, but in reading it
we are supposed to think of a Christian's experience in passing through
this world to the next.] read "The Snow Image," which is the story of a
snowy figure that became warm, living and companionable to some children
until it was spoiled by a hard-headed person, without imagination or real
sense, who forgot that he was ever a child himself or that there is such a
beautiful and precious thing as a child-view of the universe.

In his constant symbolism (that is, in his use of an outward sign or token
to represent an idea) Hawthorne reflected a trait that is common to
humanity in all ages. Thus, every nation has its concrete symbol, its flag
or eagle or lion; a great religion is represented by a cross or a crescent;
in art and poetry the sword stands for war and the dove for peace; an
individual has his horseshoe or rabbit's foot or "mascot" as the simple
expression of an idea that may be too complex for words. Among primitive
people such symbols were associated with charms, magic, baleful or
benignant influences; and Hawthorne accepted this superstitious idea in
many of his works, though he was apt to hint, as in "Lady Eleanor's
Mantle," that the magic of his symbol might have a practical explanation.
In this story the lady's gorgeous mantle is a symbol of pride; its
blighting influence _may_ be due to the fact that,--but to tell the
secret is to spoil the story, and that is not fair to Hawthorne or the

[Sidenote: THE BLACK VEIL]

Some of these symbolic tales are too vague or shadowy to be convincing; in
others the author makes artistic use of some simple object, such as a
flower or an ornament, to suggest the mystery that broods over every life.
In "The Minister's Black Veil," for example, a clergyman startles his
congregation by appearing with a dark veil over his face. The veil itself
is a familiar object; on a woman or a bonnet it would pass unnoticed; but
on the minister it becomes a portentous thing, at once fascinating and
repellent. Yesterday they knew the man as a familiar friend; to-day he is a
stranger, and they fear him with a vague, nameless fear. Forty years he
wears the mysterious thing, dies and is buried with it, and in all that
time they never have a glimpse of his face. Though there is a deal of
nonsense in the story, and a hocus-pocus instead of a mystery, we must
remember that veil as a striking symbol of the loneliness of life, of the
gulf that separates a human soul from every other.

Another and better symbolic tale is "The Great Stone Face," which appeals
strongly to younger readers, especially to those who have lived much out of
doors and who cherish the memory of some natural object, some noble tree or
mossy cliff or singing brook, that is forever associated with their
thoughts of childhood. To others the tale will have added interest in that
it is supposed to portray the character of Emerson as Hawthorne knew him.


In the third group are numerous stories dealing with Colonial history, and
of these "The Gray Champion" and "The Gentle Boy" are fairly typical.
Hawthorne has been highly praised in connection with these tales as "the
artist who created the Puritan in literature." Most readers will gladly
recognize the "artist," since every tale has its line or passage of beauty;
but some will murmur at the "creation." The trouble with Hawthorne was that
in creating his Puritan he took scant heed of the man whom the Almighty
created. He was not a scholar or even a reader; his custom was to brood
over an incident of the past (often a grotesque incident, such as he found
in Winthrop's old _Journal_), and from his brooding he produced an
imaginary character, some heartless fanatic or dismal wretch who had
nothing of the Puritan except the label. Of the real Puritan, who knew the
joy and courtesy as well as the stern discipline of life, our novelist had
only the haziest notion. In consequence his "Gentle Boy" and parts also of
his _Scarlet Letter_ leave an unwarranted stain on the memory of his
ancestors. [Footnote: Occasionally, as in "The Gray Champion" and "Endicott
and the Red Cross," Hawthorne paints the stern courage of the Puritan, but
never his gentle or humane qualities. His typical tale presents the Puritan
in the most unlovely guise. In "The Maypole of Merrymount," for example,
Morton and his men are represented as inoffensive, art-loving people who
were terrorized by the "dismal wretches" of a near-by colony of Puritans.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Morton's crew were a lawless set
and a scandal to New England; but they were tolerated until they put all
the settlements in danger by debauching the Indians and selling them rum,
muskets and gunpowder. The "dismal wretches" were the Pilgrims of
Plymouth,--gentle, heroic men, lovers of learning and liberty, who
profoundly influenced the whole subsequent history of America.]

THE FOUR ROMANCES. The romances of Hawthorne are all studies of the effects
of sin on human development. If but one of these romances is to be read,
let it be _The House of the Seven Gables_ (1851), which is a
pleasanter story than Hawthorne commonly tells, and which portrays one
character that he knew by experience rather than by imagination. Many of
Hawthorne's stories run to a text, and the text here is, "The fathers have
eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The
characters are represented as "under a curse"; [Foonote: This is a
reflection of a family tradition. An ancestor of Hawthorne was judge at the
Salem witch trials, in 1692. One of the poor creatures condemned to death
is said to have left a curse on the judge's family. In his _Note
Books_ Hawthorne makes mention of the traditional curse, and analyzes
its possible effect on his own character.] that is, they are bearing the
burden and sorrow of some old iniquity committed before they were born; but
the affliction is banished in a satisfactory way without leaving us in the
haze of mystery that envelops so much of Hawthorne's work. His humor is
also in evidence, his interest in life overcomes for a time his absorption
in shadowy symbols, and his whole story is brightened by his evident love
of Phoebe Pyncheon, the most natural and winsome of all his characters.


The other romances deal with the same general theme, the blighting effect
of sin, but vary greatly in their scenes and characters. The _Marble
Faun_ (published in England as _Transformation_, 1860) is the most
popular, possibly because its scene is laid in Rome, a city to which all
travelers go, or aspire to go, before they die; but though it moves in "an
atmosphere of art," among the studios of "the eternal city," it is the
least artistic of all the author's works. [Footnote: The _Marble Faun_
ends in a fog, as if the author did not know what to do with his
characters. It has the amateurish fault of halting the narrative to talk
with the reader; and it moralizes to such an extent that the heroine (who
is pictured as of almost angelic virtue) eventually becomes a prig and a
preacher,--two things that a woman must never be. Nevertheless, the romance
has a host of enthusiastic readers, and to criticize it adversely is to
bring a storm about one's ears.] In _The Blithedale Romance_ (1852)
Hawthorne deals with the present rather than the past and apparently makes
use of his observation, since his scenes and characters are strongly
suggestive of the Brook Farm community of reformers, among whom he spent
one critical and unhappy year. _The Scarlet Letter_ (1850) is not only
the most original and powerful of the romances but is commonly ranked by
our critics at the head of American fiction. The scene is laid in Boston,
in the old Puritan days; the main characters are vividly drawn, and the
plot moves to its gloomy but impressive climax as if Wyrd or Fate were at
the bottom of it.

CHARACTERISTICS OF HAWTHORNE. Almost the first thing we notice in Hawthorne
is his style, a smooth, leisurely, "classic" style which moves along, like
a meadow brook, without hurry or exertion. Gradually as we read we become
conscious of the novelist's characters, whom he introduces with a veil of
mystery around them. They are interesting, as dreams and other mysterious
things always are, but they are seldom real or natural or lifelike. At
times we seem to be watching a pantomime of shadows, rather than a drama of
living men and women.

[Sidenote: METHOD OF WORK]

The explanation of these shadowy characters is found in Hawthorne's method
of work, as revealed by the _Note-Books_ in which he stored his
material. Here is a typical record, which was occasioned, no doubt, by the
author's meeting with some old nurse, whom he straightway changed from her
real semblance to a walking allegory:

"Change from a gay young girl to an old woman. Melancholy events,
the effects of which have clustered around her character....
Becomes a lover of sick chambers, taking pleasure in receiving
dying breaths and laying out the dead. Having her mind full of
funeral reminiscences, and possessing more acquaintances beneath
the turf than above it."

This is enough of a story in itself; we need not read "Edward Fane's
Rosebud" to see how Hawthorne filled in the details. The strange thing is
that he never studied or questioned the poor woman to discover whether she
was anything like what he imagined her to be. On another page we read:

"A snake taken into a man's stomach and nourished there from
fifteen to thirty five years, tormenting him most horribly." [Then
follows the inevitable moral.] "Type of envy or some other evil


There are many such story-records in the _Note-Books_, but among them
you will find no indication that the story-teller ever examined the facts
with a purpose to discover whether a snake could survive thirty-five years,
or minutes, in the acids of a human stomach, or how long a Puritan church
would tolerate a minister who went about with a veil on his face, or
whether any other of his symbols had any vital connection with human
experience. In a word, Hawthorne was prone to make life conform to his
imagination, instead of making his imagination conform to life. Living as
he did in the twilight, between the day and the night, he seems to have
missed the chief lesson of each, the urge of the one and the repose of the
other; and especially did he miss the great fact of cheerfulness. The
deathless courage of man, his invincible hope that springs to life under
the most adverse circumstances, like the cyclamen abloom under the snows of
winter,--this primal and blessed fact seems to have escaped his notice. At
times he hints at it, but he never gives it its true place at the
beginning, middle and end of human life.


Thus far our analysis has been largely negative, and Hawthorne was a very
positive character. He had the feeling of an artist for beauty; and he was
one of the few romancers who combine a strong sense of art with a puritanic
devotion to conscience and the moral law. Hence his stories all aim to be
both artistic and ethical, to satisfy our sense of beauty and our sense of
right. In his constant moralizing he was like George Eliot; or rather, to
give the figure its proper sequence, George Eliot was so exclusively a
moralist after the Hawthornesque manner that one suspects she must have
been familiar with his work when she began to write. Both novelists worked
on the assumption that the moral law is the basis of human life and that
every sin brings its inevitable retribution. The chief difference was that
Hawthorne started with a moral principle and invented characters to match
it, while George Eliot started with a human character in whose experience
she revealed the unfolding of a moral principle.


The individuality of Hawthorne becomes apparent when we attempt to classify
him,--a vain attempt, since there is no other like him in literature. In
dealing with almost any other novelist we can name his models, or at least
point out the story-tellers whose methods influenced his work; but
Hawthorne seems to have had no predecessor. Subject, style and method were
all his own, developed during his long seclusion at Salem, and from them he
never varied. From his _Twice-Told Tales_ to his unfinished
_Dolliver Romance_ he held steadily to the purpose of portraying the
moral law against a background of Puritan history.

Such a field would have seemed very narrow to other American writers, who
then, as now, were busy with things too many or things too new; but to
Hawthorne it was a world in itself, a world that lured him as the Indies
lured Columbus. In imagination he dwelt in that somber Puritan world,
eating at its long-vanished tables or warming himself at its burnt-out
fires, until the impulse came to reproduce it in literature. And he did
reproduce it, powerfully, single-heartedly, as only genius could have done
it. That his portrayal was inaccurate is perhaps a minor consideration; for
one writer must depict life as he meets it on the street or in books, while
another is confined to what Ezekiel calls "the chambers of imagery."
Hawthorne's liberties with the facts may be pardoned on the ground that he
was not an historian but an artist. The historian tells what life has
accomplished, the artist what life means.

* * * * *


THE POETS. Among the fifty or more poets of the period of conflict Henry
Timrod, Paul Hamilton Hayne and Abram J. Ryan are notable for this reason,
that their fame, once local, seems to widen with the years. They are
commonly grouped as southern poets because of the war lyrics in which they
voiced the passionate devotion of the South to its leaders; but what makes
them now interesting to a larger circle of readers are their poems of an
entirely different kind,--poems that reflect in a tender and beautiful way
the common emotions of men in all places and in all ages. Two other
prominent singers of the southern school are Theodore O'Hara and James
Ryder Randall.

[Illustration: HENRY TIMROD]

In another group are such varied singers as Richard Henry Stoddard, George
H. Boker, Henry Howard Brownell, Thomas B. Read, John G. Saxe, J. G.
Holland and Bayard Taylor. These were all famous poets in their own day,
and some of them were prolific writers, Holland and Taylor especially. The
latter produced thirty volumes of poems, essays, novels and sketches of
travel; but, with the exception of his fine translation of Goethe's
_Faust_ and a few of his original lyrics, the works which he sent
forth so abundantly are now neglected. He is typical of a hundred writers
who answer the appeal of to-day and win its applause, and who are forgotten
when to-morrow comes with its new interests and its new favorites.


FICTION WRITERS. Comparatively few novels were written during this period,
perhaps because the terrible shadow of war was over the country and readers
were in no mood for fiction. The most popular romance of the age, and one
of the most widely read books that America has ever produced, was _Uncle
Tom's Cabin_ (1852), which has been translated and dramatized into so
many tongues that it is known all over the earth. The author, Harriet
Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), wrote several other stories, all characterized
by humor, kindness and intense moral earnestness. Some of these, such as
_Oldtown Folks_, _The Minister's Wooing_, _The Pearl of Orr's
Island_ and _Oldtown Fireside Stories_ have decidedly more literary
charm than her famous story of slavery.


[Sidenote: TALES OF THE SEA]

The mid-century produced some very good sea stories, and in these we see
the influence of Cooper, who was the first to use the ocean successfully as
a scene of romantic interest. Dana's _Two Years before the Mast_
(1840) was immensely popular when our fathers were boys. It contained,
moreover, such realistic pictures of sailor life that it was studied by
aspirants for the British and American navies in the days when the flag
rippled proudly over the beautiful old sailing ships. This excellent book
is largely a record of personal experience; but in the tales of Herman
Melville (1819-1891) we have the added elements of imagination and
adventure. _Typee_, _White Jacket_, _Moby Dick_,--these are
capital tales of the deep, the last-named especially.

_Typee_ (a story well known to Stevenson, evidently) is remarkable for
its graphic pictures of sailor life afloat and ashore in the Marquesas
Islands, a new field in those days. The narrative is continued in _White
Jacket_, which tells of the return from the South Pacific aboard a
man-of-war. In _Moby Dick_ we have the real experience of a sailorman
and whaler (Melville himself) and the fictitious wanderings of a stout
captain, a primeval kind of person, who is at times an interesting lunatic
and again a ranting philosopher. In the latter we have an echo of Carlyle,
who was making a stir in America in 1850, and who affected Melville so
strongly that the latter soon lost his bluff, hearty, sailor fashion of
writing, which everybody liked, and assumed a crotchety style that nobody
cared to read.


A few other novels of the period are interesting as showing the sudden
change from romance to realism, a change for which the war was partly
responsible, and which will be examined more closely in the following
chapter. John Esten Cooke (1830-1886) may serve as a concrete example of
the two types of fiction. In his earlier romances, notably in _Leather
Stocking and Silk_ and _The Virginia Comedians_ (1854), he aimed to
do for the Cavalier society of the South what Hawthorne was doing for the
old Puritan regime in New England; but his later stories, such as _Surrey
of Eagle's Nest_, are chiefly notable for their realistic pictures of
the great war.

[Illustration: JOHN ESTEN COOKE]

The change from romance to realism is more openly apparent in Theodore
Winthrop and Edward Eggleston, whose novels deal frankly with pioneers of
the Middle West; not such pioneers as Cooper had imagined in _The
Prairie_, but such plain men and women as one might meet anywhere beyond
the Alleghenies in 1850. Winthrop's _John Brent_ (1862) and
Eggleston's _The Hoosier Schoolmaster_ and _The Circuit Rider_
(1874) are so true to a real phase of American life that a thoughtful
reader must wonder why they are not better known. They are certainly
refreshing to one who tires of our present so-called realism with its
abnormal or degenerate characters.

More widely read than any of the novelists just mentioned are certain
others who appeared in answer to the increasing demand of young people for
a good story. It is doubtful if any American writer great or small has
given more pleasure to young readers than Louisa M. Alcott with her
_Little Women_ (1868) and other stories for girls, or John T.
Trowbridge, author of _Cudjo's Cave_, _Jack Hazard_, _A Chance
for Himself_ and several other juveniles that once numbered their boy
readers by tens of thousands.

[Illustration: LOUISA M. ALCOTT]

THOREAU. Among the many secondary writers of the period the most original
and most neglected was Henry D. Thoreau (1817-1862), a man who differed
greatly from other mortals in almost every respect, but chiefly in this,
that he never was known to "go with the crowd," not even on the rare
occasions when he believed the crowd to be right. He was one of the few
persons who select their own way through life and follow it without the
slightest regard for the world's opinion.

Numerous examples of Thoreau's oddity might be given, but we note here only
his strange determination to view life with his own eyes. This may appear a
simple matter until we reflect that most men measure life by what others
have said or written concerning life's values. They accept the standards of
their ancestors or their neighbors; they conform themselves to a world in
which governments and other long-established institutions claim their
allegiance; they are trained to win success in such a world by doing one
thing well, and to measure their success by the fame or money or office or
social position which they achieve by a lifetime of labor and self-denial.

[Illustration: HENRY D. THOREAU]


Thoreau sharply challenged this whole conception of life, which, he said,
was more a matter of habit than of reason or conviction. He saw in our
social institutions as much of harm as of benefit to the individual. He
looked with distrust on all traditions, saying that he had listened for
thirty years without hearing one word of sound advice from his elders. He
was a good workman and learned to do several things passing well; but he
saw no reason why a free man should repeat himself daily in a world of
infinite opportunities. Also he was a scholar, versed in classical lore and
widely read in oriental literature; but unlike his friend Emerson he seldom
quoted the ancients, being more concerned with his own thoughts of life
than by the words of philosophers, and more fascinated by the wild birds
that ate crumbs from his table than by all the fabled gods of mythology. As
for success, the fame or money for which other men toiled seemed to him but
empty bubbles; the only wealth he prized was his soul's increase in love
and understanding: "If the day and the night are such that you greet them
with joy, and life emits a fragrance like sweet-scented herbs--is more
elastic, starry and immortal--that is your success."

[Sidenote: WALDEN]

There are other interesting matters in Thoreau's philosophy, but these will
appear plainly enough to one who reads his own record. His best-known work
is _Walden_ (1854), a journal in which he recorded what he saw or
thought or felt during the two years when he abandoned society to live in a
hut on the shore of Walden Pond, near his native village of Concord. If
there be any definite lesson in the book, it is the proof of Thoreau's
theory that simplicity is needed for happiness, that men would be better
off with fewer possessions, and that earning one's living should be a
matter of pleasure rather than of endless toil and anxiety. What makes
_Walden_ valuable, however, is not its theories but its revelation of
an original mind fronting the facts of life, its gleams of poetry and
philosophy, its startling paradoxes, its first-hand impressions of the
world, its nuggets of sense or humor, and especially its intimate
observation of the little wild neighbors in feathers or fur who shared
Thoreau's solitude. It is one of the few books in American literature that
successive generations have read with profit to themselves and with
increasing respect for the original genius who wrote it.

THE HISTORIANS. The honored names of Bancroft, Sparks, Prescott, Motley and
Parkman are indicative of the importance attached to history-writing in
America ever since Colonial days, and of the remarkably fine and sometimes
heroic quality of American historians. Another matter suggested by these
names is the changing standard or ideal of historical writing. In an
earlier time history was a dry chronicle of important events, or of such
events as seemed important to the chronicler; at the present day it
threatens to degenerate into an equally dry chronicle of economic forces;
and between these thirsty extremes are various highly colored records
glorifying kings or conquerors or political parties as the chief things of


These American historians had a different standard. They first consulted
all available records to be sure of the facts or events. Then they closely
examined the scene in which the event had come to pass, knowing that
environment is always a factor in human history. Finally they studied
historical personages, not as others had described them but as they
revealed themselves in letters, diaries, speeches,--personal records
revealing human motives that all men understand, because man is everywhere
the same. From such a combination of event, scene and characters our
historians wrote a dramatic narrative, giving it the heroic cast without
which history, the prose epic of liberty, is little better than a dull
catalogue. Another very important matter was that they cultivated their
style as well as their knowledge; they were literary men no less than
historians, and in the conviction that the first object of literature is to
give pleasure they produced works that have charmed as well as instructed a
multitude of readers. There are chapters in Prescott's _Conquest of
Mexico_ and _Conquest of Peru_ over which one must sit up late, as
over a novel of Scott; in Motley's _Rise of the Dutch Republic_ and
_History of the United Netherlands_ there are scores of glowing
passages dealing with great characters or great events which stir the
reader like a tale of gallant adventure.

Prescott deals with force in action, and the action at times seems to be an
exaltation of violence and cruelty. Motley also delights in action; but he
is at heart an apostle of liberty, or perhaps we should say, of the
American ideal of liberty, and his narrative often assumes the character of
a partisan chant of freedom.

[Sidenote: PARKMAN]

To the native, at least, Francis Parkman (1823-1893) is probably the most
interesting of our historians, partly because of his lucid style and partly
because of his American theme. Early in life he selected his subject (the
Old French Wars) and spent the best part of forty years in making himself
familiar not only with what occurred during the struggle between France and
England for possession of the New World, but also with the primeval scene
and all the motley characters of the fateful drama. It is doubtful if any
other historian ever had a more minute knowledge of his subject; and the
astonishing, the heroic part of the matter is that he attained this vast
knowledge in spite of the handicap of almost constant suffering and
blindness. In a dozen volumes he tells his story, volumes crowded with
action or adventure, and written in such a vividly convincing style that
one has the impression that Parkman must have been an eye-witness of the
events which he describes.

[Illustration: FRANCIS PARKMAN]

Among these volumes the second part of _Pioneers of France in the New
World_ and _La Salle and the Discovery of the Great West_ are
recommended to the beginner. The former deals with the career of Champlain,
who opened the way for future settlements in the North; the latter with one
of the most adventurous, lion-hearted men that ever cheerfully faced toil
and endless danger. Standing apart from Parkman's main theme is a single
volume, _The California and Oregon Trail_ (1849), which recounts the
picturesque incidents of the author's trip through the Northwest, then an
unknown country, with a tribe of unspoiled Indians. Those who like a tale
of adventure need not go to fiction to find it, for it is here in Parkman's
narrative,--a tale of care-free wandering amid plains or mountains and,
what is historically more important, a picture of a vanished life that will
never be seen here again.

* * * * *

SUMMARY. The period of conflict has no definite limits on either
side, but for convenience we may think of it as included between
the years 1840 and 1876. Its earlier years were filled with an
ever-increasing agitation of the questions of slavery and state
rights; its center was the Civil War; its close was the Centennial
Exposition at Philadelphia, which we have selected as an outward
symbol of a reunited country.

The most noticeable feature of the age, apart from the great war,
was its ceaseless political turmoil. Of deeper significance to the
student of literature was the profound mental unrest which showed
itself in reform movements, in various communistic societies like
Brook Farm, in an eager interest in the poetry of other nations, in
the establishment of college professorships of foreign literatures,
in the philosophical doctrine of transcendentalism, and in many
other efforts of mid-century Americans to enlarge their mental

A host of minor writings of the period reflect the sectional
passions or interests that stirred our people deeply at the time,
but that are now almost forgotten. The comparatively small body of
major literature was concerned with the permanent ideals of America
or with the simple human feelings that have no age or nationality.
In general, it was a time of poetry rather than of prose, being
distinguished above all other periods of American literature by the
number and quality of its poets.

Our detailed study of the age includes: (1) The major or so-called
elder poets, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, Lanier and
Whitman. (2) The life and work of Emerson, who was both poet and
prose writer. (3) The career of Hawthorne, the novelist of
Puritanism, who is commonly ranked at the head of American
fiction-writers. (4) A brief review of the secondary writers of
prose and verse. (5) An examination of the work of Thoreau, the
most individualistic writer in an age of individualism, and of
Parkman, whom we have selected as representative of the American

SELECTIONS FOR READING. Typical selections from minor writers of
the period in Calhoun and MacAlarney, Readings from American
Literature; Stedman and Hutchinson, Library of American Literature,
and various other collections. Important works of all major writers
are published in inexpensive editions for school use, a few of
which are named below. Longfellow's short poems, Evangeline, parts
of Hiawatha and of Tales of a Wayside Inn, in Riverside Literature;
selections from the narrative poems in Lake English Classics;
selected poems in various other school series.

Whittier's Snow Bound and selected short poems, in Riverside
Literature, Maynard's English Classics, etc.

Lowell's Sir Launfal, selected short poems and selected essays, in
Riverside Literature, Maynard's English Classics.

Holmes's poems, selected, in Maynard's English Classics; The
Autocrat, in Everyman's Library; selected prose and verse, in
Riverside Literature.

Lanier's poems, with selections from Timrod and Hayne, in Pocket
Classics, Maynard's English Classics, etc.

Whitman's poems, brief selections, in Maynard's English Classics;
Triggs, Selections from the Prose and Poetry of Walt Whitman.

Emerson's poems, in Riverside Literature; Representative Men and
selected essays, in Pocket Classics; Nature and various essays, in
Everyman's Library.

Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables and selected short stories,
in Pocket Classics; Twice-Told Tales and other selections, in
Riverside Literature.

Thoreau's Walden, in Everyman's Library; Walden and selections from
other works, in Riverside Literature.

BIBLIOGRAPHY. For extended works covering the field of American
history and literature see the General Bibliography. The following
works are useful in a special study of the period of conflict.

_HISTORY_. Rhodes, History of the United States 1850-1877, 7
vols.; Wilson, Division and Reunion; Stephens, War between the
States; Paxson, the Civil War; Rhodes, Lectures on the Civil War;
Hart, Romance of the Civil War (supplementary reading for young
people). Lives of notable characters in American Statesmen, Great
Commanders and other series. Grant, Personal Memoirs; Gordon,
Reminiscences of the Civil War; Alexander Stephens, Recollections;
Hoar, Autobiography; Blaine, Twenty Years in Congress; Greeley,
Recollections; Booker Washington, Up from Slavery.

_LITERATURE,_. The great period of American letters is still
awaiting its historian. Brief chapters are found in Richardson,
Trent, Cairns, Wendell and other general histories of our
literature. Good essays on individual authors of the period in
Stedman, Poets of America; Brownell, American Prose Masters;
Erskine, Leading American Novelists; Vincent, American Literary
Masters; Burton, Literary Leaders of America.

Frothingham's Transcendentalism in New England will throw light on
the so-called Concord school. Howells's Literary Friends and
Acquaintance is a fine appreciation of the Cambridge writers.
Wauchope's Writers of South Carolina contains excellent studies of
Timrod, Hayne, Simms and other writers of the Palmetto state.
Moses' Literature of the South and Henneman's Literary and
Intellectual Life of the South are among the best works devoted to
southern authors exclusively.

_Longfellow._ Life, by Higginson, in American Men of Letters;
by Carpenter (brief), in Beacon Biographies; by Robertson, in Great
Writers; by S. Longfellow, 3 vols. (the standard biography). Essays
by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Mrs. Fields, in Authors and
Friends; by Curtis, in Literary and Social Essays; by Higginson, in
Old Cambridge; by Howells, in Literary Friends and Acquaintance.

_Whittier._ Life, by Pickard, 2 vols.; by Carpenter, in
American Men of Letters; by Higginson, in English Men of Letters;
by Burton (brief), in Beacon Biographies; by Perry, by Underwood.
Mrs. Claflin, Personal Recollections of Whittier; Hawkins, the Mind
of Whittier; Fowler, Whittier: Prophet, Seer and Man; Pickard,
Whittier Land. Essays, by Woodberry, in Makers of Literature; by
Stedman, in Poets of America; by Higginson, in Contemporaries; by
Hazeltine, in Chats about Books; by Mrs. Fields, in Authors and

_Lowell._ Life, by Greenslet; by Scudder, 2 vols.; by Hale
(brief), in Beacon Biographies; by Underwood. Edward Everett Hale,
James Russell Lowell and his Friends. Essays, by Higginson, in Old
Cambridge; by Woodberry, in Makers of Literature; by Stedman, in
Poets of America.

_Holmes._ Life, by Morse, 2 vols.; by Crothers, in American
Men of Letters. Essays, by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Haweis,
in American Humorists; by Noble, in Impressions and Memories; by
Stearns, in Cambridge Sketches; by L. Stephen, in Studies of a

_Lanier._ Life, by Mims, in American Men of Letters; by West;
by Ward, in Preface to Lanier's Poems (1884). Essays, by
Baskerville, in Southern Writers; by Higginson, in Contemporaries;
by Gilman, in South Atlantic Quarterly (1905); by Ward, in Century
Magazine (1888); by Northrup, in Lippincott's (1905).

_Whitman._ Life, by Perry; by Carpenter, in English Men of
Letters; by Platt (brief), in Beacon Biographies; by Binns, by
Bucke. Essays, by Stedman, in Poets of America; by Stevenson, in
Familiar Studies of Men and Books; by Dowden, in Studies in
Literature; by Santayana, in Interpretations of Poetry and

_Emerson._ Life, by Woodberry; by Cabot (Memoir of Emerson, 2
vols.); by O. W. Holmes, in American Men of Letters; by Garnett, in
Great Writers; by Sanborn (brief), in Beacon Biographies. E. W.
Emerson, Emerson in Concord; Conway, Emerson at Home. Essays, by
Stedman, in Poets of America; by Mrs. Fields, in Authors and
Friends; by Lowell, in Literary Essays; by Stearns, in Sketches
from Concord and Appledore; by Everett, in Essays Theological and
Literary; by Beers, in Points at Issue; by Chapman, in Emerson and
Other Essays.

_Hawthorne._ Life, by Woodberry, in American Men of Letters;
by Henry James, in English Men of Letters; by Fields (brief), in
Beacon Biographies; by Conway, in Great Writers. A more intimate
but doubtful biography is Julian Hawthorne's Nathaniel Hawthorne
and his Wife. Bridge, Personal Recollections of Hawthorne. Essays,
by Brownell, in American Prose Masters; by Perry, in A Study of
Prose Fiction; by Gates, in Studies and Appreciations; by L.
Stephen, in Hours in a Library; by Higginson, in Short Studies of
American Authors.

_Thoreau_. Life, by Salt, in Great Writers; by Sanborn, in
American Men of Letters. Page, Thoreau: his Life and Aims. Essays
by Higginson, in Short Studies of American Authors; by Stevenson,
in Familiar Studies of Men and Books; by Lowell, in Literary

_Parkman_. Life, by Fiske; by Farnham; by Sedgwick. Essays, by
Fiske, in introduction to Parkman's works and in A Century of
Science and Other Essays; by Vedder, in American Writers of To-day;
by Whipple, in Recollections of Eminent Men.



Thou Mother with thy equal brood,
Thou varied chain of different States, yet one identity only,
A special song before I go I'd sing o'er all the rest:
For thee, the Future.

Whitman, "Thou Mother"

Some critics find little or no American literature of a distinctly national
spirit prior to 1876, and they explain the lack of it on the assumption
that Americans were too far apart and too much occupied with local or
sectional interests for any author to represent the nation. It was even
said at the time of the Centennial Exposition that our countrymen had never
met, save on the battlefields of the Civil War, until the common interest
in Jubilee Year drew men and women from the four quarters of America
"around the old family altar at Philadelphia." Whatever exaggeration there
may be in that fine poetic figure, it is certain that our literature, once
confined to a few schools or centers, began in the decade after 1870 to be
broadly representative of the whole country. Miller's _Songs of the
Sierras_, Hay's _Pike-County Ballads_, Harte's _Tales of the
Argonauts_, Cable's _Old Creole Days_, Mark Twain's _Tom
Sawyer_, Miss Jewett's _Deephaven_, Stockton's _Rudder
Grange_, Harris's _Uncle Remus_,--a host of surprising books
suddenly appeared with the announcement that America was too large for any
one man or literary school to be its spokesman. It is because of these new
voices, coming from North, South, East or West and heard with delight by
the whole nation, that we venture to call the years after 1876 the
all-America period of our literature.


We are still too near that period to make a history of it, for the simple
reason that a true history implies distance and perspective. No historian
could read, much less measure and compare, a tenth part of the books that
have won recognition since 1876. In such works as he might select as
typical he must be governed by his own taste or judgment; and the writer
was never born who could by such personal standards forecast the judgment
of time and of humanity. In a word, contemporary or "up-to-date" histories
are vain attempts at the impossible; save in the unimportant matter of
chronicling names or dates they are all alike untrustworthy. The student
should bear in mind, therefore, that the following summary of our recent
literature is based largely upon personal opinion; that it selects a few
authors by way of illustration, omitting many others who may be of equal or
greater importance. We are confronted by a host of books that serve the
prime purpose of literature by giving pleasure; but what proportion of them
are enduring books, or what few of them will be known to readers of the
next century as the _Sketch Book_ and _Snow-Bound_ are known to
us,--these are questions that only Father Time can answer.

THE SHORT STORY. The period after 1876 has been called the age of fiction,
but "the short-story age" might be a better name for it, since the short
story is apparently more popular than any other form of literature and
since it has been developed here more abundantly than in any other
land,--possibly because America offers such an immense and ever-surprising
field to an author in search of a strange or picturesque tale. Readers of
the short story demand life and variety, and here are all races and tribes
and conditions of men, living in all kinds of "atmosphere" from the
trapper's hut to the steel skyscraper and from the crowded city slums to
the vast open places where one's companionship is with the hills or the
stars. Hence a double tendency in our recent stories, to make them
expressive of New World life and to make each story a reflection of some
peculiar type of Americanism,--one of the many types that here meet in a
common citizenship.

The truth of the above criticism may become evident by reviewing the
history of the short story in America. Irving began with mere hints or
outlines of stories (sketches he called them) and added a few legendary
tales of the Dutch settlers on the Hudson. Then came Poe, dealing with the
phantoms of his own brain rather than with human life or endeavor. Next
appeared Hawthorne, who dealt largely in moral allegories and whose tales
are always told in an atmosphere of mystery and twilight shadows. Finally,
after the war, came a multitude of writers who insisted on dealing with our
American life as it is, with miners, immigrants, money kings, mountaineers,
planters, cowboys, woodsmen,--a host of varied characters, each speaking
the speech and typifying the customs or ideals of his particular locality.
It was these _post-bellum_ writers who invented the so-called story of
local color (a story true to a certain place or a certain class of men),
which is America's most original contribution to the world's literature.

[Illustration: BRET HARTE]

[Sidenote: BRET HARTE]

Francis Bret Harte (1839-1902) is generally credited with the invention of
the local-color story; but he was probably indebted to earlier works of the
same kind, notably to Longstreet's _Georgia Scenes_ (1836) and
Baldwin's _Flush Times of Alabama and Mississippi_ (1853). He had
followed the "forty-niners" to California in a headlong search for gold
when, finding himself amid the picturesque scenes and characters of the
early mining camps, it suddenly occurred to him that he had before his eyes
a literary gold mine such as no other modern romancer had discovered.
Thereupon he wrote "The Luck of Roaring Camp" (first published in _The
Overland Monthly_, 1868), and followed it with "The Outcasts of Poker
Flat" and "Tennessee's Partner."

These stories took the literary world by storm, and almost overnight Harte
became a celebrity. Following up his advantage he proceeded to write some
thirty volumes of the same general kind, which were widely read and
promptly forgotten. Though he was plainly too sentimental and sensational,
there was a sense of freshness or originality in his early stories and
poems which made them wonderfully attractive. His first three tales were
probably his best, and they are still worth reading,--not for their
literary charm or truth but as interesting early examples of the
local-color story.

[Illustration: GEORGE W. CABLE]

[Sidenote: CABLE]

The interest aroused by the mining-camp tales influenced other American
writers to discover the neglected literary wealth of their several
localities; but they were fortunately on guard against Harte's exaggerated
sentimentality and related their stories with more art and more truth to
nature. As a specific example read Cable's _Old Creole Days_ and
_Madame Delphine_ with their exquisite pictures of life in the old
French city of New Orleans. These are romances or creations of fancy, to be
sure; but in their lifelike characters, their natural scenes and soft
Creole dialect they are as realistic (that is, as true to a real type of
American life) as anything that can be found in literature. They are, in
fact, studies as well as stories, such minute and affectionate studies of
old people, old names and old customs as the great French novelist Balzac
made in preparation for his work. Though time holds its own secrets, one
can hardly avoid the conviction that _Old Creole Days_ and _Madame
Delphine_ are not books of a day but permanent additions to American


Cable was accompanied by so many other good writers that it would require a
volume to do them justice. We name only, by way of indicating the wide
variety that awaits the reader, the charming stories of Grace King and
writers Kate Chopin dealing with plantation life; the New England stories,
powerful or brilliant or somber, of Sarah Orne Jewett, Rose Terry Cooke and
Mary E. Wilkins; the tender and cheery southern stories of Thomas Nelson
Page; the impressive stories of mountaineer life by Mary Noailles Murfree
(Charles Egbert Craddock); the humorous, _Alice-in-Wonderland_ kind of
stories told by Frank Stockton; and a bewildering miscellany of other
works, of which the names Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Hamlin Garland, Alice
French (Octave Thanet), Rowland Robinson, Frank Norris and Henry C. Bunner
are as a brief but inviting index.

It would be unjust at the present time to discriminate among these writers
or to compare them with others, perhaps equally good, whom we have not
named. Occasionally in the flood of short stories appears one that compels
attention. Aldrich's "Marjorie Daw," Edward Everett Hale's "The Man without
a Country," Stockton's "The Lady or the Tiger,"--each of these impresses us
so forcibly by its delicate artistry or appeal to patriotism or whimsical
ending that we hail it as a new classic, forgetting that the term "classic"
carries with it the implication of something old and proved, safe from
change or criticism. Undoubtedly a few of our recent stories deserve the
name; they will be more widely known a century hence than they are now, and
may finally rank above "Rip Van Winkle" or "The Gold Bug" or "The Snow
Image"; but until the perfect tale is sifted from the thousand that are
almost perfect, every ambitious critic is free to make his own prophecy.


SOME RECENT NOVELISTS. There is a difference between our earlier and later
fiction which becomes apparent when we compare specific examples. As a type
of the earlier novel take Cooper's _The Spy_ or Longfellow's
_Hyperion_ or Hawthorne's _The House of the Seven Gables_ or
Simms's _Katherine Walton_ or Cooke's _The Virginia Comedians_,
and read it in connection with a recent novel, such as Howells's _Annie
Kilburn_ or Miss Jewett's _Deephaven_ or Harold Frederick's
_Illumination_ or James Lane Allen's _The Reign of Law_ or Frank
Norris's _The Octopus_. Disregarding the important element of style,
we note that the earlier novels have a distant background in time or space;
that their chief interest lies in the story they have to tell; that they
take us far away from present reality into regions where people are more
impressive and sentiments more exalted than in our familiar, prosaic world.
The later novels interest us less by the story than by the analysis of
character; they deal with human life as it is here and now, not as we
imagine it to have been elsewhere or in a golden age. In a word, our later
novels are realistic in purpose, and in this respect they are in marked
contrast with our novels of an earlier age, which are nearly all of the
romantic kind. [Footnote: In the above comparison we have ignored a large
number of recent novels that are quite as romantic as any written before
the war. Romance is still, as in all past ages, more popular than realism:
witness the millions of readers of Lew Wallace, E. P. Roe and other modern

The realistic movement in American fiction began, as we have noted, with
the short-story writers; and presently the most talented of these writers,
having learned the value of real scenes and characters, turned to the novel
and produced works having the double interest of romance and realism; that
is, they told an old romantic tale of love or heroism and set it amid
scenes or characters that were typical of American life. Miss Jewett's
novels of northern village life, for example, are even finer than her short
stories in the same field. The same criticism applies to Miss Murfree with
her novels of mountaineer life in Tennessee, to James Lane Allen with his
novels of his native Kentucky, and to many another recent novelist who
tells a brave tale of his own people. We call these, in the conventional
way, novels of New England or the South or the West; in reality they are
novels of humanity, of the old unchanging tragedies or comedies of human
life, which seem more true or real to us because they appear in a familiar

There is another school of realism which subordinates the story element,
which avoids as untrue all unusual or heroic incidents and deals with
ordinary men or women; and of this school William Dean Howells is a
conspicuous example. Judging him by his novels alone it would be difficult
to determine his rank; but judging him by his high aim and distinguished
style (a style remarkable for its charm and purity in an age too much
influenced by newspaper slang and smartness) he is certainly one of the
best of our recent prose writers. Since his first modest volume appeared in
1860 he has published many poems, sketches of travel, appreciations of
literature, parlor comedies, novels,--an immense variety of writings; but
whatever one reads of his sixty-odd books, whether _Venetian Life_ or
_A Boys' Town_, one has the impression of an author who lives for
literature, who puts forth no hasty or unworthy work, and who aims steadily
to be true to the best traditions of American letters.


In middle life Howells turned definitely to fiction and wrote, among
various other novels, _A Woman's Reason_, _The Minister's
Charge_, _A Modern Instance_ and _The Rise of Silas Lapham_.
These are all realistic in that they deal frankly with contemporary life;
but in their plots and conventional endings they differ but little from the
typical romance. [Footnote: Several of Howells's earlier novels deal with
New England life, but superficially and without understanding. However
minutely they depict its manners or mannerisms they seldom dip beneath the
surface. If the reader wants not the body but the soul of New England, he
must go to some other fiction writer, to Sarah Orne Jewett, for example, or
to Rose Terry Cooke] Then Howells fell under the influence of Tolstoi and
other European realists, and his later novels, such as _Annie
Kilburn_, _A Hazard of New Fortunes_ and _The Quality of
Mercy_, are rather aimless studies of the speech, dress, mannerisms and
inanities of American life with precious little of its ideals,--which are
the only things of consequence, since they alone endure. He appears here as
the photographer rather than the painter of American life, and his work has
the limited interest of another person's family album.

[Illustration: MARK TWAIN]

Another realist of a very different kind is Samuel L. Clemens (1835-1910),
who is more widely known by his pseudonym of Mark Twain. He grew up, he
tells us, in "a loafing, down-at-the-heels town in Missouri"; he was
educated "on the river," and in most of his work he attempted to deal with
the rough-and-ready life which he knew intimately at first hand. His
_Life on the Mississippi_, a vivid delineation of river scenes and
characters, is perhaps his best work, or at least the most true to his aim
and his experience. _Roughing It_ is another volume from his store of
personal observation, this time in the western mining camps; but here his
realism goes as far astray from truth as any old romance in that it
exaggerates even the sensational elements of frontier life.

The remaining works of Mark Twain are, with one or two exceptions, of very
doubtful value. Their great popularity for a time was due largely to the
author's reputation as a humorist,--a strange reputation it begins to
appear, for he was at heart a pessimist, an iconoclast, a thrower of
stones, and with the exception of his earliest work, _The Celebrated
Jumping Frog_ (1867), which reflected some rough fun or horseplay, it is
questionable whether the term "humorous" can properly be applied to any of
his books. Thus the blatant _Innocents Abroad_ is not a work of humor
but of ridicule (a very different matter), which jeers at travelers who
profess admiration for the scenery or institutions of Europe,--an
admiration that was a sham to Mark Twain because he was incapable of
understanding it. So with the grotesque capers of _A Connecticut Yankee
at King Arthur's Court_, with the sneering spirit of _The Man that
Corrupted Hadleyburg_, with the labored attempts to be funny of
_Adam's Diary_ and with other alleged humorous works; readers of the
next generation may ask not what we found to amuse us in such works but how
we could tolerate such crudity or cynicism or bad taste in the name of
American humor.

The most widely read of Mark Twain's works are _Tom Sawyer_ and
_Huckleberry Finn_. The former, a glorification of a liar and his
dime-novel adventures, has enough descriptive power to make the story
readable, but hardly enough to disguise its sensationalism, its
lawlessness, its false standards of boy life and American life. In
_Huckleberry Finn_, a much better book, the author depicts the life of
the Middle West as seen by a homeless vagabond. With a runaway slave as a
companion the hero, Huck Finn, drifts down the Mississippi on a raft,
meeting with startling experiences at the hands of quacks and imposters of
every kind. One might suppose, if one took this picaresque record
seriously, that a large section of our country was peopled wholly by knaves
and fools. The adventures are again of a sensational kind; but the
characters are powerfully drawn, and the vivid pictures of the mighty river
by day or night are among the best examples of descriptive writing in our


Still another type of realism is suggested by the names Stephen Crane and
Frank Norris. These young writers, influenced by the French novelist Zola,
condemned the old romance as false and proclaimed, somewhat grandly at
first, that they would tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the
truth. Then they straightway forgot that health and moral sanity are the
truth of life, and proceeded to deal with degraded or degenerate characters
as if these were typical of humanity. Their earlier works are studies of
brutality, miscalled realism; but later Crane wrote his _Red Badge of
Courage_ (a rather wildly imaginative story of the Civil War), and
Norris produced works of real power in _The Octopus_ and _The
Pit_, one a prose epic of the railroad, the other of a grain of wheat
from the time it is sown in the ground until it becomes a matter of good
food or of crazy speculation. There is an impression of vastness, of
continental breadth and sweep, in these two novels which sets them apart
from all other fiction of the period.

The flood of dialect stories which appeared after 1876 may seem at first
glance to be mere variations of Bret Harte's local-color stories, but they
are something more and better than that. The best of them--such, for
example, as Page's _In Ole Virginia_ or Rowland Robinson's _Danvis
Folk_--are written on the assumption that we can never understand a man,
that is, the soul of a man, unless we know the very language in which he
expresses his thought or feeling. These dialect stories, therefore, are
intimate studies of American life rather than of local speech or manners.

[Sidenote: HARRIS]

Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908) is not our best writer of dialect stories
but only the happy and most fortunate man who wrote _Uncle Remus_
(1880), and wrote it, by the way, as part of his day's work as a newspaper
man, without a thought that it was a masterpiece, a work of genius. The
first charm of the book is that it fascinates children with its frolicsome
adventures of Brer Rabbit, Brer Tarrypin, Brer B'ar, Brer Fox and the
wonderful Tar Baby; the second, that it combines in a remarkable way a
primitive or universal with a local and intensely human interest. Thus,
almost everybody is interested in folklore, especially in the animal
stories which are part of the tradition of every primitive tribe; but
folklore, as commonly written, is not a branch of fiction but of science.
Before it can enter the golden door of literature it must find or create
some human character who interests us not by his stories but by his
humanity; and Harris furnished this character in the person of Uncle Remus,
a very lovable old plantation negro, drawn with absolute fidelity to life.


Other novelists have portrayed a negro in fiction, but Harris did a more
original work by creating his Brer Rabbit. In the adventures of this
happy-go-lucky creature, with his childishness and humor, we have the
symbol not of any one negro but of the whole race of negroes as the author
knew them intimately in a condition of servitude. The creation of these two
original characters, as real as Poor Richard or Natty Bumppo and far more
fascinating, is one of the most notable achievements of American fiction.


Aside from the realistic movement, our recent fiction is like a river
flowing sluggishly over hidden bowlders: the surface is so broken by
whirlpools, eddies and aimless flotsam that it is difficult to determine
the main current. Here our attention is attracted by clever stories of
"society in the making," there by somber problem-novels dealing with city
slums, lonely farms, department stores, political rings, business
corruption, religious creeds, social injustice,--with every conceivable
matter that can furnish a novelist not with a story but with a cry for
reform. The propaganda novel is evidently a favorite in America; but
whether it has any real influence in reforming abuses, as the novels of
Dickens led to better schools and prisons in England, is yet to be

Occasionally appears a reform novel great enough to make us forget the
reform, such as Helen Hunt Jackson's _Ramona_ (1884). This famous
story began as an attempt to plead the cause of the oppressed Indian, to do
for him what _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ was supposed to have done for the
negro; it ended in an idyllic story so well told that readers forgot to
cry, "Lo, the poor Indian," as the author intended. At the present time
_Ramona_ is not classed with the problem-novels but with the most
readable of American romances.


While the new realistic novel occupied the attention of critics the old
romance had, as usual, an immensely larger number of readers. Moral
romances with a happy ending have always been popular, and of these E. P.
Roe furnished an abundance. His _Barriers Burned Away_, _A Face
Illumined_, _Opening of a Chestnut Burr_ and _Nature's Serial
Story_ depict American characters in an American landscape, and have a
wholesome atmosphere of manliness and cleanness that makes them eminently
"safe" reading. Unfortunately they are melodramatic and sentimental, and
critics commonly sneer or jeer at them; but that is not a rational
criticism. Romances that won instant welcome from a host of readers and
that are still widely known after half a century have at least "the power
to live"; and vitality, the quality that makes a character or a story
endure, is always one of the marks of a good romance.

Another romancer untouched by the zeal for realism was Marion Crawford, who
in a very interesting essay, _The Novel_, proclaimed with some show of
reason that the novel was simply a "pocket theater," a convenient stage
whereon the reader could enjoy by himself any comedy or tragedy that
pleased him. That Crawford lived abroad the greater part of his life and
was familiar with society in a dozen countries may explain the fact that
his forty-odd novels are nearly all of the social kind. His Roman novels,
_Saracinesca_, _Sant' Ilario_ and a dozen others, are perhaps his
best work. They are good stories; they take us among cultured foreign
people and give us glimpses of a life that is hidden from most travelers;
but they are superficial and leave the impression that the author was a man
without much heart, that he missed the deeper meanings of life because he
had little interest in them. His characters are as puppets that are sent
through a play for our amusement and for no other reason. In this, however,
he remained steadily true to his own ideal of fiction as a convenient
substitute for the theater. Moreover, he was a good workman; his stories
were for the most part well composed and very well written.

More popular even than the romances of Roe and Crawford are the stories
with a background of Colonial or Revolutionary history, a type to which
America has ever given hearty welcome. Ford's _Janice Meredith_,
Mitchell's _Hugh Wynne_, Mary Johnston's _To Have and to Hold_,
Maurice Thompson's _Alice of Old Vincennes_, Churchill's _Richard
Carvel_,--the reader can add to the list of recent historical romances
almost indefinitely; but no critic can now declare which shall be called
great among them. To the same interesting group of writers belong Lew
Wallace, whose enormously popular _Ben Hur_ has obscured his better
story, _The Fair God_, and Mary Hartwell Catherwood, whose _Lady of
Fort St. John_ and other stirring tales of the Northwest have the same
savage wilderness background against which Parkman wrote his histories.

For other romances of the period we have no convenient term except to call
them old-fashioned. Such, for instance, are Blanche Willis Howard's _One
Summer_ and Arthur Sherburne Hardy's _Passe Rose_ and _But Yet a
Woman_,--pleasant, leisurely, exquisitely finished romances, which
belong to no particular time or place and which deserve the fine old name
of romance, because they seem to grow young rather than old with the
passing years.

POETRY SINCE 1876. It is commonly assumed that the last half century has
been almost exclusively an age of prose. The student of literature knows,
on the contrary, that one difficulty of judging our recent poetry lies in
the amount and variety of it. Since 1876 more poetry has been published
here than in all the previous years of our history; and the quality of it,
if one dare judge it as a whole, is surprisingly good. The designation of
"the prose age," therefore, should not blind us to the fact that America
never had so many poets as at present. Whether a future generation will
rank any of these among our elder poets is another question. Of late years
we have had no singer to compare with Longfellow, to be sure; but we have
had a dozen singers who reflect the enlarging life of America in a way of
which Longfellow never dreamed. He lived mostly in the past and was busy
with legends, folklore, songs of the night; our later singers live in the
present and write songs of the day. And this suggests the chief
characteristic of recent poetry; namely, that it aims to be true to life as
it is here and now rather than to life as it was romantically supposed to
be in classic or medieval times. [Footnote: The above characterization
applies only to the best, or to what most critics deem best, of our recent
poetry. It takes no account of a large mass of verse which leaves an
impression of faddishness in the matter of form or phrase or subject. Such
verse appeals to the taste of the moment, but Time has an effective way of
dealing with it and with all other insincerities in literature.]

This emancipation of our poetry from the past, with the loss and gain which
such a change implies, was not easily accomplished, and the terrible
reality of the great war was perhaps the decisive factor in the struggle.
Before the war our poetry was largely conventional, imitative, sentimental;
and even after the war, when Miller's _Songs of the Sierras_ and John
Hay's _Pike-County Ballads_ began to sing, however crudely, of
vigorous life, the acknowledged poets and critics of the time were
scandalized. Thus, to read the letters of Bayard Taylor is to meet a poet
who bewails the lack of poetic material in America and who "hungers," as he
says, for the romance and beauty of other lands. He writes _Songs of the
Orient_, _Lars: a Pastoral of Norway_, _Prince Deukalion_ and
many other volumes which seem to indicate that poetry is to be found
everywhere save at home. Even his "Song of the Camp" is located in the
Crimea, as if heroism and tenderness had not recently bloomed on a hundred
southern battlefields. So also Stedman wrote his _Alectryon_ and
_The Blameless Prince_, and Aldrich spent his best years in making
artificial nosegays (as Holmes told him frankly) when he ought to have been
making poems. These and many other poets said proudly that they belonged to
the classic school; they all read Shelley and Keats, dreamed of medieval or
classic beauty, and in unnumbered reviews condemned the crudity of those
who were trying to find beauty at their own doors and to make poetry of the
stuff of American life.



It was the war, or rather the new American spirit that issued from the war,
which finally assured these poets and critics that mythology and legend
were, so far as America was concerned, as dead as the mastodon, and that
life itself was the only vitally interesting subject of poetry. Edmund
Clarence Stedman (1833-1908), after writing many "finished" poems that were
praised and forgotten, manfully acknowledged that he had been following the
wrong trail and turned at last to the poetry of his own people. His
_Alice of Monmouth_, an idyl of the war, and a few short pieces, such
as "Wanted: a Man," are the only parts of his poetical works that are now
remembered. Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907) went through the same
transformation. He had a love of formal beauty, and in the exquisite finish
of his verse has had few rivals in American poetry; but he spent the great
part of his life in making pretty trifles. Then he seemed to waken to the
meaning of poetry as a noble expression of the truth or beauty of this
present life, and his last little book of _Songs and Sonnets_ contains
practically all that is worth remembering of his eight or nine volumes of



One of the first in time of the new singers was Cincinnatus Heine Miller
or, as he is commonly known, Joaquin Miller (1841-1912). His _Songs of
the Sierras_ (1871) and other poems of the West have this advantage,
that they come straight from the heart of a man who has shared the stirring
life he describes and who loves it with an overmastering love. To read his
_My Own Story_ or the preface to his _Ship in the Desert_ is to
understand from what fullness of life came lines like these:

Room! room to turn round in, to breathe and be free,
To grow to be giant, to sail as at sea
With the speed of the wind on a steed with his mane
To the wind, without pathway or route or a rein.
Room! room to be free, where the white-bordered sea
Blows a kiss to a brother as boundless as he;
Where the buffalo come like a cloud on the plain,
Pouring on like the tide of a storm-driven main,
And the lodge of the hunter to friend or to foe
Offers rest, and unquestioned you come or you go.
My plains of America! seas of wild lands!...
I turn to you, lean to you, lift you my hands.

Indeed, there was a splendid promise in Miller, but the promise was never
fulfilled. He wrote voluminously, feeling that he must express the lure and
magic of the boundless West; but he wrote so carelessly that the crude bulk
of his verse obscures the originality of his few inspired lines. To read
the latter is to be convinced that he was a true poet who might have
accomplished a greater work than Whitman, since he had more genius and
manliness than the eastern poet possessed; but his personal oddities, his
zeal for reforms, his love of solitude, his endless quest after some
unnamed good which kept him living among the Indians or wandering between
Mexico and the ends of Alaska,--all this hindered his poetic development.
It may be that an Indian-driven arrow, which touched his brain in one of
his numerous adventures, had something to do with his wanderings and his

There is a poetry of thought that can be written down in words, and there
is another poetry of glorious living, keenly felt in the winds of the
wilderness or the rush of a splendid horse or the flight of a canoe through
the rapids, for which there is no adequate expression. Miller could feel
superbly this poetry of the mountaineer, the plainsman and the voyageur;
that he could even suggest or half reveal it to others makes him worthy to
be named among our most original singers.


The hundred other poets of the period are too near for criticism, too
varied even for classification; but we may at least note two or three
significant groupings. In one group are the dialect poets, who attempt to
make poetry serve the same end as fiction of the local-color school. Irwin
Russell, with his gay negro songs tossed off to the twanging accompaniment
of his banjo, belongs in this group. His verses are notable not for their
dialect (others have done that better) but for their fidelity to the negro
character as Russell had observed it in the old plantation days. There is
little of poetic beauty in his work; it is chiefly remarkable for its
promise, for its opening of a new field of poesie; but unfortunately the
promise was spoiled by the author's fitful life and his untimely death.

[Illustration: JOAQUIN MILLER]


Closely akin to the dialect group in their effective use of the homely
speech of country people are several popular poets, of whom Will Carleton
and James Whitcomb Riley are the most conspicuous. Carleton's "Over the
Hills to the Poorhouse" and other early songs won him a wide circle of
readers; whereupon he followed up his advantage with _Farm Ballads_
and other volumes filled with rather crude but sincere verses of home and
childhood. For half a century these sentimental poems were as popular as
the early works of Longfellow, and they are still widely read by people who
like homely themes and plenty of homely sentiment in their poetry.

Riley won an even larger following with his _Old Swimmin' Hole_,
_Rhymes of Childhood Days_ and a dozen other volumes that aimed to
reflect in rustic language the joys and sorrows of country people. Judged
by the number of his readers he would be called the chief poet of the
period; but judged by the quality of his work it would seem that he wrote
too much, and wrote too often "with his eye on the gallery." He was
primarily an entertainer, a platform favorite, and in his impersonation of
country folk was always in danger of giving his audience what he thought
they would like, not what he sincerely felt to be true. Hence the
impression of the stage and a "make-up" in a considerable part of his work.
At times, however, Riley could forget the platform and speak from the heart
as a plain man to plain men. His work at such moments has a deeper note,
more simple and sincere, and a few of his poems will undoubtedly find a
permanent place in American letters. The best feature of his work is that
he felt no need to go far afield, to the Orient or to mythology, but found
the beauty of fine feeling at his door and dared to call one of his
collections _Poems Here at Home_.


In a third group of recent poets are those who try to reflect the feeling
of some one type or race of the many that make up the sum total of American
life. Such are Emma Lazarus, speaking finely for the Jewish race, and Paul
Lawrence Dunbar, voicing the deeper life of the negro,--not the negro of
the old plantation but the negro who was once a slave and must now prove
himself a man. In the same group we are perhaps justified in placing Lucy
Larcom, singing for the mill girls of New England, and Eugene Field, who
shows what fun and sentiment may brighten the life of a busy newspaper man
in a great city.

Finally come a larger number of poets who cannot be grouped, who sing each
of what he knows or loves best: Celia Thaxter, of the storm-swept northern
ocean; Madison Cawein, of nature in her more tender moods; Edward Rowland
Sill, of the aspirations of a rare Puritan soul. More varied in their
themes are Edith Thomas, Emily Dickinson, Henry C. Bunner, Richard Watson
Gilder, George Edward Woodberry, William Vaughn Moody, Richard Hovey, and
several others who are perhaps quite as notable as any of those whom we
have too briefly reviewed. They all sing of American life in its wonderful
complexity and have added poems of real merit to the book of recent
American verse. And that is a very good book to read, more inspiring and
perhaps more enduring than the popular book of prose fiction.

MISCELLANEOUS PROSE. The historian who is perplexed by our recent poetry or
fiction must be overwhelmed by the flood of miscellaneous works covering
every field of human endeavor. As one who wanders through a forest has no
conception of the forest itself but only of individual trees, so the reader
of latter-day literature can form no distinct impression of it as a whole
but must linger over the individual authors who happen to attract his
attention. Hence in all studies of contemporary literature we have the
inevitable confusion of what is important with what merely seems so because
of its nearness or newness or appeal to our personal interests. The reader
is amused by a _David Harum_, or made thoughtful by a _Looking
Backward_, or wonderstruck by a _Life of Lincoln_ as big as a
ten-volume history; and he thinks, "This is surely a book to live." But a
year passes and _David Harum_ is eclipsed by a more popular hero of
fiction, _Looking Backward_ is relegated to the shelf of forgotten
tracts, and Nicolay and Hay's "monumental" biography becomes a source book,
which someone, it is to be hoped, will some day use in making a life of
Lincoln that will be worthy of the subject and of the name of literature.


There is one feature in our recent literature, however, which attracts the
attention of all critics; namely, the number of nature writers who have
revealed to us the beauty of our natural environment, as Ruskin awakened
his readers to the beauty of art and Joaquin Miller to the unsung glory of
the pioneers. In this respect, of adding to our enjoyment of human life by
a new valuation of all life, our nature literature has no parallel in any
age or nation.

To be specific, one must search continental literatures carefully to find
even a single book that belongs unmistakably to the outdoor school. In
English literature we find several poets who sing occasionally of the
charms of nature, but only two books in fourteen centuries of writing that
deal frankly with the great outdoors for its own sake: one is Isaac
Walton's _Complete Angler_ (1653), the other Gilbert White's
_Natural History of Selborne_ (1789). [Footnote: There were other
works of a scientific nature, and some of exploration, but no real nature
books until the first notable work of Richard Jefferies (one of the best of
nature writers) appeared in 1878. By that time the nature movement in
America was well under way.] In American literature the story is shorter
but of the same tenor until recent times. From the beginning we have had
many journals of exploration; but though the joy of wild nature is apparent
in such writings, they were written to increase our knowledge, not our
pleasure in life. Josselyn's _New England's Rarities_ (1672),
Alexander Wilson's _American Ornithology_ (1801), Audubon's _Birds
of America_ (1827),--these were our nearest approach to nature books
until Thoreau's _Walden_ (1854) called attention to the immense and
fascinating field which our writers had so long overlooked.

Thoreau, it will be remembered, was neglected by his own generation; but
after the war, when writers began to use the picturesque characters of
plantation or mining camp as the material for a new American literature,
then the living world of nature seemed suddenly opened to their vision.
Bradford Torrey, himself a charming nature writer, edited Thoreau's
journals, and lo! these neglected chronicles became precious because the
eyes of America were at last opened. Maurice Thompson wrote as a poet and
scholar in the presence of nature, John Muir as a reverent explorer, and
William Hamilton Gibson as an artist with an eye single to beauty; then in
rapid succession came Charles Abbott, Rowland Robinson, John Burroughs,
Olive Thorne Miller, Florence Bailey, Frank Bolles, and a score more of a
somewhat later generation. Most of these are frankly nature writers, not
scientists; they aim not simply to observe the shy, fleeting life of the
woods or fields but to reflect that life in such a way as to give us a new
pleasure by awakening a new sense of beauty.

It is a remarkable spectacle, this rediscovery of nature in an age supposed
to be given over to materialism, and its influence appears in every branch
of our literature. The nature writers have evidently done a greater work
than they knew; they have helped a multitude of people to enjoy the beauty
of a flower without pulling it to pieces for a Latin name, to appreciate a
living bird more than a stuffed skin, and to understand what Thoreau meant
when he said that the _anima_ of an animal is the only interesting
thing about him. Because they have given us a new valuation of life, a new
sense of its sacredness and mystery, their work may appeal to a future
generation as the most original contribution to recent literature.


Another interesting feature of recent times is the importance attached to
historical and biographical works, which have increased so rapidly since
1876 that there is now no period of American life and no important
character or event that lacks its historian. The number of such works is
astonishing, but their general lack of style and broad human interest
places them outside of the field of literature. The tendency of recent
historical writing, for example, is to collect facts _about_ persons
or events rather than to reproduce the persons or events so vividly that
the past lives again before our eyes. The result of such writing is to make
history a puppet show in which dead figures are moved about by unseen
economic forces; meanwhile the only record that lives in literature is the
one that represents history as it really was in the making; that is, as a
drama of living, self-directing men.

[Illustration: JOHN FISKE]

There is at least one recent historian, however, whose style gives
distinction to his work and makes it worthy of especial notice. This is
John Fiske (1842-1901), whose field and method are both unusual. He began
as a student of law and philosophy, and his first notable book, _Outlines
of Cosmic Philosophy_, attracted instant attention in England and
America by its literary style and rare lucidity of statement. It was
followed by a series of essays, such as _The Idea Of God_, _The
Destiny Of Man_ and _The Origin of Evil_, which were so far above
others of their kind that for a time they were in danger of becoming
popular. Of a thousand works occasioned by the theory of evolution, when
that theory was a nine days' wonder, they are among the very few that stand
the test of time by affording as much pleasure and surprise as when they
were first written.

It was comparatively late in life that our philosopher turned historian,
and his first work in this field, _American Political Ideals Viewed from
the Standpoint of Universal History_, announced that here at last was a
writer with broad horizons, who saw America not as an isolated nation
making a strange experiment but as adding a vital chapter to the great
world's history. It was a surprising work, unlike any other in the field of
American history, and it may fall to another generation to appreciate its
originality. Finally Fiske took up the study of particular periods or
epochs, viewed them with the same deep insight, the same broad sympathy,
and reflected them in a series of brilliant narratives: _Old Virginia and
her Neighbors_, _The Beginnings of New England_, _Dutch and
Quaker Colonies in America_ and a few others, the series ending
chronologically with _A Critical Period of American History_, the
"critical" period being the time of doubt and struggle over the
Constitution. These narratives, though not unified, form a fairly complete
history from the Colonial period to the formation of the Union.

To read any of these books is to discover that Fiske is concerned not
chiefly with events but with the meaning or philosophy of events; that he
has a rare gift of delving below the surface, of seeing in the endeavors of
a handful of men at Jamestown or Plymouth or Philadelphia a profoundly
significant chapter of universal history. Hence we seem to read in his
pages not the story of America but the story of Man. Moreover, he had
enthusiasm; which means that his heart was young and that he could make
even dull matters vital and interesting. Perhaps the best thing that can be
said of his work is that it is a pleasure to read it,--a criticism which is
spoken for mature or thoughtful readers rather than for those who read
history for its dramatic or heroic interest.


Another feature of our recent prose is the number of books devoted to the
study of American letters; and that, like the study of nature, is a
phenomenon which is without precedent. Notwithstanding Emerson's plea for
independence in _The American Scholar_ (1837), our critics were busy
long after that date with the books of other lands, thinking that there was
no American literature worthy of their attention. In the same year that
Emerson made his famous address Royal Robbins made what was probably the
first attempt at a history of American literature. [Footnote: _Chambers'
History of the English Language and Literature, to which is added A History
of American Contributions to the English Language and Literature, by Royal
Robbins (Hartford, 1837)_. It is interesting to note that the author
complained of the difficulty of his task in view of the fact that there
were at that time over two thousand living American authors.] It consisted
of a few tag-ends attached to a dry catalogue of English writers, and the
scholarly author declared that, as there was only one poor literary history
then in existence (namely, Chambers'), he must depend largely on his own
memory for correcting the English part of the book and creating a new
American part. Nor were conditions improved during the next forty years.


After the war, however, the viewpoint of our historians was changed. They
began to regard American literature with increasing respect as an original
product, as a true reflection of human life in a new field and under the
stimulus of new incentives to play the fine old game of "life, liberty and
the pursuit of happiness." In 1878 appeared Tyler's _History of American
Literature 1607-1765_ in two bulky volumes that surprised readers by
revealing a mass of important writings in a period supposed to be barren of
literary interest; and the surprise increased when the same author produced
two more volumes dealing with the literature of the Revolution. In 1885
came Stedman's _Poets of America_, an excellent critical study of New
World poetry; and two years later Richardson published the first of his two
splendid volumes of _American Literature_. These good beginnings were
followed by a host of biographies dealing with every important American
author, until we now have choice of a large assortment of literary material
where Royal Robbins had none at all.

Such formal works are for the student, but the reader who goes to books for
recreation has also been remembered. Edward Everett Hale's _James Russell
Lowell and his Friends_, Higginson's _Old Cambridge_, Howells's
_Literary Friends and Acquaintance_, Trowbridge's _My Own Story_,
Mrs. Field's _Authors and Friends_, Stoddard's _Homes and Haunts of
our Elder Poets_, Curtis's _Homes of American Authors_, Mitchell's
_American Lands and Letters_,--these are but few of many recent books
of reminiscences, all bearing witness to the fact that American literature
has a history and tradition of its own. It is no longer an appendix to
English literature but an original record, to be cherished as we cherish
any other precious national heritage, and to stand or fall among the
literatures of the world as it shall be found true or false to the
fundamental ideals of American life.

* * * * *

BIBLIOGRAPHY. The best work on our recent literature is Pattee, A
History of American Literature since 1870 (Century Co., 1915),
which deals with two hundred or more writers. A more sketchy
attempt at a contemporaneous history is Vedder, American Writers of
To-day (Silver, 1894, revised 1910), devoted to nineteen writers
whom the author regards as most important.

From a multitude of books dealing with individual authors or with
special types of literature we have selected the following brief
list, which is suggestive rather than critical.

_Study of Fiction_. Henry James, The Art of Fiction; Howells,
Criticism in Fiction; Crawford, The Novel: What It Is; Smith, The
American Short Story; Canby, The Short Story in English.

_Biography_. Life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, by C. E. Stowe.
Life of Bret Harte, by Pemberton, or by Merwin, or by Boynton. Life
of Bayard Taylor, by Marie Taylor and Horace Scudder; or by Smyth,
in American Men of Letters. Life of Stedman, by Laura Stedman and
G. M. Gould. Life of Thomas Bailey Aldrich, by Greenslet. Letters
of Sarah Orne Jewett, edited by Annie Fields. Life of Edward
Rowland Sill, by Parker. Thompson's Eugene Field. Mrs. Field's
Charles Dudley Warner. Grady's Joel Chandler Harris. Life of Mark
Twain, by Paine, 3 vols.

_Historical and Reminiscent_. Page, The Old South; Nicholson,
The Hoosiers; Howells, My Literary Passions; Henry James, Notes of
a Son and Brother; Stoddard, Recollections Personal and Literary,
edited by Hitchcock; Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Chapters from a Life;
Trowbridge, My Own Story.

* * * * *


Books dealing with individual writers and with limited periods are
named elsewhere, in the special bibliographies that supplement each
of the preceding chapters. The following works, selected from a
much larger number, will be found useful for reference during the
entire course of study.

AMERICAN LITERATURE. There is unfortunately no series of scholarly
volumes covering the whole field, and nothing that approaches a
standard history of the subject. One of the best general surveys is
Richardson, American Literature, 2 vols. (Putnam, 1887). This is a
critical work, containing no biographical material, and the
historical sequence is broken by studying each type of literature
(fiction, poetry, etc.) by itself. Other general surveys,
containing a small amount of biography sadly interwoven with
critical matter, are Trent, American Literature (Appleton); Cairn,
History of American Literature (Oxford University Press); Wendell,
Literary History of America (Scribner); and the Cambridge American
Literature, 2 vols. (announced, 1916, Putnam). There are also a
score of textbooks dealing briefly with the subject.

Among histories dealing with selected authors in groups or with the
writers of some particular section of the country are National
Studies in American Letters (Macmillan), which includes Higginson's
Old Cambridge, Nicholson's The Hoosiers, Addison's The Clergy in
American Letters, etc.; Fulton, Southern Life in Southern
Literature; Moses, Literature of the South; Holliday, History of
Southern Literature; Wauchope, Writers of North Carolina; Lawton,
The New England Poets; Painter, Poets of Virginia; Venable,
Beginnings of Literary Culture in the Ohio Valley.

_POETRY_. Stedman, Poets of America; Onderdonck, History of
American Verse; Collins, Poetry and Poets of America.

_FICTION_. Loshe, The Early American Novel; Erskine, Leading
American Novelists; Smith, The American Short Story; Baldwin,
American Short Stories; Perry, A Study of Prose Fiction; Howells,
Criticism in Fiction; James, The Art of Fiction; Crawford, The
Novel: What It Is.

_MISCELLANEOUS TYPES_. Jameson, History of Historical Writing
in America; Payne, Leading American Essayists; Brownell, American
Prose Masters; Haweis, American Humorists; Payne, American Literary
Criticisms; Sears, History of Oratory; Fuller and Trueblood,
British and American Eloquence; Seilhamer, History of the American
Theater; Hudson, Journalism in the United States; Thomas, History
of Printing in America.

A very useful little book is Whitcomb, Chronological Outlines of
American Literature (Macmillan), in which all important works are
arranged, first, in chronological order, year by year, and then
according to authors.

_BIOGRAPHY_. The best series of literary biographies is
American Men of Letters (Houghton). A few American authors are
included in English Men of Letters, Great Writers, the brief Beacon
Biographies and other series. Biographical collections are Adams,
Dictionary of American Authors; Cyclopedia of American Biography, 6
vols. (Appleton); Allibone, Dictionary of English Literature and
British and American Authors, 6 vols. (Lippincott); Howes, American
Bookmen; Fields, Biographical Notes and Personal Sketches.

_SELECTIONS_. Calhoun and MacAlarney, Readings from American
Literature, containing selections from all important authors in one
volume (Ginn and Company); Stedman and Hutchinson, Library of
American Literature, 11 vols. (Webster); Duyckinck, Cyclopedia of
American Literature, 2 vols. (Scribner); Bronson, American Poems
and American Prose, 2 vols. (University of Chicago Press);
Lounsbury, American Poems (Yale University Press); Stedman, An
American Anthology, supplementing the same author's Poets of
America (Houghton); Page, Chief American Poets, with very full
selections from our nine elder poets (Houghton); The Humbler Poets,
newspaper and magazine verse, 2 vols. (McClurg); Golden Treasury of
American Songs and Lyrics (Macmillan); Rittenhouse, Little Book of
Modern Verse (Houghton); Carpenter, American Prose (Macmillan);
Johnson, American Orations, 3 vols. (Putnam); Harding, Select
Orations (Macmillan).

Library of Southern Literature, 16 vols., a monumental work, edited
under supervision of the University of Virginia (Martin and Holt
Co., Atlanta); Trent, Southern Writers; Mims and Payne, Southern
Poetry; Kent, Southern Poets.

_SCHOOL TEXTS_. For the works of minor writers some of the
anthologies named above are necessary; but the major authors may be
read to better advantage in various inexpensive texts edited for
class use. Such, for example, are Standard English Classics (Ginn
and Company); Riverside Literature (Houghton); Pocket Classics
(Macmillan); Lake Classics (Scott); Maynard's English Classics
(Merrill); Silver Classics (Silver, Burdett); Johnson's English
Classics (Johnson); English Readings (Holt); Eclectic Classics
(American Book Co.); Everyman's Library (Dutton). There are nearly
a score more of these handy little editions, lists of which may be
obtained by writing to the various publishing houses, especially to
those that make a specialty of schoolbooks.

AMERICAN HISTORY. In studying our literature a good textbook of
history should always be at hand; such as Montgomery, Student's
American History, or Muzzey, American History, or Channing,
Students' History of the United States. More extended works are
much better, if the student has time or inclination to consult

A useful reference work in connection with our early literature is
American History Told by Contemporaries, edited by Hart, 4 vols.
(Macmillan). The American History Series, 6 vols. (Scribner), tells
the story of America by epochs, the different epochs being treated
by different authors. Another good history of the same kind is
Epochs of American History, 3 vols. (Longmans). The most complete
history is The American Nation, 27 vols. (Harper).

Political and party history in Stanwood, History of the Presidency
(Houghton), and Johnston, American Political History, 2 vols.

Biographies of notable characters in American Statesmen (Houghton),
Makers of America (Dodd), Great Commanders (Appleton), True
Biographies (Lippincott), and various other series. National
Cyclopedia of American Biography, 15 vols. (White).

Bibliography of the subject in Channing, Hart and Turner, Guide to
the Study and Reading of American History, revised to 1912 (Ginn
and Company); and in Andrews, Gambrill and Tall, Bibliography of
History (Longmans).

Book of the day: