The Columbiad was a grandiose performance, and has been the theme of much ridicule by later writers. Hawthorne suggested its being dramatized, and put on to the accompaniment of artillery and thunder and lightning; and E. P. Whipple declared that "no critic in the last fifty years had read more than a hundred lines of it." In its ambitiousness and its length it was symptomatic of the spirit of the age which was patriotically determined to create, by tour de force, a national literature of a size commensurate with the scale of American nature and the destinies of the republic. As America was bigger than Argos and Troy we ought to have a bigger epic than the Iliad. Accordingly, Barlow makes Hesper fetch Columbus from his prison to a "hill of vision," where he unrolls before his eye a panorama of the history of America, or, as our bards then preferred to call it, Columbia. He shows him the conquest of Mexico by Cortez; the rise and fall of the kingdom of the Incas in Peru; the settlements of the English colonies in North America; the old French and Indian wars; the Revolution, ending with a prophecy of the future greatness of the new-born nation. The machinery of the Vision was borrowed from the 11th and 12th books of Paradise Lost. Barlow's verse was the ten-syllabled rhyming couplet of Pope, and his poetic style was distinguished by the vague, glittering imagery and the false sublimity which marked the epic attempts of the Queen Anne poets. Though Barlow was but a masquerader in true heroic he showed himself a true poet in mock heroic. His Hasty Pudding, written in Savoy in 1793, and dedicated to Mrs. Washington, was thoroughly American, in subject at least, and its humor, though over-elaborate, is good. One couplet in particular has prevailed against oblivion:
"E'en in thy native regions how I blush To hear the Pennsylvanians call thee Mush!"
Another Connecticut poet—one of the seven who were fondly named "The Pleiads of Connecticut"—was Timothy Dwight, whose Conquest of Canaan, written shortly after his graduation from college, but not published till 1785, was, like the Columbiad, an experiment toward the domestication of the epic muse in America. It was written like Barlow's poem, in rhymed couplets, and the patriotic impulse of the time shows oddly in the introduction of our Revolutionary War, by way of episode, among the wars of Israel. Greenfield Hill, 1794, was an idyllic and moralizing poem, descriptive of a rural parish in Connecticut of which the author was for a time the pastor. It is not quite without merit; shows plainly the influence of Goldsmith, Thomson, and Beattie, but as a whole is tedious and tame. Byron was amused that there should have been an American poet christened Timothy, and it is to be feared that amusement would have been the chief emotion kindled in the breast of the wicked Voltaire had he ever chanced to see the stern dedication to himself of the same poet's Triumph of Infidelity, 1788. Much more important than Dwight's poetry was his able Theology Explained and Defended, 1794, a restatement, with modifications, of the Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, which was accepted by the Congregational churches of New England as an authoritative exponent of the orthodoxy of the time. His Travels in New England and New York, including descriptions of Niagara, the White Mountains, Lake George, the Catskills, and other passages of natural scenery, not so familiar then as now, was published posthumously in 1821, was praised by Southey, and is still readable. As President of Yale College from 1795 to 1817 Dwight, by his learning and ability, his sympathy with young men, and the force and dignity of his character, exerted a great influence in the community.
The strong political bias of the time drew into its vortex most of the miscellaneous literature that was produced. A number of ballads, serious and comic, whig and tory, dealing with the battles and other incidents of the long war, enjoyed a wide circulation in the newspapers or were hawked about in printed broadsides. Most of these have no literary merit, and are now mere antiquarian curiosities. A favorite piece on the tory side was the Cow Chase, a cleverish parody on Chevy Chase, written by the gallant and unfortunate Major Andre, at the expense of "Mad" Anthony Wayne. The national song Yankee Doodle was evolved during the Revolution, and, as is the case with John Brown's Body and many other popular melodies, some obscurity hangs about its origin. The air was an old one, and the words of the chorus seem to have been adapted or corrupted from a Dutch song, and applied in derision to the provincials by the soldiers of the British army as early as 1755. Like many another nickname, the term Yankee Doodle was taken up by the nicknamed and proudly made their own. The stanza,
"Yankee Doodle came to town," etc.,
antedates the war; but the first complete set of words to the tune was the Yankee's Return from Camp, which is apparently of the year 1775. The most popular humorous ballad on the whig side was the Battle of the Kegs, founded on a laughable incident of the campaign at Philadelphia. This was written by Francis Hopkinson, a Philadelphian, and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Hopkinson has some title to rank as one of the earliest American humorists. Without the keen wit of McFingal, some of his Miscellaneous Essays and Occasional Writings, published in 1792, have more geniality and heartiness than Trumbull's satire. His Letter on Whitewashing is a bit of domestic humor that foretokens the Danbury News man; and his Modern Learning, 1784, a burlesque on college examinations, in which a salt-box is described from the point of view of metaphysics, logic, natural philosophy, mathematics, anatomy, surgery, and chemistry, long kept its place in school-readers and other collections. His son, Joseph Hopkinson, wrote the song of Hail Columbia, which is saved from insignificance only by the music to which it was married, the then popular air of "The President's March." The words were written in 1798, on the eve of a threatened war with France, and at a time when party spirit ran high. It was sung nightly by crowds in the streets, and for a whole season by a favorite singer at the theater; for by this time there were theaters in Philadelphia, in New York, and even in puritanic Boston. Much better than Hail Columbia was the Star-Spangled Banner, the words of which were composed by Francis Scott Key, a Marylander, during the bombardment by the British of Fort McHenry, near Baltimore, in 1812. More pretentious than these was the once celebrated ode of Robert Treat Paine, Jr., Adams and Liberty, recited at an anniversary of the Massachusetts Charitable Fire Society. The sale of this is said to have netted its author over $750, but it is, notwithstanding, a very wooden performance. Paine was a young Harvard graduate, who had married an actress playing at the Old Federal Street Theater, the first play-house opened in Boston, in 1794. His name was originally Thomas, but this was changed for him by the Massachusetts Legislature, because he did not wish to be confounded with the author of the Age of Reason. "Dim are those names erstwhile in battle loud," and many an old Revolutionary worthy who fought for liberty with sword and pen is now utterly forgotten, or remembered only by some phrase which has become a current quotation. Here and there a line has, by accident, survived to do duty as a motto or inscription, while all its context is buried in oblivion. Few have read any thing more of Jonathan M. Sewall's, for example, than the couplet,
"No pent-up Utica contracts your powers, But the whole boundless continent is yours,"
taken from his Epilogue to Cato, written in 1778.
Another Revolutionary poet was Philip Freneau—"that rascal Freneau," as Washington called him, when annoyed by the attacks upon his administration in Freneau's National Gazette. He was of Huguenot descent, was a class-mate of Madison at Princeton College, was taken prisoner by the British during the war, and when the war was over engaged in journalism, as an ardent supporter of Jefferson and the Democrats. Freneau's patriotic verses and political lampoons are now unreadable; but he deserves to rank as the first real American poet, by virtue of his Wild Honeysuckle, Indian Burying Ground, Indian Student, and a few other little pieces, which exhibit a grace and delicacy inherited, perhaps, with his French blood,
Indeed, to speak strictly, all of the "poets" hitherto mentioned were nothing but rhymers; but in Freneau we meet with something of beauty and artistic feeling; something which still keeps his verses fresh. In his treatment of Indian themes, in particular, appear for the first time a sense of the picturesque and poetic elements in the character and wild life of the red man, and that pensive sentiment which the fading away of the tribes toward the sunset has left in the wake of their retreating footsteps. In this Freneau anticipates Cooper and Longfellow, though his work is slight compared with the Leatherstocking Tales or Hiawatha. At the time when the Revolutionary War broke out the population of the colonies was over three millions; Philadelphia had thirty thousand inhabitants, and the frontier had retired to a comfortable distance from the sea-board. The Indian had already grown legendary to town dwellers, and Freneau fetches his Indian Student not from the outskirts of the settlement but from the remote backwoods of the State:
"From Susquehanna's farthest springs, Where savage tribes pursue their game (His blanket tied with yellow strings), A shepherd of the forest came."
Campbell "lifted"—in his poem O'Conor's Child—the last line of the following stanza from Freneau's Indian Burying Ground:
"By midnight moons, o'er moistening dews, In vestments for the chase arrayed, The hunter still the deer pursues— The hunter and the deer, a shade."
And Walter Scott did Freneau the honor to borrow, in Marmion, the final line of one of the stanzas of his poem on the battle of Eutaw Springs:
"They saw their injured country's woe, The flaming town, the wasted field; Then rushed to meet the insulting foe, They took the spear, but left the shield."
Scott inquired of an American gentleman who visited him the authorship of this poem, which he had by heart, and pronounced it as fine a thing of the kind as there was in the language.
The American drama and American prose fiction had their beginning during the period now under review. A company of English players came to this country in 1762 and made the tour of many of the principal towns. The first play acted here by professionals on a public stage was the Merchant of Venice, which was given by the English company at Williamsburg, Va., in 1752. The first regular theater building was at Annapolis, Md., where in the same year this troupe performed, among other pieces, Farquhar's Beaux' Stratagem. In 1753 a theater was built in New York, and one in 1759 in Philadelphia. The Quakers of Philadelphia and the Puritans of Boston were strenuously opposed to the acting of plays, and in the latter city the players were several times arrested during the performances, under a Massachusetts law forbidding dramatic performances. At Newport, R.I., on the other hand, which was a health resort for planters from the Southern States and the West Indies, and the largest slave-market in the North, the actors were hospitably received. The first play known to have been written by an American was the Prince of Parthia, 1765, a closet drama, by Thomas Godfrey, of Philadelphia. The first play by an American writer, acted by professionals in a public theater, was Royall Tyler's Contrast, performed in New York, in 1786. The former of these was very high tragedy, and the latter very low comedy; and neither of them is otherwise remarkable than as being the first of a long line of indifferent dramas. There is, in fact, no American dramatic literature worth speaking of; not a single American play of even the second rank, unless we except a few graceful parlor comedies, like Mr. Howell's Elevator and Sleeping-Car. Royall Tyler, the author of The Contrast, cut quite a figure in his day as a wit and journalist, and eventually became chief-justice of Vermont. His comedy, The Georgia Spec, 1797, had a great run in Boston, and his Algerine Captive, published in the same year, was one of the earliest American novels. It was a rambling tale of adventure, constructed somewhat upon the plan of Smollett's novels and dealing with the piracies which led to the war between the United States and Algiers in 1815.
Charles Brockden Brown, the first American novelist of any note, was also the first professional man of letters in this country who supported himself entirely by his pen. He was born in Philadelphia in 1771, lived a part of his life in New York and part in his native city, where he started, in 1803, the Literary Magazine and American Register. During the years 1798-1801 he published in rapid succession six romances, Wieland, Ormond, Arthur Mervyn, Edgar Huntley, Clara Howard, and Jane Talbot. Brown was an invalid and something of a recluse, with a relish for the ghastly in incident and the morbid in character. He was in some points a prophecy of Poe and Hawthorne, though his art was greatly inferior to Poe's, and almost infinitely so to Hawthorne's. His books belong more properly to the contemporary school of fiction in England which preceded the "Waverley Novels"—to the class that includes Beckford's Vathek, Godwin's Caleb Williams and St. Leon, Mrs. Shelley's Frankenstein, and such "Gothic" romances as Lewis's Monk, Walpole's Castle of Otranto, and Mrs. Radcliffe's Mysteries of Udolpho. A distinguishing characteristic of this whole school is what we may call the clumsy-horrible. Brown's romances are not wanting in inventive power, in occasional situations that are intensely thrilling, and in subtle analysis of character; but they are fatally defective in art. The narrative is by turns abrupt and tiresomely prolix, proceeding not so much by dialogue as by elaborate dissection and discussion of motives and states of mind, interspersed with the author's reflections. The wild improbabilities of plot and the unnatural and even monstrous developments of character are in startling contrast with the old-fashioned preciseness of the language; the conversations, when there are any, being conducted in that insipid dialect in which a fine woman was called an "elegant female." The following is a sample description of one of Brown's heroines, and is taken from his novel of Ormond, the leading character in which—a combination of unearthly intellect with fiendish wickedness—is thought to have been suggested by Aaron Burr: "Helena Cleves was endowed with every feminine and fascinating quality. Her features were modified by the most transient sentiments and were the seat of a softness at all times blushful and bewitching. All those graces of symmetry, smoothness, and luster, which assemble in the imagination of the painter when he calls from the bosom of her natal deep the Paphian divinity, blended their perfections in the shade, complexion, and hair of this lady." But, alas! "Helena's intellectual deficiencies could not be concealed. She was proficient in the elements of no science. The doctrine of lines and surfaces was as disproportionate with her intellects as with those of the mock-bird. She had not reasoned on the principles of human action, nor examined the structure of society. . . . She could not commune in their native dialect with the sages of Rome and Athens. . . . The constitution of nature, the attributes of its Author, the arrangement of the parts of the external universe, and the substance, modes of operation, and ultimate destiny of human intelligence were enigmas unsolved and insoluble by her."
Brown frequently raises a superstructure of mystery on a basis ludicrously weak. Thus the hero of his first novel, Wieland (whose father anticipates "Old Krook," in Dickens's Bleak House, by dying of spontaneous combustion), is led on by what he mistakes for spiritual voices to kill his wife and children; and the voices turn out to be produced by the ventriloquism of one Carwin, the villain of the story. Similarly in Edgar Huntley, the plot turns upon the phenomena of sleep-walking. Brown had the good sense to place the scene of his romances in his own country, and the only passages in them which have now a living interest are his descriptions of wilderness scenery in Edgar Huntley, and his graphic account in Arthur Mervyn of the yellow-fever epidemic in Philadelphia in 1793. Shelley was an admirer of Brown, and his experiments in prose fiction, such as Zastrozzi and St. Irvyne the Rosicrucian, are of the same abnormal and speculative type.
Another book which falls within this period was the Journal, 1774, of John Woolman, a New Jersey Quaker, which has received the highest praise from Channing, Charles Lamb, and many others. "Get the writings of John Woolman by heart," wrote Lamb, "and love the early Quakers." The charm of this journal resides in its singular sweetness and innocence of feeling, the "deep inward stillness" peculiar to the people called Quakers. Apart from his constant use of certain phrases peculiar to the Friends Woolman's English is also remarkably graceful and pure, the transparent medium of a soul absolutely sincere, and tender and humble in its sincerity. When not working at his trade as a tailor Woolman spent his time in visiting and ministering to the monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings of Friends, traveling on horseback to their scattered communities in the backwoods of Virginia and North Carolina, and northward along the coast as far as Boston and Nantucket. He was under a "concern" and a "heavy exercise" touching the keeping of slaves, and by his writing and speaking did much to influence the Quakers against slavery. His love went out, indeed, to all the wretched and oppressed; to sailors, and to the Indians in particular. One of his most perilous journeys was made to the settlements of Moravian Indians in the wilderness of western Pennsylvania, at Bethlehem, and at Wehaloosing, on the Susquehanna. Some of the scruples which Woolman felt, and the quaint naivete with which he expresses them, may make the modern reader smile, but it is a smile which is very close to a tear. Thus, when in England—where he died in 1772—he would not ride nor send a letter by mail-coach, because the poor post-boys were compelled to ride long stages in winter nights, and were sometimes frozen to death. "So great is the hurry in the spirit of this world that, in aiming to do business quickly and to gain wealth, the creation at this day doth loudly groan." Again, having reflected that war was caused by luxury in dress, etc., the use of dyed garments grew uneasy to him, and he got and wore a hat of the natural color of the fur. "In attending meetings this singularity was a trial to me, . . . and some Friends, who knew not from what motives I wore it, grew shy of me. . . . Those who spoke with me I generally informed, in a few words, that I believed my wearing it was not in my own will."
1. Representative American Orations. Edited by Alexander Johnston. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1884.
2. The Federalist. New York: Charles Scribner. 1863.
3. Notes on Virginia. By Thomas Jefferson. Boston. 1829.
4. Travels in New England and New York. By Timothy Dwight. New Haven. 1821.
5. McFingal: in Trumbull's Poetical Works. Hartford. 1820.
6. Joel Barlow's Hasty Pudding. Francis Hopkinson's Modern Learning. Philip Freneau's Indian Student, Indian Burying-Ground, and White Honeysuckle: in Vol. I of Duyckinck's Cyclopedia of American Literature. New York: Charles Scribner. 1866.
7. Arthur Mervyn. By Charles Brockden Brown. Boston: S. G. Goodrich. 1827.
8. The Journal of John Woolman. With an Introduction by John G. Whittier. Boston: James R. Osgood & Co. 1871.
9. American Literature. By Charles F. Richardson. New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons. 1887.
10. American Literature. By John Nichol. Edinburgh: Adam & Charles Black. 1882.
THE ERA OF NATIONAL EXPANSION.
The attempt to preserve a strictly chronological order must here be abandoned. About all the American literature in existence that is of any value as literature is the product of the past three quarters of a century, and the men who produced it, though older or younger, were still contemporaries. Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, 1809, was published within the recollection of some yet living, and the venerable poet Richard H. Dana—Irving's junior by only four years—survived to 1879, when the youngest of the generation of writers that now occupy public attention had already won their spurs. Bryant, whose Thanatopsis was printed in 1816, lived down to 1878. He saw the beginnings of our national literature, and he saw almost as much of the latest phase of it as we see to-day in this year 1891. Still, even within the limits of a single life-time, there have been progress and change. And so, while it will happen that the consideration of writers, a part of whose work falls between the dates at the head of this chapter, may be postponed to subsequent chapters, we may in a general way follow the sequence of time.
The period between the close of the second war with England, in 1815, and the great financial crash of 1837, has been called, in language attributed to President Monroe, "the era of good feeling." It was a time of peace and prosperity, of rapid growth in population and rapid extension of territory. The new nation was entering upon its vast estates and beginning to realize its manifest destiny. The peace with Great Britain, by calling off the Canadian Indians and the other tribes in alliance with England, had opened up the North-west to settlement. Ohio had been admitted as a State in 1802; but at the time of President Monroe's tour, in 1817, Cincinnati had only seven thousand inhabitants, and half of the State was unsettled. The Ohio River flowed for most of its course through an unbroken wilderness. Chicago was merely a fort. Hitherto the emigration to the West had been sporadic; now it took on the dimensions of a general and almost a concerted exodus. This movement was stimulated in New England by the cold summer of 1816 and the late spring of 1817, which produced a scarcity of food that amounted in parts of the interior to a veritable famine. All through this period sounded the ax of the pioneer clearing the forest about his log-cabin, and the rumble of the canvas-covered emigrant-wagon over the primitive highways which crossed the Alleghanies or followed the valley of the Mohawk. S. G. Goodrich, known in letters as "Peter Parley," in his Recollections of a Life-time, 1856, describes the part of the movement which he had witnessed as a boy in Fairfield County, Connecticut: "I remember very well the tide of emigration through Connecticut, on its way to the West, during the summer of 1817. Some persons went in covered wagons—frequently a family consisting of father, mother, and nine small children, with one at the breast—some on foot, and some crowded together under the cover, with kettles, gridirons, feather-beds, crockery, and the family Bible, Watts's Psalms and Hymns, and Webster's Spelling-book—the lares and penates of the household. Others started in ox-carts, and trudged on at the rate of ten miles a day. . . . Many of these persons were in a state of poverty, and begged their way as they went. Some died before they reached the expected Canaan; many perished after their arrival from fatigue and privation; and others from the fever and ague, which was then certain to attack the new settlers. It was, I think, in 1818 that I published a small tract entitled, 'Tother Side of Ohio—that is, the other view, in contrast to the popular notion that it was the paradise of the world. It was written by Dr. Hand—a talented young physician of Berlin—who had made a visit to the West about these days. It consisted mainly of vivid but painful pictures of the accidents and incidents attending this wholesale migration. The roads over the Alleghanies, between Philadelphia and Pittsburg, were then rude, steep, and dangerous, and some of the more precipitous slopes were consequently strewn with the carcasses of wagons, carts, horses, oxen, which had made shipwreck in their perilous descents."
But in spite of the hardships of the settler's life the spirit of that time, as reflected in its writings, was a hopeful and a light-hearted one.
"Westward the course of empire takes its way,"
runs the famous line from Berkeley's poem on America. The New Englanders who removed to the Western Reserve went there to better themselves; and their children found themselves the owners of broad acres of virgin soil in place of the stony hill pastures of Berkshire and Litchfield. There was an attraction, too, about the wild, free life of the frontiersman, with all its perils and discomforts. The life of Daniel Boone, the pioneer of Kentucky—that "dark and bloody ground"—is a genuine romance. Hardly less picturesque was the old river life of the Ohio boatmen, before the coming of steam banished their queer craft from the water. Between 1810 and 1840 the center of population in the United States had moved from the Potomac to the neighborhood of Clarksburg, in West Virginia, and the population itself had increased from seven to seventeen millions. The gain was made partly in the East and South, but the general drift was westward. During the years now under review the following new States were admitted, in the order named: Indiana, Mississippi, Illinois, Alabama, Maine, Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan. Kentucky and Tennessee had been made States in the last years of the eighteenth century, and Louisiana—acquired by purchase from France—in 1812.
The settlers, in their westward march, left large tracts of wilderness behind them. They took up first the rich bottomlands along the river courses, the Ohio and Miami and Licking, and later the valleys of the Mississippi and Missouri and the shores of the great lakes. But there still remained backwoods in New York and Pennsylvania, though the cities of New York and Philadelphia had each a population of more than one hundred thousand in 1815. When the Erie Canal was opened, in 1825, it ran through a primitive forest. N. P. Willis, who went by canal to Buffalo and Niagara in 1827, describes the houses and stores at Rochester as standing among the burnt stumps left by the first settlers. In the same year that saw the opening of this great water-way, the Indian tribes, numbering now about one hundred and thirty thousand souls, were moved across the Mississippi. Their power had been broken by General Hamson's victory over Tecumseh at the battle of Tippecanoe, in 1811, and they were in fact mere remnants and fragments of the race which had hung upon the skirts of civilization and disputed the advance of the white man for two centuries. It was not until some years later than this that railroads began to take an important share in opening up new country.
The restless energy, the love of adventure, the sanguine anticipation which characterized American thought at this time, the picturesque contrasts to be seen in each mushroom town where civilization was encroaching on the raw edge of the wilderness—all these found expression, not only in such well-known books as Cooper's Pioneers, 1823, and Irving's Tour on the Prairies, 1835, but in the minor literature which is read to-day, if at all, not for its own sake, but for the light that it throws on the history of national development: in such books as Paulding's story of Westward-Ho! and his poem, The Backwoodsman, 1818; or as Timothy Flint's Recollections, 1826, and his Geography and History of the Mississippi Valley, 1827. It was not an age of great books, but it was an age of large ideas and expanding prospects. The new consciousness of empire uttered itself hastily, crudely, ran into buncombe, "spread-eagleism," and other noisy forms of patriotic exultation; but it was thoroughly democratic and American. Though literature—or at least the best literature of the time—was not yet emancipated from English models, thought and life, at any rate, were no longer in bondage—no longer provincial. And it is significant that the party in office during these years was the Democratic, the party which had broken most completely with conservative traditions. The famous "Monroe doctrine" was a pronunciamento of this aggressive democracy, and though the Federalists returned to power for a single term, under John Quincy Adams (1825-29), Andrew Jackson received the largest number of electoral votes, and Adams was only chosen by the House of Representatives in the absence of a majority vote for any one candidate. At the close of his term "Old Hickory," the hero of the people, the most characteristically democratic of our presidents, and the first backwoodsman who entered the White House, was borne into office on a wave of popular enthusiasm. We have now arrived at the time when American literature, in the higher and stricter sense of the term, really began to have an existence. S. G. Goodrich, who settled at Hartford as a bookseller and publisher in 1818, says, in his Recollections: "About this time I began to think of trying to bring out original American works. . . . The general impression was that we had not, and could not have, a literature. It was the precise point at which Sidney Smith had uttered that bitter taunt in the Edinburgh Review, 'Who reads an American book?' . . . It was positively injurious to the commercial credit of a bookseller to undertake American works." Washington Irving (1783-1859) was the first American author whose books, as books, obtained recognition abroad; whose name was thought worthy of mention beside the names of English contemporary authors, like Byron, Scott, and Coleridge. He was also the first American writer whose writings are still read for their own sake. We read Mather's Magnalia, and Franklin's Autobiography, and Trumbull's McFingal—if we read them at all—as history, and to learn about the times or the men. But we read the Sketch Book, and Knickerbocker's History of New York, and the Conquest of Granada for themselves and for the pleasure that they give as pieces of literary art.
We have arrived, too, at a time when we may apply a more cosmopolitan standard to the works of American writers, and may disregard many a minor author whose productions would have cut some figure had they come to light amid the poverty of our colonial age. Hundreds of these forgotten names, with specimens of their unread writings, are consigned to a limbo of immortality in the pages of Duyckinck's Cyclopedia and of Griswold's Poets of America and Prose Writers of America. We may select here for special mention, and as most representative of the thought of their time, the names of Irving, Cooper, Webster, and Channing.
A generation was now coming upon the stage who could recall no other government in this country than the government of the United States, and to whom the Revolutionary War was but a tradition. Born in the very year of the peace, it was a part of Irving's mission, by the sympathetic charm of his writings and by the cordial recognition which he won in both countries, to allay the soreness which the second war, of 1812-15, had left between England and America. He was well fitted for the task of mediator. Conservative by nature, early drawn to the venerable worship of the Episcopal Church, retrospective in his tastes, with a preference for the past and its historic associations, which, even in young America, led him to invest the Hudson and the region about New York with a legendary interest, he wrote of American themes in an English fashion, and interpreted to an American public the mellow attractiveness that he found in the life and scenery of Old England. He lived in both countries, and loved them both; and it is hard to say whether Irving is more of an English or of an American writer. His first visit to Europe, in 1804-6, occupied nearly two years. From 1815 to 1832 he was abroad continuously, and his "domicile," as the lawyers say, during these seventeen years was really in England, though a portion of his time was spent upon the Continent, and several successive years in Spain, where he engaged upon the Life of Columbus, the Conquest of Granada, the Companions of Columbus, and the Alhambra, all published between 1828 and 1832. From 1842 to 1846 he was again in Spain as American minister at Madrid.
Irving was the last and greatest of the Addisonians. His boyish letters, signed "Jonathan Oldstyle," contributed in 1802 to his brother's newspaper, the Morning Chronicle, were, like Franklin's Busybody, close imitations of the Spectator. To the same family belonged his Salmagundi papers, 1807, a series of town-satires on New York society, written in conjunction with his brother William and with James K. Paulding. The little tales, essays, and sketches which compose the Sketch Book were written in England, and published in America, in periodical numbers, in 1819-20. In this, which is in some respects his best book, he still maintained that attitude of observation and spectatorship taught him by Addison. The volume had a motto taken from Burton: "I have no wife nor children, good or bad, to provide for—a mere spectator of other men's fortunes," etc.; and "The Author's Account of Himself," began in true Addisonian fashion: "I was always fond of visiting new scenes and observing strange characters and manners."
But though never violently "American," like some later writers who have consciously sought to throw off the trammels of English tradition, Irving was in a real way original. His most distinct addition to our national literature was in his creation of what has been called "the Knickerbocker legend." He was the first to make use, for literary purposes, of the old Dutch traditions which clustered about the romantic scenery of the Hudson. Colonel T. W. Higginson, in his History of the United States, tells how "Mrs. Josiah Quincy, sailing up that river in 1786, when Irving was a child three years old, records that the captain of the sloop had a legend, either supernatural or traditional, for every scene, 'and not a mountain reared its head unconnected with some marvelous story.'" The material thus at hand Irving shaped into his Knickerbocker's History of New York, into the immortal story of Rip Van Winkle and the Legend of Sleepy Hollow (both published in the Sketch Book), and into later additions to the same realm of fiction, such as Dolph Heyliger in Bracebridge Hall, the Money Diggers, Wolfert Webber, and Kidd the Pirate, in the Tales of a Traveler, and some of the miscellanies from the Knickerbocker Magazine, collected into a volume, in 1855, under the title of Wolfert's Roost.
The book which made Irving's reputation was his Knickerbocker's History of New York, 1809, a burlesque chronicle, making fun of the old Dutch settlers of New Amsterdam, and attributed, by a familiar and now somewhat threadbare device, to a little old gentleman named Diedrich Knickerbocker, whose manuscript had come into the editor's hands. The book was gravely dedicated to the New York Historical Society, and it is said to have been quoted, as authentic history, by a certain German scholar named Goeller, in a note on a passage in Thucydides. This story, though well vouched, is hard of belief; for Knickerbocker, though excellent fooling, has nothing of the grave irony of Swift in his Modest Proposal or of Defoe in his Short Way with Dissenters. Its mock-heroic intention is as transparent as in Fielding's parodies of Homer, which it somewhat resembles, particularly in the delightfully absurd description of the mustering of the clans under Peter Stuyvesant and the attack on the Swedish Fort Christina. Knickerbocker's History of New York was a real addition to the comic literature of the world, a work of genuine humor, original and vital. Walter Scott said that it reminded him closely of Swift, and had touches resembling Sterne. It is not necessary to claim for Irving's little masterpiece a place beside Gulliver's Travels and Tristram Shandy. But it was, at least, the first American book in the lighter departments of literature which needed no apology and stood squarely on its own legs. It was written, too, at just the right time. Although New Amsterdam had become New York as early as 1664, the impress of its first settlers, with their quaint conservative ways, was still upon it when Irving was a boy. The descendants of the Dutch families formed a definite element not only in Manhattan, but all up along the kills of the Hudson, at Albany, at Schenectady, in Westchester County, at Hoboken, and Communipaw, localities made familiar to him in many a ramble and excursion. He lived to see the little provincial town of his birth grow into a great metropolis, in which all national characteristics were blended together, and a tide of immigration from Europe and New England flowed over the old landmarks and obliterated them utterly.
Although Irving was the first to reveal to his countrymen the literary possibilities of their early history it must be acknowledged that with modern American life he had little sympathy. He hated politics, and in the restless democratic movement of the time, as we have described it, he found no inspiration. This moderate and placid gentleman, with his distrust of all kinds of fanaticism, had no liking for the Puritans or for their descendants, the New England Yankees, if we may judge from his sketch of Ichabod Crane in the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. His genius was reminiscent, and his imagination, like Scott's, was the historic imagination. In crude America his fancy took refuge in the picturesque aspects of the past, in "survivals" like the Knickerbocker Dutch and the Acadian peasants, whose isolated communities on the lower Mississippi he visited and described. He turned naturally to the ripe civilization of the Old World, He was our first picturesque tourist, the first "American in Europe." He rediscovered England, whose ancient churches, quiet landscapes, memory-haunted cities, Christmas celebrations, and rural festivals had for him an unfailing attraction. With pictures of these, for the most part, he filled the pages of the Sketch Book and Bracebridge Hall, 1822. Delightful as are these English sketches, in which the author conducts his reader to Windsor Castle, or Stratford-on-Avon, or the Boar's Head Tavern, or sits beside him on the box of the old English stage-coach, or shares with him the Yule-tide cheer at the ancient English country-house, their interest has somewhat faded. The pathos of the Broken Heart and the Pride of the Village, the mild satire of the Art of Book-Making, the rather obvious reflections in Westminster Abbey are not exactly to the taste of this generation. They are the literature of leisure and retrospection; and already Irving's gentle elaboration, the refined and slightly artificial beauty of his style, and his persistently genial and sympathetic attitude have begun to pall upon readers who demand a more nervous and accentuated kind of writing. It is felt that a little roughness, a little harshness, even, would give relief to his pictures of life. There is, for instance, something a little irritating in the old-fashioned courtliness of his manner toward women; and one reads with a certain impatience smoothly punctuated passages like the following: "As the vine, which has long twined its graceful foliage about the oak, and been lifted by it into sunshine, will, when the hardy plant is rifted by the thunder-bolt, cling round it with its caressing tendrils, and bind up its shattered boughs, so is it beautifully ordered by Providence that woman, who is the mere dependent and ornament of man in his happier hours, should be his stay and solace when smitten with sudden calamity, winding herself into the rugged recesses of his nature, tenderly supporting the drooping head and binding up the broken heart."
Irving's gifts were sentiment and humor, with an imagination sufficiently fertile and an observation sufficiently acute to support those two main qualities, but inadequate to the service of strong passion or subtle thinking, though his pathos, indeed, sometimes reached intensity. His humor was always delicate and kindly; his sentiment never degenerated into sentimentality. His diction was graceful and elegant—too elegant, perhaps; and, in his modesty, he attributed the success of his books in England to the astonishment of Englishmen that an American could write good English.
In Spanish history and legend Irving found a still newer and richer field for his fancy to work upon. He had not the analytic and philosophical mind of a great historian, and the merits of his Conquest of Granada and Life of Columbus are rather belletristisch than scientific. But he brought to these undertakings the same eager love of the romantic past which had determined the character of his writings in America and England, and the result—whether we call it history or romance—is at all events charming as literature. His Life of Washington—completed in 1859—was his magnum opus, and is accepted as standard authority. Mahomet and His Successors, 1850, was comparatively a failure. But of all Irving's biographies his Life of Oliver Goldsmith, 1849, was the most spontaneous and perhaps the best. He did not impose it upon himself as a task, but wrote it from a native and loving sympathy with his subject, and it is, therefore, one of the choicest literary memoirs in the language.
When Irving returned to America, in 1832, he was the recipient of almost national honors. He had received the medal of the Royal Society of Literature and the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford University, and had made American literature known and respected abroad. In his modest home at Sunnyside, on the banks of the river over which he had been the first to throw the witchery of poetry and romance, he was attended to the last by the admiring affection of his countrymen. He had the love and praises of the foremost English writers of his own generation and the generation which followed—of Scott, Byron, Coleridge, Thackeray, and Dickens, some of whom had been among his personal friends. He is not the greatest of American authors, but the influence of his writings is sweet and wholesome, and it is in many ways fortunate that the first American man of letters who made himself heard in Europe should have been in all particulars a gentleman.
Connected with Irving, at least by name and locality, were a number of authors who resided in the city of New York, and who are known as the Knickerbocker writers, perhaps because they were contributors to the Knickerbocker Magazine. One of these was James K. Paulding, a connection of Irving by marriage, and his partner in the Salmagundi papers. Paulding became Secretary of the Navy under Van Buren, and lived down to the year 1860. He was a voluminous author, but his writings had no power of continuance, and are already obsolete, with the possible exception of his novel, the Dutchman's Fireside, 1831.
A finer spirit than Paulding was Joseph Rodman Drake, a young poet of great promise, who died in 1820, at the age of twenty-five. Drake's patriotic lyric, the American Flag, is certainly the most spirited thing of the kind in our poetic literature, and greatly superior to such national anthems as Hail Columbia and the Star-Spangled Banner. His Culprit Fay, published in 1819, was the best poem that had yet appeared in America, if we except Bryant's Thanatopsis, which was three years the elder. The Culprit Fay was a fairy story, in which, following Irving's lead, Drake undertook to throw the glamour of poetry about the Highlands of the Hudson. Edgar Poe said that the poem was fanciful rather than imaginative; but it is prettily and even brilliantly fanciful, and has maintained its popularity to the present time. Such verse as the following—which seems to show that Drake had been reading Coleridge's Christabel, published three years before—was something new in American poetry:
"The winds are whist and the owl is still, The bat in the shelvy rock is hid, And naught is heard on the lonely hill But the cricket's chirp and the answer shrill Of the gauze-winged katydid, And the plaint of the wailing whip-poor-will, Who moans unseen, and ceaseless sings Ever a note of wail and woe, Till morning spreads her rosy wings, And earth and sky in her glances glow."
Here we have, at last, the whip-poor-will, an American bird, and not the conventional lark or nightingale, although the elves of the Old World seem scarcely at home on the banks of the Hudson. Drake's memory has been kept fresh not only by his own poetry, but by the beautiful elegy written by his friend Fitz-Greene Halleck, the first stanza of which is universally known;
"Green be the turf above thee, Friend of my better days; None knew thee but to love thee, Nor named thee but to praise."
Halleck was born in Guilford, Connecticut, whither he retired in 1849, and resided there till his death in 1867. But his literary career is identified with New York. He was associated with Drake in writing the Croaker Papers, a series of humorous and satirical verses contributed in 1814 to the Evening Post. These were of a merely local and temporary interest; but Halleck's fine ode, Marco Bozzaris—though declaimed until it has become hackneyed—gives him a sure title to remembrance; and his Alnwick Castle, a monody, half serious and half playful on the contrast between feudal associations and modern life, has much of that pensive lightness which characterizes Praed's best vers de societe.
A friend of Drake and Halleck was James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), the first American novelist of distinction, and, if a popularity which has endured for nearly three quarters of a century is any test, still the most successful of all American novelists. Cooper was far more intensely American than Irving, and his books reached an even wider public. "They are published as soon as he produces them," said Morse, the electrician, in 1833, "in thirty-four different places in Europe. They have been seen by American travelers in the languages of Turkey and Persia, in Constantinople, in Egypt, at Jerusalem, at Ispahan." Cooper wrote altogether too much; he published, besides his fictions, a Naval History of the United States, a series of naval biographies, works of travel, and a great deal of controversial matter. He wrote over thirty novels, the greater part of which are little better than trash, and tedious trash at that. This is especially true of his tendenz novels and his novels of society. He was a man of strongly marked individuality, fiery, pugnacious, sensitive to criticism, and abounding in prejudices. He was embittered by the scurrilous attacks made upon him by a portion of the American press, and spent a great deal of time and energy in conducting libel suits against the newspapers. In the same spirit he used fiction as a vehicle for attack upon the abuses and follies of American life. Nearly all of his novels, written with this design, are worthless. Nor was Cooper well equipped by nature and temperament for depicting character and passion in social life. Even in his best romances his heroines and his "leading juveniles"—to borrow a term from the amateur stage—are insipid and conventional. He was no satirist, and his humor was not of a high order. He was a rapid and uneven writer, and, unlike Irving, he had no style.
Where Cooper was great was in the story, in the invention of incidents and plots, in a power of narrative and description in tales of wild adventure which keeps the reader in breathless excitement to the end of the book. He originated the novel of the sea and the novel of the wilderness. He created the Indian of literature; and in this, his peculiar field, although he has had countless imitators, he has had no equals. Cooper's experiences had prepared him well for the kingship of this new realm in the world of fiction. His childhood was passed on the borders of Otsego Lake, when central New York was still a wilderness, with boundless forests stretching westward, broken only here and there by the clearings of the pioneers. He was taken from college (Yale) when still a lad, and sent to sea in a merchant vessel, before the mast. Afterward he entered the navy and did duty on the high seas and upon Lake Ontario, then surrounded by virgin forests. He married and resigned his commission in 1811, just before the outbreak of the war with England, so that he missed the opportunity of seeing active service in any of those engagements on the ocean and our great lakes which were so glorious to American arms. But he always retained an active interest in naval affairs.
His first successful novel was The Spy, 1821, a tale of the Revolutionary War, the scene of which was laid in Westchester County, N. Y., where the author was then residing. The hero of this story, Harvey Birch, was one of the most skillfully drawn figures on his canvas. In 1833 he published the Pioneers, a work somewhat overladen with description, in which he drew for material upon his boyish recollections of frontier life at Cooperstown. This was the first of the series of five romances known as the Leatherstocking Tales. The others were the Last of the Mohicans, 1826; the Prairie, 1827; the Pathfinder, 1840; and the Deerslayer, 1841. The hero of this series, Natty Bumpo, or "Leatherstocking," was Cooper's one great creation in the sphere of character, his most original addition to the literature of the world in the way of a new human type. This backwoods philosopher—to the conception of whom the historic exploits of Daniel Boone perhaps supplied some hints; unschooled, but moved by noble impulses and a natural sense of piety and justice; passionately attached to the wilderness, and following its westering edge even unto the prairies—this man of the woods was the first real American in fiction. Hardly less individual and vital were the various types of Indian character, in Chingachgook, Uncas, Hist, and the Huron warriors. Inferior to these, but still vigorously though somewhat roughly drawn, were the waifs and strays of civilization, whom duty, or the hope of gain, or the love of adventure, or the outlawry of crime had driven to the wilderness—the solitary trapper, the reckless young frontiersman, the officers and men of out-post garrisons. Whether Cooper's Indian was the real being, or an idealized and rather melodramatic version of the truth, has been a subject of dispute. However this be, he has taken his place in the domain of art, and it is safe to say that his standing there is secure. No boy will ever give him up.
Equally good with the Leatherstocking novels, and equally national, were Cooper's tales of the sea, or at least the best two of them—the Pilot, 1833, founded upon the daring exploits of John Paul Jones, and the Red Rover, 1828. But here, though Cooper still holds the sea, he has had to admit competitors; and Britannia, who rules the waves in song, has put in some claim to a share in the domain of nautical fiction in the persons of Mr. W. Clark Russell and others. Though Cooper's novels do not meet the deeper needs of the heart and the imagination, their appeal to the universal love of a story is perennial. We devour them when we are boys, and if we do not often return to them when we are men, that is perhaps only because we have read them before, and "know the ending." They are good yarns for the forecastle and the camp-fire; and the scholar in his study, though he may put the Deerslayer or the Last of the Mohicans away on the top shelf, will take it down now and again, and sit up half the night over it.
Before dismissing the belles-lettres writings of this period, mention should be made of a few poems of the fugitive kind which seem to have taken a permanent place in popular regard. John Howard Payne, a native of Long Island, a wandering actor and playwright, who died American consul at Tunis in 1852, wrote about 1820 for Covent Garden Theater an opera, entitled Clari, the libretto of which included the now famous song of Home, Sweet Home. Its literary pretensions were of the humblest kind, but it spoke a true word which touched the Anglo-Saxon heart in its tenderest spot, and, being happily married to a plaintive air, was sold by the hundred thousand, and is evidently destined to be sung forever. A like success has attended the Old Oaken Bucket, composed by Samuel Woodworth, a printer and journalist from Massachusetts, whose other poems, of which two collections were issued in 1818 and 1826, were soon forgotten. Richard Henry Wilde, an Irishman by birth, a gentleman of scholarly tastes and accomplishments, who wrote a great deal on Italian literature, and sat for several terms in Congress as Representative of the State of Georgia, was the author of the favorite song, My Life is Like the Summer Rose. Another Southerner, and a member of a distinguished Southern family, was Edward Coate Pinkney, who served nine years in the navy, and died in 1828, at the age of twenty-six, having published in 1825 a small volume of lyrical poems which had a fire and a grace uncommon at that time in American verse. One of these, A Health, beginning,
"I fill this cup to one made up of loveliness alone."
though perhaps somewhat overpraised by Edgar Poe, has rare beauty of thought and expression.
John Quincy Adams, sixth President of the United States (1825-29), was a man of culture and literary tastes. He published his lectures on rhetoric, delivered during his tenure of the Boylston Professorship at Harvard in 1806-9; he left a voluminous diary, which has been edited since his death in 1848; and among his experiments in poetry is one of considerable merit, entitled The Wants of Man, an ironical sermon on Goldsmith's text:
"Man wants but little here below, Nor wants that little long."
As this poem is a curiously close anticipation of Dr. Holmes's Contentment, so the very popular ballad, Old Grimes, written about 1818, by Albert Gorton Greene, an undergraduate of Brown University in Rhode Island, is in some respects an anticipation of Holmes's quaintly pathetic Last Leaf.
The political literature and public oratory of the United States during this period, although not absolutely of less importance than that which preceded and followed the Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Constitution, demands less relative attention in a history of literature by reason of the growth of other departments of thought. The age was a political one, but no longer exclusively political. The debates of the time centered about the question of "State Rights," and the main forum of discussion was the old Senate chamber, then made illustrious by the presence of Clay, Webster, and Calhoun. The slavery question, which had threatened trouble, was put off for a while by the Missouri Compromise of 1820, only to break out more fiercely in the debates on the Wilmot Proviso and the Kansas and Nebraska Bill. Meanwhile the Abolition movement had been transferred to the press and the platform. Garrison started his Liberator in 1830, and the Antislavery Society was founded in 1833. The Whig party, which had inherited the constitutional principles of the old Federal party, advocated internal improvements at national expense and a high protective tariff. The State Rights party, which was strongest at the South, opposed these views, and in 1832 South Carolina claimed the right to "nullify" the tariff imposed by the general government. The leader of this party was John Caldwell Calhoun, a South Carolinian, who in his speech in the United States Senate, on February 13, 1832, on Nullification and the Force Bill, set forth most authoritatively the "Carolina doctrine." Calhoun was a great debater, but hardly a great orator. His speeches are the arguments of a lawyer and a strict constitutionalist, severely logical, and with a sincere conviction in the soundness of his case. Their language is free from bad rhetoric; the reasoning is cogent, but there is an absence of emotion and imagination; they contain few quotable things, and no passages of commanding eloquence, such as strew the orations of Webster and Burke. They are not, in short, literature. Again, the speeches of Henry Clay, of Kentucky, the leader of the Whigs, whose persuasive oratory is a matter of tradition, disappoint in the reading. The fire has gone out of them.
Not so with Daniel Webster, the greatest of American forensic orators, if, indeed, he be not the greatest of all orators who have used the English tongue. Webster's speeches are of the kind that have power to move after the voice of the speaker is still. The thought and the passion in them lay hold on feelings of patriotism more lasting than the issues of the moment. It is, indeed, true of Webster's speeches, as of all speeches, that they are known to posterity more by single brilliant passages than as wholes. In oratory the occasion is of the essence of the thing, and only those parts of an address which are permanent and universal in their appeal take their place in literature. But of such detachable passages there are happily many in Webster's orations. One great thought underlay all his public life, the thought of the Union—of American nationality. What in Hamilton had been a principle of political philosophy had become in Webster a passionate conviction. The Union was his idol, and he was intolerant of any faction which threatened it from any quarter, whether the Nullifiers of South Carolina or the Abolitionists of the North. It is this thought which gives grandeur and elevation to all his utterances, and especially to the wonderful peroration of his Reply to Hayne, on Mr. Foot's resolution touching the sale of the public lands, delivered in the Senate on January 26, 1830, whose closing words, "Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable," became the rallying cry of a great cause. Similar in sentiment was his famous speech of March 7, 1850, On the Constitution and the Union, which gave so much offense to the extreme Antislavery party, who held with Garrison that a Constitution which protected slavery "was a league with death and a covenant with hell." It is not claiming too much for Webster to assert that the sentences of these and other speeches, memorized and declaimed by thousands of school-boys throughout the North, did as much as any single influence to train up a generation in hatred of secession, and to send into the fields of the civil war armies of men animated with the stern resolution to fight till the last drop of blood was shed, rather than allow the Union to be dissolved.
The figure of this great senator is one of the most imposing in American annals. The masculine force of his personality impressed itself upon men of a very different stamp—upon the unworldly Emerson, and upon the captious Carlyle, whose respect was not willingly accorded to any contemporary, much less to a representative of American democracy. Webster's looks and manner were characteristic. His form was massive; his skull and jaw solid, the under-lip projecting, and the mouth firmly and grimly shut; his complexion was swarthy, and his black, deep-set eyes, under shaggy brows, glowed with a smoldering fire. He was rather silent in society; his delivery in debate was grave and weighty, rather than fervid. His oratory was massive, and sometimes even ponderous. It may be questioned whether an American orator of to-day, with intellectual abilities equal to Webster's—if such a one there were—would permit himself the use of sonorous and elaborate pictures like the famous period which follows: "On this question of principle, while actual suffering was yet afar off, they raised their flag against a power to which, for purposes of foreign conquest and subjugation, Rome, in the height of her glory, is not to be compared—a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drum-beat, following the sun and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England." The secret of this kind of oratory has been lost. The present generation distrusts rhetorical ornament and likes something swifter, simpler, and more familiar in its speakers. But every thing, in declamation of this sort, depends on the way in which it is done. Webster did it supremely well; a smaller man would merely have made buncombe of it.
Among the legal orators of the time the foremost was Rufus Choate, an eloquent pleader, and, like Webster, a United States senator from Massachusetts. Some of his speeches, though excessively rhetorical, have literary quality, and are nearly as effective in print as Webster's own. Another Massachusetts orator, Edward Everett, who in his time was successively professor in Harvard College, Unitarian minister in Boston, editor of the North American Review, member of both houses of Congress, minister to England, governor of his State, and President of Harvard, was a speaker of great finish and elegance. His addresses were mainly of the memorial and anniversary kind, and were rather lectures and Phi. B. K. prolusions than speeches. Everett was an instance of careful culture bestowed on a soil of no very great natural richness. It is doubtful whether his classical orations on Washington, the Republic, Bunker Hill Monument, and kindred themes, have enough of the breath of life in them to preserve them much longer in recollection.
New England, during these years, did not take that leading part in the purely literary development of the country which it afterward assumed. It had no names to match against those of Irving and Cooper. Drake and Halleck—slender as was their performance in point of quantity—were better poets than the Boston bards, Charles Sprague, whose Shakespeare Ode, delivered at the Boston theater in 1833, was locally famous; and Richard Henry Dana, whose longish narrative poem, the Buccaneer, 1827, once had admirers. But Boston has at no time been without a serious intellectual life of its own, nor without a circle of highly educated men of literary pursuits, even in default of great geniuses. The North American Review, established in 1815, though it has been wittily described as "ponderously revolving through space" for a few years after its foundation, did not exist in an absolute vacuum, but was scholarly, if somewhat heavy. Webster, to be sure, was a Massachusetts man—as were Everett and Choate—but his triumphs were won in the wider field of national politics. There was, however, a movement at this time, in the intellectual life of Boston and eastern Massachusetts, which, though not immediately contributory to the finer kinds of literature, prepared the way, by its clarifying and stimulating influences, for the eminent writers of the next generation. This was the Unitarian revolt against Puritan orthodoxy, in which William Ellery Channing was the principal leader. In a community so intensely theological as New England, it was natural that any new movement in thought should find its point of departure in the churches. Accordingly, the progressive and democratic spirit of the age, which in other parts of the country took other shapes, assumed in Massachusetts the form of "liberal Christianity." Arminianism, Socinianism, and other phases of anti-Trinitarian doctrine, had been latent in some of the Congregational churches of Massachusetts for a number of years. But about 1812 the heresy broke out openly, and within a few years from that date most of the oldest and wealthiest church societies of Boston and its vicinity had gone over to Unitarianism, and Harvard College had been captured too. In the controversy that ensued, and which was carried on in numerous books, pamphlets, sermons, and periodicals, there were eminent disputants on both sides. So far as this controversy was concerned with the theological doctrine of the Trinity it has no place in a history of literature. But the issue went far beyond that. Channing asserted the dignity of human nature against the Calvinistic doctrine of innate depravity, and affirmed the rights of human reason and man's capacity to judge of God. "We must start in religion from our own souls," he said. And in his Moral Argument against Calvinism, 1820, he wrote: "Nothing is gained to piety by degrading human nature, for in the competency of this nature to know and judge of God all piety has its foundation." In opposition to Edwards's doctrine of necessity he emphasized the freedom of the will. He maintained that the Calvinistic dogmas of original sin, fore-ordination, election by grace, and eternal punishment were inconsistent with the divine perfection, and made God a monster. In Channing's view the great sanction of religious truth is the moral sanction, is its agreement with the laws of conscience. He was a passionate vindicator of the liberty of the individual, not only as against political oppression, but against the tyranny of public opinion over thought and conscience: "We were made for free action. This alone is life, and enters into all that is good and great." This jealous love of freedom inspired all that he did and wrote. It led him to join the Antislavery party. It expressed itself in his elaborate arraignment of Napoleon in the Unitarian organ, the Christian Examiner, for 1827-28; in his Remarks on Associations, and his paper On the Character and Writings of John Milton, 1826. This was his most considerable contribution to literary criticism. It took for a text Milton's recently discovered Treatise on Christian Doctrine—the tendency of which was anti-Trinitarian—but it began with a general defense of poetry against "those who are accustomed to speak of poetry as light reading." This would now seem a somewhat superfluous introduction to an article in any American review. But it shows the nature of the milieu through which the liberal movement in Boston had to make its way. To re-assert the dignity and usefulness of the beautiful arts was, perhaps, the chief service which the Massachusetts Unitarians rendered to humanism. The traditional prejudice of the Puritans against the ornamental side of life had to be softened before polite literature could find a congenial atmosphere in New England. In Channing's Remarks on National Literature, reviewing a work published in 1823, he asks the question, "Do we possess what may be called a national literature?" and answers it, by implication at least, in the negative. That we do now possess a national literature is in great part due to the influence of Channing and his associates, although his own writings, being in the main controversial, and, therefore, of temporary interest, may not themselves take rank among the permanent treasures of that literature.
1. Washington Irving. Knickerbocker's History of New York. The Sketch Book. Bracebridge Hall. Tales of a Traveler. The Alhambra. Life of Oliver Goldsmith.
2. James Fenimore Cooper. The Spy. The Pilot. The Red Rover. The Leather-stocking Tales.
3. Daniel Webster. Great Speeches and Orations. Boston: Little, Brown & Co. 1879.
4. William Ellery Channing. The Character and Writings of John Milton. The Life and Character of Napoleon Bonaparte. Slavery. [Vols. I and II of the Works of William E. Channing. Boston: James Munroe & Co. 1841.]
5. Joseph Rodman Drake. The Culprit Fay. The American Flag. [Selected Poems. New York. 1835.]
6. Fitz-Greene Halleck. Marco Bozzaris. Alnwick Castle. On the Death of Drake. [Poems. New York. 1827.]
Compare Carlyle's Herr Diogenes Teufelsdroeckh, in Sartor Resartus, the author of the famous "Clothes Philosophy."
[Transcriber's Note: Earlier in this chapter is the abbreviation "Phi. B. K.". The "Phi" replaces the actual Greek character that was in the original text.]
THE CONCORD WRITERS.
There has been but one movement in the history of the American mind which has given to literature a group of writers having coherence enough to merit the name of a school. This was the great humanitarian movement, or series of movements, in New England, which, beginning in the Unitarianism of Channing, ran through its later phase in transcendentalism, and spent its last strength in the antislavery agitation and the enthusiasms of the civil war. The second stage of this intellectual and social revolt was transcendentalism, of which Emerson wrote, in 1842: "The history of genius and of religion in these times will be the history of this tendency." It culminated about 1840-41 in the establishment of the Dial and the Brook Farm Community, although Emerson had given the signal a few years before in his little volume entitled Nature, 1836, his Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard on the American Scholar, 1837, and his address in 1838 before the Divinity School at Cambridge. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82) was the prophet of the sect, and Concord was its Mecca; but the influence of the new ideas was not confined to the little group of professed transcendentalists; it extended to all the young writers within reach, who struck their roots deeper into the soil that it had loosened and freshened. We owe to it, in great measure, not merely Emerson, Alcott, Margaret Fuller, and Thoreau, but Hawthorne, Lowell, Whittier, and Holmes.
In its strictest sense transcendentalism was a restatement of the idealistic philosophy, and an application of its beliefs to religion, nature, and life. But in a looser sense, and as including the more outward manifestations which drew popular attention most strongly, it was the name given to that spirit of dissent and protest, of universal inquiry and experiment, which marked the third and fourth decades of this century in America, and especially in New England. The movement was contemporary with political revolutions in Europe and with the preaching of many novel gospels in religion, in sociology, in science, education, medicine, and hygiene. New sects were formed, like the Swedenborgians, Universalists, Spiritualists, Millerites, Second Adventists, Shakers, Mormons, and Come-outers, some of whom believed in trances, miracles, and direct revelations from the divine Spirit; others in the quick coming of Christ, as deduced from the opening of the seals and the number of the beast in the Apocalypse; and still others in the reorganization of society and of the family on a different basis. New systems of education were tried, suggested by the writings of the Swiss reformer, Pestalozzi, and others. The pseudo-sciences of mesmerism and of phrenology, as taught by Gall and Spurzheim, had numerous followers. In medicine, homeopathy, hydropathy, and what Dr. Holmes calls "kindred delusions," made many disciples. Numbers of persons, influenced by the doctrines of Graham and other vegetarians, abjured the use of animal food, as injurious not only to health but to a finer spirituality. Not a few refused to vote or pay taxes. The writings of Fourier and Saint-Simon were translated, and societies were established where co-operation and a community of goods should take the place of selfish competition.
About the year 1840 there were some thirty of these "phalansteries" in America, many of which had their organs in the shape of weekly or monthly journals, which advocated the principle of Association. The best known of these was probably the Harbinger, the mouth-piece of the famous Brook Farm Community, which was founded at West Roxbury, Mass., in 1841, and lasted till 1847. The head man of Brook Farm was George Ripley, a Unitarian clergyman, who had resigned his pulpit in Boston to go into the movement, and who after its failure became and remained for many years literary editor of the New York Tribune. Among his associates were Charles A. Dana—now the editor of the Sun—Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and others not unknown to fame. The Harbinger, which ran from 1845 to 1849—two years after the break-up of the community—had among its contributors many who were not Brook Farmers, but who sympathized more or less with the experiment. Of the number were Horace Greeley, Dr. F. H. Hedge—who did so much to introduce American readers to German literature—J. S. Dwight, the musical critic, C. P. Cranch, the poet, and younger men, like G. W. Curtis and T. W. Higginson. A reader of to-day, looking into an odd volume of the Harbinger, will find in it some stimulating writing, together with a great deal of unintelligible talk about "Harmonic Unity," "Love Germination," and other matters now fallen silent. The most important literary result of this experiment at "plain living and high thinking," with its queer mixture of culture and agriculture, was Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, which has for its background an idealized picture of the community life; whose heroine, Zenobia, has touches of Margaret Fuller; and whose hero, with his hobby of prison reform, was a type of the one-idea'd philanthropists that abounded in such an environment. Hawthorne's attitude was always in part one of reserve and criticism, an attitude which is apparent in the reminiscences of Brook Farm in his American Note Books, wherein he speaks with a certain resentment of "Miss Fuller's transcendental heifer," which hooked the other cows, and was evidently to Hawthorne's mind not unsymbolic in this respect of Miss Fuller herself.
It was the day of seers and "Orphic" utterances; the air was fall of the enthusiasm of humanity and thick with philanthropic projects and plans for the regeneration of the universe. The figure of the wild-eyed, long-haired reformer—the man with a panacea—the "crank" of our later terminology—became a familiar one. He abounded at non-resistance conventions and meetings of universal peace societies and of woman's rights associations. The movement had its grotesque aspects, which Lowell has described in his essay on Thoreau. "Bran had its apostles and the pre-sartorial simplicity of Adam its martyrs, tailored impromptu from the tar-pot. . . . Not a few impecunious zealots abjured the use of money (unless earned by other people), professing to live on the internal revenues of the spirit. . . . Communities were established where every thing was to be common but common sense."
This ferment has long since subsided, and much of what was then seething has gone off in vapor or other volatile products. But some very solid matters have also been precipitated, some crystals of poetry translucent, symmetrical, enduring. The immediate practical outcome was disappointing, and the external history of the agitation is a record of failed experiments, spurious sciences, Utopian philosophies, and sects founded only to dwindle away or to be re-absorbed into some form of orthodoxy. In the eyes of the conservative, or the worldly-minded, or of the plain people who could not understand the enigmatic utterances of the reformers, the dangerous or ludicrous sides of transcendentalism were naturally uppermost. Nevertheless the movement was but a new avatar of the old Puritan spirit; its moral earnestness, its spirituality, its tenderness for the individual conscience. Puritanism, too, in its day had run into grotesque extremes. Emerson bore about the same relation to the absurder out-croppings of transcendentalism that Milton bore to the New Lights, Ranters, Fifth Monarchy Men, etc., of his time. There is in him that mingling of idealism with an abiding sanity, and even a Yankee shrewdness, which characterizes the race. The practical, inventive, calculating, money-getting side of the Yankee has been made sufficiently obvious. But the deep heart of New England is full of dreams, mysticism, romance:
"And in the day of sacrifice, When heroes piled the pyre, The dismal Massachusetts ice Burned more than others' fire."
The one element which the odd and eccentric developments of this movement shared in common with the real philosophy of transcendentalism was the rejection of authority and the appeal to the private consciousness as the sole standard of truth and right. This principle certainly lay in the ethical systems of Kant and Fichte, the great transcendentalists of Germany. It had been strongly asserted by Channing. Nay, it was the starting-point of Puritanism itself, which had drawn away from the ceremonial religion of the English Church, and by its Congregational system had made each church society independent in doctrine and worship. And although Puritan orthodoxy in New England had grown rigid and dogmatic it had never used the weapons of obscurantism. By encouraging education to the utmost, it had shown its willingness to submit its beliefs to the fullest discussion and had put into the hands of dissent the means with which to attack them.
In its theological aspect transcendentalism was a departure from conservative Unitarianism, as that had been from Calvinism. From Edwards to Channing, from Channing to Emerson and Theodore Parker, there was a natural and logical unfolding; not logical in the sense that Channing accepted Edwards's premises and pushed them out to their conclusions, or that Parker accepted all of Channing's premises, but in the sense that the rigid pushing out of Edwards's premises into their conclusions by himself and his followers had brought about a moral reductio ad absurdum and a state of opinion against which Channing rebelled; and that Channing, as it seemed to Parker, stopped short in the carrying out of his own principles. Thus the "Channing Unitarians," while denying that Christ was God, had held that he was of divine nature, was the Son of God, and had existed before he came into the world. While rejecting the doctrine of the "vicarious sacrifice" they maintained that Christ was a mediator and intercessor, and that his supernatural nature was testified by miracles. For Parker and Emerson it was easy to take the step to the assertion that Christ was a good and great man, divine only in the sense that God possessed him more fully than any other man known in history; that it was his preaching and example that brought salvation to men, and not any special mediation or intercession, and that his own words and acts, and not miracles, are the only and the sufficient witness to his mission. In the view of the transcendentalists Christ was as human as Buddha, Socrates, or Confucius, and the Bible was but one among the "Ethnical Scriptures" or sacred writings of the peoples, passages from which were published in the transcendental organ, the Dial. As against these new views Channing Unitarianism occupied already a conservative position. The Unitarians as a body had never been very numerous outside of eastern Massachusetts. They had a few churches in New York and in the larger cities and towns elsewhere, but the sect, as such, was a local one. Orthodoxy made a sturdy fight against the heresy, under leaders like Leonard Woods and Moses Stuart, of Andover, and Lyman Beecher, of Connecticut. In the neighboring State of Connecticut, for example, there was until lately, for a period of several years, no distinctly Unitarian congregation worshiping in a church edifice of its own. On the other hand, the Unitarians claimed, with justice, that their opinions had, to a great extent, modified the theology of the orthodox churches. The writings of Horace Bushnell, of Hartford, one of the most eminent Congregational divines, approach Unitarianism in their interpretation of the doctrine of the Atonement; and the "progressive orthodoxy" of Andover is certainly not the Calvinism of Thomas Hooker or of Jonathan Edwards. But it seemed to the transcendentalists that conservative Unitarianism was too negative and "cultured," and Margaret Fuller complained of the coldness of the Boston pulpits; while, contrariwise, the central thought of transcendentalism, that the soul has an immediate connection with God, was pronounced by Dr. Channing a "crude speculation." This was the thought of Emerson's address in 1838 before the Cambridge Divinity School, and it was at once made the object of attack by conservative Unitarians like Henry Ware and Andrews Norton. The latter, in an address before the same audience, on the Latest Form of Infidelity, said: "Nothing is left that can be called Christianity if its miraculous character be denied. . . . There can be no intuition, no direct perception, of the truth of Christianity." And in a pamphlet supporting the same side of the question he added: "It is not an intelligible error, but a mere absurdity, to maintain that we are conscious, or have an intuitive knowledge, of the being of God, of our own immortality, . . . or of any other fact of religion." Ripley and Parker replied in Emerson's defense; but Emerson himself would never be drawn into controversy. He said that he could not argue. He announced truths; his method was that of the seer, not of the disputant. In 1832 Emerson, who was a Unitarian clergyman, and descended from eight generations of clergymen, had resigned the pastorate of the Second Church of Boston because he could not conscientiously administer the sacrament of the communion—which he regarded as a mere act of commemoration—in the sense in which it was understood by his parishioners. Thenceforth, though he sometimes occupied Unitarian pulpits, and was, indeed, all his life a kind of "lay preacher," he never assumed the pastorate of a church. The representative of transcendentalism in the pulpit was Theodore Parker, an eloquent preacher, an eager debater, and a prolific writer on many subjects, whose collected works fill fourteen volumes. Parker was a man of strongly human traits, passionate, independent, intensely religious, but intensely radical, who made for himself a large personal following. The more advanced wing of the Unitarians were called, after him, "Parkerites." Many of the Unitarian churches refused to "fellowship" with him; and the large congregation, or audience, which assembled in Music Hall to hear his sermons was stigmatized as a "boisterous assembly" which came to hear Parker preach irreligion.