In the same way William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), the earliest American poet of importance, whose impulses drew him to the solitudes of nature, was compelled to gain a livelihood, by conducting a daily newspaper; or, as he himself puts it, was
"Forced to drudge for the dregs of men, And scrawl strange words with the barbarous pen."
Bryant was born at Cummington, in Berkshire, the western-most county of Massachusetts. After two years in Williams College he studied law, and practiced for nine years as a country lawyer in Plainfield and Great Barrington. Following the line of the Housatonic Valley, the social and theological affiliations of Berkshire have always been closer with Connecticut and New York than with Boston and eastern Massachusetts. Accordingly, when in 1825 Bryant yielded to the attractions of a literary career, he betook himself to New York city, where, after a brief experiment in conducting a monthly magazine, the New York Review and Athenaeum, he assumed the editorship of the Evening Post, a Democratic and free-trade journal, with which he remained connected till his death. He already had a reputation as a poet when he entered the ranks of metropolitan journalism. In 1816 his Thanatopsis had been published in the North American Review, and had attracted immediate and general admiration. It had been finished, indeed, two years before, when the poet was only in his nineteenth year, and was a wonderful instance of precocity. The thought in this stately hymn was not that of a young man, but of a sage who has reflected long upon the universality, the necessity, and the majesty of death. Bryant's blank verse when at its best, as in Thanatopsis and the Forest Hymn, is extremely noble. In gravity and dignity it is surpassed by no English blank verse of this century, though in rich and various modulation it falls below Tennyson's Ulysses and Morte d'Arthur. It was characteristic of Bryant's limitations that he came thus early into possession of his faculty. His range was always a narrow one, and about his poetry, as a whole, there is a certain coldness, rigidity, and solemnity. His fixed position among American poets is described in his own Hymn to the North Star:
"And thou dost see them rise, Star of the pole! and thou dost see them set. Alone, in thy cold skies, Thou keep'st thy old, unmoving station yet, Nor join'st the dances of that glittering train, Nor dipp'st thy virgin orb in the blue western main."
In 1821 he read The Ages, a didactic poem, in thirty-five stanzas, before the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Cambridge, and in the same year brought out his first volume of poems. A second collection appeared in 1832, which was printed in London under the auspices of Washington Irving. Bryant was the first American poet who had much of an audience in England, and Wordsworth is said to have learned Thanatopsis by heart. Bryant was, indeed, in a measure, a scholar of Wordsworth's school, and his place among American poets corresponds roughly, though not precisely, to Wordsworth's among English poets. With no humor, with somewhat restricted sympathies, with little flexibility or openness to new impressions, but gifted with a high, austere imagination, Bryant became the meditative poet of nature. His best poems are those in which he draws lessons from nature, or sings of its calming, purifying, and bracing influences upon the human soul. His office, in other words, is the same which Matthew Arnold asserts to be the peculiar office of modern poetry, "the moral interpretation of nature." Poems of this class are Green River, To a Water-fowl, June, the Death of the Flowers, and the Evening Wind. The song, "O fairest of the rural maids," which has more fancy than is common in Bryant, and which Poe pronounced his best poem, has an obvious resemblance to Wordsworth's "Three years she grew in sun and shade," and both of these nameless pieces might fitly be entitled—as Wordsworth's is in Mr. Palgrave's Golden Treasury—"The Education of Nature."
Although Bryant's career is identified with New York his poetry is all of New England. His heart was always turning back fondly to the woods and streams of the Berkshire hills. There was nothing of that urban strain in him which appears in Holmes and Willis. He was, in especial, the poet of autumn, of the American October and the New England Indian Summer, that season of "dropping nuts" and "smoky light," to whose subtle analogy with the decay of the young by the New England disease, consumption, he gave such tender expression in the Death of the Flowers, and amid whose "bright, late quiet" he wished himself to pass away. Bryant is our poet of "the melancholy days," as Lowell is of June. If, by chance, he touches upon June, it is not with the exultant gladness of Lowell in meadows full of bobolinks, and in the summer day that is
"simply perfect from its own resource, As to the bee the new campanula's Illuminate seclusion swung in air."
Rather, the stir of new life in the clod suggests to Bryant by contrast the thought of death; and there is nowhere in his poetry a passage of deeper feeling than the closing stanzas of June, in which he speaks of himself, by anticipation, as of one
"Whose part in all the pomp that fills The circuit of the summer hills Is—that his grave is green."
Bryant is, par excellence, the poet of New England wild flowers, the yellow violet, the fringed gentian—to each of which he dedicated an entire poem—the orchis and the golden-rod, "the aster in the wood and the yellow sunflower by the brook." With these his name will be associated as Wordsworth's with the daffodil and the lesser celandine, and Emerson's with the rhodora.
Except when writing of nature he was apt to be commonplace, and there are not many such energetic lines in his purely reflective verse as these famous ones from The Battle-Field:
"Truth crushed to earth shall rise again; The eternal years of God are hers; But Error, wounded, writhes in pain, And dies among his worshipers."
He added but slowly to the number of his poems, publishing a new collection in 1840, another in 1844, and Thirty Poems in 1864. His work at all ages was remarkably even. Thanatopsis was as mature as any thing that he wrote afterward, and among his later pieces the Planting of the Apple Tree and the Flood of Years were as fresh as any thing that he had written in the first flush of youth. Bryant's poetic style was always pure and correct, without any tincture of affectation or extravagance. His prose writings are not important, consisting mainly of papers of the Salmagundi variety contributed to the Talisman, an annual published in 1827-30; some rather sketchy stories, Tales of the Glauber Spa, 1832; and impressions of Europe, entitled Letters of a Traveler, issued in two series, in 1849 and 1858. In 1869 and 1871 appeared his blank-verse translations of the Iliad and Odyssey, a remarkable achievement for a man of his age, and not excelled, upon the whole, by any recent metrical version of Homer in the English tongue. Bryant's half-century of service as the editor of a daily paper should not be overlooked. The Evening Post, under his management, was always honest, gentlemanly, and courageous, and did much to raise the tone of journalism in New York.
Another Massachusetts poet, who was outside the Boston coterie, like Bryant, and, like him, tried his hand at journalism, was John Greenleaf Whittier (1807- ). He was born in a solitary farm-house near Haverhill, in the valley of the Merrimack, and his life has been passed mostly at his native place and at the neighboring town of Amesbury. The local color, which is very pronounced in his poetry, is that of the Merrimack from the vicinity of Haverhill to its mouth at Newburyport, a region of hill-side farms, opening out below into wide marshes—"the low, green prairies of the sea," and the beaches of Hampton and Salisbury. The scenery of the Merrimack is familiar to all readers of Whittier: the cotton-spinning towns along its banks, with their factories and dams, the sloping pastures and orchards of the back country, the sands of Plum Island and the level reaches of water meadow between which glide the broad-sailed "gundalows"—a local corruption of gondola—laden with hay. Whittier was a farmer lad, and had only such education as the district school could supply, supplemented by two years at the Haverhill Academy. In his School Days he gives a picture of the little old country school-house as it used to be, the only alma mater of so many distinguished Americans, and to which many others who have afterward trodden the pavements of great universities look back so fondly as to their first wicket gate into the land of knowledge.
"Still sits the school-house by the road, A ragged beggar sunning; Around it still the sumachs grow And blackberry vines are running.
"Within the master's desk is seen, Deep-scarred by raps official, The warping floor, the battered seats, The jack-knife's carved initial."
A copy of Burns awoke the slumbering instinct in the young poet, and he began to contribute verses to Garrison's Free Press, published in Newburyport, and to the Haverhill Gazette. Then he went to Boston, and became editor for a short time of the Manufacturer. Next he edited the Essex Gazette, at Haverhill, and in 1830 he took charge of George D. Prentice's paper, the New England Weekly Review, at Hartford, Conn. Here he fell in with a young Connecticut poet of much promise, J. G. C. Brainard, editor of the Connecticut Mirror, whose "Remains" Whittier edited in 1832. At Hartford, too, he published his first book, a volume of prose and verse, entitled Legends of New England, 1831, which is not otherwise remarkable than as showing his early interest in Indian colonial traditions—especially those which had a touch of the supernatural—a mine which he afterward worked to good purpose in the Bridal of Pennacook, the Witch's Daughter, and similar poems. Some of the Legends testify to Brainard's influence and to the influence of Whittier's temporary residence at Hartford. One of the prose pieces, for example, deals with the famous "Moodus Noises" at Haddam, on the Connecticut River, and one of the poems is the same in subject with Brainard's Black Fox of Salmon River. After a year and a half at Hartford Whittier returned to Haverhill and to farming.
The antislavery agitation was now beginning, and into this he threw himself with all the ardor of his nature. He became the poet of the reform as Garrison was its apostle, and Sumner and Phillips its speakers. In 1833 he published Justice and Expediency, a prose tract against slavery, and in the same year he took part in the formation of the American Antislavery Society at Philadelphia, sitting in the convention as a delegate of the Boston abolitionists. Whittier was a Quaker, and that denomination, influenced by the preaching of John Woolman and others, had long since quietly abolished slavery within its own communion. The Quakers of Philadelphia and elsewhere took an earnest though peaceful part in the Garrisonian movement. But it was a strange irony of fate that had made the fiery-hearted Whittier a friend. His poems against slavery and disunion have the martial ring of a Tyrtaeus or a Koerner, added to the stern religious zeal of Cromwell's Ironsides. They are like the sound of the trumpet blown before the walls of Jericho, or the psalms of David denouncing woe upon the enemies of God's chosen people. If there is any purely Puritan strain in American poetry it is in the war-hymns of the Quaker "Hermit of Amesbury." Of these patriotic poems there were three principal collections: Voices of Freedom, 1849; The Panorama, and Other Poems, 1856; and In War Time, 1863. Whittier's work as the poet of freedom was done when, on hearing the bells ring for the passage of the constitutional amendment abolishing slavery, he wrote his splendid Laus Deo, thrilling with the ancient Hebrew spirit:
"Loud and long Lift the old exulting song, Sing with Miriam by the sea— He has cast the mighty down, Horse and rider sink and drown, He hath triumphed gloriously."
Of his poems distinctly relating to the events of the civil war, the best, or at all events the most popular, is Barbara Frietchie. Ichabod, expressing the indignation of the Free Soilers at Daniel Webster's seventh of March speech in defense of the Fugitive Slave Law, is one of Whittier's best political poems, and not altogether unworthy of comparison with Browning's Lost Leader. The language of Whittier's warlike lyrics is biblical, and many of his purely devotional pieces are religious poetry of a high order and have been included in numerous collections of hymns. Of his songs of faith and doubt, the best are perhaps Our Master, Chapel of the Hermits, and Eternal Goodness; one stanza from the last of which is familiar;
"I know not where his islands lift Their fronded palms in air, I only know I cannot drift, Beyond his love and care."
But from politics and war Whittier turned gladly to sing the homely life of the New England country-side. His rural ballads and idyls are as genuinely American as any thing that our poets have written, and have been recommended, as such, to English working-men by Whittier's co-religionist, John Bright. The most popular of these is probably Maud Muller, whose closing couplet has passed into proverb. Skipper Ireson's Ride is also very current. Better than either of them, as poetry, is Telling the Bees. But Whittier's masterpiece in work of a descriptive and reminiscent kind is Snow-Bound, 1866, a New England fireside idyl which in its truthfulness recalls the Winter Evening of Cowper's Task and Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night, but in sweetness and animation is superior to either of them. Although in some things a Puritan of the Puritans, Whittier has never forgotten that he is also a Friend, and several of his ballads and songs have been upon the subject of the early Quaker persecutions in Massachusetts. The most impressive of these is Cassandra Southwick. The latest of them, the King's Missive, originally contributed to the Memorial History of Boston in 1880, and reprinted the next year in a volume with other poems, has been the occasion of a rather lively controversy. The Bridal of Pennacook, 1848, and the Tent on the Beach, 1867, which contain some of his best work, were series of ballads told by different narrators, after the fashion of Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn. As an artist in verse, Whittier is strong and fervid, rather than delicate or rich. He uses only a few metrical forms—by preference the eight-syllabled rhyming couplet—
"Maud Muller on a summer's day Raked the meadow sweet with hay," etc.
and the emphatic tramp of this measure becomes very monotonous, as do some of Whittier's mannerisms, which proceed, however, never from affectation, but from a lack of study and variety, and so, no doubt, in part from the want of that academic culture and thorough technical equipment which Lowell and Longfellow enjoyed. Though his poems are not in dialect, like Lowell's Biglow Papers, he knows how to make an artistic use of homely provincial words, such as "chore," which give his idyls of the hearth and the barnyard a genuine Doric cast. Whittier's prose is inferior to his verse. The fluency which was a besetting sin of his poetry, when released from the fetters of rhyme and meter, ran into wordiness. His prose writings were partly contributions to the slavery controversy, partly biographical sketches of English and American reformers, and partly studies of the scenery and folk-lore of the Merrimack Valley. Those of most literary interest were the Supernaturalism of New England, 1847, and some of the papers in Literary Recreations and Miscellanies, 1854.
While Massachusetts was creating an American literature other sections of the Union were by no means idle. The West, indeed, was as yet too raw to add any thing of importance to the artistic product of the country. The South was hampered by circumstances which will presently be described. But in and about the sea-board cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond many pens were busy filling the columns of literary weeklies and monthlies; and there was a considerable output, such as it was, of books of poetry, fiction, travel, and miscellaneous light literature. Time has already relegated most of these to the dusty top shelves. To rehearse the names of the numerous contributors to the old Knickerbocker Magazine, to Godey's, and Graham's, and the New Mirror, and the Southern Literary Messenger, or to run over the list of authorlings and poetasters in Poe's papers on the Literati of New York, would be very much like reading the inscriptions on the head-stones of an old grave-yard. In the columns of these prehistoric magazines and in the book notices and reviews away back in the thirties and forties, one encounters the handiwork and the names of Emerson, Holmes, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Lowell embodied in this mass of forgotten literature. It would have required a good deal of critical acumen, at the time, to predict that these and a few others would soon be thrown out into bold relief, as the significant and permanent names in the literature of their generation, while Paulding, Hirst, Fay, Dawes, Mrs. Osgood, and scores of others who figured beside them in the fashionable periodicals, and filled quite as large a space in the public eye, would sink into oblivion in less than thirty years. Some of these latter were clever enough people; they entertained their contemporary public sufficiently, but their work had no vitality or "power of continuance." The great majority of the writings of any period are necessarily ephemeral, and time by a slow process of natural selection is constantly sifting out the few representative books which shall carry on the memory of the period to posterity. Now and then it may be predicted of some undoubted work of genius, even at the moment that it sees the light, that it is destined to endure. But tastes and fashions change, and few things are better calculated to inspire the literary critic with humility than to read the prophecies in old reviews and see how the future, now become the present, has quietly given them the lie.
From among the professional litterateurs of his day emerges, with ever sharper distinctness as time goes on, the name of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49). By the irony of fate Poe was born at Boston, and his first volume, Tamerlane, and Other Poems, 1827, was printed in that city and bore upon its title-page the words, "By a Bostonian." But his parentage, so far as it was any thing, was Southern. His father was a Marylander who had gone upon the stage and married an actress, herself the daughter of an actress and a native of England. Left an orphan by the early death of both parents, Poe was adopted by a Mr. Allan, a wealthy merchant of Richmond, Va. He was educated partly at an English school, was student for a time in the University of Virginia, and afterward a cadet in the Military Academy at West Point. His youth was wild and irregular; he gambled and drank, was proud, bitter, and perverse, finally quarreled with his guardian and adopted father—by whom he was disowned—and then betook himself to the life of a literary hack. His brilliant but underpaid work for various periodicals soon brought him into notice, and he was given the editorship of the Southern Literary Messenger, published at Richmond, and subsequently of the Gentlemen's—afterward Graham's—Magazine in Philadelphia. These and all other positions Poe forfeited through his dissipated habits and wayward temper, and finally, in 1844, he drifted to New York, where he found employment on the Evening Mirror and then on the Broadway Journal. He died of delirium tremens at the Marine Hospital in Baltimore. His life was one of the most wretched in literary history. He was an extreme instance of what used to be called the "eccentricity of genius." He had the irritable vanity which is popularly supposed to accompany the poetic temperament, and was so insanely egotistic as to imagine that Longfellow and others were constantly plagiarizing from him. The best side of Poe's character came out in his domestic relations, in which he displayed great tenderness, patience, and fidelity. His instincts were gentlemanly, and his manner and conversation were often winning. In the place of moral feeling he had the artistic conscience. In his critical papers, except where warped by passion or prejudice, he showed neither fear nor favor, denouncing bad work by the most illustrious hands and commending obscure merit. The "impudent literary cliques" who puffed each other's books; the feeble chirrupings of the bardlings who manufactured verses for the "Annuals;" and the twaddle of the "genial" incapables who praised them in flabby reviews—all these Poe exposed with ferocious honesty. Nor, though his writings are unmoral, can they be called in any sense immoral. His poetry is as pure in its unearthliness as Bryant's in its austerity.
By 1831 Poe had published three thin books of verse, none of which had attracted notice, although the latest contained the drafts of a few of his most perfect poems, such as Israfel, the Valley of Unrest, the City in the Sea, and one of the two pieces inscribed To Helen. It was his habit to touch and retouch his work until it grew under his more practiced hand into a shape that satisfied his fastidious taste. Hence the same poem frequently re-appears in different stages of development in successive editions. Poe was a subtle artist in the realm of the weird and the fantastic. In his intellectual nature there was a strange conjunction; an imagination as spiritual as Shelley's, though, unlike Shelley's, haunted perpetually with shapes of fear and the imagery of ruin; with this, an analytic power, a scientific exactness, and a mechanical ingenuity more usual in a chemist or a mathematician than in a poet. He studied carefully the mechanism of his verse and experimented endlessly with verbal and musical effects, such as repetition and monotone and the selection of words in which the consonants alliterated and the vowels varied. In his Philosophy of Composition he described how his best-known poem, the Raven, was systematically built up on a preconceived plan in which the number of lines was first determined and the word "nevermore" selected as a starting-point. No one who knows the mood in which poetry is composed will believe that this ingenious piece of dissection really describes the way in which the Raven was conceived and written, or that any such deliberate and self-conscious process could originate the associations from which a true poem springs. But it flattered Poe's pride of intellect to assert that his cooler reason had control not only over the execution of his poetry, but over the very well-head of thought and emotion. Some of his most successful stories, like the Gold Bug, the Mystery of Marie Roget, the Purloined Letter, and the Murders in the Rue Morgue, were applications of this analytic faculty to the solution of puzzles, such as the finding of buried treasure or of a lost document, or the ferreting out of a mysterious crime. After the publication of the Gold Bug he received from all parts of the country specimens of cipher-writing, which he delighted to work out. Others of his tales were clever pieces of mystification, like Hans Pfaall, the story of a journey to the moon, or experiments at giving verisimilitude to wild improbabilities by the skillful introduction of scientific details, as in the Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar and Von Kempelen's Discovery. In his narratives of this kind Poe anticipated the detective novels of Gaboriau and Wilkie Collins, the scientific hoaxes of Jules Verne, and, though in a less degree, the artfully worked up likeness to fact in Edward Everett Hale's Man Without a Country, and similar fictions. While Dickens's Barnaby Rudge was publishing in parts Poe showed his skill as a plot-hunter by publishing a paper in Graham's Magazine in which the very tangled intrigue of the novel was correctly raveled and the finale predicted in advance.
In his union of imagination and analytic power Poe resembled Coleridge, who, if any one, was his teacher in poetry and criticism. Poe's verse often reminds one of Christabel and the Ancient Mariner, still oftener of Kubla Khan. Like Coleridge, too, he indulged at times in the opium habit. But in Poe the artist predominated over every thing else. He began not with sentiment or thought, but with technique, with melody and color, tricks of language, and effects of verse. It is curious to study the growth of his style in his successive volumes of poetry. At first these are metrical experiments and vague images, original, and with a fascinating suggestiveness, but with so little meaning that some of his earlier pieces are hardly removed from nonsense. Gradually, like distant music drawing nearer and nearer, his poetry becomes fuller of imagination and of an inward significance, without ever losing, however, its mysterious aloofness from the real world of the senses. It was a part of Poe's literary creed—formed upon his own practice and his own limitations, but set forth with a great display of a priori reasoning in his essay on the Poetic Principle and elsewhere—that pleasure and not instruction or moral exhortation was the end of poetry; that beauty and not truth or goodness was its means; and, furthermore, that the pleasure which it gave should be indefinite. About his own poetry there was always this indefiniteness. His imagination dwelt in a strange country of dream—a "ghoul-haunted region of Weir," "out of space, out of time"—filled with unsubstantial landscapes and peopled by spectral shapes. And yet there is a wonderful, hidden significance in this uncanny scenery. The reader feels that the wild, fantasmal imagery is in itself a kind of language, and that it in some way expresses a brooding thought or passion, the terror and despair of a lost soul. Sometimes there is an obvious allegory, as in the Haunted Palace, which is the parable of a ruined mind, or in the Raven, the most popular of all Poe's poems, originally published in the American Whig Review for February, 1845. Sometimes the meaning is more obscure, as in Ulalume, which, to most people, is quite incomprehensible, and yet to all readers of poetic feeling is among the most characteristic, and, therefore, the most fascinating, of its author's creations.
Now and then, as in the beautiful ballad Annabel Lee, and To One in Paradise, the poet emerges into the light of common human feeling and speaks a more intelligible language. But in general his poetry is not the poetry of the heart, and its passion is not the passion of flesh and blood. In Poe the thought of death is always near, and of the shadowy borderland between death and life.
"The play is the tragedy 'Man,' And its hero the Conqueror Worm."
The prose tale, Ligeia, in which these verses are inserted, is one of the most powerful of all Poe's writings, and its theme is the power of the will to overcome death. In that singularly impressive poem, The Sleeper, the morbid horror which invests the tomb springs from the same source, the materiality of Poe's imagination, which refuses to let the soul go free from the body.
This quality explains why Poe's Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque, 1840, are on a lower plane than Hawthorne's romances, to which a few of them, like William Wilson, and The Man of the Crowd, have some resemblance. The former of these, in particular, is in Hawthorne's peculiar province, the allegory of the conscience. But in general the tragedy in Hawthorne is a spiritual one, while Poe calls in the aid of material forces. The passion of physical fear or of superstitious horror is that which his writings most frequently excite. These tales represent various grades of the frightful and the ghastly, from the mere bugaboo story like the Black Cat, which makes children afraid to go in the dark, up to the breathless terror of the Cask of Amontillado, or the Red Death. Poe's masterpiece in this kind is the fateful tale of the Fall of the House of Usher, with its solemn and magnificent close. His prose, at its best, often recalls, in its richly imaginative cast, the manner of De Quincey in such passages as his Dream Fugue, or Our Ladies of Sorrow. In descriptive pieces like the Domain of Arnheim, and stories of adventure like the Descent into the Maelstrom, and his long sea-tale, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym, 1838, he displayed, a realistic inventiveness almost equal to Swift's or De Foe's. He was not without a mocking irony, but he had no constructive humor, and his attempts at the facetious were mostly failures.
Poe's magical creations were rootless flowers. He took no hold upon the life about him, and cared nothing for the public concerns of his country. His poems and tales might have been written in vacuo for any thing American in them. Perhaps for this reason, in part, his fame has been so cosmopolitan. In France especially his writings have been favorites. Charles Baudelaire, the author of the Fleurs du Mal, translated them into French, and his own impressive but unhealthy poetry shows evidence of Poe's influence. The defect in Poe was in character—a defect which will make itself felt in art as in life. If he had had the sweet home feeling of Longfellow or the moral fervor of Whittier he might have been a greater poet than either.
"If I could dwell Where Israfel Hath dwelt, and he where I, He might not sing so wildly well A mortal melody, While a bolder note than this might swell From my lyre within the sky!"
Though Poe was a Southerner, if not by birth, at least by race and breeding, there was nothing distinctly Southern about his peculiar genius, and in his wandering life he was associated as much with Philadelphia and New York as with Baltimore and Richmond. The conditions which had made the Southern colonies unfruitful in literary and educational works before the Revolution continued to act down to the time of the civil war. Eli Whitney's invention of the cotton-gin in the closing years of the last century gave extension to slavery, making it profitable to cultivate the now staple by enormous gangs of field-hands working under the whip of the overseer in large plantations. Slavery became henceforth a business speculation in the States furthest south, and not, as in Old Virginia and Kentucky, a comparatively mild domestic system. The necessity of defending its peculiar institution against the attacks of a growing faction in the North compelled the South to throw all its intellectual strength into politics, which, for that matter, is the natural occupation and excitement of a social aristocracy. Meanwhile immigration sought the free States, and there was no middle class at the South. The "poor whites" were ignorant and degraded. There were people of education in the cities and on some of the plantations, but there was no great educated class from which a literature could proceed. And the culture of the South, such as it was, was becoming old-fashioned and local, as the section was isolated more and more from the rest of the Union and from the enlightened public opinion of Europe by its reactionary prejudices and its sensitiveness on the subject of slavery. Nothing can be imagined more ridiculously provincial than the sophomorical editorials in the Southern press just before the outbreak of the war, or than the backward and ill-informed articles which passed for reviews in the poorly supported periodicals of the South.
In the general dearth of work of high and permanent value, one or two Southern authors may be mentioned whose writings have at least done something to illustrate the life and scenery of their section. When in 1833 the Baltimore Saturday Visitor offered a prize of a hundred dollars for the best prose tale, one of the committee who awarded the prize to Poe's first story, the MS. Found in a Bottle, was John P. Kennedy, a Whig gentleman of Baltimore, who afterward became secretary of the navy in Fillmore's administration. The year before he had published Swallow Barn, a series of agreeable sketches of country life in Virginia. In 1835 and 1838 he published his two novels, Horse-Shoe Robinson and Rob of the Bowl, the former a story of the Revolutionary War in South Carolina, the latter an historical tale of colonial Maryland. These had sufficient success to warrant reprinting as late as 1852. But the most popular and voluminous of all Southern writers of fiction was William Gilmore Simms, a South Carolinian, who died in 1870. He wrote over thirty novels, mostly romances of Revolutionary history, Southern life, and wild adventure, among the best of which were the Partisan, 1835, and the Yemassee. Simms was an inferior Cooper, with a difference. His novels are good boys' books, but are crude and hasty in composition. He was strongly Southern in his sympathies, though his newspaper, the Charleston City Gazette, took part against the Nullifiers. His miscellaneous writings include several histories and biographies, political tracts, addresses, and critical papers contributed to Southern magazines. He also wrote numerous poems, the most ambitious of which was Atlantis, a Story of the Sea, 1832. His poems have little value except as here and there illustrating local scenery and manners, as in Southern Passages and Pictures, 1839. Mr. John Esten Cooke's pleasant but not very strong Virginia Comedians was, perhaps, in literary quality the best Southern novel produced before the civil war.
When Poe came to New York the most conspicuous literary figure of the metropolis, with the possible exception of Bryant and Halleck, was N. P. Willis, one of the editors of the Evening Mirror, upon which journal Poe was for a time engaged. Willis had made a literary reputation, when a student at Yale, by his Scripture Poems, written in smooth blank verse. Afterward he had edited the American Monthly in his native city of Boston, and more recently he had published Pencillings by the Way, 1835, a pleasant record of European saunterings; Inklings of Adventure, 1836, a collection of dashing stories and sketches of American and foreign life; and Letters from Under a Bridge, 1839, a series of charming rural letters from his country place at Owego, on the Susquehanna. Willis's work, always graceful and sparkling, sometimes even brilliant, though light in substance and jaunty in style, had quickly raised him to the summit of popularity. During the years from 1835 to 1850 he was the most successful American magazinist, and even down to the day of his death, in 1867, he retained his hold upon the attention of the fashionable public by his easy paragraphing and correspondence in the Mirror and its successor, the Home Journal, which catered to the literary wants of the beau monde. Much of Willis's work was ephemeral, though clever of its kind, but a few of his best tales and sketches, such as F. Smith, The Ghost Ball at Congress Hall, Edith Linsey, and the Lunatic's Skate, together with some of the Letters from Under a Bridge, are worthy of preservation, not only as readable stories, but as society studies of life at American watering-places like Nahant and Saratoga and Ballston Spa half a century ago. A number of his simpler poems, like Unseen Spirits, Spring, To M—— from Abroad, and Lines on Leaving Europe, still retain a deserved place in collections and anthologies.
The senior editor of the Mirror, George P. Morris, was once a very popular song-writer, and his Woodman, Spare that Tree, still survives. Other residents of New York city who have written single famous pieces were Clement C. Moore, a professor in the General Theological Seminary, whose Visit from St. Nicholas—"'Twas the Night Before Christmas," etc.—is a favorite ballad in every nursery in the land; Charles Fenno Hoffman, a novelist of reputation in his time, but now remembered only as the author of the song Sparkling and Bright, and the patriotic ballad of Monterey; Robert H. Messinger, a native of Boston, but long resident in New York, where he was a familiar figure in fashionable society, who wrote Give Me the Old, a fine ode with a choice Horatian flavor; and William Allen Butler, a lawyer and occasional writer, whose capital satire of Nothing to Wear was published anonymously and had a great run. Of younger poets, like Stoddard and Aldrich, who formerly wrote for the Mirror and who are still living and working in the maturity of their powers, it is not within the limits and design of this sketch to speak. But one of their contemporaries, Bayard Taylor, who died American minister at Berlin, in 1878, though a Pennsylvanian by birth and rearing, may be reckoned among the "literati of New York." A farmer lad from Chester County, who had learned the printer's trade and printed a little volume of his juvenile verses in 1844, he came to New York shortly after with credentials from Dr. Griswold, the editor of Graham's, and obtaining encouragement and aid from Willis, Horace Greeley, and others, he set out to make the tour of Europe, walking from town to town in Germany and getting employment now and then at his trade to help pay the expenses of the trip. The story of these Wanderjahre he told in his Views Afoot, 1846. This was the first of eleven books of travel written during the course of his life. He was an inveterate nomad, and his journeyings carried him to the remotest regions—to California, India, China, Japan, and the isles of the sea, to Central Africa and the Soudan, Palestine, Egypt, Iceland, and the "by-ways of Europe." His head-quarters at home were in New York, where he did literary work for the Tribune. He was a rapid and incessant worker, throwing off many volumes of verse and prose, fiction, essays, sketches, translations, and criticisms, mainly contributed in the first instance to the magazines. His versatility was very marked, and his poetry ranged from Rhymes of Travel, 1848, and Poems of the Orient, 1854, to idyls and home ballads of Pennsylvania life, like the Quaker Widow and the Old Pennsylvania Farmer; and on the other side, to ambitious and somewhat mystical poems, like the Masque of the Gods, 1872—written in four days—and dramatic experiments like the Prophet, 1874, and Prince Deukalion, 1878. He was a man of buoyant and eager nature, with a great appetite for new experience, a remarkable memory, a talent for learning languages, and a too great readiness to take the hue of his favorite books. From his facility, his openness to external impressions of scenery and costume and his habit of turning these at once into the service of his pen, it results that there is something "newspapery" and superficial about most of his prose. It is reporter's work, though reporting of a high order. His poetry too, though full of glow and picturesqueness, is largely imitative, suggesting Tennyson not unfrequently, but more often Shelley. His spirited Bedouin Song, for example, has an echo of Shelley's Lines to an Indian Air:
"From the desert I come to thee On a stallion shod with fire; And the winds are left behind In the speed of my desire. Under thy window I stand, And the midnight hears my cry; I love thee, I love but thee, With a love that shall not die."
The dangerous quickness with which he caught the manner of other poets made him an admirable parodist and translator. His Echo Club, 1876, contains some of the best travesties in the tongue, and his great translation of Goethe's Faust, 1870-71—with its wonderfully close reproduction of the original meters—is one of the glories of American literature. All in all, Taylor may unhesitatingly be put first among our poets of the second generation—the generation succeeding that of Longfellow and Lowell—although the lack in him of original genius self-determined to a peculiar sphere, or the want of an inward fixity and concentration to resist the rich tumult of outward impressions, has made him less significant in the history of our literary thought than some other writers less generously endowed.
Taylor's novels had the qualities of his verse. They were profuse, eloquent, and faulty. John Godfrey's Fortune, 1864, gave a picture of bohemian life in New York. Hannah Thurston, 1863, and the Story of Kennett; 1866, introduced many incidents and persons from the old Quaker life of rural Pennsylvania, as Taylor remembered it in his boyhood. The former was like Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance, a satire on fanatics and reformers, and its heroine is a nobly conceived character, though drawn with some exaggeration. The Story of Kennett, which is largely autobiographic, has a greater freshness and reality than the others, and is full of personal recollections. In these novels, as in his short stories, Taylor's pictorial skill is greater on the whole than his power of creating characters or inventing plots.
Literature in the West now began to have an existence. Another young poet from Chester County, Pa., namely, Thomas Buchanan Read, went to Cincinnati, and not to New York, to study sculpture and painting, about 1837, and one of his best-known poems, Pons Maximus, was written on the occasion of the opening of the suspension bridge across the Ohio. Read came East, to be sure, in 1841, and spent many years in our sea-board cities and in Italy. He was distinctly a minor poet, but some of his Pennsylvania pastorals, like the Deserted Road, have a natural sweetness; and his luxurious Drifting, which combines the methods of painting and poetry, is justly popular. Sheridan's Ride—perhaps his most current piece—is a rather forced production, and has been overpraised. The two Ohio sister poets, Alice and Phoebe Cary, were attracted to New York in 1850, as soon as their literary success seemed assured. They made that city their home for the remainder of their lives. Poe praised Alice Cary's Pictures of Memory, and Phoebe's Nearer Home has become a favorite hymn. There is nothing peculiarly Western about the verse of the Cary sisters. It is the poetry of sentiment, memory, and domestic affection, entirely feminine, rather tame and diffuse as a whole, but tender and sweet, cherished by many good women and dear to simple hearts.
A stronger smack of the soil is in the Negro melodies like Uncle Ned, O Susanna, Old Folks at Home, 'Way Down South, Nelly was a Lady, My Old Kentucky Home, etc., which were the work, not of any Southern poet, but of Stephen C. Foster, a native of Allegheny, Pa., and a resident of Cincinnati and Pittsburg. He composed the words and music of these, and many others of a similar kind, during the years 1847 to 1861. Taken together they form the most original and vital addition which this country has made to the psalmody of the world, and entitle Foster to the first rank among American song-writers.
As Foster's plaintive melodies carried the pathos and humor of the plantation all over the land, so Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, 1852, brought home to millions of readers the sufferings of the Negroes in the "black belt" of the cotton-growing States. This is the most popular novel ever written in America. Hundreds of thousands of copies were sold in this country and in England, and some forty translations were made into foreign tongues. In its dramatized form it still keeps the stage, and the statistics of circulating libraries show that even now it is in greater demand than any other single book. It did more than any other literary agency to rouse the public conscience to a sense of the shame and horror of slavery; more even than Garrison's Liberator, more than the indignant poems of Whittier and Lowell or the orations of Sumner and Phillips. It presented the thing concretely and dramatically, and in particular it made the odious Fugitive Slave Law forever impossible to enforce. It was useless for the defenders of slavery to protest that the picture was exaggerated, and that planters like Legree were the exception. The system under which such brutalities could happen, and did sometimes happen, was doomed. It is easy now to point out defects of taste and art in this masterpiece, to show that the tone is occasionally melodramatic, that some of the characters are conventional, and that the literary execution is in parts feeble and in others coarse. In spite of all, it remains true that Uncle Tom's Cabin is a great book, the work of genius seizing instinctively upon its opportunity and uttering the thought of the time with a power that thrilled the heart of the nation and of the world. Mrs. Stowe never repeated her first success. Some of her novels of New England life, such as the Minister's Wooing, 1859, and the Pearl of Orr's Island, 1862, have a mild kind of interest, and contain truthful portraiture of provincial ways and traits; while later fictions of a domestic type, like Pink and White Tyranny and My Wife and I, are really beneath criticism.
There were other Connecticut writers contemporary with Mrs. Stowe: Mrs. L. H. Sigourney, for example, a Hartford poetess, formerly known as "the Hemans of America," but now quite obsolete; and J. G. Percival, of New Haven, a shy and eccentric scholar, whose geological work was of value, and whose memory is preserved by one or two of his simpler poems, still in circulation, such as To Seneca Lake and the Coral Grove. Another Hartford poet, Brainard—already spoken of as an early friend of Whittier—died young, leaving a few pieces which show that his lyrical gift was spontaneous and genuine, but had received little cultivation. A much younger writer than either of these, Donald G. Mitchell, of New Haven, has a more lasting place in our literature, by virtue of his charmingly written Reveries of a Bachelor, 1850, and Dream Life, 1852, stories which sketch themselves out in a series of reminiscences and lightly connected scenes, and which always appeal freshly to young men because they have that dreamy outlook upon life which is characteristic of youth. But, upon the whole, the most important contribution made by Connecticut in that generation to the literary stock of America was the Beecher family. Lyman Beecher had been an influential preacher and theologian, and a sturdy defender of orthodoxy against Boston Unitarianism. Of his numerous sons and daughters, all more or less noted for intellectual vigor and independence, the most eminent were Mrs. Stowe and Henry Ward Beecher, the great pulpit orator of Brooklyn. Mr. Beecher was too busy a man to give more than his spare moments to general literature. His sermons, lectures, and addresses were reported for the daily papers and printed in part in book form; but these lose greatly when divorced from the large, warm, and benignant personality of the man. His volumes made up of articles in the Independent and the Ledger, such as Star Papers, 1855, and Eyes and Ears, 1862, contain many delightful morceaux upon country life and similar topics, though they are hardly wrought with sufficient closeness and care to take a permanent place in letters. Like Willis's Ephemera they are excellent literary journalism, but hardly literature.
We may close our retrospect of American literature before 1861 with a brief notice of one of the most striking literary phenomena of the time—the Leaves of Grass of Walt Whitman, published at Brooklyn in 1855. The author, born at West Hills, Long Island, in 1819, had been printer, school-teacher, editor, and builder. He had scribbled a good deal of poetry of the ordinary kind, which attracted little attention, but finding conventional rhymes and meters too cramping a vehicle for his need of expression, he discarded them for a kind of rhythmic chant, of which the following is a fair specimen:
"Press close, bare-bosom'd night! Press close, magnetic, nourishing night! Night of south winds! night of the few large stars! Still, nodding night! mad, naked, summer night!"
The invention was not altogether a new one. The English translation of the psalms of David and of some of the prophets, the Poems of Ossian, and some of Matthew Arnold's unrhymed pieces, especially the Strayed Reveller, have an irregular rhythm of this kind, to say nothing of the old Anglo-Saxon poems, like Beowulf, and the Scripture paraphrases attributed to Caedmon. But this species of oratio soluta, carried to the lengths to which Whitman carried it, had an air of novelty which was displeasing to some, while to others, weary of familiar measures and jingling rhymes, it was refreshing in its boldness and freedom. There is no consenting estimate of this poet. Many think that his so-called poems are not poems at all, but simply a bad variety of prose; that there is nothing to him beyond a combination of affectation and indecency; and that the Whitman culte is a passing "fad" of a few literary men, and especially of a number of English critics like Rossetti, Swinburne, Buchanan, etc., who, being determined to have something unmistakably American—that is, different from any thing else—in writings from this side of the water, before they will acknowledge any originality in them, have been misled into discovering in Whitman "the poet of democracy." Others maintain that he is the greatest of American poets, or, indeed, of all modern poets; that he is "cosmic," or universal, and that he has put an end forever to puling rhymes and lines chopped up into metrical feet. Whether Whitman's poetry is formally poetry at all or merely the raw material of poetry, the chaotic and amorphous impression which it makes on readers of conservative tastes results from his effort to take up into his verse elements which poetry has usually left out—the ugly, the earthy, and even the disgusting; the "under side of things," which he holds not to be prosaic when apprehended with a strong, masculine joy in life and nature seen in all their aspects. The lack of these elements in the conventional poets seems to him and his disciples like leaving out the salt from the ocean, making poetry merely pretty and blinking whole classes of facts. Hence the naturalism and animalism of some of the divisions in Leaves of Grass, particularly that entitled Children of Adam, which gave great offense by its immodesty, or its outspokenness, Whitman holds that nakedness is chaste; that all the functions of the body in healthy exercise are equally clean; that all, in fact, are divine, and that matter is as divine as spirit. The effort to get every thing into his poetry, to speak out his thought just as it comes to him, accounts, too, for his way of cataloguing objects without selection. His single expressions arc often unsurpassed for descriptive beauty and truth. He speaks of "the vitreous pour of the full moon, just tinged with blue," of the "lisp" of the plane, of the prairies, "where herds of buffalo make a crawling spread of the square miles." But if there is any eternal distinction between poetry and prose, the most liberal canons of the poetic art will never agree to accept lines like these:
"And [I] remember putting plasters on the galls of his neck and ankles; He stayed with me a week before he was recuperated, and passed north."
Whitman is the spokesman of democracy and of the future; full of brotherliness and hope, loving the warm, gregarious pressure of the crowd and the touch of his comrade's elbow in the ranks. He liked the people—multitudes of people; the swarm of life beheld from a Broadway omnibus or a Brooklyn ferry-boat. The rowdy and the Negro truck-driver were closer to his sympathy than the gentleman and the scholar. "I loaf and invite my soul," he writes; "I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world." His poem Walt Whitman, frankly egotistic, simply describes himself as a typical, average man—the same as any other man, and therefore not individual but universal. He has great tenderness and heartiness—"the good gray poet;" and during the civil war he devoted himself unreservedly to the wounded soldiers in the Washington hospitals—an experience which he has related in the Dresser and elsewhere. It is characteristic of his rough and ready comradery to use slang and newspaper English in his poetry, to call himself Walt instead of Walter, and to have his picture taken in a slouch hat and with a flannel shirt open at the throat. His decriers allege that he poses for effect; that he is simply a backward eddy in the tide, and significant only as a temporary reaction against ultra civilization—like Thoreau, though in a different way. But with all his shortcomings in art there is a healthy, virile, tumultuous pulse of life in his lyric utterance and a great sweep of imagination in his panoramic view of times and countries. One likes to read him because he feels so good, enjoys so fully the play of his senses, and has such a lusty confidence in his own immortality and in the prospects of the human race. Stripped of verbiage and repetition, his ideas are not many. His indebtedness to Emerson—who wrote an introduction to the Leaves of Grass—is manifest. He sings of man and not men, and the individual differences of character, sentiment, and passion, the dramatic elements of life, find small place in his system. It is too early to say what will be his final position in literary history. But it is noteworthy that the democratic masses have not accepted him yet as their poet. Whittier and Longfellow, the poets of conscience and feeling, are the darlings of the American people. The admiration, and even the knowledge of Whitman, are mostly esoteric, confined to the literary class. It is also not without significance as to the ultimate reception of his innovations in verse that he has numerous parodists, but no imitators. The tendency among our younger poets is not toward the abandonment of rhyme and meter, but toward the introduction of new stanza forms and an increasing carefulness and finish in the technique of their art. It is observable, too, that in his most inspired passages Whitman reverts to the old forms of verse; to blank verse, for example, in the Man-of-War-Bird:
"Thou who hast slept all night upon the storm, Waking renewed on thy prodigious pinions," etc.;
and elsewhere not infrequently to dactylic hexameters and pentameters:
"Earth of shine and dark, mottling the tide of the river! . . . Far-swooping, elbowed earth! rich, apple-blossomed earth."
Indeed, Whitman's most popular poem, My Captain, written after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, differs little in form from ordinary verse, as a stanza of it will show:
"My captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still; My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will; The ship is anchored safe and sound, its voyage closed and done; From fearful trip the victor ship comes in with object won. Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! But I, with mournful tread, Walk the deck, my captain lies Fallen, cold and dead."
This is from Drum Taps, a volume of poems of the civil war. Whitman has also written prose having much the same quality as his poetry: Democratic Vistas, Memoranda of the Civil War, and, more recently, Specimen Days. His residence of late years has been at Camden, New Jersey, where a centennial edition of his writings was published in 1876.
1. William Cullen Bryant. Thanatopsis. To a Water-fowl. Green River. Hymn to the North Star. A Forest Hymn. "O Fairest of the Rural Maids." June. The Death of the Flowers. The Evening Wind. The Battle-Field. The Planting of the Apple-tree. The Flood of Years.
2. John Greenleaf Whittier. Cassandra Southwick. The New Wife and the Old. The Virginia Slave Mother. Randolph of Roanoke. Barclay of Ury. The Witch of Wenham. Skipper Ireson's Ride. Marguerite. Maud Muller. Telling the Bees. My Playmate. Barbara Frietchie. Ichabod. Laus Deo. Snow-Bound.
3. Edgar Allan Poe. The Raven. The Bells. Israfel. Ulalume. To Helen. The City in the Sea. Annabel Lee. To One in Paradise. The Sleeper. The Valley of Unrest. The Fall of the House of Usher. Ligeia. William Wilson. The Cask of Amontillado. The Assignation. The Masque of the Red Death. Narrative of A. Gordon Pym.
4. N. P. Willis. Select Prose Writings. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1886.
5. Mrs. H. B. Stowe. Uncle Tom's Cabin. Oldtown Folks.
6. W. G. Simms, The Partisan. The Yemassee.
7. Bayard Taylor. A Bacchic Ode. Hylas. Kubleh. The Soldier and the Pard. Sicilian Wine. Taurus. Serapion. The Metempsychosis of the Pine. The Temptation of Hassan Ben Khaled. Bedouin Song. Euphorion. The Quaker Widow. John Reid. Lars. Views Afoot. By-ways of Europe. The Story of Kennett. The Echo Club.
8. Walt Whitman. My Captain. "When Lilacs Last in the Door-yard Bloomed." Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking. Pioneers, O Pioneers. The Mystic Trumpeter. A Woman at Auction. Sea-shore Memoirs. Passage to India. Mannahatta. The Wound Dresser. Longings for Some.
9. Poets of America. By E. C. Stedman. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin & Co. 1885.
LITERATURE SINCE 1861.
A generation has nearly passed since the outbreak of the civil war, and although public affairs are still mainly in the hands of men who had reached manhood before the conflict opened, or who were old enough at that time to remember clearly its stirring events, the younger men who are daily coming forward to take their places know it only by tradition. It makes a definite break in the history of our literature, and a number of new literary schools and tendencies have appeared since its close. As to the literature of the war itself, it was largely the work of writers who had already reached or passed middle age. All of the more important authors described in the last three chapters survived the Rebellion except Poe, who died in 1849, Prescott, who died in 1859, and Thoreau and Hawthorne, who died in the second and fourth years of the war, respectively. The final and authoritative history of the struggle has not yet been written, and cannot be written for many years to come. Many partial and tentative accounts have, however, appeared, among which may be mentioned, on the Northern side, Horace Greeley's American Conflict, 1864-66; Vice-President Wilson's Rise and Fall of the Slave Power in America, and J. W. Draper's American Civil War, 1868-70; on the Southern side Alexander H. Stephens's Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis's Rise and Fall of the Confederate States of America, and E. A. Pollard's Lost Cause. These, with the exception of Dr. Draper's philosophical narrative, have the advantage of being the work of actors in the political or military events which they describe, and the disadvantage of being, therefore, partisan—in some instances passionately partisan. A store-house of materials for the coming historian is also at hand in Frank Moore's great collection, the Rebellion Record; in numerous regimental histories of special armies, departments, and battles, like W. Swinton's Army of the Potomac; in the autobiographies and recollections of Grant and Sherman and other military leaders; in the "war papers," lately published in the Century magazine, and in innumerable sketches and reminiscences by officers and privates on both sides.
The war had its poetry, its humors, and its general literature, some of which have been mentioned in connection with Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, Whitman, and others, and some of which remain to be mentioned, as the work of new writers, or of writers who had previously made little mark. There were war-songs on both sides, few of which had much literary value excepting, perhaps, James R. Randall's Southern ballad, Maryland, My Maryland, sung to the old college air of Lauriger Horatius, and the grand martial chorus of John Brown's Body, an old Methodist hymn, to which the Northern armies beat time as they went "marching on." Randall's song, though spirited, was marred by its fire-eating absurdities about "vandals" and "minions" and "Northern scum," the cheap insults of the Southern newspaper press. To furnish the John Brown chorus with words worthy of the music, Mrs. Julia Ward Howe wrote her Battle-Hymn of the Republic, a noble poem, but rather too fine and literary for a song, and so never fully accepted by the soldiers. Among the many verses which voiced the anguish and the patriotism of that stern time, which told of partings and home-comings, of women waiting by desolate hearths, in country homes, for tidings of husbands and sons who had gone to the war; or which celebrated individual deeds of heroism or sang the thousand private tragedies and heartbreaks of the great conflict, by far the greater number were of too humble a grade to survive the feeling of the hour. Among the best or the most popular of them were Kate Putnam Osgood's Driving Home the Cows, Mrs. Ethel Lynn Beers's All Quiet Along the Potomac; Forceythe Willson's Old Sergeant, and John James Piatt's Riding to Vote. Of the poets whom the war brought out, or developed, the most noteworthy were Henry Timrod, of South Carolina, and Henry Howard Brownell, of Connecticut. During the war Timrod was with the Confederate Army of the West, as correspondent for the Charleston Mercury, and in 1864 he became assistant editor of the South Carolinian, at Columbia. Sherman's "march to the sea" broke up his business, and he returned to Charleston. A complete edition of his poems was published in 1873, six years after his death. The prettiest of all Timrod's poems is Katie, but more to our present purpose are Charleston—written in the time of blockade—and the Unknown Dead, which tells
"Of nameless graves on battle plains, Wash'd by a single winter's rains, Where, some beneath Virginian hills, And some by green Atlantic rills, Some by the waters of the West, A myriad unknown heroes rest."
When the war was over a poet of New York State, F. M. Finch, sang of these and of other graves in his beautiful Decoration Day lyric, The Blue and the Gray, which spoke the word of reconciliation and consecration for North and South alike.
Brownell, whose Lyrics of a Day and War Lyrics were published respectively in 1864 and 1866, was private secretary to Farragut, on whose flag-ship, the Hartford, he was present at several great naval engagements, such as the "Passage of the Forts" below New Orleans, and the action off Mobile, described in his poem, the Bay Fight. With some roughness and unevenness of execution Brownell's poetry had a fire which places him next to Whittier as the Koerner of the civil war. In him, especially, as in Whittier, is that Puritan sense of the righteousness of his cause which made the battle for the Union a holy war to the crusaders against slavery:
"Full red the furnace fires must glow That melt the ore of mortal kind; The mills of God are grinding slow, But ah, how close they grind!
"To-day the Dahlgren and the drum Are dread apostles of his name; His kingdom here can only come By chrism of blood and flame."
One of the earliest martyrs of the war was Theodore Winthrop, hardly known as a writer until the publication in the Atlantic Monthly of his vivid sketches of Washington as a Camp, describing the march of his regiment, the famous New York Seventh, and its first quarters in the Capitol at Washington. A tragic interest was given to these papers by Winthrop's gallant death in the action of Big Bethel, June 10, 1861. While this was still fresh in public recollection his manuscript novels were published, together with a collection of his stories and sketches reprinted from the magazines. His novels, though in parts crude and immature, have a dash and buoyancy—an out-door air about them—which give the reader a winning impression of Winthrop's personality. The best of them is, perhaps, Cecil Dreeme, a romance that reminds one a little of Hawthorne, and the scene of which is the New York University building on Washington Square, a locality that has been further celebrated in Henry James's novel of Washington Square.
Another member of this same Seventh Regiment, Fitz James O'Brien, an Irishman by birth, who died at Baltimore in 1862 from the effects of a wound received in a cavalry skirmish, had contributed to the magazines a number of poems and of brilliant though fantastic tales, among which the Diamond Lens and What Was It? had something of Edgar A. Poe's quality. Another Irish-American, Charles G. Halpine, under the pen-name of "Miles O'Reilly," wrote a good many clever ballads of the war, partly serious and partly in comic brogue. Prose writers of note furnished the magazines with narratives of their experience at the seat of war, among papers of which kind may be mentioned Dr. Holmes's My Search for the Captain, in the Atlantic Monthly, and Colonel T. W. Higginson's Army Life in a Black Regiment, collected into a volume in 1870.
Of the public oratory of the war, the foremost example is the ever-memorable address of Abraham Lincoln at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg. The war had brought the nation to its intellectual majority. In the stress of that terrible fight there was no room for buncombe and verbiage, such as the newspapers and stump-speakers used to dole out in ante bellum days. Lincoln's speech is short—a few grave words which he turned aside for a moment to speak in the midst of his task of saving the country. The speech is simple, naked of figures, every sentence impressed with a sense of responsibility for the work yet to be done and with a stern determination to do it. "In a larger sense," it says, "we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us; that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom; and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth." Here was eloquence of a different sort from the sonorous perorations of Webster or the polished climaxes of Everett. As we read the plain, strong language of this brief classic, with its solemnity, its restraint, its "brave old wisdom of sincerity," we seem to see the president's homely features irradiated with the light of coming martyrdom—
"The kindly-earnest, brave, foreseeing man, Sagacious, patient, dreading praise, not blame, New birth of our new soil, the first American."
Within the past quarter of a century the popular school of American humor has reached its culmination. Every man of genius who is a humorist at all is so in a way peculiar to himself. There is no lack of individuality in the humor of Irving and Hawthorne and the wit of Holmes and Lowell, but although they are new in subject and application they are not new in kind. Irving, as we have seen, was the literary descendant of Addison. The character-sketches in Bracebridge Hall are of the same family with Sir Roger de Coverley and the other figures of the Spectator Club. Knickerbocker's History of New York, though purely American in its matter, is not distinctly American in its method, which is akin to the mock heroic of Fielding and the irony of Swift in the Voyage to Lilliput. Irving's humor, like that of all the great English humorists, had its root in the perception of character—of the characteristic traits of men and classes of men, as ground of amusement. It depended for its effect, therefore, upon its truthfulness, its dramatic insight and sympathy, as did the humor of Shakespeare, of Sterne, Lamb, and Thackeray. This perception of the characteristic, when pushed to excess, issues in grotesque and caricature, as in some of Dickens's inferior creations, which are little more than personified single tricks of manner, speech, feature, or dress. Hawthorne's rare humor differed from Irving's in temper but not in substance, and belonged, like Irving's, to the English variety. Dr. Holmes's more pronouncedly comic verse does not differ specifically from the facetiae of Thomas Hood, but his prominent trait is wit, which is the laughter of the head as humor is of the heart. The same is true, with qualifications, of Lowell, whose Biglow Papers, though humor of an original sort in their revelation of Yankee character, are essentially satirical. It is the cleverness, the shrewdness of the hits in the Biglow Papers, their logical, that is, witty character, as distinguished from their drollery, that arrests the attention. They are funny, but they are not so funny as they are smart. In all these writers humor was blent with more serious qualities, which gave fineness and literary value to their humorous writings. Their view of life was not exclusively comic. But there has been a class of jesters, of professional humorists, in America, whose product is so indigenous, so different, if not in essence, yet at least in form and expression, from any European humor, that it may be regarded as a unique addition to the comic literature of the world. It has been accepted as such in England, where Artemus Ward and Mark Twain are familiar to multitudes who have never read the One Hoss-Shay or The Courtin'. And though it would be ridiculous to maintain that either of these writers takes rank with Lowell and Holmes, or to deny that there is an amount of flatness and coarseness in many of their labored fooleries which puts large portions of their writings below the line where real literature begins, still it will not do to ignore them as mere buffoons, or even to predict that their humors will soon be forgotten. It is true that no literary fashion is more subject to change than the fashion of a jest, and that jokes that make one generation laugh seem insipid to the next. But there is something perennial in the fun of Rabelais, whom Bacon called "the great jester of France," and though the puns of Shakespeare's clowns are detestable the clowns themselves have not lost their power to amuse.
The Americans are not a gay people, but they are fond of a joke. Lincoln's "little stories" were characteristically Western, and it is doubtful whether he was more endeared to the masses by his solid virtues than by the humorous perception which made him one of them. The humor of which we are speaking now is a strictly popular and national possession. Though America has never, or not until lately, had a comic paper ranking with Punch or Charivari or the Fliegende Blaetter, every newspaper has had its funny column. Our humorists have been graduated from the journalist's desk and sometimes from the printing-press, and now and then a local or country newspaper has risen into sudden prosperity from the possession of a new humorist, as in the case of G. D. Prentice's Courier Journal, or more recently of the Cleveland Plaindealer, the Danbury News, the Burlington Hawkeye, the Arkansaw Traveller, the Texas Siftings, and numerous others. Nowadays there are even syndicates of humorists, who co-operate to supply fun for certain groups of periodicals. Of course, the great majority of these manufacturers of jests for newspapers and comic almanacs are doomed to swift oblivion. But it is not so certain that the best of the class, like Clemens and Browne, will not long continue to be read as illustrative of one side of the American mind, or that their best things will not survive as long as the mots of Sydney Smith, which are still as current as ever. One of the earliest of them was Seba Smith, who, under the name of "Major Jack Downing," did his best to make Jackson's administration ridiculous. B. P. Shillaber's "Mrs. Partington"—a sort of American Mrs. Malaprop—enjoyed great vogue before the war. Of a somewhat higher kind were the Phoenixiana, 1855, and Squibob Papers, 1856, of Lieutenant George H. Derby, "John Phoenix," one of the pioneers of literature on the Pacific coast at the time of the California gold fever of '49. Derby's proposal for A New System of English Grammar, his satirical account of the topographical survey of the two miles of road between San Francisco and the Mission Dolores, and his picture gallery made out of the conventional houses, steam-boats, rail-cars, runaway Negroes, and other designs which used to figure in the advertising columns of the newspapers, were all very ingenious and clever. But all these pale before Artemus Ward—"Artemus the delicious," as Charles Reade called him—who first secured for this peculiarly American type of humor a hearing and reception abroad. Ever since the invention of Hosea Biglow, an imaginary personage of some sort, under cover of whom the author might conceal his own identity, has seemed a necessity to our humorists. Artemus Ward was a traveling showman who went about the country exhibiting a collection of wax "figgers" and whose experiences and reflections were reported in grammar and spelling of a most ingeniously eccentric kind. His inventor was Charles F. Browne, originally of Maine, a printer by trade and afterward a newspaper writer and editor at Boston, Toledo, and Cleveland, where his comicalities in the Plaindealer first began to attract notice. In 1860 he came to New York and joined the staff of Vanity Fair, a comic weekly of much brightness, which ran a short career and perished for want of capital. When Browne began to appear as a public lecturer, people who had formed an idea of him from his impersonation of the shrewd and vulgar old showman were surprised to find him a gentlemanly-looking young man, who came upon the platform in correct evening dress, and "spoke his piece" in a quiet and somewhat mournful manner, stopping in apparent surprise when any one in the audience laughed at any uncommonly outrageous absurdity. In London, where he delivered his Lecture on the Mormons, in 1806, the gravity of his bearing at first imposed upon his hearers, who had come to the hall in search of instructive information and were disappointed at the inadequate nature of the panorama which Browne had had made to illustrate his lecture. Occasionally some hitch would occur in the machinery of this and the lecturer would leave the rostrum for a few moments to "work the moon" that shone upon the Great Salt Lake, apologizing on his return on the ground, that he was "a man short" and offering "to pay a good salary to any respectable boy of good parentage and education who is a good moonist." When it gradually dawned upon the British intellect that these and similar devices of the lecturer—such as the soft music which he had the pianist play at pathetic passages—nay, that the panorama and even the lecture itself were of a humorous intention, the joke began to take, and Artemus's success in England became assured. He was employed as one of the editors of Punch, but died at Southampton in the year following.
Some of Artemus Ward's effects were produced, by cacography or bad spelling, but there was genius in the wildly erratic way in which he handled even this rather low order of humor. It is a curious commentary on the wretchedness of our English orthography that the phonetic spelling of a word, as for example, wuz for was, should be in itself an occasion of mirth. Other verbal effects of a different kind were among his devices, as in the passage where the seventeen widows of a deceased Mormon offered themselves to Artemus.
"And I said, 'Why is this thus? What is the reason of this thusness?' They hove a sigh—seventeen sighs of different size. They said:
"'O, soon thou will be gonested away.'
"I told them that when I got ready to leave a place I wentested.
"They said, 'Doth not like us?'
"I said, 'I doth—I doth.'
"I also said, 'I hope your intentions are honorable, as I am a lone child—my parents being far—far away.'
"They then said, 'Wilt not marry us?'
"I said, 'O no, it cannot was.'
"When they cried, 'O cruel man! this is too much!—O! too much,' I told them that it was on account of the muchness that I declined."
It is hard to define the difference between the humor of one writer and another, or of one nation and another. It can be felt and can be illustrated by quoting examples, but scarcely described in general terms. It has been said of that class of American humorists of which Artemus Ward is a representative that their peculiarity consists in extravagance, surprise, audacity, and irreverence. But all these qualities have characterized other schools of humor. There is the same element of surprise in De Quincey's anti-climax, "Many a man has dated his ruin from some murder or other which, perhaps, at the time he thought little of," as in Artemus's truism that "a comic paper ought to publish a joke now and then." The violation of logic which makes us laugh at an Irish bull is likewise the source of the humor in Artemus's saying of Jeff Davis, that "it would have been better than ten dollars in his pocket if he had never been born;" or in his advice, "Always live within your income, even if you have to borrow money to do so;" or, again, in his announcement that "Mr. Ward will pay no debts of his own contracting." A kind of ludicrous confusion, caused by an unusual collocation of words, is also one of his favorite tricks, as when he says of Brigham Young, "He's the most married man I ever saw in my life;" or when, having been drafted at several hundred different places where he had been exhibiting his wax figures, he says that if he went on he should soon become a regiment, and adds, "I never knew that there was so many of me." With this a whimsical understatement and an affectation of simplicity, as where he expresses his willingness to sacrifice "even his wife's relations" on the altar of patriotism; or where, in delightful unconsciousness of his own sins against orthography, he pronounces that "Chaucer was a great poet but he couldn't spell," or where he says of the feast of raw dog, tendered him by the Indian chief, Wocky-bocky, "It don't agree with me. I prefer simple food." On the whole, it may be said of original humor of this kind, as of other forms of originality in literature, that the elements of it are old, but their combinations are novel. Other humorists, like Henry W. Shaw ("Josh Billings") and David R. Locke ("Petroleum V. Nasby"), have used bad spelling as a part of their machinery; while Robert H. Newell ("Orpheus C. Kerr"), Samuel L. Clemens ("Mark Twain"), and more recently "Bill Nye," though belonging to the same school of low or broad comedy, have discarded cacography. Of these the most eminent, by all odds, is Mark Twain, who has probably made more people laugh than any other living writer. A Missourian by birth (1835), he served the usual apprenticeship at type-setting and editing country newspapers; spent seven years as a pilot on a Mississippi steam-boat, and seven years more mining and journalizing in Nevada, where he conducted the Virginia City Enterprise; finally drifted to San Francisco, and was associated with Bret Harte on the Californian, and in 1867 published his first book, The Jumping Frog. This was succeeded by the Innocents Abroad, 1869; Roughing It, 1872; A Tramp Abroad, 1880, and by others not so good.
Mark Twain's drolleries have frequently the same air of innocence and surprise as Artemus Ward's, and there is a like suddenness in his turns of expression, as where he speaks of "the calm confidence of a Christian with four aces." If he did not originate, he at any rate employed very effectively that now familiar device of the newspaper "funny man," of putting a painful situation euphemistically, as when he says of a man who was hanged, that he "received injuries which terminated in his death." He uses to the full extent the American humorist's favorite resources of exaggeration and irreverence. An instance of the former quality may be seen in his famous description of a dog chasing a coyote, in Roughing It, or in his interview with the lightning-rod agent in Mark Twain's Sketches, 1875. He is a shrewd observer, and his humor has a more satirical side than Artemus Ward's, sometimes passing into downright denunciation. He delights particularly in ridiculing sentimental humbug and moralizing cant. He runs atilt, as has been said, at "copy-book texts," at the temperance reformer, the tract distributer, the Good Boy of Sunday-school literature, and the women who send bouquets and sympathetic letters to interesting criminals. He gives a ludicrous turn to famous historical anecdotes, such as the story of George Washington and his little hatchet; burlesques the time-honored adventure, in nautical romances, of the starving crew casting lots in the long-boat, and spoils the dignity of antiquity by modern trivialities, saying of a discontented sailor on Columbus's ship, "He wanted fresh shad." The fun of Innocents Abroad consists in this irreverent application of modern, common sense, utilitarian, democratic standards to the memorable places and historic associations of Europe. Tried by this test the Old Masters in the picture galleries become laughable, Abelard was a precious scoundrel, and the raptures of the guide-books are parodied without mercy. The tourist weeps at the grave of Adam. At Genoa he drives the cicerone to despair by pretending never to have heard of Christopher Columbus, and inquiring innocently, "Is he dead?" It is Europe vulgarized and stripped of its illusions—Europe seen by a Western newspaper reporter without any "historic imagination."
The method of this whole class of humorists is the opposite of Addison's or Irving's or Thackeray's. It does not amuse by the perception of the characteristic. It is not founded upon truth, but upon incongruity, distortion, unexpectedness. Every thing in life is reversed, as in opera bouffe, and turned topsy-turvy, so that paradox takes the place of the natural order of things. Nevertheless they have supplied a wholesome criticism upon sentimental excesses, and the world is in their debt for many a hearty laugh.
In the Atlantic Monthly for December, 1863, appeared a tale entitled The Man Without a Country, which made a great sensation, and did much to strengthen patriotic feeling in one of the darkest hours of the nation's history. It was the story of one Philip Nolan, an army officer, whose head had been turned by Aaron Burr, and who, having been censured by a court-martial for some minor offense; exclaimed petulantly, upon mention being made of the United States government, "Damn the United States! I wish that I might never hear the United States mentioned again." Thereupon he was sentenced to have his wish, and was kept all his life aboard the vessels of the navy, being sent off on long voyages and transferred from ship to ship, with orders to those in charge that his country and its concerns should never be spoken of in his presence. Such an air of reality was given to the narrative by incidental references to actual persons and occurrences that many believed it true, and some were found who remembered Philip Nolan, but had heard different versions of his career. The author of this clever hoax—if hoax it may be called—was Edward Everett Hale, a Unitarian clergyman of Boston, who published a collection of stories in 1868, under the fantastic title, If, Yes, and Perhaps, indicating thereby that some of the tales were possible, some of them probable, and others might even be regarded as essentially true. A similar collection, His Level Best, and Other Stories, was published in 1873, and in the interval three volumes of a somewhat different kind, the Ingham Papers and Sybaris and Other Homes, both in 1869, and Ten Times One Is Ten, in 187l. The author shelters himself behind the imaginary figure of Captain Frederic Ingham, pastor of the Sandemanian Church at Naguadavick, and the same characters have a way of re-appearing in his successive volumes as old friends of the reader, which is pleasant at first, but in the end a little tiresome. Mr. Hale is one of the most original and ingenious of American story-writers. The old device of making wildly improbable inventions appear like fact by a realistic treatment of details—a device employed by Swift and Edgar Poe, and more lately by Jules Verne—became quite fresh and novel in his hands, and was managed with a humor all his own. Some of his best stories are My Double and How He Undid Me, describing how a busy clergyman found an Irishman who looked so much like himself that he trained him to pass as his duplicate, and sent him to do duty in his stead at public meetings, dinners, etc., thereby escaping bores and getting time for real work; the Brick Moon, a story of a projectile built and launched into space, to revolve in a fixed meridian about the earth and serve mariners as a mark of longitude; the Rag Man and Rag Woman, a tale of an impoverished couple who made a competence by saving the pamphlets, advertisements, wedding-cards, etc., that came to them through the mail, and developing a paper business on that basis; and the Skeleton in the Closet, which shows how the fate of the Southern Confederacy was involved in the adventures of a certain hoop-skirt, "built in the eclipse and rigged with curses dark." Mr. Hale's historical scholarship and his habit of detail have aided him in the art of giving vraisemblance to absurdities. He is known in philanthropy as well as in letters, and his tales have a cheerful, busy, practical way with them in consonance with his motto, "Look up and not down, look forward and not back, look out and not in, and lend a hand."
It is too soon to sum up the literary history of the last quarter of a century. The writers who have given it shape are still writing, and their work is therefore incomplete. But on the slightest review of it two facts become manifest; first, that New England has lost its long monopoly; and, secondly, that a marked feature of the period is the growth of realistic fiction. The electric tension of the atmosphere for thirty years preceding the civil war, the storm and stress of great public contests, and the intellectual stir produced by transcendentalism seem to have been more favorable to poetry and literary idealism than present conditions are. At all events there are no new poets who rank with Whittier, Longfellow, Lowell, and others of the elder generation, although George H. Boker, in Philadelphia, R. H. Stoddard and E. C. Stedman, in New York, and T. B. Aldrich, first in New York and afterward in Boston, have written creditable verse; not to speak of younger writers, whose work, however, for the most part, has been more distinguished by delicacy of execution than by native impulse. Mention has been made of the establishment of Harper's Monthly Magazine, which, under the conduct of its accomplished editor, George W. Curtis, has provided the public with an abundance of good reading. The old Putnam's Monthly, which ran from 1853 to 1858, and had a strong corps of contributors, was revived in 1868, and continued by that name till 1870, when it was succeeded by Scribner's Monthly, under the editorship of Dr. J. G. Holland, and this in 1881 by the Century, an efficient rival of Harper's in circulation, in literary excellence, and in the beauty of its wood-engravings, the American school of which art these two great periodicals have done much to develop and encourage. Another New York monthly, the Galaxy, ran from 1866 to 1878, and was edited by Richard Grant White. Within the last few years a new Scribner's Magazine has also taken the field. The Atlantic, in Boston, and Lippincott's, in Philadelphia, are no unworthy competitors with these for public favor.
During the forties began a new era of national expansion, somewhat resembling that described in a former chapter, and, like that, bearing fruit eventually in literature. The cession of Florida to the United States in 1845, and the annexation of Texas in the same year, were followed by the purchase of California in 1847, and its admission as a State in 1850. In 1849 came the great rush to the California gold fields. San Francisco, at first a mere collection of tents and board shanties, with a few adobe huts, grew with incredible rapidity into a great city—the wicked and wonderful city apostrophized by Bret Harte in his poem, San Francisco:
"Serene, indifferent of fate, Thou sittest at the Western Gate; Upon thy heights so lately won Still slant the banners of the sun. . . . I know thy cunning and thy greed, Thy hard, high lust and willful deed."
The adventurers of all lands and races who flocked to the Pacific coast, found there a motley state of society between civilization and savagery. There were the relics of the old Mexican occupation, the Spanish missions, with their Christianized Indians; the wild tribes of the plains—Apaches, Utes, and Navajoes; the Chinese coolies and washermen, all elements strange to the Atlantic sea-board and the States of the interior. The gold-hunters crossed, in stages or caravans, enormous prairies, alkaline deserts dotted with sage-brush and seamed by deep canons, and passes through gigantic mountain ranges. On the coast itself nature was unfamiliar: the climate was subtropical; fruits and vegetables grew to a mammoth size, corresponding to the enormous redwoods in the Mariposa groves and the prodigious scale of the scenery in the valley of the Yosemite and the snow-capped peaks of the sierras. At first there were few women, and the men led a wild, lawless existence in the mining camps. Hard upon the heels of the prospector followed the dram-shop, the gambling-hell, and the dance-hall. Every man carried his "Colt," and looked out for his own life and his "claim." Crime went unpunished or was taken in hand, when it got too rampant, by vigilance committees. In the diggings shaggy frontiersmen and "pikes" from Missouri mingled with the scum of eastern cities and with broken-down business men and young college graduates seeking their fortune. Surveyors and geologists came of necessity, speculators in mining stock and city lots set up their offices in the town; later came a sprinkling of school-teachers and ministers. Fortunes were made in one day and lost the next at poker or loo. To-day the lucky miner who had struck a good "lead" was drinking champagne out of pails and treating the town; to-morrow he was "busted," and shouldered the pick for a new onslaught upon his luck. This strange, reckless life was not without fascination, and highly picturesque and dramatic elements were present in it. It was, as Bret Harte says, "an era replete with a certain heroic Greek poetry," and sooner or later it was sure to find its poet. During the war California remained loyal to the Union, but was too far from the seat of conflict to experience any serious disturbance, and went on independently developing its own resources and becoming daily more civilized. By 1868 San Francisco had a literary magazine, the Overland Monthly, which ran until 1875, and was revived in 1883. It had a decided local flavor, and the vignette on its title-page was a happily chosen emblem, representing a grizzly bear crossing a railway track. In an early number of the Overland was a story entitled the Luck of Roaring Camp, by Francis Bret Harte, a native of Albany, N. Y. (1835), who had come to California at the age of seventeen, in time to catch the unique aspects of the life of the Forty-niners, before their vagabond communities had settled down into the law-abiding society of the present day. His first contribution was followed by other stories and sketches of a similar kind, such as the Outcasts of Poker Flat, Miggles, and Tennessee's Partner; and by verses, serious and humorous, of which last, Plain Language from Truthful James, better known as the Heathen Chinee, made an immediate hit, and carried its author's name into every corner of the English-speaking world. In 1871 he published a collection of his tales, another of his poems, and a volume of very clever parodies, Condensed Novels, which rank with Thackeray's Novels by Eminent Hands. Bret Harte's California stories were vivid, highly colored pictures of life in the mining camps and raw towns of the Pacific coast. The pathetic and the grotesque went hand in hand in them, and the author aimed to show how even in the desperate characters gathered together there—the fortune-hunters, gamblers, thieves, murderers, drunkards, and prostitutes—the latent nobility of human nature asserted itself in acts of heroism, magnanimity, self-sacrifice, and touching fidelity. The same men who cheated at cards and shot each another down with tipsy curses were capable on occasion of the most romantic generosity and the most delicate chivalry. Critics were not wanting who held that, in the matter of dialect and manners and other details, the narrator was not true to the facts. This was a comparatively unimportant charge; but a more serious question was the doubt whether his characters were essentially true to human nature; whether the wild soil of revenge and greed and dissolute living ever yields such flowers of devotion as blossom in Tennessee's Partner and the Outcasts of Poker Flat. However this may be, there is no question as to Harte's power as a narrator. His short stories are skillfully constructed and effectively told. They never drag, and are never overladen with description, reflection, or other lumber.