CHAPTER III. THE NEW YORK GROUP
A NEW LITERARY CENTER.—We have seen that Massachusetts supplied the majority of the colonial writers before the French and Indian War. During the next period, Philadelphia came to the front with Benjamin Franklin and Charles Brockden Brown. In this third period, New York forged ahead, both in population and in the number of her literary men. Although in 1810 she was smaller than Philadelphia, by 1820 she had a population of 123,706, which was 15,590 more than Philadelphia, and 80,408 more than Boston.
This increase in urban population rapidly multiplied the number of readers of varied tastes and developed a desire for literary entertainment, as well as for instruction. Works like those of Irving and Cooper gained wide circulation only because of the new demands, due to the increasing population, to the decline in colonial provincialism, and to the growth of the new national spirit. Probably no one would have been inspired, twenty-five years earlier, to write a work like Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York. Even if it had been produced earlier, the country would not have been ready to receive it. This remarkable book was published in New York in 1809, and more than a quarter of a century had passed before Massachusetts could produce anything to equal that work.
In the New York group there were three great writers whom we shall discuss separately: Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, and William Cullen Bryant. Before we begin to study them, however, we may glance at two of the minor writers, who show some of the characteristics of the age.
DRAKE AND HALLECK
Two friends, who in their early youth styled themselves “The Croakers,” were Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820) and Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867), “the Damon and Pythias of American poets.” Drake was born in New York City in the same year as the English poet, John Keats, in London. Both Drake and Keats studied medicine, and both died of consumption at the age of twenty-five. Halleck was born in Guilford, Connecticut, but moved to New York in early youth, where he became a special accountant for John Jacob Astor. Although Halleck outlived Drake forty-seven years, trade seems to have sterilized Halleck's poetic power in his later life.
The early joint productions of Drake and Halleck were poems known as The Croakers, published in 1819, in the New York Evening Post . This stanza from The Croakers will show the character of the verse and its avowed object:—
“There's fun in everything we meet,
The greatest, worst, and best;
Existence is a merry treat,
And every speech a jest:
Be't ours to watch the crowds that pass
Where Mirth's gay banner waves;
To show fools through a quizzing-glass
And bastinade the knaves.”
This was written by Drake, but he and Halleck together “croaked” the following lines, which show that New York life at the beginning of the nineteenth century had something of the variety of London in the time of Queen Anne, at the beginning of the eighteenth century:—
“The horse that twice a week I ride
At Mother Dawson's eats his fill;
My books at Goodrich's abide,
My country seat is Weehawk hill;
My morning lounge is Eastburn's shop,
At Poppleton's I take my lunch,
Niblo prepares my mutton chop,
And Jennings makes my whiskey punch.”
Such work indicates not only a diversified circle of readers, who were not subject to the religious and political stress of earlier days, but it also shows a desire to be entertained, which would have been promptly discouraged in Puritan New England. We should not be surprised to find that the literature of this period was swayed by the new demands, that it was planned to entertain as well as to instruct, and that all the writers of this group, with the exception of Bryant, frequently placed the chief emphasis on the power to entertain.
Fortunately instruction often accompanies entertainment, as the following lines from The Croakers show:—
“The man who frets at worldly strife
Grows sallow, sour, and thin;
Give us the lad whose happy life
Is one perpetual grin,
He, Midas-like, turns all to gold.”
Drake's best poem, which is entirely his own work, is The Culprit Fay, written in 1816 when he was twenty-one years of age. This shows the influence of the English romantic school, and peoples the Hudson River with fairies. Before the appearance of this poem, nothing like these lines could have been found in American verse:—
“The winds are whist, and the owl is still,
The bat in the shelvy rock is hid;
And naught is heard on the lonely hill
But the cricket's chirp and the answer shrill
Of the gauze-winged katydid;
And the plaint of the wailing whip-poor-will,
Who moans unseen, and ceaseless sings,
Ever a note of wail and woe,
Till morning spreads her rosy wings
And earth and sky in her glances glow.”
Although The Culprit Fay shows the influence of Coleridge's Christabel, yet this American poem could not have been written by an English poet. Drake did not sing the praises of the English lark and the nightingale; but chose instead an American bird, the whippoorwill, and a native insect, the katydid, and in writing of them showed the enjoyment of a true poet.
Drake's best known poem, The American Flag, which was signed “Croaker & Co.,” because Halleck wrote the last four lines, is a good specimen of rhetorical verse, but lacks the poetic feeling of The Culprit Fay. Fitz-Greene Halleck's best known poem is Marco Bozzaris (1827), an elegy on the death of a Grecian leader, killed in 1823. America's sympathies went out to Greece in her struggles for independence against the Turks. In celebrating the heroic death of Bozzaris, Halleck chose a subject that was naturally fitted to appeal to all whose liberties were threatened. This poem has been honored with a place in almost all American anthologies. Middle-aged people can still remember the frequency with which the poem was declaimed. At one time these lines were perhaps as often heard as any in American verse:—
“Strike—till the last armed foe expires;
Strike—for your altars and your fires;
Strike—for the green graves of your sires;
God—and your native land!”
Fifty years ago the readers of this poem would have been surprised to be told that interest in it would ever wane, but it was fitted to arouse the enthusiasm, not of all time, but of an age,—an age that knew from first-hand experience the meaning of a struggle for hearth fires and freedom. Most critics to-day prefer Halleck's lines On the Death of Joseph Rodman Drake:—
“Green be the turf above thee,
Friend of my better days!
None knew thee but to love thee,
Nor named thee but to praise.”
This poem is simpler, less rhetorical, and the vehicle of more genuine feeling than Marco Bozzaris.
The work of Drake and Halleck shows an advance in technique and imaginative power. Their verse, unlike the satires of Freneau and Trumbull, does not use the maiming cudgel, nor is it ponderous like Barlow's Columbiad or Dwight's Conquest of Canaan.
WASHINGTON IRVING, 1783-1859
LIFE.—Irving was born in New York City in 1783, the year in which Benjamin Franklin signed at Paris the treaty of peace with England after the Revolutionary War. Irving's father, a Scotchman from the Orkney Islands, was descended from De Irwyn, armor bearer to Robert Bruce. Irving's mother was born in England, and the English have thought sufficiently well of her son to claim that he belonged to England as much as to America. In fact, he sometimes seemed to them to be more English than American, especially after he had written something unusually good.
When Irving was a boy, the greater part of what is now New York City was picturesque country. He mingled with the descendants of the Dutch, passed daily by their old-style houses, and had excellent opportunities for hearing the traditions and learning the peculiarities of Manhattan's early settlers, whom he was afterwards to immortalize in American literature. On his way to school he looked at the stocks and the whipping post, which had a salaried official to attend to the duties connected with it. He could have noticed two prisons, one for criminals and the other for debtors. He could scarcely have failed to see the gallows, in frequent use for offenses for which the law to-day prescribes only a short term of imprisonment. Notwithstanding the twenty-two churches, the pious complained that the town was so godless as to allow the theaters to be open on Saturday night.
Instead of going to bed after the family prayers, Irving sometimes climbed through a window, gained the alley, and went to the theater. In school he devoured as many travels and tales as possible, and he acquired much early skill in writing compositions for boys in return for their assistance in solving his arithmetical problems—a task that he detested.
At the age of fifteen he was allowed to take his gun and explore the Sleepy Hollow region, which became the scene of one of his world-famous stories. When he was seventeen, he sailed slowly up the Hudson River on his own voyage of discovery. Hendrick Hudson's exploration of this river gave it temporarily to the Dutch; but Irving annexed it for all time to the realm of the romantic imagination. The singers and weavers of legends were more than a thousand years in giving to the Rhine its high position in that realm; but Irving in a little more than a decade made the Hudson almost its peer.
In such unique environment, Irving passed his boyhood. Unlike his brothers, he did not go to Columbia College, but like Charles Brockden Brown studied law, and like him never seriously practiced the profession. Under the pen name of “Jonathan Oldstyle,” he was writing, at the age of nineteen, newspaper letters, modeled closely after Addison's Spectator. Ill health drove Irving at twenty-one to take a European trip, which lasted two years. His next appearance in literature after his return was in connection with his brother, William Irving, and James K. Paulding. The three started a semi-monthly periodical called Salmagundi, fashioned after Addison's Spectator and Goldsmith's Citizen of the World. The first number was published January 24, 1807, and the twentieth and last, January 25, 1808. “In Irving's contributions to it,” says his biographer, “may be traced the germs of nearly everything he did afterwards.”
The year 1809 was the most important in Irving's young life. In that year Matilda Hoffman, to whom he was engaged, died in her eighteenth year. Although he outlived her fifty years, he remained a bachelor, and he carried her Bible with him wherever he traveled in Europe or America. In the same year he finished one of his masterpieces, Diedrich Knickerbocker's History of New York. Even at this time he had not decided to follow literature as a profession.
In 1815 he went to England to visit his brother, who was in business there. It was not, however, until the failure of his brother's firm in 1818 that Irving determined to make literature his life work. While in London he wrote the Sketch Book (1819), which added to his fame on both sides of the Atlantic. This visit abroad lasted seventeen years. Before he returned, in 1832, he had finished the greater part of the literary work of his life. Besides the Sketch Book, he had written Bracebridge Hall, Tales of a Traveller, Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, The Conquest of Granada , The Companions of Columbus, and The Alhambra. He had been secretary of the American legation at Madrid and at London. He had actually lived in the Alhambra.
Soon after his return, he purchased a home at Tarrytown (now Irvington) in the Sleepy Hollow district on the Hudson. He named his new home “Sunnyside.” With the exception of four years (1842-1846), when he served as minister to Spain, Irving lived here, engaged in literary work, for the remainder of his life. When he died in 1859, he was buried in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery, near his home.
Long before his death he was known on both sides of the Atlantic as America's greatest author. Englishmen who visited this country expressed a desire to see its two wonders, Niagara Falls and Irving. His English publishers alone paid him over $60,000 for copyright sales of his books in England. Before he died, he had earned more than $200,000 with his pen.
Irving's personality won him friends wherever he went. He was genial and kindly, and his biographer adds that it was never Irving's habit to stroke the world the wrong way. One of his maxims was, “When I cannot get a dinner to suit my taste, I endeavor to get a taste to suit my dinner.”
KNICKERBOCKER'S HISTORY OF NEW YORK.—The New York Evening Post for December 28, 1809, said: “This work was found in the chamber of Mr. Diedrich Knickerbocker, the old gentleman whose sudden and mysterious disappearance has been noticed. It is published in order to discharge certain debts he has left behind.” This disguise, however, was too thin to deceive the public, and the work was soon popularly called Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York.
Two hundred years before its publication, Hendrick Hudson, an explorer in the service of Holland, had sailed into New York Bay and discovered Manhattan Island and the Hudson River for the Dutch. They founded the city of New Amsterdam and held it until the English captured it in 1664. Irving wrote the history of this settlement during the Dutch occupation. He was led to choose this subject, because, as he tells us, few of his fellow citizens were aware that New York had ever been called New Amsterdam, and because the subject, “poetic from its very obscurity,” was especially available for an American author, since it gave him a chance to adorn it with legend and fable. He states that his object was “to embody the traditions of our city in an amusing form” and to invest it “with those imaginative and whimsical associations so seldom met with in our country, but which live like charms and spells about the cities of the old world.”
Irving achieved his object and produced an entertaining compound of historical fact, romantic sentiment, exaggeration, and humor. He shows us the contemplative Dutchmen on their first voyage in the Half Moon , sailing into New York Bay, prohibited by Hudson “from wearing more than five jackets and six pair of breeches.” We see the scrupulously “honest” Dutch traders buying furs from the Indians, using an invariable scale of avoirdupois weights, a Dutchman's hand in the scale opposite the furs weighing one pound, his foot two pounds. We watch the puzzled Indians trying to account for the fact that the largest bundle of furs never weighed more than two pounds. We attend a council of burghers at Communipaw, called to devise means to protect their town from an English expedition. While they are thoughtfully smoking, the English sail by without seeing the smoke-enveloped town. Irving shows us the Dutchmen estimating their distances and time by the period consumed in smoking a pipe,—Hartford, Connecticut, being two hundred pipes distant. He allows us to watch a housewife emptying her pocket in her search for a wooden ladle and filling two corn baskets with the contents. He takes us to a tea party attended by “the higher classes or noblesse, that is to say such as kept their own cows and drove their own wagons,” where we can see the damsels knitting their own woolen stockings and the vrouws serving big apple pies, bushels of doughnuts, and pouring tea out of a fat Delft teapot. He draws this picture of Wouter Van Twiller, Governor of New Amsterdam:—
“The person of this illustrious old gentleman was formed and proportioned
as though it had been moulded by the hands of some cunning Dutch
statuary, as a model of majesty and lordly grandeur. He was exactly five
feet six inches in height, and six feet five inches in circumference. His
head was a perfect sphere....
“His habits were as regular as his person. He daily took his four stated
meals, appropriating exactly an hour to each; he smoked and doubted eight
hours, and he slept the remaining twelve of the four-and-twenty.”
THE SKETCH BOOK GROUP.—The only one of his productions to which Irving gave the name of The Sketch Book was finished in 1820, the year in which Scott's Ivanhoe, Keats's Eve of St. Agnes , and Shelley's Prometheus Unbound appeared. Of the same general order as The Sketch Book are Irving's Bracebridge Hall (1822) and Tales of a Traveller (1824). These volumes all contain short stories, essays, or sketches, many of which are suggestive of Addison's Spectator. The Sketch Book is the most famous of Irving's works of this class. While it contains some excellent essays or descriptions, such as those entitled Westminster Abbey and Stratford-on-Avon, the book lives to-day because of two short stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. These were not equaled by Addison, and they have not been surpassed by any English writers of the nineteenth century. Both stories take their rise from the “Knickerbocker Legend,” and they are thoroughly American in coloring and flavor, even if they did happen to be written in England. No story in our literature is better known than that of Rip Van Winkle watching Hendrick Hudson and his ghostly crew playing ninepins in the Catskill Mountains and quaffing the magic liquor which caused him to sleep for twenty years.
For nearly one hundred years Ichabod Crane's courtship of Katrina Van Tassel, in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, has continued to amuse its readers. The Indian summer haze is still resting on Sleepy Hollow, our American Utopia, where we can hear the quail whistling, see the brook bubbling along among alders and dwarf willows, over which amber clouds float forever in the sky; where the fragrant buckwheat fields breathe the odor of the beehive; where the slapjacks are “well buttered and garnished with honey or treacle, by the delicate little dimpled hand of Katrina Van Tassel,” where a greeting awaits us from the sucking pigs already roasted and stuffed with pudding; where the very tea tables of the Dutch housewives welcome us with loads of crisp crumbling crullers, honey cakes, and “the whole family of cakes,” surrounded by pies, preserves, roast chicken, bowls of cream, all invested with a halo from the spout of the motherly Dutch teapot.
The Alhambra, a book of tales of the old Moorish palace in Granada, Spain, has been aptly termed “The Spanish Sketch Book.” This has preserved the romance of departed Moorish glory almost as effectively as the Knickerbocker sketches and stories have invested the early Dutch settlers of New York with something like Homeric immortality. A traveler in Spain writes of The Alhambra: “Not Ford, nor Murray, nor Hare has been able to replace it. The tourist reads it within the walls it commemorates as conscientiously as the devout read Ruskin in Florence.” [Footnote: Introduction to Pennell's illustrated edition of The Alhambra.]
In his three works, The Sketch Book, The Tales of a Traveller, and The Alhambra, Irving proved himself the first American master of the short tale or sketch, yet he is not the father of the modern short story, which aims to avoid every sentence unless it directly advances the narrative or heightens the desired impression. His description and presentation of incident do not usually tend to one definite goal, after the fashion theoretically prescribed by the art of the modern short story. The author of a modern short tale would need to feel the dire necessity of recording the sage observation of a Dutch housewife, that “ducks and geese are foolish things, and must be looked after, but girls can take care of themselves.” Irving, however, in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, has sufficient leisure to make this observation and to stop to listen to “the pensive whistle of the quail,” or to admire “great fields of Indian corn, with its golden ears peeping from their leafy coverts, and holding out the promise of cakes and hasty puddings.”
Some have even proposed that his stories be called “narrative-essays,” but they show a step beyond Addison in the evolution of the short story because they contain less essay and more story. It is true that Irving writes three pages of essay before beginning the real story in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but the most of this preliminary matter is very interesting description. The quiet valley with its small brook, the tapping woodpecker, the drowsy shade of the trees, the spots haunted by the headless Hessian,—all fascinate us and provide an atmosphere which the modern short-story teller too seldom secures. The novice in modern short-story writing should know at the outset that it takes more genius to succeed with a story like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow than with a tale where the writer relies on the more strait-laced narration of events to arouse interest.
HISTORY AND BIOGRAPHY.—Of The Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus (1828), Irving said “it cost me more toil and trouble than all my other productions.” While the method of scientific historical study has completely changed since his time, no dry-as-dust historian has yet equaled Irving in presenting the human side of Columbus, his ideals, his dreams, and his mastery of wind and wave and human nature in the greatest voyage of the ages. Others have written of him as a man who once lived but who died so very long ago that he now has no more life than the portraits of those old masters who made all their figures look like paralytics. Irving did not write this work as if he were imagining a romance. He searched for his facts in all the musty records which he could find in Spain, but he then remembered that they dealt with a living, enthusiastic human being, sometimes weak, and sometimes invested with more than the strength of all the generations that had died without discovering the New World. It was this work which, more than any other, brought Irving the degree of D.C.L. from Oxford University. And yet, when he appeared to take his degree, the undergraduates of Oxford voiced the judgment of posterity by welcoming him with shouts of “Diedrich Knickerbocker!” “Ichabod Crane!” “Rip Van Winkle!”
The Conquest of Granada (1829) is a thrilling narrative of the subjugation by Ferdinand and Isabella of the last kingdom of the Moors in Spain. In this account, royal leaders, chivalrous knights, single-handed conflicts, and romantic assaults make warfare seem like a carnival instead of a tragedy.
The life of Oliver Goldsmith (1849) ranks among the best biographies yet written by an American, not because of its originality, but for its exquisitely sympathetic portraiture of an English author with whom Irving felt close kinship.
His longest work, the Life of George Washington (1855-1859), lacks the imaginative enthusiasm of youth, but it does justice to “the magnificent patience, the courage to bear misconstruction, the unfailing patriotism, the practical sagacity, the level balance of judgment combined with the wisest toleration, the dignity of mind, and the lofty moral nature,” which made George Washington the one man capable of leading a forlorn army in the Revolution, of presiding over the destinies of the young Republic, and of taking a sure place among the few great heroes of all time. This work is also an almost complete history of the Revolutionary War. It is unfortunate that the great length of this Life (eight volumes) has resulted in such a narrowing of its circle of readers.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Washington Irving is the earliest American whose most popular works are read for pure pleasure and not for some historical or educational significance. His most striking qualities are humor and restrained sentiment. The work by which he will be longest known is his creation of the “Knickerbocker Legend” in the History of New York and his two most famous short stories,Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Although he is not the father of the modern short story, which travels like an airship by the shortest line to its destination, he is yet one of the great nineteenth-century story tellers. Some of his essays or papers, like Westminster Abbey, Stratford-on-Avon, and Christmas do not suffer by comparison with Addison's writings.
Much of Irving's historical work and many of his essays do not show great depth or striking originality. He did some hack writing, dealing with our great West, but the work by which he is best known is so original that no other American writers can for a moment compare with him in his special field. He gave us our own Homeric age and peopled it with Knickerbockers, who are as entertaining as Achilles, Priam, or Circe.
His best work is a product of the romantic imagination, but his romanticism is of a finer type than that of Charles Brockden Brown and the English Gothic school (p. 88), for Irving's fondness for Addison and Goldsmith, in conjunction with his own keen sense of humor, taught him restraint, balance, and the adaptation of means to ends.
Irving has an unusual power of investing his subjects with the proper atmosphere. In this he resembles the greatest landscape painters. If he writes of early settlers of New York, we are in a Dutch atmosphere. If he tells the legends of the Alhambra, the atmosphere is Moorish. If he takes us to the Hudson or the Catskills or Sleepy Hollow or Granada, he adds to our artistic enjoyment by enveloping everything in its own peculiar atmosphere.
His clear, simple, smooth prose conceals its artistic finish so well and serves as the vehicle for so much humor, that readers often pass a long time in his company without experiencing fatigue. His style has been criticized for lack of vigor and for resemblance to Goldsmith's. Irving's style, however, is his own, and it is the style natural to a man of his placid, artistic temperament.
America takes special pride in Washington Irving, because he was the first author to invest her brief history with the enduring fascination of romance. We shall the better appreciate our debt to him, if we imagine that some wizard has the power to subtract from our literature the inimitable Knickerbocker, Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow, and our national romantic river, the storied Hudson.
JAMES FENIMORE COOPER, 1789-1851
YOUTH.—Cooper's place in American literature is chiefly based on his romantic stories of the pioneer and the Indian. We have seen how Captain John Smith won the ear of the world by his early story of Indian adventure, how Charles Brockden Brown in Edgar Huntly deliberately selected the Indian and the life of the wilderness as good material for an American writer of romance. Cooper chose these very materials and used them with a success attained by no other writer. Let us see how his early life fitted him to write of the Indian, the pioneer, the forest, and the sea.
He was born in Burlington, New Jersey, in 1789, the year made memorable by the French Revolution. While he was still an infant, the Cooper family moved to the southeastern shore of Otsego Lake and founded the village of Cooperstown, at the point where the Susquehanna River furnishes an outlet for the lake. In this romantic place he passed the most impressionable part of his boyhood.
At the close of the eighteenth century, Cooperstown was one of the outposts of civilization. Few clearings had been made in the vast mysterious forests, which appealed so deeply to the boy's imagination, and which still sheltered deer, bear, and Indians. The most vivid local story which his young ears heard was the account of the Cherry Valley massacre, which had taken place a few miles from Cooperstown only eleven years before he was born. Cooper himself felt the fascination of the trackless forests before he communicated it to his readers.
He entered Yale in 1802, but he did not succeed in eradicating his love of outdoor life and of the unfettered habits of the pioneer, and did not remain to graduate. The faculty dismissed him in his junior year. It was unfortunate that he did not study more and submit to the restraints and discipline of regular college life; for his prose often shows in its carelessness of construction and lack of restraint his need for that formal discipline which was for the moment so grievous to him.
After Cooper had left college, his father decided to have him prepare for the navy. As there was no naval academy, he adopted the usual course of having the boy serve a year on a merchant vessel. After this apprenticeship, Cooper entered the navy as a midshipman. From such experiences he gained sufficient knowledge of the ocean and ships to enable him to become the author of some of our best tales of the sea. He resigned from the navy, however, in 1811, when he married.
BECOMES AN AUTHOR.—Cooper had reached the age of thirty without even attempting to write a book. In 1820 he remarked one day to his wife that he thought he could write a better novel than the one which he was then reading to her. She immediately challenged him to try, and he promptly wrote the novel called Precaution. He chose to have this deal with English life because the critics of his time considered American subjects commonplace and uninteresting. As he knew nothing of English life at first hand, he naturally could not make the pages of Precaution vivid with touches of local color.
This book was soon forgotten, and Cooper might never have written another, had not some sensible friends insisted that it was his patriotic duty to make American subjects fashionable. A friend related to him the story of a spy of Westchester County, New York, who during the Revolution served the American cause with rare fidelity and sagacity. Cooper was then living in this very county, and, being attracted by the subject, he soon completed the first volume of The Spy, which was at once printed. As he still doubted, however, whether his countrymen would read “a book that treated of their own familiar interests,” he delayed writing the second volume for several months. When he did start to write it, his publisher feared that it might be too long to pay, so before Cooper had thought out the intervening chapters, he wrote the last chapter and had it printed and paged to satisfy the publisher. When The Spy was published in 1821, it immediately sold well in America, although such was the bondage to English standards of criticism that many who read the book hesitated to express an opinion until they had heard the verdict from England. When the English received the book, however, they fairly devoured it, and it became one of the most widely read tales of the early nineteenth century. Harvey Birch, the hero of the story, is one of the great characters of our early fiction.
Cooper now adopted writing as a profession. In less than thirty years, he wrote more than thirty romances, in most cases of two volumes each. When he went to Europe in 1826, the year of the publication ofThe Last of the Mohicans, he found that his work was as well known abroad as at home. Sir Walter Scott, who met Cooper in Paris, mentions in his diary for November 6, 1826, a reception by a French princess, and adds the note, “Cooper was there, so the American and Scotch lions took the field together.”
LATER YEARS.—After Cooper's return from Europe in 1833, he spent the most of the remaining seventeen years of his life in writing books at his early home, known as Otsego Hall, in Cooperstown. Here in the summer of 1837 there occurred an unfortunate incident which embittered the rest of his life and for a while made him the most unpopular of American authors. Some of his townspeople cut down one of his valuable trees and otherwise misused the picnic grounds on a part of his estate fronting the lake. When he remonstrated, the public denounced him and ordered his books removed from the local library. He then forbade the further use of his grounds by the public. Many of the newspapers throughout the state misrepresented his action, and he foolishly sued them for libel. From that time the press persecuted him. He sued the Albany Evening Journal, edited by Thurlow Weed, and received four hundred dollars damage. Weed thereupon wrote in the New York Tribune:—
“The value of Mr. Cooper's character has been judicially determined. It
is worth exactly four hundred dollars.”
Cooper promptly sued The Tribune, and was awarded two hundred dollars. In the heat of this controversy Thurlow Weed incautiously opened Cooper's The Pathfinder, which had just appeared, and sat up all night to finish the book. During the progress of these suits, Cooper unfortunately wrote a novel, Home as Found, satirizing, from a somewhat European point of view, the faults of his countrymen. A friend, trying to dissuade him from publishing such matter, wrote, “You lose hold on the American public by rubbing down their shins with brickbats, as you do.” Cooper, however, published the book in 1838, and then there was a general rush to attack him. A critic of his History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839), a work which is still an authority for the time of which it treats, abused the book and made reflections on Cooper's veracity. The author brought suit for libel, and won his case in a famous trial in which he was his own lawyer. These unfortunate incidents, which would have been avoided by a man like Benjamin Franklin, diminished the circulation of Cooper's books in America during the rest of his life.
Even on his deathbed he thought of the unjust criticism from which he had suffered, and asked his family not to aid in the preparation of any account of his life. He died in 1851 at the age of sixty-two, and was buried at Cooperstown. Lounsbury thus concludes an excellent biography of this great writer of romance:—
“America has had among her representatives of the irritable race of
writers many who have shown far more ability to get on pleasantly with
their fellows than Cooper.... But she counts on the scanty roll of her
men of letters the name of no one who acted from purer patriotism or
loftier principle. She finds among them all no manlier nature and no more
GREATEST ROMANCES.—Cooper's greatest achievement is the series known as The Leatherstocking Tales. These all have as their hero Leatherstocking, a pioneer variously known as Hawkeye, La Longue Carabine (The Long Rifle), and Natty Bumppo. A statue of this great original creation of American fiction now overlooks Otsego Lake. Leatherstocking embodies the fearlessness, the energy, the rugged honesty, of the worthiest of our pioneers, of those men who opened up our vast inland country and gave it to us to enjoy. Ulysses is no more typically Grecian than Leatherstocking is American.
The Leatherstocking Tales are five in number. The order in which they should be read to follow the hero from youth to old age is as follows:—
[Footnote: The figures in parenthesis refer to the date of publication.]
The Deerslayer; or The First War Path (1841).
The Last of the Mohicans; a Narrative of 1757 (1826).
The Pathfinder; or the Inland Sea (1840).
The Pioneers; or the Sources of the Susquehanna (1823).
The Prairie; a Tale (1827)
This sequence may be easily remembered from the fact that the first chief words in the titles, “Deerslayer,” “Mohicans,” “Pathfinder,” “Pioneers,” and “Prairie,” are arranged in alphabetical order. These books are the prose Iliad and Odyssey of the eighteenth-century American pioneer. Instead of relating the fall of Ilium, Cooper tells of the conquest of the wilderness. The wanderings or Leatherstocking in the forest and the wilderness are substituted for those of Ulysses on the sea. This story could not have been related with much of the vividness of an eye-witness of the events, if it had been postponed beyond Cooper's day. Before that time had forever passed, he fixed in living romance one remarkable phase of our country's development. The persons of this romantic drama were the Pioneer and the Indian; the stage was the trackless forest and the unbroken wilderness.
The Last of the Mohicans has been the favorite of the greatest number of readers. In this story Chingachgook, the Indian, and Uncas, his son, share with Hawkeye our warmest admiration. The American boy longs to enter the fray to aid Uncas. Cooper knew that the Indian had good traits, and he embodied them in these two red men. Scott took the same liberty of presenting the finer aspects of chivalry and neglecting its darker side. Cooper, however, does show an Indian fiend in Magua.
Cooper's work in this series brings us face to face with the activities of nature and man in God's great out of doors. Cooper makes us realize that the life of the pioneer was not without its elemental spirit of poetry. We may feel something of this spirit in the reply of Leatherstocking to the trembling Cora, when she asked him at midnight what caused a certain fearful sound:—
“'Lady,' returned the scout, solemnly, 'I have listened to all the sounds
of the woods for thirty years, as a man will listen, whose life and death
depend so often on the quickness of his ears. There is no whine of the
panther, no whistle of the catbird, nor any invention of the devilish
Mingos, that can cheat me. I have heard the forest moan like mortal men
in their affliction; often and again have I listened to the wind playing
its music in the branches of the girdled trees; and I have heard the
lightning cracking in the air, like the snapping of blazing brush, as it
spitted forth sparks and forked flames; but never have I thought that I
heard more than the pleasure of him, who sported with the things of his
hand. But neither the Mohicans, nor I, who am a white man without a
cross, can explain the cry just heard.'“
In addition to the five Leatherstocking Tales, three other romances show special power. They are:—
The Spy; a Tale of the Neutral Ground (1821).
The Pilot; a Tale of the Sea (1824).
The Red Rover; a Tale (1828).
The last two show Cooper's mastery in telling stories of the sea. Tom Coffin, in The Pilot, is a fine creation.
Some of the more than thirty works of fiction that Cooper wrote are almost unreadable, and some appeal more to special students than to general readers. Satanstoe (1845), for instance, gives vivid pictures of mid-eighteenth century colonial life in New York.
The English critic's query, “Who reads an American book?” could have received the answer in 1820, “The English public is reading Irving.” In 1833, Morse, the inventor of the electric telegraph, had another answer ready—“Europe is reading Cooper.” He said that as soon as Cooper's works were finished they were published in thirty-four different places in Europe. American literature was commanding attention for its original work.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Cooper's best romances are masterpieces of action and adventure in the forest and on the sea. No other writer has so well told the story of the pioneer. He is not a successful novelist of the drawing-room. His women are mediocre and conventional, of the type described in the old Sunday school books. But when he leaves the haunts of men and enters the forest, power comes naturally to his pen. His greatest stage of action is the forest. He loved wild nature and the sea.
He often availed himself of the Gothic license of improbability, his characters being frequently rescued from well-nigh impossible situations. His plots were not carefully planned in advance; they often seem to have been suggested by an inspiration of the moment. He wrote so rapidly that he was careless about the construction of his sentences, which are sometimes not even grammatical.
It is easy, however, to exaggerate Cooper's faults, which do not, after all, seriously interfere with the enjoyment of his works. A teacher, who was asked to edit critically The Last of the Mohicans , said that the first time he read it, the narrative carried him forward with such a rush, and bound him with such a spell, that he did not notice a single blemish in plot or style. A boy reading the same book obeyed the order to retire at eleven, but having reached the point where Uncas was taken prisoner by the Hurons, found the suspense too great, and quietly got the book and read the next four chapters in bed. Cooper has in a pre-eminent degree the first absolutely necessary qualification of the writer of fiction—the power to hold the interest. In some respects he resembles Scott, but although the “Wizard of the North” has a far wider range of excellence, Leatherstocking surpasses any single one of Scott's creations and remains a great original character added to the literature of the world. These romances have strong ethical influence over the young. They are as pure as mountain air, and they teach a love for manly, noble, and brave deeds. “He fought for a principle,” says Cooper's biographer, “as desperately as other men fight for life.”
WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, 1794-1878
LIFE.-The early environment of each of the three great members of the New York group determined to an unusual degree the special literary work for which each became famous. Had Irving not been steeped in the legends of the early Dutch settlers of Manhattan, hunted squirrels in Sleepy Hollow, and voyaged up the Hudson past the Catskills, he would have had small chance of becoming famous as the author of the “Knickerbocker Legend.” Had Cooper not spent his boyhood on the frontier, living in close touch with the forest and the pioneer, we should probably not have had The Leatherstocking Tales. Had it not been for Bryant's early Puritan training and his association with a peculiar type of nature, he might have ended his days as a lawyer.
Bryant was born in Cummington, among the hills of western Massachusetts. In her diary, his mother thus records his birth:—
“Nov. 3, 1794. Stormy, wind N. E. Churned. Seven in the evening a son
His poetry will be better understood, if we emphasize two main facts in his early development. In the first place, he was descended from John and Priscilla Alden of Mayflower stock and reared in strict Puritan fashion. Bryant's religious training determined the general attitude of all his poetry toward nature. His parents expected their children to know the Bible in a way that can scarcely be comprehended in the twentieth century. Before completing his fourth year, his older brother “had read the Scriptures through from beginning to end.” At the age of nine, the future poet turned the first chapter of Job into classical couplets, beginning:—
“Job, good and just, in Uz had sojourned long,
He feared his God and shunned the way of wrong.
Three were his daughters and his sons were seven,
And large the wealth bestowed on him by heaven.”
Another striking fact is that the prayers which he heard from the Puritan clergy and from his father and grandfather in family worship gave him a turn toward noble poetic expression. He said that these prayers were often “poems from beginning to end,” and he cited such expressions from them as, “Let not our feet stumble on the dark mountains of eternal death.” From the Puritan point of view, the boy made in his own prayers one daring variation from the petitions based on scriptural sanction. He prayed that he “might receive the gift of poetic genius, and write verses that might endure.” His early religious training was responsible for investing his poetry with the dignity, gravity, and simplicity of the Hebraic Scriptures.
In the second place, he passed his youth in the fine scenery of western Massachusetts, which is in considerable measure the counterpart of the Lake Country which bred Wordsworth. The glory of this region reappears in his verse; the rock-ribbed hills, the vales stretching in pensive quietness between them, the venerable woods of ash, beech, birch, hemlock, and maple, the complaining brooks that make the valleys green, the rare May days:—
“When beechen buds begin to swell,
And woods the blue bird's warble know.”
[Footnote: Bryant: The Yellow Violet.]
His association with such scenes determined the subject matter of his poetry, and his Puritan training prescribed the form of treatment.
He had few educational advantages,—a little district schooling, some private tutoring by a clergyman, seven month's stay in Williams College, which at the time of his entrance in 1810 had a teaching staff of one professor and two tutors, besides the president. Bryant left Williams, intending to enter Yale; but his father, a poor country physician who had to ride vast distances for small fees, was unable to give him any further college training.
Bryant, at about the age of eighteen, soon after leaving Williams, wrote Thanatopsis,—with the exception of the opening and the closing parts. He had already written at the age of thirteen a satiric poem, The Embargo, which had secured wide circulation in New England. Keenly disappointed at not being able to continue his college education, he regretfully began the study of law in order to earn his living as soon as possible. He celebrated his admission to the bar by writing one of his greatest short poems, To a Waterfowl (1815). When he was a lawyer practicing in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, he met Miss Fanny Fairchild, to whom he addressed the poem,—
“O fairest of the rural maids!”
Religious in all things, he prepared this betrothal prayer, which they repeated together before they were married in the following year—
“May Almighty God mercifully take care of our happiness here and
hereafter. May we ever continue constant to each other, and mindful of
our mutual promises of attachment and truth. In due time, if it be the
will of Providence, may we become more nearly connected with each other,
and together may we lead a long, happy, and innocent life, without any
diminution of affection till we die.”
In 1821, the year in which Cooper published The Spy and Shelley wrote his Adonais lamenting the death of Keats, Bryant issued the first volume of his verse, which contained eight poems, Thanatopsis, The Inscription for Entrance to a Wood, To a Waterfowl, The Ages, The Fragment from Simonides, The Yellow Violet, The Song, and Green River. This was an epoch-making volume for American poetry. Freneau's best lyrics were so few that they had attracted little attention, but Bryant's 1821 volume of verse furnished a new standard of excellence, below which poets who aspired to the first rank could not fall. During the five years after its publication, the sales of this volume netted him a profit of only $14.92, but a Boston editor soon offered him two hundred dollars a year for an average of one hundred lines of verse a month. Bryant accepted the offer, and wrote poetry in connection with the practice of law.
Unlike Irving and Charles Brockden Brown, Bryant attended to his legal work doggedly and conscientiously for nine years, but he never liked the law, and he longed to be a professional author. In 1825 he abandoned the law and went to New York City. Here he managed to secure a livelihood for awhile on the editorial force of short-lived periodicals. In 1827, however, he became assistant editor, and in 1829 editor-in-chief, of The New York Evening Post—a position which he held for nearly fifty years, until his death.
The rest of his life is more political and journalistic than literary. He made The Evening Post a power in the development of the nation, but his work as editor interfered with his poetry, although he occasionally wrote verse to the end of his life.
In middle life he began a series of trips abroad, and wrote many letters describing his travels. To occupy his attention after his wife died in 1866, he translated Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, at the nearly uniform rate of forty lines a day. This work still remains one of the standard poetic translations of Homer.
As the years passed, he became New York's representative citizen, noted for high ideals in journalism and for incorruptible integrity, as well as for the excellence of his poetry. He died in 1878, at the age of eighty four, and was buried at Roslyn, Long Island, beside his wife.
POETRY.—Thanatopsis, probably written in 1811, was first published in 1817 in The North American Review, a Boston periodical. One of the editors said to an associate, “You have been imposed upon. No one on this side of the Atlantic is capable of writing such verses.” The associate insisted that Dr. Bryant, the author, had left them at the office, and that the Doctor was at that moment sitting in the State Senate, representing his county. The editor at once dashed away to the State House, took a long look at the Doctor, and reported, “It is a good head, but I do not see Thanatopsis in it.” When the father was aware of the misunderstanding, he corrected it, but there were for a long time doubts whether a boy could have written a poem of this rank. In middle age the poet wrote the following to answer a question in regard to the time of the composition of Thanatopsis :—
“It was written when I was seventeen or eighteen years old—I have not
now at hand the memorandums which would enable me to be precise—and I
believe it was composed in my solitary rambles in the woods. As it was
first committed to paper, it began with the half line—'Yet a few days,
and thee'—and ended with the beginning of another line with the
words—'And make their bed with thee.' The rest of the poem—the
introduction and the close—was added some years afterward, in 1821.”
Thanatopsis remains to-day Bryant's most famous production. It is a stately poem upon death, and seems to come directly from the lips of Nature:—
”... from all around—
Earth and her waters and the depth of air—
Comes a still voice.—
Yet a few days, and thee
The all-beholding sun shall see no more ...”
No other poem presents “all-including death” on a scale of such vastness. The majestic solemnity of the poem and the fine quality of its blank verse may be felt in this selection:—
”... The hills
Rock-ribbed and ancient as the sun,—the vales
Stretching in pensive quietness between;
The venerable woods—rivers that move
In majesty, and the complaining brooks
That make the meadows green; and, poured round all,
Old Ocean's gray and melancholy waste,—
Are but the solemn decorations all
Of the great tomb of man.”
Thanatopsis shows the old Puritan tendency to brood on death, but the Inscription for Entrance to a Wood, written in 1815 and published in the same number of The North American Review as his first great poem, takes us where
”... the thick roof
Of green and stirring branches is alive
And musical with birds.”
The gladness of the soft winds, the blue sky, the rivulet, the mossy rocks, the cleft-born wild-flower, the squirrels, and the insects,—all focus our attention on the “deep content” to be found in “the haunts of Nature,” and suggest Wordsworth's philosophy of the conscious enjoyment of the flower, the grass, the mountains, the bird, and the stream, voicing their “thousand blended notes.”
We may say of Bryant what was true of Cooper, that when he enters a forest, power seems to come unbidden to his pen. Bryant's Forest Hymn (1825) finds God in those green temples:—
“Thou art in the soft winds
That run along the summit of these trees
He points out the divinity that shapes our ends in:—
“That delicate forest flower,
With scented breath and look so like a smile.”
No Puritan up to this time had represented God in a guise more pleasing than the smile of a forest flower. This entire Hymn seems like a great prayer rooted deep in those earlier prayers to which the boy used to listen.
Although Bryant lived to be eighty-four, he wrote less poetry than Keats, who died at the age of twenty-five, and about one third as much as Shelley, who was scarcely thirty when he was drowned. It is not length of days that makes a poet. Had Bryant died in his thirtieth year, his excellence and limitations would be fairly well shown in his work finished at that time. At this age, in addition to the five poems in his 1821 volume (p. 139), he had written The Winter Piece, A Forest Hymn, and The Death of the Flowers. These and a number of other poems, written before he had finished his thirtieth year, would have entitled him to approximately the same rank that he now holds in the history of American poetry. It is true that if he had then passed away, we should have missed his exquisite call to The Evening Wind(1829), and some of his other fine productions, such as To the Fringed Gentian (1829), The Prairies (1832), The Battle-Field (1837), with its lines which are a keynote to Bryant's thought and action:—
“Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again,
Th' eternal years of God are hers.”
We are thankful for the ideals voiced in The Poet (1863), and we listen respectfully to The Flood of Years (1876), as the final utterance of a poet who has had the experience of fourscore years.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Bryant is the first great American poet. His poetry is chiefly reflective and descriptive, and it is remarkable for its elevation, simplicity, and moral earnestness. He lacks dramatic power and skill in narration. Calmness and restraint, the lack of emotional intensity, are also evident in his greatest work. His depths of space are vast, but windless. In The Poet he says that verse should embody:—
”... feelings of calm power and mighty sweep,
Like currents journeying through the windless deep.”
His chosen field is describing and interpreting nature. He has been called an American Wordsworth. In the following lines Bryant gives poetic expression to his feeling that a certain maiden's heart and face reflected the beauty of the natural scenes amid which she was reared:—
”... all the beauty of the place
Is in thy heart and on thy face.
The twilight of the trees and rocks
Is in the light shade of thy locks.”
[Footnote: “O Fairest of the Rural Maids.” (1820.)]
With these lines compare Wordsworth's Three Years She Grew in Sun and Shower (1799):—
”... she shall lean her ear
In many a secret place
Where rivulets dance their wayward round,
And beauty born of murmuring sound
Shall pass into her face.”
Bryant himself says that under the influence of Wordsworth, nature suddenly changed “into a strange freshness and life.” It is no discredit to him to have been Wordsworth's pupil or to have failed to equal the magic of England's greatest poet of nature.
Bryant's range was narrow for a great poet, and his later verse usually repeated his earlier successes. As a rule, he presented the sky, forest, flower, stream, animal, and the composite landscape, only as they served to illumine the eternal verities, and the one verity toward which nature most frequently pointed was death. His heart, unlike Wordsworth's, did not dance with the daffodils waving in the breeze, for the mere pleasure of the dancing.
The blank verse of his Thanatopsis has not been surpassed since Milton. In everything that he did, Bryant was a careful workman. Painters have noticed his skill in the use of his poetic canvas and his power to suggest subjects to them, such as:—
”... croft and garden and orchard,
That bask in the mellow light.”
Three vistas from To a Waterfowl,—“the plashy brink of weedy lake,” “marge of river wide,” and “the chafed ocean side,”—long ago furnished the suggestion for three paintings.
Bryant's Puritan ancestry and training laid a heavy hand upon him. Thoughts of “the last bitter hour” are constantly recurring in his verse. The third line of even his poem June brings us to the grave. His great poems are often like a prayer accompanied by the subdued tones of a mighty organ. Nothing foul or ignoble can be found in his verse. He has the lofty ideals of the Puritans.
ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE PERIOD
As we saw in the preceding chapter, WORDSWORTH and COLERIDGE at the close of the last century began to exert a new influence on literature. Wordsworth's new philosophy of nature (p. 99) can be traced in the work of Bryant. The other poets of this age belong to the romantic school. BYRON (1788-1824), the poet of revolt against the former world, shows the same influences that manifest themselves in the American and the French Revolution. He voices the complaints, and, to some extent, the aspirations of Europe. He shows his influence in Fitz-Greene Halleck's Marco Bozzaris. Shelley, who also belongs to the school of revolt, has a peculiar position as a poet of ethereal, evanescent, and spirit-like beauty. He is heard in the voice of the West Wind, the Cloud, the unseen Skylark, the “Spirit of Night,” and “the white radiance of Eternity.” Bryant's call in The Evening Wind (1829) to
The wide old wood from his majestic rest,
Summoning from the innumerable boughs
The strange, deep harmonies that haunt his breast,”
may even have been suggested by Shelley's Ode to the West Wind (1819)
“Make me thy lyre, even as the forest is:
What if my leaves are falling like its own?
The tumult of thy mighty harmonies
Will take from both a deep autumnal tone.”
In the early part of this period, Wordsworth and Shelley were both making these harmonies of nature audible to ears which had hitherto not heard them. KEATS (1795-1821) is the poet of beauty, and he makes more of an appeal to the senses than Shelley. The favorite creed of Keats was:—
“A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
His influence will gradually extend to later American verse.
SIR WALTER SCOTT was the great prose writer of the age preceding the Victorian. The first of his series of Waverley novels was published in 1814, and he continued until his death in 1832 to delight the world with his genius as a writer of romances. His influence may be traced in Cooper's work, although the American author occupies an original field. Readers are still charmed with the exquisite flavor and humor in the essays of CHARLES LAMB (1775-1834). The essays of DE QUINCEY (1785-1859) are remarkable for precision, stateliness, and harmony.
LEADING HISTORICAL FACTS, 1809-1849.
During these forty years, the facts most important for the student of literature are connected with the expansion and social ideals of the country. Progress was specially manifest in two ways: in “the manufacture of farms” and in the introduction and use of steam. At the time of the inauguration of Washington in 1789, the center of population of the entire country was thirty miles east of Baltimore. The progress of settlements westward, which had already begun in the last period, became in an increasing degree one of the remarkable events in the history of the world.
We may observe that the second war with England (1812) resulted in welding the Union more closely together and in giving it more prestige abroad. We should next note the unparalleled material development of the country; the opening of the Erie Canal in 1825, the rapid extension of steamboats on rivers, the trial of the first steam locomotive in 1828, the increased westward movement of population, which reached California in 1849, several hundred years ahead of schedule time, as those thought who prophesied before the introduction of steam. The story of the material progress of the country sounds like a new Arabian Nights' Tale.
The administration of Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) is really the beginning of the modern history of the United States. The change during these years was due more to steam than to any other single cause. At the beginning of his administration, there were no steam railroads, but fifteen hundred miles were in operation before the end of his second term. His predecessor in the presidential chair was John Quincy Adams, a Harvard graduate and an aristocrat. Jackson was illiterate, a man of the people. There was an extension of the social democratic feeling.
All classes, the poor as well as the rich, spoke their minds more freely on every subject. Even Jackson's messages relating to foreign nations were sometimes not couched in very diplomatic terms. Every one felt that he was as good as anybody else, and in the new settlements all mingled on terms of equality. When Cooper came back to the United States in 1833, after an absence of six years in Europe, he found that he had returned to a new country, where “everybody was everywhere,” and nobody was anywhere, and where the chase for the dollar seemed to have grown more absorbing than ever before.
Slavery had become one of the leading questions of the day. To keep the balance between the North and the South, states were often admitted in pairs, one free and one slave state. In 1845 there were in the Union thirteen free and fourteen slave states. The decade between 1840 and 1850 witnessed the war with Mexico and the acquisition from her of our vast southwestern territory,—Texas, California, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and some interior lands to the north of these. The South was chiefly instrumental in bringing about this extension of our boundaries, hoping that this additional territory would be open for the employment of slaves and would tend to make more nearly even the influence of each section in the national government.
With the publication of Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York in 1809, the literary center of the United States shifted to New York, then the second city in the country. Drake and Halleck, two minor poets, calling themselves “The Croakers,” issued a series of poems with the principal object of entertaining readers. Drake wrote a fine romantic poem called The Culprit Fay. Halleck's best works are the poems on the death of Drake and Marco Bozzaris.
Washington Irving's chief fame is based on his original creation of the “Knickerbocker Legend” in his History of New York, Rip Van Winkle, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. He is an unusually successful writer of short stories, of essays like those in Addison's Spectator, and of popular history and biography. He is the first American writer whose works are still read for pure pleasure. Humor and restrained sentiment are two of his pronounced qualities. While the subject matter of his best work is romantic, in his treatment of that matter he shows the restraint of the classical school. His style is simple and easy-flowing but not remarkable for vigor.
James Fenimore Cooper's Leatherstocking Tales recreate in a romantic way the life of the pioneer in the forest and the wilderness. The Indian figures more largely in these Tales than in those of any preceding writer. Leatherstocking deserves a place in the world's temple of fame as a great original character in fiction. Cooper is also our greatest writer of stories of the sea. The Pilot and The Red Rover still fascinate readers with the magic of the ocean. The scenes of all of his best stories are laid out of doors. His style is often careless, and he sometimes does not take the trouble to correct positive errors, but his power of arousing interest is so great that these are seldom noticed. His romances are pure, and they inspire a love for what is noble and manly. Irving was almost as popular in England as in the United States, but Cooper was the first American author to be read widely throughout Europe.
William Cullen Bryant is the first great American poet. He belongs to Wordsworth's school of nature poets. Bryant's verse, chiefly reflective and descriptive, is characterized by elevation, simplicity, and moral earnestness. His range is narrow. His communion with nature often leads him to the grave, but no other American poet invests it with as much majesty as is found in Thanatopsis. His strict Puritan training causes him to present the eternal verities in his poetry. Unlike Irving, Cooper, and the minor writers, his object is not entertainment.
The influence of steam, the more rapid emigration westward, the increase of the democratic spirit, and the beginning of the modern era with its strenuous materialistic trend in the administration of Andrew Jackson marked a great change in the development of the nation. The taking of our vast southwest territory from Mexico was an event second only in importance to the Louisiana Purchase.
REFERENCES FOR FURTHER STUDY
In addition to the American and English histories suggested on pp. 60, 61, the following may be consulted: Burgess's The Middle Period , 1817-1858; Coman's The Industrial History of the United States, Chaps. VI. and VII.; Bogart's Economic History of the United States , Chap. XIV; Sparks's The Expansion of the American People.
Richardson's American Literature.
Trent's A History of American Literature.
Wendell's History of Literature in America.
Stanton's A Manual of American Literature.
Herford's The Age of Wordsworth.
Stedman's Poets of America. (Drake, Halleck, Bryant.)
The Croakers, pp. 255-385, in The Poetical Writings of Fitz-Greene Halleck, edited by James Grant Wilson.
Wilson's Fitz-Greene Halleck's Life and Letters.
Irving's, Pierre M.: Life and Letters of Washington Irving, 4 vols.
Warner's The Work of Washington Irving (60 pages, excellent).
Warner's Washington Irving (304 pages, American Men of Letters).
Payne's Leading American Essayists, pp. 43-134. (Irving.)
Canby's The Short Story in English, pp. 218-226. (Irving.)
Lounsbury's James Fenimore Cooper. (American Men of Letters; excellent.)
Clymer's James Fenimore Cooper. (Beacon Biographies.)
Brownell's American Prose Masters. (Cooper.)
Erskine's Leading American Novelists, pp. 51-129. (Cooper.)
Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, edited with Introduction by Halleck.
Godwin's A Biography of William Cullen Bryant, with Extracts from his Private Correspondence, 2 vols. (The standard authority.)
Godwin's The Poetical Works of William Cullen Bryant, 2 vols.
Bigelow's William Cullen Bryant. (American Men of Letters .)
Bradley's William Cullen Bryant. (English Men of Letters, American Series.)
Chadwick's The Origin of a Great Poem (Thanatopsis), Harper's Magazine, September, 1894,
MINOR WRITERS.—The Croakers, in Wilson's edition of Halleck's Poetical Writings.
Selections from the poetry of Drake and Halleck may be found in Stedman's American Anthology, pp. 36-47, and in S. &H., Vol. V.
IRVING.—His Knickerbocker's History of New York begins with somewhat tiresome matter, condensed from chapters which he and his brother had jointly written on a different plan. The first part may well be omitted, but Books III., V., VI., VII. should at least be read.
Read his best two short stories, Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Lovers of Irving will also wish to read some tales from The Alhambra, and some of his essays: e.g. Westminster Abbeyand Stratford-on-Avon. For selections from his various works, see Carpenter, 124-134; S. &H., V., 41-62.
COOPER.—One of his Leather stocking Tales (p. 131), e.g. The Last of the Mohicans, which is deservedly the most popular, should be read. If a tale of the sea is desired, read either The Pilot or The Red Rover. Selections may be found in Carpenter, 124-134; S. &H., V., 138-183.
Bryant.—Read Thanatopsis, To a Waterfowl, O Fairest of the Rural Maids, A Forest Hymn, The Death of the Flowers, The Evening Wind, To the Fringed Gentian, and The Poet. All of these are accessible in Bryant's poetical works, and almost all may be found in Page's The Chief American Poets. Selections are given in Stedman's American Anthology; S. &H., Vol. V.; and Long's American Poems, 1776-1900.
QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
What are some of the chief qualities in the poetry of “The Croakers”? What do these qualities indicate in the readers of contemporary New York? Do you find a genuine romantic element in Drake's Culprit Fay? Compare Halleck's Marco Bozzaris with his lines on the death of Drake, and give reasons for your preference.
Select what you consider the best three specimens of humor in Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York. How is the humorous effect secured? Why does it not make us dislike the Dutch? Why is thisHistory an original work? Why have Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow been such general favorites? Compare these with any of Addison's Sir Roger de Coverley Papers and with any modern short story. Is Irving a romantic writer? Compare his style with Addison's and with Goldsmith's in The Vicar of Wakefield.
Why does Cooper deserve to rank as an original American author? What is his chosen field? In what does his special power consist? Who before him made use of the Indian in literature? Can you find any point of similarity between his work and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow? What are the most striking points of dissimilarity? How does his use of the romantic element differ from Irving's? What blemishes have you actually noticed in Cooper?
What lines in Bryant's Thanatopsis are the keynote of the entire poem? What are its general qualities? What are the finest thoughts in A Forest Hymn? What do these suggest in regard to Bryant's early training and the cast of his mind? Of all Bryant's poems indicated for reading, which do you prefer? Which of his references to nature do you like best? Compare his poem: O fairest of the rural maids! with Wordsworth's: Three years she grew in sun and shower . In Bryant's The Poet, what noteworthy poetical ideals do you find?