CHAPTER IV. THE NEW ENGLAND GROUP
CHANGE IN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT.—Since the death of Jonathan Edwards in the middle of the seventeenth century, New England had done little to sustain her former literary reputation. As the middle of the nineteenth century approaches, however, we shall find a remarkable group of writers in Boston and its vicinity. The causes of this wonderful literary awakening are in some respects similar to those which produced the Elizabethan age. In the sixteenth century the Reformation and the Revival of Learning exerted their joint force on England. In the nineteenth century, New England also had its religious reformation and intellectual awakening. We must remember that “re-formation” strictly means “forming again” or “forming in a different way.” It is not the province of a history of literature to state whether a change in religious belief is for the better or the worse, but it is necessary to ascertain how such a change affects literature.
The old Puritan religion taught the total depravity of man, the eternal damnation of the overwhelming majority, of all but the “elect.” A man's election to salvation depended on God's foreordination. If the man was not elected, he was justly treated, for he merely received his deserts. Even Jonathan Edwards, in spite of his sweet nature, felt bound to preach hell fire in terms of the old Puritan theology. In one of his sermons, he says:—
“The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider,
or some loathsome insect, over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully
provoked; his wrath toward you burns like fire; he looks upon you as
worthy of nothing else but to be cast into the fire.”
This quotation was not given when we discussed the works of Edwards, because it misrepresents his most often recurring idea of God. But the fact that even he felt impelled to preach such a sermon shows most emphatically that Puritan theology exerted its influence by presenting more vivid pictures of God's wrath than of his love.
A tremendous reaction from such beliefs came in the first quarter of the nineteenth century. William Ellery Channing (1780-1842), pastor of the Federal Street Church in Boston and one of the greatest leaders of this religious reform, wrote in 1809 of the old Puritan creed:—
“A man of plain sense, whose spirit has not been broken to this creed by
education or terror, will think that it is not necessary for us to travel
to heathen countries, to learn how mournfully the human mind may
misrepresent the Deity.”
He maintained that human nature, made in the image of God, is not totally depraved, that the current doctrine of original sin, election, and eternal punishment “misrepresents the Deity” and makes him a monster. This view was speedily adopted by the majority of cultivated people in and around Boston. The Unitarian movement rapidly developed and soon became dominant at Harvard College. Unitarianism was embraced by the majority of Congregational churches in Boston, including the First Church, and the Second Church, where the great John Cotton (see p. 14.) and Cotton Mather (p. 46.) had preached the sternest Puritan theology. Nearly all of the prominent writers mentioned in this chapter adopted liberal religious views. The recoil had been violent, and in the long run recoil will usually be found proportional to the strength of the repression. Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes even called the old theology largely “diabology.” The name of one of his poems is Homesick in Heaven. Had he in the early days chosen such a title, he would either, like Roger Williams, have been exiled, or, like the Quakers, have suffered a worse fate.
Many adopted more liberal religious beliefs without embracing Unitarianism. Perhaps these three lines voice most briefly the central thought in man's new creed and his changed attitude toward God:—
“For Thou and I are next of kin;
The pulses that are strong within,
From the deep Infinite heart begin.”
THE NEW ENGLAND RENAISSANCE.—The stern theology of the Puritans may have been absolutely necessary to make them work with a singleness and an inflexibility of purpose to lay the foundations of a mighty republic; but this very singleness of aim had led to a narrowness of culture which had starved the emotional and aesthetic nature. Art, music, literature, and the love of beauty in general had seemed reprehensible because it was thought that they took away the attention from a matter of far graver import, the salvation of the immortal soul. Now there gradually developed the conviction that these agencies not only helped to save the soul, but made it more worth saving. People began to search for the beautiful and to enjoy it in both nature and art. Emerson says:—
”... if eyes were made for seeing,
Then Beauty is its own excuse for being.”
The first half of the nineteenth century saw the New Englanders engaged in a systematic attempt at self-culture, to an extent never before witnessed in America and rarely elsewhere. Many with an income barely sufficient for comfortable living set aside a fund for purchasing books before anything else. Emerson could even write to Carlyle that all the bright girls in New England wanted something better than morning calls and evening parties, and that a life of mere trade did not promise satisfaction to the boys.
In 1800 there were few foreign books in Boston, but the interest in them developed to such an extent that Hawthorne's father-in-law and sister-in-law, Dr. and Miss Peabody, started a foreign bookstore and reading room. Longfellow made many beautiful translations from foreign poetry. In 1840 Emerson said that he had read in the original fifty-five volumes of Goethe. Emerson superintended the publication in America of Carlyle's early writings, which together with some of Coleridge's works introduced many to German philosophy and idealism.
In this era, New England's recovery from emotional and aesthetic starvation was rapid. Her poets and prose writers produced a literature in which beauty, power, and knowledge were often combined, and they found a cultivated audience to furnish a welcome.
THE TRANSCENDENTAL PHILOSOPHY.—The literature and thought of New England were profoundly modified by the transcendental philosophy. Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 178) was the most celebrated expounder of this school of thought. The English philosopher, Locke, had maintained that intellectual action is limited to the world of the senses. The German metaphysician, Kant, claimed that the soul has ideas which are not due to the activity of any of the senses: that every one has an idea of time and space although no one has ever felt, tasted, seen, eaten, or smelled time or space. He called such an idea an intuition or transcendental form.
The student of literature need not worry himself greatly about the metaphysical significance of transcendentalism, but he must understand its influence on literary thought. It is enough for him to realize that there are two great classes of fact confronting every human being. There are the ordinary phenomena of life, which are apparent to the senses and which are the only things perceived by the majority of human beings. But behind all these appearances are forces and realities which the senses do not perceive. One with the bodily eye can see the living forms moving around him, but not the meaning of life. It is something more than the bodily hand that gropes in the darkness and touches God's hand. To commune with a Divine Power, we must transcend the experience of the senses. We are now prepared to understand what a transcendentalist like Thoreau means when he says:—
“I hear beyond the range of sound,
I see beyond the range of sight.”
The transcendentalists, therefore, endeavored to transcend, that is, to pass beyond, the range of human sense and experience. We are all in a measure transcendentalists when we try to pierce the unseen, to explain existence, to build a foundation of meaning under the passing phenomena of life. To the old Puritan, the unseen was always fraught with deeper meaning than the seen. Sarah Pierrepont and Jonathan Edwards (p. 51) were in large measure transcendentalists. The trouble was that the former Puritan philosophy of the unseen was too rigid and limited to satisfy the widening aspirations of the soul.
It should be noted that in this period the term “transcendentalist" is extended beyond its usual meaning and loosely applied to those thinkers who (1) preferred to rely on their own intuitions rather than on the authority of any one, (2) exalted individuality, (3) frowned on imitation and repetition, (4) broke with the past, (5) believed that a new social and spiritual renaissance was necessary and forthcoming, (6) insisted on the importance of culture, on “plain living and high thinking,” and (7) loved isolation and solitude. An excellent original exposition of much of this philosophy may be found in Emerson's Nature(1836) and in his lecture on The Transcendentalist (1842).
THE ECSTASY OF THE TRANSCENDENTALISTS.—Any age that accomplishes great things is necessarily enthusiastic. According to Emerson, one of the articles of the transcendental creed was a belief “in inspiration and ecstasy.” With this went an overmastering consciousness of newly discovered power. “Do you think me the child of circumstances?” asked the transcendentalist, and he answered in almost the same breath, “I make my circumstance.”
The feeling of ecstasy, due to the belief that he was really a part of an infinite Divine Power, made Emerson say:—
“I see the spectacle of morning from the hill-top over against my house,
from daybreak to sunrise, with emotions which an angel might share. The
long slender bars of cloud float like fishes in the sea of crimson light.
From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to
partake its rapid transformations; the active enchantment reaches my
dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind.”
The greatest of the women transcendentalists, MARGARET FULLER (1810-1850), a distinguished early pleader for equal rights for her sex, believed that when it was fashionable for women to bring to the home “food and fire for the mind as well as for the body,” an ecstatic “harmony of the spheres would ensue.”
To her, as to Emerson, Nature brought an inspiring message. On an early May day she wrote:—
“The trees were still bare, but the little birds care not for that; they
revel and carol and wildly tell their hopes, while the gentle voluble
south wind plays with the dry leaves, and the pine trees sigh with their
soul-like sounds for June. It was beauteous; and care and routine fled
away, and I was as if they had never been.”
The transcendentalist, while voicing his ecstasy over life, has put himself on record as not wishing to do anything more than once. For him God has enough new experiences, so that repetition is unnecessary. He dislikes routine. “Everything,” Emerson says, “admonishes us how needlessly long life is,” that is, if we walk with heroes and do not repeat. Let a machine add figures while the soul moves on. He dislikes seeing any part of a universe that he does not use. Shakespeare seemed to him to have lived a thousand years as the guest of a great universe in which most of us never pass beyond the antechamber.
Critics were not wanting to point out the absurdity of many transcendental ecstasies. AMOS BRONSON ALCOTT (1799-1888), one of the leading transcendentalists, wrote a peculiar poem called The Seer's Rations, in which he speaks of
“Bowls of sunrise for breakfast,
Brimful of the East.”
His neighbors said that this was the diet which he provided for his hungry family. His daughter, Louisa May, the author of that fine juvenile work, Little Women (1868), had a sad struggle with poverty while her father was living in the clouds. The extreme philosophy of the intangible was soon called “transcendental moonshine.” The tenets of Bronson Alcott's transcendental philosophy required him to believe that human nature is saturated with divinity. He therefore felt that a misbehaving child in school would be most powerfully affected by seeing the suffering which his wrongdoing brought to others. He accordingly used to shake a good child for the bad deeds of others. Sometimes when the class had offended, he would inflict corporal punishment on himself. His extreme applications of the new principle show that lack of balance which many of this school displayed, and yet his reliance on sympathy instead of on the omnipresent rod marks a step forward in educational practice. Emerson was far-seeing enough to say of those who carried the new philosophy to an extreme, “What if they eat clouds and drink wind, they have not been without service to the race of man.”
THE NEW VIEW OF NATURE.—To the old Puritan, nature seemed to groan under the weight of sin and to bear the primal curse. To the transcendentalist, nature was a part of divinity. The question was sometimes asked whether nature had any real existence outside of God, whether it was not God's thoughts. Emerson, being an idealist, doubted whether nature had any more material existence than a thought.
The majority of the writers did not press this idealistic conception of nature, but much of the nature literature of this group shows a belief in the soul's mystic companionship with the bird, the flower, the cloud, the ocean, and the stars. Emerson says:—
“The greatest delight which the fields and woods minister is the
suggestion of an occult relation between man and the vegetable. I am not
alone and unacknowledged. They nod to me, and I to them.”
“O, that I could run wild!—that is, that I could put myself into a true
relation with Nature, and be on friendly terms with all congenial
Thoreau (p. 194) often enters Nature's mystic shrine and dilates with a sense of her companionship. Of the song of the wood thrush, he says:—
“Whenever a man hears it, he is young, and Nature is in her spring.
Whenever he hears it, it is a new world and a free country, and the gates
of heaven are not shut against him.... It changes all hours to an eternal
morning. It banishes all trivialness. It reinstates me in my dominion,
makes me the lord of creation, is chief musician of my court. This
minstrel sings in a time, a heroic age, with which no event in the
village can be contemporary.”
Thoreau could converse with the Concord River and hear the sound of the rain in its “summer voice.” Hiawatha talked with the reindeer, the beaver, and the rabbit, as with his brothers. In dealing with nature, Whittier caught something of Wordsworth's spirituality, and Lowell was impressed with the yearnings of a clod of earth as it
“Climbs to a soul in grass and flowers.”
One of the chief glories of this age was the fuller recognition of the companionship that man bears to every child of nature. This phase of the literature has reacted on the ideals of the entire republic. Flowers, trees, birds, domestic animals, and helpless human beings have received more sympathetic treatment as a result. In what previous time have we heard an American poet ask, as Emerson did in his poemForbearance (1842):—
“Hast thou named all the birds without a gun?
Loved the wood-rose, and left it on its stalk?”
THE DIAL.—Transcendentalism had for its organ a magazine called The Dial, which was published quarterly for four years, from 1840 to 1844. Margaret Fuller, its first editor, was a woman of wide reading and varied culture, and she had all the enthusiasm of the Elizabethans. Carlyle said of her, “Such a predetermination to eat this big Universe as her oyster or her egg, and to be absolute empress of all height and glory in it that her heart could conceive, I have not before seen in any human soul.” She was determined to do her part in ushering in a new social and spiritual world, and it seemed to her that The Dial would be a mighty lever in accomplishing this result. She struggled for two years to make the magazine a success. Then ill health and poverty compelled her to turn the editorship over to Emerson, who continued the struggle for two years longer.
Some of Emerson's best poems were first published in The Dial , as were his lecture on The Transcendentalist and many other articles by him. Thoreau wrote for almost every number. Some of the articles were dull, not a few were vague, but many were an inspiration to the age, and their resultant effect is still felt in our life and literature. Much of the minor poetry was good and stimulating. William Channing (1818-1901) published in The Dial his Thoughts, in which we find lines that might serve as an epitaph for a life approved by a transcendentalist:—
“It flourished in pure willingness;
Discovered strongest earnestness;
Was fragrant for each lightest wind;
Was of its own particular kind;—
Nor knew a tone of discord sharp;
Breathed alway like a silver harp;
And went to immortality.”
While turning the pages of The Dial, we shall often meet with sentiments as full of meaning to us as to the people of that time. Among such we may instance:—
“Rest is not quitting
The busy career;
Rest is the fitting
Of self to its sphere.”
Occasionally we shall find an expression fit to become a fireside motto:—
“I slept, and dreamed that life was beauty;
I woke, and found that life was duty.”
The prose in The Dial reflects the new spirit. In the first volume we may note such expressions of imaginative enthusiasm as:—
“The reason why Homer is to me like dewy morning is because I too lived
while Troy was and sailed in the hollow ships of the Grecians.... And
Shakespeare in King John does but recall me to myself in the dress of
another age, the sport of new accidents. I, who am Charles, was sometime
Romeo. In Hamlet I pondered and doubted. We forget that we have been
drugged with the sleepy bowl of the Present.”
In the same volume we find some of Alcott's famous Orphic Sayings , of which the following is a sample:—
“Engage in nothing that cripples or degrades you. Your first duty is
self-culture, self-exaltation: you may not violate this high trust.
Yourself is sacred, profane it not. Forge no chains wherewith to shackle
your own members. Either subordinate your vocation to your life or quit
A writer on Ideals of Every Day Life in The Dial for January, 1841, suggested a thought that is finding an echo in the twentieth century:—
“No one has a right to live merely to get a living. And this is what is
meant by drudgery.”
Two lines in the last volume voice the new spirit of growth and action:—
“I am never at anchor, I never shall be;
I am sailing the glass of infinity's sea.”
The Dial afforded an outlet for the enthusiasms, the aspirations, the ideals of life, during a critical period in New England's renaissance. No other periodical during an equal time has exerted more influence on the trend of American literature.
BROOK FARM.—In 1841 a number of people, headed by GEORGE RIPLEY (1802-1880), a Unitarian clergyman, purchased a tract of land of about two hundred acres at West Roxbury, nine miles from Boston. This was known as Brook Farm, and it became the home of a group who wished to exemplify in real life some of the principles that The Dial and other agencies of reform were advocating.
In The Dial for January, 1842, we may find a statement of the aims of the Brook Farm community. The members especially wanted “ leisure to live in all the faculties of the soul” and they determined to combine manual and mental labor in such a way as to achieve this result. Probably the majority of Americans are in sympathy with such an aim. Many have striven to find sufficient release from their hard, unimproving routine work to enable them to escape its dwarfing effects and to live a fuller life on a higher plane.
The Brook Farm settlement included such people as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Charles A. Dana (1819-1897), afterward editor of the New York Sun, George Ripley, in later times distinguished as the literary critic of the New York Tribune, and GEORGE WILLIAM CURTIS (1824-1892), who became a well-known essayist, magazine editor, and civil service reformer. The original pioneers numbered about twenty; but the membership increased to nearly one hundred and fifty. Brook Farm had an influence, however, that could not be measured by the number of its inmates. In one year more than four thousand visitors came to see this new social settlement.
Hawthorne, the most famous literary member of the Brook Farm group, has recorded many of his experiences during his residence there in 1841:—
“April 13. I have not yet taken my first lesson in agriculture, except
that I went to see our cows foddered, yesterday afternoon. We have eight
of our own; and the number is now increased by a transcendental heifer
belonging to Miss Margaret Fuller. She is very fractious, I believe, and
apt to kick over the milk pail.... April 16. I have milked a cow!!! ...
May 3. The whole fraternity eat together, and such a delectable way of
life has never been seen on earth since the days of the early
Christians.... May 4.... there is nothing so unseemly and disagreeable in
this sort of toil as you could think. It defiles the hands, indeed, but
not the soul.”
Unfortunately, in order to earn a living, it was found necessary to work ten hours a day in the summer time, and this toil was so fatiguing that the mind could not work clearly at the end of the day. We find Hawthorne writing on June 1 of the same year:—
“It is my opinion that a man's soul may be buried and perish ... in a
furrow of the field, just as well as under a pile of money.”
On August 12, he asks:—
“Is it a praiseworthy matter that I have spent five golden months in
providing food for cows and horses? It is not so.”
On October 9, he says:—
“Our household, being composed in great measure of children and young
people, is generally a cheerful one enough, even in gloomy weather.... It
would be difficult to conceive beforehand how much can be added to the
enjoyment of a household by mere sunniness of temper and liveliness of
Hawthorne remained at Brook Farm for only one of the six years of its existence. An important building, on which there was no insurance, burned in 1846, and the next year the association was forced for financial reasons to disband. This was probably the most ideal of a series of social settlements, every one of which failed. The problem of securing sufficient leisure to live in all the faculties of the soul has not yet been solved, but attempts toward a satisfactory solution have not yet been abandoned.
The influence of Brook Farm on our literature survives in Hawthorne's Blithedale Romance (p. 219), in his American Note Books, in Emerson's miscellaneous writings, and in many books and hundreds of articles by less well-known people. Almost all of those who participated in this social experiment spoke of it in after years with strong affection.
IDEALS OF THE NEW ENGLAND AUTHORS.—When we examine with closest scrutiny the lives of the chief New England authors, of Emerson and Thoreau, Longfellow and Whittier, Holmes and Lowell, we find that all were men of the highest ideals and character. Not one could be accused of double dealing and intentional misrepresentation, like Alexander Pope; not one was intemperate, like Robert Burns or Edgar Allan Poe; not one was dissolute, like Byron; not one uttered anything base, like many a modern novelist and dramatist.
The mission of all the great New England writers of this age was to make individuals freer, more cultivated, more self-reliant, more kindly, more spiritual. Puritan energy and spirituality spoke through them all. Nearly all could trace their descent from the early Puritans. It is not an infusion of new blood that has given America her greatest writers, but an infusion of new ideals. Some of these ideals were illusions, but a noble illusion has frequently led humanity upward. The transcendentalists could not fathom the unknowable, but their attempts in this direction enabled them to penetrate deeper into spiritual realities.
The New Englander demanded a cultivated intellect as the servant of the spirit. He still looked at the world from the moral point of view. For the most part he did not aim to produce a literature of pleasure, but of spiritual power, which he knew would incidentally bring pleasure of the highest type. Even Holmes, the genial humorist, wished to be known to posterity by his trumpet call to the soul to build itself more stately mansions.
THE INFLUENCE OF SLAVERY.—The question of human slavery profoundly modified the thought and literature of the nation. In these days we often make the mistake of thinking that all of the people of New England disapproved of slavery at the end of the first half of the nineteenth century. The truth is that many of the most influential people in that section agreed with the South on the question of slavery. Not a few of the most cultivated people at the North thought that an antislavery movement would lead to an attack on other forms of property and that anarchy would be the inevitable result.
Opposition to slavery developed naturally as a result of the new spirit in religion and human philosophy. This distinctly affirmed the right of the individual to develop free from any trammels. The Dial and Brook Farm were both steps toward fuller individuality and more varied life and both were really protests against all kinds of slavery. This new feeling in the air speedily passed beyond the color line, and extended to the animals.
One of the earliest to advocate the abolition of slavery was WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON (1805-1879), a printer at Newburyport, Massachusetts. In 1831 he founded The Liberator, which became the official organ of the New England abolitionists. He influenced the Quaker poet Whittier to devote the best years of his life to furthering the cause of abolition. Emerson and Thoreau spoke forcibly against slavery. Lowell attacked it with his keenest poetic shafts.
HARRIET BEECHER STOWE (1811-1896).—It was, however, left for the daughter of an orthodox Congregational clergyman of New England to surpass every other antislavery champion in fanning into a flame the sentiment against enslaving human beings. Harriet Beecher, the sister of Henry Ward Beecher, the greatest pulpit orator of anti-slavery days, was born in Litchfield, Connecticut. When she was twenty-one, she went with her father, Lyman Beecher, to Cincinnati. Her new home was on the borderland of slavery, and she often saw fugitive slaves and heard their stories at first hand. In 1833 she made a visit to a slave plantation in Kentucky and obtained additional material for her most noted work.
In 1836 she married Calvin E. Stowe, a colleague of her father in the Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati. During the next twelve years she had six children to rear.
In 1850 Professor Stowe and his family moved to Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine. This year saw the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act, which required the citizens of free states to aid in catching and returning escaped slaves. This Act roused Mrs. Stowe, and she began Uncle Tom's Cabin, which was published in book form in 1852.
Perhaps no other American book of note has been written under so great a handicap. When Mrs. Stowe began this work, one of her large family of children was not a year old, and the others were a constant care. Nevertheless, she persevered with her epoch-making story. One of her friends has given us a picture of the difficulties in her way, the baby on her knee, the new hired girl asking whether the pork should be put on top of the beans, and whether the gingerbread should stay longer in the oven.
In Uncle Tom's Cabin Mrs. Stowe endeavored to translate into concrete form certain phases of the institution of slavery, which had been merely an abstraction to the North. Of Senator John Bird, who believed in stringent laws for the apprehension of fugitive slaves, she wrote:—
”... his idea of a fugitive was only an idea of the letters that spell
the word,—or, at the most, the image of a little newspaper picture of a
man with a stick and bundle, with 'Ran away from the subscriber' under
it. The magic of the real presence of distress,—the imploring human
eye, the frail, trembling human hand, the despairing appeal of helpless
agony,—these he had never tried. He had never thought that a fugitive
might be a hapless mother, a defenceless child....”
In chapters of intense dramatic power, Mrs. Stowe shows a slave mother and her child escaping on the floating ice across the Ohio. They come for refuge to the home of Senator Bird.
“'Were you a slave?' said Mr. Bird.
“'Yes, sir; I belonged to a man in Kentucky.'
“'Was he unkind to you?'
“'No, sir; he was a good master.'
“'And was your mistress unkind to you?'
“'No, sir,—no! my mistress was always good to me.'“
Senator Bird learned that the master and mistress were in debt, and that a creditor had a claim which could be discharged only by the sale of the child. “Then it was,” said the slave mother, “I took him and left my home and came away.”
Mrs. Stowe's knowledge of psychological values is shown in the means taken to make it appear to Senator John Bird that it would be the natural thing for him to defeat his own law, by driving the woman and her child seven miles in the dead of night to a place of greater safety.
All sections of the country do not agree in regard to whether Uncle Tom's Cabin gives a fairly representative picture of slavery. This is a question for the historian, not for the literary critic. We study Macbethfor its psychology, its revelation of human nature, its ethics, more than for its accurate exposition of the Scottish history of the time. We read Uncle Tom's Cabin to find out how the pen of one woman proved stronger than the fugitive slave laws of the United States, how it helped to render of no avail the decrees of the courts, and to usher in a four years' war. We decide that she achieved this result because the pictures, whether representative or not, which she chose to throw on her screen, were such as appealed to the most elemental principles of human nature, such as the mother could not forget when she heard her own children say their evening prayer, such as led her to consent to send her firstborn to the war, such as to make Uncle Tom's Cabin outsell every other book written by an American, to cause it to be translated into more than thirty foreign languages, to lead a lady of the Siamese court to free all her slaves in 1867, and to say that Mrs. Stowe “had taught her as even Buddha had taught kings to respect the rights of her fellow creatures.”
It may be noted in this connection that Mark Twain, who was of southern descent and whose parents and relatives owned slaves, introduces in his greatest work, Huckleberry Finn (1884), a fugitive slave to arouse our sympathies. The plot of Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894) turns on one of Mrs. Stowe's points of emphasis, the fear of the mother that her child would be sold and taken away from her, down the river.
The story of Uncle Tom's Cabin is intensely dramatic, and it accomplished its author's purpose far beyond her expectations. When we study it merely as a literary performance, we shall notice the effect of the handicap under which Mrs. Stowe labored at the time of composition, as well as her imperfect conception of the art technique of the modern novel. There are faults of plot, style, and characterization. Modern fiction would call for more differentiation in the dialogue of the different characters and for more unity of structure, and yet there are stories with all these technical excellencies which do not live a year. We may say with W. P. Trent, a Virginian by birth, and a critic who has the southern point of view: “ Uncle Tom's Cabin is alive with emotion, and the book that is alive with emotion after the lapse of fifty years is a great book. The critic of today cannot do better than to imitate George Sand when she reviewed the story on its first appearance—waive its faults and affirm its almost unrivaled emotional sincerity and strength.”
ORATORY.—The orators of this period made their strongest speeches on questions connected with human liberty and the preservation of the Union. Most public speeches die with the success or the failure of the reforms that they champion or the causes that they plead. A little more than half a century ago, schoolboys declaimed the speeches of EDWARD EVERETT (1794-1865), CHARLES SUMNER (1811-1874), and WENDELL PHILLIPS (1811-1884), all born in Massachusetts, and all graduates of Harvard. But even the best speeches of these men are gradually being forgotten, although a stray sentence or paragraph may still occasionally be heard, such as Wendell Phillips's reply to those who hissed his antislavery sentiments, “Truth dropped into the pit of hell would make a noise just like that,” or Edward Everett's apostrophe to “that one solitary adventurous vessel, the Mayflower of a forlorn hope, freighted with the prospects of a future state and bound across the unknown sea.”
DANIEL WEBSTER (1782-1852).—New England furnished in Daniel Webster one of the world's great orators. He was born in Salisbury, New Hampshire, and educated at Dartmouth College. It was said half humorously that no one could really be as great as he looked. Whittier called him
“New England's stateliest type of man,
In port and speech Olympian;
Whom no one met, at first, but took
A second awed and wondering look.”
Before his death he was known as the best lawyer, the most noted statesman, and the greatest orator in the country. He is still considered America's greatest orator.
A study of the way in which Webster schooled himself to become a speaker will repay every one who wishes to use our spoken language effectively. In Webster's youth, a stilted, unnatural style was popular for set speeches. He was himself influenced by the prevailing fashion, and we find him writing to a friend:—
“In my melancholy moments I presage the most dire calamities. I already
see in my imagination the time when the banner of civil war shall be
unfurled; when Discord's hydra form shall set up her hideous yell, and
from her hundred mouths shall howl destruction through our empire.”
Such unnatural prose impresses us to-day as merely an insincere play with words, but in those days many thought a stilted, ornate style as necessary for an impressive occasion as Sunday clothes for church. An Oratorical Dictionary for the use of public speakers, was actually published in the first part of the nineteenth century. This contained a liberal amount of sonorous words derived from the Latin, such as “campestral,” “lapidescent,” “obnubilate,” and “adventitious.” Such words were supposed to give dignity to spoken utterance.
Edward Everett, the most finished classical speaker of the time, loved to introduce the “Muses of Hellas,” and to make allusions to the fleets “of Tyre, of Carthage, of Rome,” and to Hannibal's slaughtering the Romans “till the Aufidus ran blood.” He painted Warren “moving resplendent over the field of honor, with the rose of Heaven upon his cheek, and the fire of liberty in his eye.”
Webster was cured of such tendencies by an older lawyer, Jeremiah Mason, who graduated at Yale about the time Webster was born. Mason, who was frequently Webster's opponent, took pleasure in ridiculing all ornate efforts and in pricking rhetorical bubbles. Webster says that Mason talked to the jury “in a plain conversational way, in short sentences, and using no word that was not level to the comprehension of the least educated man on the panel. This led me to examine my own style, and I set about reforming it altogether.” Note the simplicity in the following sentences from Webster's speech onThe Murder of Captain Joseph White:—
“Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim, and on all beneath his
roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep was sweet, and the first sound
slumbers of the night held him in their soft but strong embrace.... The
face of the innocent sleeper is turned from the murderer, and the beams
of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, show him where
In his speech on The Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument, we find the following paragraph, containing two sentences which present in simple language one of the great facts in human history:—
“America has furnished to the world the character of Washington! And if
our American institutions had done nothing else, that alone would have
entitled them to the respect of mankind.”
He knew when illustrations and figures of rhetoric could be used to advantage to impress his hearers. In discussing the claim made by Senator Calhoun of South Carolina that a state could nullify a national law, Webster said:—
“To begin with nullification, with the avowed intent, nevertheless, not
to proceed to secession, dismemberment, and general revolution, is as if
one were to take the plunge of Niagara, and cry out that he would stop
half way down.”
To show the moral bravery of our forefathers and the comparative greatness of England, at that time, he said:—
“On this question of principle, while actual suffering was yet afar off,
they raised their flag against a power, to which, for purposes of foreign
conquest and subjugation, Rome, in the height of her glory, is not to be
compared; a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe
with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat,
following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth
with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.”
For nearly a generation prior to the Civil War, schoolboys had been declaiming the peroration of his greatest speech, his Reply to Hayne (1830):—
“When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in
heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments
of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent;
on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal
This peroration brought Webster as an invisible presence into thousands of homes in the North. The hearts of the listeners would beat faster as the declaimer continued:—
“Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous
ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still
full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original
luster, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured....”
When the irrepressible conflict came, it would be difficult to estimate how many this great oration influenced to join the army to save the Union. The closing words of that speech, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” kept sounding like the voice of many thunders in the ear of the young men, until they shouldered their muskets. His Seventh of March Speech (1850), which seemed to the North to make compromises with slavery, put him under a cloud for awhile, but nothing could stop youth from declaiming his Reply to Hayne.
Although the majority of orators famous in their day are usually forgotten by the next generation, it is not improbable that three American orations will be quoted hundreds of years hence. So long as the American retains his present characteristics, we cannot imagine a time when he will forget Patrick Henry's speech in 1775, or Daniel Webster's peroration in his Reply to Hayne, or Abraham Lincoln'sGettysburg Address (p. 344), entrusting the American people with the task of seeing “that government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
RALPH WALDO EMERSON, 1803-1882
LIFE.—Ralph Waldo Emerson, the most distinguished of New England transcendentalists, came from a family of clergy. Peter Bulkeley, his ancestor, was the first pastor of Concord in 1635. William Emerson, his grandfather, was pastor in Concord at the opening of the Revolutionary War and witnessed the fight of Concord Bridge from the window of the Old Manse, that famous house which he had built and which Hawthorne afterwards occupied. By that Bridge there stands a monument, commemorating the heroic services of the men who there made the world-famous stand for freedom. On the base of this monument are Ralph Waldo Emerson's lines:—
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in Boston in 1803. His father, who was pastor of the First Church in Boston, died when Ralph Waldo was eight years old, leaving in poverty a widow with six children under ten years of age. His church promptly voted to pay his widow five hundred dollars a year, for seven years, but even with this help the family was so poor that in cold weather it was noticed that Ralph and his brother went to school on alternate days. The boys divined the reason, and were cruel enough to call out, “Whose turn is it to wear the coat to-day?” But the mother struggled heroically with poverty, and gave her sons a good education. Ralph Waldo entered Harvard in 1817. He saved the cost of his lodging by being appointed “President's Freshman,” as the official message bearer was called, and earned most of his board by waiting on the table at the college Commons.
Emerson was descended from such a long line of clergymen that it was natural for him to decide to be a minister. After graduating at Harvard and taking a course in theology, he received a call from Cotton Mather's (p. 46) church and preached there for a short time; but he soon resigned because he could not conscientiously conform to some of the customs of the church. Although he occasionally occupied pulpits for a few years after this, the greater part of his time for the rest of his life was spent in writing and lecturing.
When he was temporarily preaching in Concord, New Hampshire, in 1827, he met Miss Ellen Tucker, then sixteen years old. This meeting was for two reasons a noteworthy event in his life. In the first place, her inspiration aided in the development of his poetical powers. He seemed to hear the children of Nature say to her:—
“Thou shalt command us all,—
April's cowslip, summer's clover,
To the gentian in the fall,
Blue-eyed pet of blue-eyed lover.”
His verses tell how the flower and leaf and berry and rosebud ripening into rose had seemed to copy her. He married her in 1829 and wrote the magnificent prophecy of their future happiness in the poem beginning:—
“And Ellen, when the graybeard years,”
a poem which he could not bear to have published in his lifetime, for Mrs. Emerson lived but a few years after their marriage. In the second place, in addition to stimulating his poetical activity, his wife's help did not end with her death; for she left him a yearly income of twelve hundred dollars, without which he might never have secured the leisure necessary to enable him “to live in all the faculties of his soul” and to become famous in American literature.
In the fall of 1833 he sailed for Europe, going by way of the Mediterranean. Returning by way of England, he met Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Carlyle, whose influence he had already felt. His visit to Carlyle led to a lifelong friendship. Emerson helped to bring out an American edition of the Sartor Resartus (1836) before it was published in England.
After returning from Europe, Emerson permanently settled at Concord, Massachusetts, the most famous literary town of its size in the United States. The appreciation of the Concord people for their home is shown by the naive story, told by a member of Emerson's family, of a fellow townsman who read of the rapidly rising price of building lots in Chicago, and remarked, “Can't hardly believe that any lands can be worth so much money, so far off.” After Henry D. Thoreau (p. 194) had received a medal at school for proficiency in geography, he went home and asked his mother if Boston was located in Concord. It was to Concord that Emerson brought his second wife, Lidian Jackson Emerson, whom he married in 1835. In Concord he wrote his most famous Essays , and from there he set out on his various lecturing tours. There he could talk daily to celebrities like Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry Thoreau, and Bronson Alcott. Louisa May Alcott relates that when eight years old she was sent to the Emerson home to inquire about the health of his oldest son, a boy of five. Emerson answered her knock, and replied, “Child, he is dead!” Years later she wrote, “I never have forgotten the anguish that made a familiar face so tragical, and gave those few words more pathos than the sweet lamentation of the Threnody” Like Milton and Tennyson, Emerson voiced his grief in an elegy, to which he gave the title Threnody. In this poem the great teacher of optimism wrote:—
“For this losing is true dying;
This is lordly man's down-lying,
This his slow but sure reclining,
Star by star his world resigning.”
Aside from domestic incidents, his life at Concord was uneventful. As he was by nature averse to contests, he never took an extreme part in the antislavery movement, although he voiced his feelings against slavery, even giving antislavery lectures, when he thought the occasion required such action. His gentleness and tenderness were inborn qualities. Oliver Wendell Holmes said that Emerson removed men's “idols from their pedestals so tenderly that it seemed like an act of worship.”
He widened his influence by substituting the platform for the pulpit, and year after year he enlarged his circle of hearers. He lectured in New England, the South, and the West. Sometimes these lecture tours kept him away from home the entire winter. In 1847 he lectured in England and Scotland. He visited Carlyle again, and for four days listened to “the great and constant stream” of his talk. On this second trip abroad, Emerson met men like De Quincey, Macaulay, Thackeray, and Tennyson. Emerson gained such fame in the mother country that, long after he had returned, he was nominated for the Lord Rectorship of Glasgow University and received five hundred votes against seven hundred for Disraeli, one of England's best known statesmen.
Something of his character and personality may be learned from the accounts of contemporary writers. James Russell Lowell, who used to go again and again to hear him, even when the subject was familiar, said, “We do not go to hear what Emerson says so much as to hear Emerson.” Hawthorne wrote, “It was good to meet him in the wood paths or sometimes in our avenue with that pure intellectual gleam diffusing about his presence like the garment of a shining one.” Carlyle speaks of seeing him “vanish like an angel” from his lonely Scotch home.
Emerson died in 1882 and was buried near Hawthorne, in Sleepy Hollow cemetery at Concord, on the “hilltop hearsed with pines.” Years before he had said, “I have scarce a daydream on which the breath of the pines has not blown and their shadow waved.” The pines divide with an unhewn granite boulder the honor of being his monument.
EARLY PROSE.—Before he was thirty-five, Emerson had produced some prose which, so far as America is concerned, might be considered epoch-making in two respects: (1) in a new philosophy of nature, not new to the world, but new in the works of our authors and fraught with new inspiration to Americans; and (2) in a new doctrine of self-reliance and intellectual independence for the New World.
In 1836 he published a small volume entitled Nature, containing fewer than a hundred printed pages, but giving in embryo almost all the peculiar, idealistic philosophy that he afterwards elaborated. By “Nature” he sometimes means everything that is not his own soul, but he also uses the word in its common significance, and talks of the beauty in cloud, river, forest, and flower. Although Nature is written in prose, it is evident that the author is a poet. He says:—
“How does Nature deify us with a few and cheap elements! Give me
health and a day, and I will make the pomp of emperors ridiculous.
The dawn is my Assyria; the sunset and moonrise my Paphos, and
unimaginable realms of faerie; broad noon shall be my England of the
senses and the understanding; the night shall be my Germany of
mystic philosophy and dreams.”
Emerson tried to make men feel that the beauty of the universe is the property of every individual, but that the many divest themselves of their heritage. When he undertook to tell Americans how to secure a warranty deed to the beauties of nature, he specially emphasized the moral element in the process. The student who fails to perceive that Emerson is one of the great moral teachers has studied him to little purpose. To him all the processes of nature “hint or thunder to man the laws of right and wrong, and echo the Ten Commandments.” In Nature , he says:—
“All things with which we deal, preach to us. What is a farm but a
mute gospel? The chaff and the wheat, weeds and plants, blight,
rain, insects, sun,—it is a sacred emblem from the first furrow of
spring to the last stack which the snow of winter overtakes in the
In Nature, Emerson sets forth his idealistic philosophy. “Idealism sees the world in God” is with him an axiom. This philosophy seems to him to free human beings from the tyranny of materialism, to enable them to use matter as a mere symbol in the solution of the soul's problems, and to make the world conformable to thought. His famous sentence in this connection is, “The sensual man conforms thoughts to things; the poet conforms things to his thoughts.”
In The American Scholar, an address delivered at Cambridge in 1837, Emerson announced what Oliver Wendell Holmes calls “our intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Tocqueville, a gifted Frenchman who visited America in 1831, wrote: “I know no country in which there is so little independence of opinion and freedom of discussion as in America.... If great writers have not existed in America, the reason is very simply given in the fact that there can be no literary genius without freedom of opinion, and freedom of opinion does not exist in America.” Harriet Martineau, an English woman, who came to America in 1830, thought that the subservience to opinion in and around Boston amounted to a sort of mania. We have already seen how Cooper in his early days deferred to English taste (p. 127), and how Andrew Jackson in his rough way proved something of a corrective (p. 148).
Emerson proceeded to deal such subserviency a staggering blow. He denounced this “timid, imitative, tame spirit,” emphasized the new importance given to the single person, and asked, “Is it not the chief disgrace in the world not to be a unit;—not to be reckoned one character;—not to yield that peculiar fruit which each man was created to bear; but to be reckoned in the gross, in the hundred, or the thousand, of the party, the section, to which we belong, and our opinion predicted geographically, as the North, or the South?” Then followed his famous declaration to Americans, “We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds.”
No American author has done more to exalt the individual, to inspire him to act according to his own intuitions and to mold the world by his own will. Young Americans especially listened to his call, “O friend, never strike sail to a fear! Come into port greatly, or sail with God the seas.”
ESSAYS.—The bulk of Emerson's work consists of essays, made up in large part from lectures. In 1841 he published a volume, known as Essays, First Series, and in 1844, another volume, called Essays, Second Series. Other volumes followed from time to time, such as Miscellanies (1849), Representative Men (1850), English Traits (1856), The Conduct of Life (1860), Society and Solitude (1870). While the First Series of these Essays is the most popular, one may find profitable reading and even inspiring passages scattered through almost all of his works, which continued to appear for more than forty years.
When we examine his Essays, First Series, we find that the volume is composed of short essays on such subjects as History, Self-Reliance, Friendship, Heroism, and the Over-Soul. If we choose to readSelf-Reliance, one of his most typical essays, we shall find that the sentences, or the clauses which take the place of sentences, are short, vigorous, and intended to reach the attention through the ear. For instance, he says in this essay:—
“There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the
conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that
he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion.”
Before we have finished Self-Reliance, he has made us feel that, with the exercise of self-trust, new powers will appear; that a man should not postpone his life, but live now; that a man is weak if he expects aid from others; that discontent is want of self-reliance.
We pick up another volume of essays, Society and Solitude, and wonder whether we shall read Success, or Books, or Civilization, or any one of nine others. While we are turning the pages, we see this sentence:—
“Hitch your wagon to a star,”
and we decide to read Civilization.
“Now that is the wisdom of a man, in every instance of his labor, to
hitch his wagon to a star, and see his chore done by the gods
themselves. ... We cannot bring the heavenly powers to us, but, if
we will only choose our jobs in directions in which they travel,
they will undertake them with the greatest pleasure.... Let us not
lie and steal. No god will help. We shall find all their teams going
the other way.”
The youth is to be pitied if this does not quicken his determination to choose his work in the direction in which the aiding forces of the universe are traveling.
Some of Emerson's best social philosophy may be found in the essay, Considerations by the Way, published in the volume called The Conduct of Life. His English Traits records in a vigorous, interesting, common-sense way his impressions from his travels in the mother country. The English find in this volume some famous sentences, which they love to quote, such as,—
“That which lures a solitary American in the woods with the wish to
see England, is the moral peculiarity of the Saxon race,—its
commanding sense of right and wrong,—the love and devotion to
that,—this is the imperial trait which arms them with the sceptre
of the globe.”
POETRY.—Emerson's verse is noteworthy for its exposition (1) of nature and (2) of his transcendental philosophy. He produced a comparatively small amount of poetry, but much more than he is popularly supposed to have written. Some of his verse is of a high degree of excellence; in fact, his nature poetry deserves to be ranked with the best that America has produced. Like Bryant, Emerson loves the forest. He says:—
“I go to the god of the wood
To fetch his word to men.”
In The Poet, we see how great he thought the poet's debt to communion with nature:—
“The gods talk in the breath of the woods,
They talk in the shaken pine,
And fill the long reach of the old seashore
With dialogue divine;
And the poet who overhears
Some random word they say
Is the fated man of men
Whom the ages must obey.”
Hawthorne saw Emerson one August day, wandering in Sleepy Hollow near Concord, and wrote, “He appeared to have had a pleasant time; for he said there were Muses in the woods to-day and whispers to be heard in the breezes.” When Emerson was twenty-four years old, he wrote the following lines, which show the new feeling of mystic companionship with nature:—
“These trees and stones are audible to me,
These idle flowers, that tremble in the wind,
I understand their faery syllables.”
His verses make us feel how nature enriches human life, increases its joys, and lessens its sorrows. What modern lover of nature has voiced a more heartfelt, unaffected appreciation of her ministrations than may be found in these lines from Emerson's Musketaquid?—
“All my hurts
My garden spade can heal. A woodland walk,
A quest of river grapes, a mocking thrush,
A wild rose or rock-loving columbine,
Salve my worst wounds.”
From reading his best nature poem, Woodnotes, first published in The Dial, an appreciative person may find it easy to become
“Lover of all things alive,
Wonderer at all he meets,”
to feel that in the presence of nature, every day is the best day of the year, and possibly even to sing with Emerson of any spring or summer day:—
“'Twas one of the charmed days
When the genius of God doth flow;
The wind may alter twenty ways,
A tempest cannot blow;
It may blow north, it still is warm;
Or south, it still is clear;
Or east, it smells like a clover farm;
Or west, no thunder fear.”
All who love nature or who wish to become interested in her should read at least his Woodnotes, The Humble Bee, The Rhodora, Each and All, The Snow Storm, and To Ellen at the South.
Some of his philosophy may be found in poems like The Problem (1839), The Sphinx (1841), and Brahma (1857). The immanence of God in everything, in the sculptor's hand, for instance, is well expressed in The Problem:—
“The hand that rounded Peter's dome
And groined the aisles of Christian Rome
Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free;
He builded better than he knew;—
The conscious stone to beauty grew.”
The Sphinx thus expresses one of Emerson's favorite thoughts:—
“To vision profounder,
Man's spirit must dive,”
and concludes with the Sphinx's thought-provoking statement:-
“Who telleth one of my meanings,
Is master of all I am.”
This line in Brahma:—
“I am the doubter and the doubt,”
shows his belief in the unity of all things, his conviction that all existence and action result from one underlying force. His own personal philosophy, that which actuated him in dealing with his fellow-men, is expressed in the following lines, which are worthy a place in the active memory of every American:—
“Life is too short to waste
In critic peep or cynic bark,
Quarrel or reprimand:
'Twill soon be dark.”
While we are enjoying his poetry, we feel its limitations. Having slight ear for music, he often wrote halting lines. Sometimes his poetic flight is marked by too sudden a descent, but we shall often find in his verse rare jewels, such as:—
“When Duty whispers low, 'Thou must,'
The youth replies, 'I can.'“
These lines seemed to Oliver Wendell Holmes, the moment he saw them, as if they had been “carved on marble for a thousand years.” Emerson's poetry does not pulsate with warm human feeling, but it “follows the shining trail of the ethereal,” the ideal, and the eternal. His prose overshadows his poetry, but no one without natural poetical ability of a high order could have written the lines:—
“O tenderly the haughty day
Fills his blue urn with fire,”
or even have seen
“The frolic architecture of the snow.”
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—The central aim of Emerson's writing is moral development. He is America's greatest ethical teacher. He thus voices his fixed belief:—
“A breath of will blows eternally through the universe of
souls in the direction of the Right and Necessary.”
This belief gives rise to his remarkable optimism for the future, to his conviction that evil is but a stepping stone to good.
In a material age he is the great apostle of the spiritual. “Will you not tolerate,” he asks, “one or two solitary voices in the land, speaking for thoughts not marketable or perishable?” To him “mind is the only reality,” and his great man is never the one who can merely alter matter, but who can change our state of mind. He believed in reaching truth, guided by intuition. He would not argue to maintain his positions. He said that he did not know what argument signified with reference to a thought. To him a thought was just as natural a product as a rose and did not need argument to prove or justify its existence. Much of his work is tinged with Plato's philosophy.
Of all American writers, he is the most inspiring teacher of the young. One of his chief objects is, in his own phrase, “to help the young soul, add energy, inspire hope, and blow the coals into a useful flame; to redeem defeat by new thought, by firm action.” John Tyndall, the eminent English scientist, declared that the reading of two men, Carlyle and Emerson, had made him what he was. He said to his students: “I never should have gone through Analytical Geometry and Calculus, had it not been for these men. I never should have become a physical investigator, and hence without them I should not have been here to-day. They told me what I ought to do in a way that caused me to do it, and all my consequent intellectual action is to be traced to this purely moral force.” After hearing one of Emerson's lectures, James Russell Lowell wrote, “Were we enthusiasts? I hope and believe we were, and am thankful to the man who made us worth something for once in our lives.”
Few authors, excepting Shakespeare, have more of the quality of universality in their writings. Many things in Emerson will fit certain stages of individual development as well a thousand years hence as to-day and be as applicable to the moral improvement of the Chinese as of Americans. If he is not as much read in the future, it will be largely due to the fact that his most inspiring subject matter has been widely diffused through modern thought.
Emerson's style is condensed. He spoke of his own paragraphs as incompressible, “each sentence an infinitely repellent particle.” Because of this condensation, it is best not to read more than one essay at a time. Years ago some joker said that Emerson's Essays could be read as well backward as forward, because there was no connection between the sentences. The same observation could have been made with almost equal truth about Proverbs, some of Bacon's Essays, Polonius's Advice to Laertes, parts of Hamlet's Soliloquy, and, in general, about any condensed sentences that endeavor to convey a complete, striking truth. Lowell remarks acutely: “Did they say he was disconnected? So were the stars ... And were they not knit together by a higher logic than our mere sense could master?” We should look for unity and connection in Emerson's chosen subject matter and trend of thought.
We must not forget that Emerson has in his prose as well as in his verse many of the general characteristics of a poet. In his Essays , he sometimes avails himself of the poetic license to be obscure and contradictory and to present philosophy that will not walk on all fours. When we examine some of the best passages on nature in his early prose (e.g. p. 158), we shall find that they are highly poetical.
Much of his verse is filled with the charm of nature and shows here and there remarkable power of putting great riches in a little room, although there may be intervening waste spaces. Critics may say that his poetry lacks deep feeling, that it is mostly intellectual; if so, it is nobly intellectual. Both his poetry and prose, to use an Emersonian expression, “sail the seas with God.”
HENRY DAVID THOREAU, 1817-1862
LIFE.—Henry David Thoreau, America's poet-naturalist, was born in 1817 at Concord, Massachusetts. He was one of the youngest of the famous Concord group of writers and the only one who could claim Concord as his birthplace He was a lifelong student of nature, and he loved the district around Concord. As a boy he knew its woods and streams because he had hunted and fished in them. After his graduation from Harvard in 1837, he substituted for the fishing rod and gun, the spyglass, microscope, measuring tape, and surveying instruments, and continued his out-of-door investigations.
He taught school with his brother and lectured, but in order to add to his slender income also did work unusual for a Harvard graduate, such as odd jobs of carpentering, planting trees, and surveying. He also assisted his father in his business of pencil making, and together they made the best pencils in New England. Whatever he undertook, he did thoroughly. He had no tolerance for the shoddy or for compromises. Exact workmanship was part of his religion. “Drive a nail home,” he writes in Walden, “and clinch it so faithfully that you can wake up in the night and think of your work with satisfaction.”
Like so many of the transcendentalists, Thoreau desired to surround his life with a “wide margin of leisure” in order that he might live in his higher faculties and not be continuously dwarfed with the mere drudgery of earning his sustenance. He determined to divest himself of as many of the burdens of civilization as possible, to lead the simple life, and to waste the least possible time in the making of mere money. The leisure thus secured, he spent in studying birds, plants, trees, fish, and other objects of nature, in jotting down a record of his experiences, and in writing books.
Since he did not marry and incur responsibilities for others, he was free to choose his own manner of life. His regular habit was to reserve half of every day for walking in the woods; but for two years and two months he lived alone in the forest, in a small house that he himself built upon a piece of Emerson's property beside Walden Pond, about a mile south of Concord. Thoreau found that he could earn enough in six weeks to support himself in this simple way for the rest of the year. He thus acquired the leisure to write books that are each year read with increasing interest. The record of his life at Walden forms the basis for his best known work. A few people practice the return to nature for a short time, but Thoreau spent his available life with nature.
He was a pronounced individualist, carrying out Emerson's doctrine by becoming independent of others' opinions. What he thought right, he said or did. He disapproved, for example, of slavery, and consequently refused to pay his poll tax to a government that upheld slavery. When he was imprisoned because of non-payment, Emerson visited him and asked, “Why are you here, Henry?” Thoreau merely replied, “Why are you not here?”
His intense individualism made him angular, and his transcendental love of isolation caused him to declare that he had never found “the companion that was so companionable as solitude”; but he was, nevertheless, spicy, original, loyal to friends, a man of deep family affection, stoical in his ability to stand privations, and Puritanic in his conviction about the moral aim of life. His last illness, induced by exposure to cold, confined him for months away from the out of doors that he loved. In 1862, at the age of forty-five, he said, as he lay on his deathbed, “When I was a very little boy, I learned that I must die, and I set that down, so, of course, I am not disappointed now.” He was buried not far from Emerson's lot in the famous Sleepy Hollow cemetery at Concord.
WORKS.—Only two of his books were published during his lifetime. These were A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers (1849) and Walden (1854). The first of these, usually referred to as The Week, is the record of a week spent in a rowboat on the rivers mentioned in the title. The clearness and exactness of the descriptions are remarkable. Whenever he investigated nature, he took faithful notes so that when he came to write a more extended description or a book, he might have something more definite than vague memory impressions on which to rely. When he describes in The Week a mere patch of the river bank, this definiteness of observation is manifest:—
“The dead limbs of the willow were rounded and adorned by the
climbing milkania, Milkania scandens, which filled every
crevice in the leafy bank, contrasting agreeably with the gray bark
of its supporter and the balls of the button-bush.”
This book did not prove popular, and almost three fourths of the edition were left on his hands. This unfortunate venture caused him to say, “I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which were written by myself.”
Walden is the book by which Thoreau is best known. It is crisper, livelier, more concise and humorous, and less given to introspective philosophizing than The Week. Walden, New England's Utopia, is the record of Thoreau's experiment in endeavoring to live an ideal life in the forest. This book differs from most of its kind in presenting actual life, in not being mainly evolved from the inner consciousness on the basis of a very little experience. He thus states the reason why he withdrew to the forest:—
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front
only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what
it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had
not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so
His food during his twenty-six months of residence there cost him twenty-seven cents a week. “I learned,” he says, “from my two years' experience that it would cost incredibly little trouble to obtain one's necessary food, even in this latitude; that a man may use as simple a diet as the animals, and yet retain health and strength.... I am convinced both by faith and experience that to maintain one's self on this earth is not a hardship, but a pastime.” This book has, directly or indirectly, caused more to desire the simple life and a return to nature than any other work in American literature.
In Walden he speaks of himself as a “self-appointed inspector of snowstorms and rainstorms.” His companionship with nature became so intimate as to cause him to say, “Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.” When a sparrow alighted upon his shoulder, he exclaimed, “I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn.” When nature had some special celebration with the trees, such as decking them with snow or ice or the first buds of spring, he frequently tramped eight or ten miles “to keep an appointment with a beech-tree or a yellow-birch, or an old acquaintance among the pines.” It is amusing to read how on such a walk he disturbed the daytime slumbers of a large owl, how the bird opened its eyes wide, “but their lids soon fell again, and he began to nod,” and how a sympathetic hypnotization began to take effect on Thoreau. “I too,” he says, “felt a slumberous influence after watching him half an hour, as he sat thus with his eyes half open, like a cat, winged brother of the cat.”
In spite of some Utopian philosophy and too much insistence on the self-sufficiency of the individual, Walden has proved a regenerative force in the lives of many readers who have not passed the plastic stage. The book develops a love for even commonplace natural objects, and, like poetry, discloses a new world of enjoyment. Walden is Thoreau's most vital combination of his poetic apprehension of wild nature with his philosophy and aggressive individualism.
Almost all of his work is autobiographical, a record of actual experience. The Maine Woods (1864), Cape Cod (1865), and A Yankee in Canada (1866) are records of his tramps in the places named in the titles-, but these works do not possess the interest of Walden.
His voluminous manuscript Journal is an almost daily record of his observations of nature, mingled with his thoughts, from the time when he left college until his last sickness. At periods for nearly fifty years after his death, various works have been compiled from this Journal. The volumes published under the titles, Early Spring in Massachusetts (1881), Summer (1884), Winter (1887), Autumn (1892), andNotes on New England Birds (1910) were not arranged by him in their present form. Editors searched his Journal for entries dealing with the same season or type of life, and put these in the same volume. Sometimes, as, for instance, in Winter, paragraphs separated by an interval of nineteen years in composition become neighbors. In spite of the somewhat fragmentary nature of these works, lovers of Thoreau become intensely interested in them. His Journal in the form in which he left it was finally published in 1906, in fourteen volumes containing 6811 printed pages. He differs from the majority of writers because the interest in his work increases with the passing of the years.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Thoreau's object was to discover how to live a rich, full life with a broad margin of leisure. Intimate companionship with nature brought this secret to him, and he has taught others to increase the joys of life from sympathetic observation of everyday occurrences.
A mere unimaginative naturalist may be a bore; but Thoreau regarded nature with the eyes of a poet. His ear was thrilled with the vesper song of the whippoorwill, the lisping of the chickadee among the evergreens, and the slumber call of the toads. For him the bluebird “carries the sky on its back.” The linnets come to him “bearing summer in their natures.” When he asks, “Who shall stand godfather at the christening of the wild apples?” his reply shows rare poetic appreciation of nature's work:—
“We should have to call in the sunrise and the sunset, the rainbow and
the autumn woods and the wild flowers, and the woodpecker and the purple
finch and the squirrel and the jay and the butterfly, the November
traveler and the truant boy, to our aid.”
He is not only a poet-naturalist, but also a philosopher, who shows the influence of the transcendental school, particularly of Emerson. Some of Thoreau's philosophy is impractical and too unsocial, but it aims to discover the underlying basis of enchantment. He thus sums up the philosophy which his life at Walden taught him:—
“I learned this at least by my experiment—that if one advances
confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the
life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in
common hours.... If you have built castles in the air, your work need not
be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under
The reason why he left Walden shows one of his pronounced transcendental characteristics, a dread of repetition. He gives an account of only his first year of life there, and adds, “the second year was similar to it.” He says:—
“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed
to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more
time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall
into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not
lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond
He does not demand that other human beings shall imitate him in devoting their lives to a study of nature. He says, “Follow your genius closely enough, and it will not fail to show you a fresh prospect every hour.” He thus expresses his conception of the fundamental basis of happiness in any of the chosen avenues of life:—
“Our whole life is startlingly moral. There is never an instant's truce
between virtue and vice. Goodness is the only investment that never
His insistence on the necessity of a moral basis for a happy life is a characteristic that he shared in common with the great authors of the New England group, but he had his own individual way of impressing this truth. He thought life too earnest a quest to tolerate the frivolous or the dilettante, and he issued his famous warning that no one can “kill time without injuring eternity.” His aim in studying nature was not so much scientific discovery as the revelation of nature's joyous moral message to the spiritual life of man. He may have been unable to distinguish between the song of the wood thrush and the hermit thrush. To him the most important fact was that the thrush is a rare poet, singing of “the immortal wealth and vigor that is in the forest.” “The thrush sings,” says Thoreau, in his Journal, “to make men take higher and truer views of things.”
The sterling honesty and directness of Thoreau's character are reflected in his style. He says, “The one great rule of composition—and if I were a professor of rhetoric I should insist on this—is to speak the truth.” This was his aim in presenting the results of the experience of his soul, as well as of his senses. If he exaggerated the importance of a certain way of regarding things, he did so only because he thought the exaggeration was necessary to secure attention for that particular truth, which would even then not be apprehended at its full value. His style has a peculiar flavor, difficult to describe. Lowell's characterization of Thoreau's style has hardly been surpassed. “His range was narrow, but to be a master is to be a master. There are sentences of his as perfect as anything in the language, and thoughts as clearly crystallized; his metaphors and images are always fresh from the soil.”
Thoreau's style shows remarkable power of description. No American has surpassed him in unique description of the most varied incidents in the procession of all the seasons. We shall find frequent illustrations of this power scattered through his Journal:—
“June 1, 1857. I hear the note of a bobolink concealed in the top of an
apple tree behind me.... He is just touching the strings of his theorbo,
his glassichord, his water organ, and one or two notes globe themselves
and fall in liquid bubbles from his teeming throat. It is as if he
touched his harp within a vase of liquid melody, and when he lifted it
out, the notes fell like bubbles from the trembling string ... the meadow
is all bespattered with melody. His notes fall with the apple blossoms,
in the orchard.”
Even more characteristic is an entry in his Journal for June 11, 1840, where he tries to fathom the consciousness of the solitary bittern:—
“With its patient study by rocks and sandy capes, has it wrested the
whole of her secret from Nature yet? It has looked out from its dull eye
for so long, standing on one leg, on moon and stars sparkling through
silence and dark, and now what a rich experience is its! What says it of
stagnant pools, and reeds, and damp night fogs? It would be worth while
to look in the eye which has been open and seeing in such hours and in
such solitudes. When I behold that dull yellowish green, I wonder if my
own soul is not a bright invisible green. I would fain lay my eye side by
side with its and learn of it.”
In this entry, which was probably never revised for publication, we note three of his characteristics: his images “fresh from the soil,” adding vigor to his style; his mystic and poetic communion with nature; and the peculiar transcendental desire to pass beyond human experience and to supplement it with new revelations of the gospel of nature.
NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE, 1804-1864
ANCESTRY AND EARLY YEARS.—William Hathorne, the ancestor of America's greatest prose writer, sailed at the age of twenty-three from England on the ship Arbella with John Winthrop (p. 30), and finally settled at Salem, Massachusetts. He brought with him a copy of Sir Philip Sidney's Arcadia, a very unusual book for the library of a New England Puritan.
John Hathorne, a son of the first settler, was a judge of the poor creatures who were put to death as witches at Salem in 1692. The great romance writer says that this ancestor “made himself so conspicuous in the martyrdom of the witches, that their blood may fairly be said to have left a stain upon him. ...I, the present writer, as their representative, hereby take shame upon myself for their sakes, and pray that any curse incurred by them—as I have heard, and as the dreary and unprosperous condition of the race, for many a long year back, would argue to exist—may be now and henceforth removed.” Tradition says that the husband of one of the tortured victims appealed to God to avenge her sufferings and murder. Probably the ancestral curse hanging over The House of the Seven Gables would not have been so vividly conceived, if such a curse had not been traditional in the Hawthorne family.
Nathaniel Hawthorne, the sixth in descent from the first New England ancestor, and the first of his family to add a “w” to his name, was born in Salem in 1804. His father, a sea captain, died of a fever at a foreign port in 1808. Hawthorne's mother was twenty-seven years old at this time, and for forty years after this sad event, she usually took her meals in her own room away from her three children. Everybody in that household became accustomed to loneliness. At the age of fourteen, the boy went to live for a while on the shore of Sebago Lake, Maine. “I lived in Maine,” he said, “like a bird of the air, so perfect was the freedom I enjoyed. But it was there I got my cursed habits of solitude.” Shyness and aversion to meeting people became marked characteristics.
His solitariness predisposed him to reading, and we are told that Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress and Shakespeare's plays were special favorites. Spenser's Faerie Queene was the first book that he bought with his own money. Bunyan and Spenser probably fostered his love of the allegorical method of presenting truth, a method that is in evidence in the bulk of Hawthorne's work. He even called his daughter Una, after one of Spenser's allegorical heroines, and, following the suggestion in the Faerie Queene, gave the name of “Lion” to the large cat that came to her as a playmate.
At the age of seventeen, Hawthorne went to Bowdoin College, Maine, where he met such students as Longfellow, Franklin Pierce, and Horatio Bridge, in after years a naval officer, who published in 1893 a delightful volume called Personal Reminiscences of Nathaniel Hawthorne. These friends changed the course of Hawthorne's life. In his dedication of The Snow Image to Bridge in 1850, Hawthorne says, “If anybody is responsible for my being at this day an author, it is yourself.”
LITERARY APPRENTICESHIP.—After leaving college, Milton spent nearly six years in studious retirement; but Hawthorne after graduating at Bowdoin, in 1825, passed in seclusion at Salem a period twice as long. Here he lived the life of a recluse, frequently postponing his walks until after dark. He was busy serving his apprenticeship as an author. In 1828 he paid one hundred dollars for the publication ofFanshawe , an unsuccessful short romance. In mortification he burned the unsold copies, and his rejected short stories often shared the same fate. He was so depressed that in 1836 his friend Bridge went quietly to a publisher and by guaranteeing him against loss induced him to bring out Hawthorne's volume entitled Twice—Told Tales.
The Peabodys of Salem then invited the author to their home, where he met the artistic Miss Sophia Peabody, who made an illustration for his fine historical story, The Gentle Boy. Of her he wrote, “She is a flower to be worn in no man's bosom, but was lent from Heaven to show the possibilities of the human soul.” We find that not long after he wrote in his American Note-Books:—
“All that seems most real about us is but the thinnest substance of a
dream,—till the heart be touched. That touch creates us,—then we begin
to be,—thereby we are beings of reality and inheritors of eternity.”
He was thinking of Sophia Peabody's creative touch, for he had become engaged to her.
Fired with the ambition of making enough money to enable him to marry, he secured a subordinate position in the Boston customhouse, from which the spoils system was soon responsible for his discharge. He then invested in Brook Farm a thousand dollars which he had saved, thinking that this would prove a home to which he could bring his future wife and combine work and writing in an ideal way. A year's trial of this life convinced him of his mistake. He was then thirty eight, and much poorer for his last experiment; but he withdrew and in a few months married Miss Peabody and took her to live in the famous Old Manse at Concord. The first entry in his American Note-Books after this transforming event is:—
“And what is there to write about? Happiness has no succession of events,
because it is a part of eternity, and we have been living in eternity
ever since we came to this old manse. Like Enoch we seem to have been
translated to the other state of being, without having passed through
The history of American literature can record no happier marriage and no more idyllic life than this couple lived for nearly four years in the Old Manse. While residing here, Hawthorne wrote another volume, known as Mosses from an Old Manse (1846). The only serpent to enter that Eden was poverty. Hawthorne's pen could not support his family. He found himself in debt before he had finished his fourth year in Concord. Moncure D. Conway, writing Hawthorne's Life in 1890, the year before American authors were protected by international copyright, says, “In no case has literature, pure and simple, ever supported an American author, unless, possibly, if he were a bachelor.” Hawthorne's college friends, Bridge and Pierce, came to his assistance, and used their influence with President Polk to secure for Hawthorne the position of surveyor of customs at Salem, with a yearly salary of twelve hundred dollars.
HIS PRIME AND LATER YEARS.—He kept his position as head customs officer at Salem for three years. Soon after President Taylor was inaugurated in 1849, the spoils system again secured Hawthorne's removal. When he came home dejected with this news, his wife smiled and said, “Oh, then you can write your book!” The Scarlet Letter, published in 1850, was the result. The publisher printed five thousand copies, all that he had ever expected to sell, and then ordered the type to be distributed at once. Finding in ten days, however, that every copy had been sold, he gave the order to have the type reset and permanent plates made. Hawthorne had at last, at the age of forty-six, become one of the greatest writers of English prose romance. From this time he wrote but few short tales.
He left Salem in the year of the publication of The Scarlet Letter, never again to return to it as a place of residence, although his pen continued to help immortalize his birthplace.
In 1852 he bought of Bronson Alcott in Concord a house since known as the “Wayside.” This was to be Hawthorne's American home during his remaining years. Here he had a tower room so constructed as to be well-nigh inaccessible to visitors, and he also had a romantic study bower built in the pine trees on a hill back of his house.
His college friend, Pierce, was inaugurated President of the United States in 1853, and he appointed Hawthorne consul at Liverpool. This consulship then netted the holder between $5000 and $7000 a year. After nearly four years' service in this position, he resigned and traveled in Europe with his family. They lived in Rome sufficiently long for him to absorb the local color for his romance of The Marble Faun. He remained abroad for seven years. The record of his travels and impressions may be found in his English Note-Books and in his French and Italian Note-Books. Our Old Home, a volume based on hisEnglish Note-Books, is a more finished account of his thoughts and experiences in England.
In 1860 he returned quietly to his Concord home. His health was failing, but he promised to write for the Atlantic Monthly another romance, called The Dolliver Romance. This, however, was never finished, and The Marble Faun remains the last of his great romances. His health continued to fail, and in May, 1864, Pierce, thinking that a trip might prove beneficial, started with him on a journey to the White Mountains. Hawthorne retired for the night at the hotel in Plymouth, New Hampshire, and the next morning Pierce found that Hawthorne's wish of dying unawares in his sleep had been gratified. He had passed away before the completion of his fifty-ninth year. He was buried underneath the pines in the Sleepy Hollow cemetery at Concord. His classmate, Longfellow, wrote:—
“There in seclusion and remote from men,
The wizard hand lies cold.”
“TWICE TOLD TALES” AND “MOSSES FROM AN OLD MANSE.”—Many do not realize that these two volumes contain eighty-two tales or sketches and that they represent the most of Hawthorne's surviving literary work for the first forty-five years of his life. The title for Twice-Told Tales (1837) was probably suggested by the line from Shakespeare's King John: “Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale.” The second volume, Mosses from an Old Manse (1846), took its name from Hawthorne's first Concord home. His last collection is called The Snow Image and Other Twice-Told Tales (1851). Each one of these volumes contains some of his short-story masterpieces, although, taken as a whole, the collection in Mosses from an Old Manse shows the greatest power and artistic finish.
The so-called tales in these volumes are of several different types. (1) There is the story which presents chiefly allegorical or symbolic truth, such as Rappacini's Daughter, The Great Stone Face, The Birthmark, The Artist of the Beautiful, and The Snow Image. The last story, one of the greatest of this class, relates how two children make a companion out of a snow image, how Jack Frost and the pure west wind endow this image with life and give them a little “snow sister.” She grows more vigorous with every life-giving breath inhaled from the west wind. She extends her hands to the snow-birds, and they joyously flock to her. The father of these children is a deadly literal man. No tale of fairy, no story of dryad, of Aladdin's lamp, or of winged sandal had ever carried magical meaning to his unimaginative literal mind, and he proceeds to disenchant the children. Like Nathan the prophet, Hawthorne wished to say, “Thou art the man,” to some tens of thousands of stupid destroyers of those ideals which bring something of Eden back to our everyday lives. This story, like so many of the others, was written with a moral purpose. There are to-day people who measure their acquaintances by their estimates of this allegorical story.
(2) Another type of Hawthorne's stories illustrates the history of New England. Such are The Gentle Boy, The Maypole of Merry Mount, Endicotts Red Cross, and Lady Eleanore's Mantle . We may even include in this list Young Goodman Brown, in one sense an unreal and fantastic tale, but in another, historically true to the Puritanic idea of the orgies of witches in a forest. If we wish, for instance, to supplement the cold page of history with a tale that breathes the very atmosphere of the Quaker persecution of New England, let us open The Twice-Told Tales and read the story of The Gentle Boy, a Quaker child of six, found sobbing on his father's newly-made grave beside the scaffold under the fir tree. Let us enter the solemn meeting house, hear the clergyman inveigh against the Quakers, and sit petrified when, at the end of the sermon, that boy's mother, like a Daniel entering the lion's den, ascends the pulpit, and invokes woe upon the Puritans.
(3) We shall occasionally find in these volumes what eighteenth-century readers of the Spectator would have called a “paper,” that is, a delightful bit of mixed description and narration, “a narrative essay” or “a sketch,” as some prefer to call it. In this class we may include The Old Manse, The Old Apple-Dealer, Sights from a Steeple, A Rill from the Town Pump, and the masterly Introduction to The Scarlet Letter.
The Old Manse, the first paper in Mosses from an Old Manse , is excellent. Hawthorne succeeds in taking his readers with him up the Assabeth River, in a boat made by Thoreau. We agree with Hawthorne that a lovelier river “never flowed on earth,—nowhere indeed except to lave the interior regions of a poet's imagination.” When we return with him at the end of that day's excursion, we are almost tempted to say that we can never again be enslaved as before. We feel that we can say with him:—
“We were so free to-day that it was impossible to be slaves again
tomorrow. When we crossed the threshold of the house or trod the thronged
pavements of a city, still the leaves of the trees that overhang the
Assabeth were whispering to us, 'Be free! Be free.'“
These volumes entitle Hawthorne to be ranked among the greatest of short-story writers. Like Irving, Hawthorne did not take the air line directness of narration demanded by the modern short story; but the moral truth and beauty of his tales will long prove their elixir of life, after the passing of many a modern short story which has divested itself of everything except the mere interest in narration.
CHILDREN'S STORIES.—Hawthorne's Grandfather's Chair (1841) is a series of simple stories of New England history, from the coming of the Mayflower to the death of Samuel Adams in 1803. Hawthorne's greatest success in writing for children is to be found in his A Wonder Book (1851) and Tanglewood Tales (1853). In these volumes he has adapted the old classical myths to the tastes of American children. His unusual version of these myths meets two supreme tests. Children like it, and are benefited by it. Many would rejoice to be young enough again to hear for the first time the story of The Golden Touch,—how Midas prized gold above all things, how he secured the golden touch, and how the flies that alighted on his nose fell off little nuggets of gold. What a fine thing we thought the golden touch until he touched his beautiful little daughter, Marygold! No sermon could better have taught us that gold is not the thing above all to be desired.
Hawthorne stands in the front rank of a very small number whose writings continue to appeal to the children of succeeding generations. He loved and understood children and shared their experiences. He was one of those whose sixteenth amendment to the Constitution reads, “The rights and caprices of children in the United States shall not be denied or abridged on account of age, sex, or formal condition of tutelage.”
GREAT ROMANCES.—Hawthorne wrote four long romances: The Scarlet Letter (1850), the scene of which is laid in Boston in Governor Winthrop's time, The House of the Seven Gables (1851), with the scene laid in Salem, The Marble Faun (1860), in Rome, and The Blithedale Romance (1852), in an ideal community similar to Brook Farm. The first three of these works have a great moral truth to present. Accordingly, the details of scene, plot, description, and conversation are handled so as to emphasize this central truth.
The Scarlet Letter was written to show that the consequences of a sin cannot be escaped and that many different lives are influenced by one wrong deed. The lives of Hester Prynne, Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and Roger Chillingworth are wrecked by the crime in The Scarlet Letter. Roger Chillingworth is transformed into a demon of revenge. So malevolent does he become that Hester wonders “whether the tender grass of early spring would not be blighted beneath him.” She would not be surprised to see him “spread bat's wings and flee away.” The penalty paid by Arthur Dimmesdale is to appear to be what he is not, and this is a terrible punishment to his sensitive nature. The slow steps by which his soul is tortured and darkened are followed with wonderful clearness, and the agony of his soul alone with God is presented with an almost Shakespearean pen. The third sufferer is the beautiful Hester Prynne. Her fate is the most terrible because she not only writhes under a severe punishment inflicted by the authorities, but also suffers from daily, even hourly, remorse. To help assuage her grief, and to purify her soul, Hester becomes the self-effacing good Samaritan of the village. Her uncomplaining courage, noble beauty, and self-sacrifice make her the center of this tragic story.
Shakespeare proposed no harder problem than the one in The Scarlet Letter,—the problem of the expiation of sin. The completeness with which everything is subordinated to the moral question involved, and the intensity with which this question is treated, show the Puritanic temperament and the imaginative genius of the author. Hawthorne is Puritan in the earnestness of his purpose, but he is wholly the artist in carrying out his design. Such a combination of Puritan and artist has given to American literature in The Scarlet Letter a masterpiece, somber yet beautiful, ethical yet poetic, incorporating both the spirit of a past time and the lessons of an eternal present. This incomparable romance is unified in conception, symmetrical in form, and nobly simple in expression.
Far less somber than The Scarlet Letter is The House of the Seven Gables. This has been called a romance of heredity, because the story shows the fulfillment of a curse upon the distant descendants of the wrongdoer, old Judge Pyncheon. The present inhabitants of the Pyncheon mansion, who are among the worst sufferers, are Hepzibah Pyncheon and her brother Clifford. Hawthorne's pages contain nothing more pathetic than the picture of helplessness presented by these two innocent souls, bearing a burden of crime not their own. The brightness of the story comes through the simple, joyous, home-making nature of Phoebe Pyncheon. She it is who can bring a smile to Clifford's face and can attract custom to Hepzibah's cent shop. Hawthorne never loses sight of his purpose. The curse finds its last victim, and the whole story is a slow preparation for this event. The scenes, however, in which Phoebe, that “fair maker of sunshine,” reigns as queen, are so peaceful and attractive, the cent shop, which Hepzibah is forced to open for support, offers so many opportunities for comic as well as pathetic incidents, and the outcome of the story is so satisfactory that it is the brightest of all Hawthorne's long romances.
In The Marble Faun, Hawthorne's last complete romance, the Puritan problem of sin is transplanted to Italian soil. The scene is laid in Rome, where the art of Michael Angelo and Raphael, the secret orders of the Church, the tragic history of the eternal city, with its catacombs and ruins, furnish a rich and varied background for the story. So faithfully indeed are the galleries, churches, and historic corners of Rome described, that The Marble Faun has served as a guide for the cultured visitor. This expression of opinion by the late A. P. Stanley (1815-1881), a well-known author and dean of Westminster Abbey, is worth remembering: “I have read it seven times. I read it when it appeared, as I read everything from that English master. I read it again when I expected to visit Rome, then when on the way to Rome, again while in Rome, afterwards to revive my impressions of Rome. Recently I read it again because I wanted to.” In this historic setting, Hawthorne places four characters: Donatello, the faun, Miriam, the beautiful and talented young artist, Kenyon, the American sculptor, and Hilda, the Puritan maid who tends the lamp of the Virgin in her tower among the doves and makes true copies of the old masters. From the beginning of the story some mysterious evil power is felt, and this power gains fuller and fuller ascendency over the characters. What that is the author does not say. It seems the very spirit of evil itself that twines its shadow about human beings and crushes them if they are not strong enough to resist.
In The Scarlet Letter it was shown that the moral law forces evildoers to pay the last farthing of the debt of sinning. In The Marble Faun the effect of sin in developing character is emphasized, and Donatello, the thoughtless creature of the woods is portrayed in his stages of growth after his moral nature has first been roused by a great crime. The question is raised, Can the soul be developed and strengthened by sin? The problem is handled with Hawthorne's usual moral earnestness of purpose, and is expressed in his easiest and most flexible style. Nevertheless this work has not the suppressed intensity, completeness of outline, and artistic symmetry possessed by The Scarlet Letter. The chief defects of The Marble Faun are a vagueness of form, a distracting variety of scene, and a lack of the convincing power of reality. The continued popularity of this romance, however, is justly due to its poetic conception, its atmosphere of ancient mystery, and its historic Roman background.
The Blithedale Romance and the cooperative settlement described in it were suggested to Hawthorne by his Brook Farm experience, although he disclaims any attempt to present an actual picture of that community. The idea of the division of labor, the transcendental conversations, and many of the incidents owe their origin to his sojourn at Brook Farm (p. 166). Although The Blithedale Romance does not equal the three romances already described, it contains one character, Zenobia, who is the most original and dramatic of Hawthorne's men and women, and some scenes which are as powerful as any drawn by him.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Hawthorne gave the Puritan to literature. This achievement suggests Irving's canonization of the Knickerbockers and Cooper's of the pioneer and the Indian. Himself a Unitarian and out of sympathy with the Puritans' creed, Hawthorne nevertheless says, “And yet, let them scorn me as they will, strong traits of their nature have intertwined themselves with mine.” He and they had the same favorite subject,—the human soul in its relation to the judgment day. He could no more think of sin unrelated to the penalty, than of a serpent without shape or color. Unlike many modern novelists, his work never wanders beyond a world where the Ten Commandments rule. Critics have well said that he never painted a so-called man of the world, because such a man, by Hawthorne's definition, would really be a man out of the great moral world, which to Hawthorne seemed the only real world.
He is preeminently a writer of romance. He was always powerfully influenced by such romantic materials as may be found in the world of witchcraft and the supernatural, or such as are suggested by dim foreshadowings of evil and by the many mysteries for which human philosophy does not account. For this reason, his works are removed from the commonplace and enveloped in an imaginative atmosphere. He subjects his use of these romantic materials—the unusual, the improbable, and the supernatural—to only one touchstone. He is willing to avail himself of these, so long as he does not, in his own phrase, “swerve aside from the truth of the human heart.”
His stories are frequently symbolic. He selects some object, token, or utterance, in harmony with his purpose, and uses it as a symbol to prefigure some moral action or result. The symbol may be an embroidered mantle, indicative of pride; a butterfly, typical of emergence from a dead chrysalis to a state of ideal beauty; or the words of a curse, which prophesy a ghastly death. His choice of scene, plot, and character is in harmony with the moral purpose indicated by the symbol. Sometimes this purpose is dimly veiled in allegory, but even when his stories are sermons in allegory, like The Snow Image, he so invests them with poetic fancy or spiritual beauty as to make them works of art. His extensive use of symbolism and allegory has been severely criticized. It is unfortunate that he did not learn earlier in life whatThe Scarlet Letter should have taught him, that he did not need to rely on these supports. He becomes one of the great masters when he paints character from the inside with a touch so vivid and compelling that the symbolism and the allegory vanish like a dissolving picture and reveal human forms. When he has breathed into them the creator's breath of life, he walks with them hand in hand in this lost Eden. He ascends the pillory with Hester Prynne, and writhes with Arthur Dimmesdale's agony. He plays on the seashore with little Pearl. He shares Hepzibah Pyncheon's solitude and waits on the customers in the cent shop with Phoebe. He eats two dromedaries and a gingerbread locomotive with little Ned Higgins.
Hawthorne did not care much for philosophical systems, and never concerned himself with the intricacies of transcendentalism. Yet he was affected by that philosophy, as is shown by his personal isolation and that of his characters. His intense belief in individuality is also a transcendental doctrine. He holds that the individual is his own jailer, his own liberator, the preserver or loser of his own Eden. Moral regeneration seems to him an individual, not a social, affair.
His style is easy, exact, flowing, and it shows the skill of a literary artist. He never strains after effect, never uses excessive ornament, never appears hurried. There was not another nineteenth-century prose master on either side of the Atlantic who could in fewer words or simpler language have secured the effect produced by The Scarlet Letter. He wished to be impressive in describing Phoebe, that sunbeam inThe House of the Seven Gables , but he says simply:—
“She was like a prayer, offered up in the homeliest beauty of one's
Sincerity is the marked characteristic of this simplicity in style, and it makes an impression denied to the mere striver after effect, however cunning his art.
A writer of imperishable romances, a sympathetic revealer of the soul, a great moralist, a master of style, Hawthorne is to be classed with the greatest masters of English fiction. His artist's hand
“Wrought in a sad sincerity;
Himself from God he could not free.”
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW, 1807-1882
LIFE—Longfellow, the most widely read of American poets, was born in Portland, Maine, in 1807. His father was a Harvard graduate, and his mother, like Bryant's, was descended from John and Priscilla Alden of Plymouth. Longfellow, when three years old, began to go to school, and, like Bryant, he published at the ripe age of thirteen his first poem, Battle of Lovell's Pond, which appeared in the Portland Gazette .
Portland made a great impression on the boy. To his early life there is due the love of the sea, which colors so much of his poetry. In his poem, My Lost Youth, he says:—
“I remember the black wharves and the slips,
And the sea tides tossing free;
And Spanish sailors with bearded lips,
And the beauty and mystery of the ships,
And the magic of the sea.”
He went to Bowdoin College, Maine, where he had Nathaniel Hawthorne for a classmate. In his senior year Longfellow wrote to his father, “I most eagerly aspire after future eminence in literature; my whole soul burns most ardently for it, and every earthly thought centers in it.” His father replied, “There is not enough wealth in this country to afford encouragement and patronage to merely literary men. And as you have not had the fortune ... to be born rich, you must adopt a profession which will afford you subsistence as well as reputation.” The son then chose the law, saying, “This will support my real existence; literature, my ideal one.” Bowdoin College, however, came to the rescue, and offered him the professorship of modern languages on condition that he would go abroad for study. He accepted the offer, and remained abroad three years. His travel sketches on this trip were published in book form in 1835, under the title of Outre-Mer: A Pilgrimage beyond the Sea. This is suggestive of the Sketch Book (p. 119), the earliest book which he remembered reading. After five years' service at Bowdoin, he accepted Harvard's offer of the professorship of modern languages and again went abroad. This journey was saddened by the death of his first wife. His prose romance; Hyperion, was one of the fruits of this sojourn abroad. The second Mrs. Longfellow, whose real name was Frances Appleton, appears in this book under the name of Mary Ashburton. Her father bought the Craigie House, which had been Washington's headquarters in Cambridge, and gave it to Longfellow as a residence. In 1854, after eighteen years' teaching at Harvard, he resigned, for his means were then ample to enable him to devote his full time to literature.
From 1854 until 1861 he lived in reality the ideal existence of his youthful dreams. In 1861 his wife's summer dress caught fire, and although he struggled heroically to save her, she died the next day, and he himself was so severely burned that he could not attend her funeral. Years afterwards he wrote:—
“Here in this room she died; and soul more white
Never through martyrdom of fire was led
To its repose.”
Like Bryant, he sought refuge in translating. Longfellow chose Dante, and gave the world the fine rendering of his Divine Comedy (1867).
Outside of these domestic sorrows, Longfellow's life was happy and prosperous. His home was blessed with attractive children. Loved by friends, honored by foreigners, possessed of rare sweetness and lovableness of disposition, he became the most popular literary man in America. He desired freedom from turmoil and from constant struggling for daily bread, and this freedom came to him in fuller measure than to most men.
The children of the country felt that he was their own special poet. The public schools of the United States celebrated his seventy-fifth birthday, February 27, 1882. Less than a month later he died, and was laid to rest in Mount Auburn cemetery, Cambridge.
“LAUREATE OF THE COMMON HUMAN HEART.”—“God must love the common people,” said President Lincoln, “because he has made so many of them.” Longfellow wrote for “the common human heart.” In him the common people found a poet who could gild the commonplace things of life and make them seem more attractive, more easily borne, more important, more full of meaning.
In his first published volume of poems, Voices of the Night (1839), he shows his aim distinctly in such poems as A Psalm of Life . Its lines are the essence of simplicity, but they have instilled patience and noble purpose into many a humble human soul. The two stanzas beginning
“Life is real! Life is earnest,”
“Lives of great men all remind us,”
can be repeated by many who know but little poetry, and these very stanzas, as well as many others like them, have affected the lives of large numbers of people. Those born a generation ago not infrequently say that the following stanza from The Ladder of St. Augustine (1850) has been the stepping-stone to their success in life:—
“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight,
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”
His poem, The Rainy Day (1841), has developed in many a person the qualities of patience, resignation, and hopefulness. Repetition makes the majority of things seem commonplace, but even repetition has not robbed lines like these of their power:—
“Be still, sad heart! and cease repining,
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all;
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.”
Nine days before he died, he wrote his last lines with the same simplicity and hopefulness of former days:—
“Out of the shadows of night
The world rolls into light.
It is daybreak everywhere.”
As we examine these typical poems, we shall find that all of them appeal to our common experiences or aspirations, and that all are expressed in that simple language which no one need read twice to understand.
BALLADS.—Longfellow knew how to tell a story which preserved the simplicity and the vigor of the old ballad makers. His The Wreck of the Hesperus (1839) starts in the true fashion to make us wish to finish the tale:—
“It was the schooner Hesperus,
That sailed the wintry sea;
And the skipper had taken his little daughter
To bear him company.”
Longfellow says that he wrote this ballad between twelve and three in the morning and that the composition did not come to him by lines, but by stanzas.
Even more vigorous is his ballad of The Skeleton in Armor (1840). The Viking hero of the tale, like young Lochinvar, won the heart of the heroine, the blue-eyed daughter of a Norwegian prince.
“When of old Hildebrand
I asked his daughter's hand,
Mute did the minstrels stand
To hear my story.”
The Viking's suit was denied. He put the maiden on his vessel before he was detected and pursued by her father. Those who think that the gentle Longfellow could not write poetry as energetic as Scott'sLochinvar should read the following stanza:—
“As with his wings aslant,
Sails the fierce cormorant,
Seeking some rocky haunt,
With his prey laden,—
So toward the open main,
Beating to sea again,
Through the wild hurricane,
Bore I the maiden.”
Those who are fond of this kind of poetry should turn to Longfellow's Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863), where they will find such favorites as Paul Revere's Ride and The Birds of Killingworth.
LONGER POEMS.—No other American poet has equaled Longfellow's longer narrative poems. Bryant and Poe would not attempt long poems. The flights of Whittier and Emerson were comparatively short. It is unusually difficult to write long poems that will be read. In the case of Evangeline (1847), Hiawatha (1855), and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), Longfellow proved an exception to the rule.
Evangeline is based upon an incident that occurred during the French and Indian War. In 1755 a force of British and colonial troops sailed from Boston to Acadia (Nova Scotia) and deported the French inhabitants. Hawthorne heard the story, how the English put Evangeline and her lover on different ships and how she began her long, sad search for him. When Hawthorne and Longfellow were discussing this one day at dinner at the Craigie House, the poet said, “If you really do not want this incident for a tale, let me have it for a poem.” Hawthorne consented to give his classmate all poetical rights to the story.
Evangeline is the tale of a love “that hopes and endures and is patient.” The metrical form, dactylic hexameter, is one that few of our poets have successfully used, and many have thought it wholly unfitted to English verse. Longfellow has certainly disproved their theory, for his success with this meter is pronounced. The long, flowing lines seem to be exactly adapted to give the scenes the proper atmosphere and to narrate the heroine's weary search. The poem became immediately popular. It was the first successful long narrative poem to appear in the United States. Whittier had studied the same subject, but had delayed making verses on it until he found that it had been suggested to Longfellow. In a complimentary review of the poem, Whittier said, “Longfellow was just the one to write it. If I had attempted it, I should have spoiled the artistic effect of the poem by my indignation at the treatment of the exiles by the colonial government.”
From the moment that Evangeline appears, our interest does not lag.
“Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers.
* * * * *
When she had passed, it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music.”
The imagery of the poem is pleasing, no matter whether we are listening to “the murmuring pines and the hemlocks,” the softly sounding Angelus, the gossiping looms, the whir of wings in the drowsy air, or seeing the barns bursting with hay, the air filled with a dreamy and mystical light, the forest arrayed in its robes of russet and scarlet and yellow, and the stars, those “forget-me-nots of the angels,” blossoming “in the infinite meadows of heaven.”
The Song of Hiawatha was begun by Longfellow in 1854, after resigning the professorship of modern languages at Harvard. He seemed to revel in his new freedom, and in less than a year he had produced the poem by which he will probably be longest known to posterity. He studied Schoolcraft's Algic Researches and the same author's History, Condition, and Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States, and familiarized himself with Indian legends. The simplicity of Longfellow's nature and his ability as a poetic artist seemed rarely suited to deal with these traditions of a race that never wholly emerged from childhood.
Longfellow's invitation to hear this Song does not include all, but only
“Ye whose hearts are fresh and simple,
Who have faith in God and nature.”
Those who accept this invitation will rejoice to accompany Shawondasee, the South-Wind, when he sends northward the robin, bluebird, and swallow. They will also wish to go with Kabibonokka, the North-Wind, as he paints the autumn woods with scarlet and sends the snowflakes through the forests. They will be glad to be a child with Hiawatha, to hear again the magical voices of the forest, the whisper of the pines, the lapping of the waters, the hooting of the owl, to learn of every bird and beast its language, and especially to know the joy of calling them all brothers. They will gladly accompany Hiawatha to the land of the Dacotahs, when he woos Minnehaha, Laughing Water, and hears Owaissa, the bluebird, singing:—
“Happy are you, Hiawatha,
Having such a wife to love you!”
But the guests will be made of stern stuff if their eyes do not moisten when they hear Hiawatha calling in the midst of the famine of the cold and cruel winter:—
“Give your children food, O father!
Give us food or we must perish!
Give me food for Minnehaha,
For my dying Minnehaha.”
Hiawatha overflows with the elemental spirit of childhood. The sense of companionship with all earth's creatures, the mystery of life and of Minnehaha's departure to the Kingdom of Ponemah, make a strong appeal to all who remember childhood's Eden.
The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858), in the same meter as Evangeline, is a romantic tale, the scene of which is laid
“In the Old Colony days, in Plymouth, the land of the Pilgrims.”
We see Miles Standish, the incarnation of the Puritan church militant, as he
”... wistfully gazed on the landscape,
Washed with a cold gray mist, the vapory breath of the east-wind,
Forest and meadow and hill, and the steel-blue rim of the ocean,
Lying silent and sad in the afternoon shadows and sunshine.”
Priscilla Mullins, the heroine of the poem, is a general favorite. Longfellow and Bryant were both proud to trace their descent from her. This poem introduces her
“Seated beside her wheel, and the carded wool like a snow-drift
Piled at her knee, her white hands feeding the ravenous spindle,
While with her foot on the treadle she guided the wheel in its motion.
* * * * *
She, the Puritan girl, in the solitude of the forest,
Making the humble house and the modest apparel of homespun
Beautiful with her beauty, and rich with the wealth of her being!”
This story has more touches of humor than either Evangeline or Hiawatha. Longfellow uses with fine effect the contradiction between the preaching of the bluff old captain, that you must do a thing yourself if you want it well done, and his practice in sending by John Alden an offer of marriage to Priscilla. Her reply has become classic:
“Why don't you speak for yourself, John?”
Longfellow's Christus, a Mystery, was the title finally given by him to three apparently separate poems, published under the titles, The Golden Legend (1851), The Divine Tragedy (1871), and The New England Tragedies (1868). His idea was to represent the origin, the medieval aspect, and the Puritan conception of Christianity—a task not well suited to Longfellow's genius. The Golden Legend is the most poetic, but The New England Tragedies is the most likely to be read in future years, not for its poetic charms, but because it presents two phases of New England's colonial history, the persecution of the Quakers and the Salem witchcraft delusion.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—An eminent Scotch educator says that Longfellow has probably taught more people to love poetry than any other nineteenth-century poet, English or American. He is America's best and most widely read story-teller in verse. Success in long narrative poems is rare in any literature. Probably the majority of critics would find it difficult to agree on any English poet since Chaucer who has surpassed Longfellow in this field.
He has achieved the unusual distinction of making the commonplace attractive and beautiful. He is the poet of the home, of the common people, and of those common objects in nature which in his verses convey a lesson to all. He has proved a moral stimulus to his age and he has further helped to make the world kindlier and its troubles more easily borne. This was his message:—
“Bear through sorrow, wrong and ruth
In thy heart the dew of youth,
On thy lips the smile of truth.”
His poetry is usually more tinctured with feeling than with thought. Diffuseness is his greatest fault. The Sonnets of his later years and an occasional poem, like Morituri Salutamus (1875), show more condensation, but parts of even Hiawatha would be much improved if told in fewer words.
Some complain that Longfellow finds in books too much of the source of his inspiration; that, although he did not live far from Evangeline's country, he never visited it, and that others had to tell him to substitute pines or hemlocks for chestnut trees. Many critics have found fault with his poetry because it does not offer “sufficient obstruction to the stream of thought,”—because it does not make the mind use its full powers in wrestling with the meaning. It is a mistake, however, to underestimate the virtues of clearness and simplicity. Many great men who have been unsuccessful in their struggle to secure these qualities have consequently failed to reach the ear of the world with a message. While other poets should be read for mental development, the large heart of the world still finds a place for Longfellow, who has voiced its hopes that
”... the night shall be filled with music,
And the cares that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.”
Like most Puritans, Longfellow is usually over-anxious to teach a lesson; but the world must learn, and no one has surpassed him as a poetic teacher of the masses.
JOHN GREENLEAF WHITTIER, 1807-1892
Life.—Whittier says that the only unusual circumstance about the migration of his Puritan ancestor to New England in 1638 was the fact that he brought over with him a hive of bees. The descendants of this very hive probably suggested the poem, Telling the Bees, for it was an old English custom to go straightway to the hive and tell the bees whenever a member of the family died. It was believed that they would swarm and seek another home if this information was withheld. The poet has made both the bees and the snows of his northern home famous. He was born in 1807 in the same house that his first American ancestor built in East Haverhill, about thirty-two miles northwest of Boston. The Whittiers were farmers who for generations had wrung little more than a bare subsistence from the soil. The boy's frail health was early broken by the severe labor. He had to milk seven cows, plow with a yoke of oxen, and keep busy from dawn until dark.
Unlike the other members of the New England group of authors, Whittier never went to college. He received only the scantiest education in the schools near his home. The family was so poor that he had to work as a cobbler, making slippers at eight cents a pair, in order to attend the Haverhill academy for six months. He calculated his expenses so exactly that he had just twenty-five cents left at the end of the term.
Two events in his youth had strong influence on his future vocation. When he was fourteen, his school-teacher read aloud to the family from the poems of Robert Burns. The boy was entranced, and, learning that Burns had been merely a plowman, felt that there was hope for himself. He borrowed the volume of poems and read them again and again. Of this experience, he says: “This was about the first poetry I had ever read (with the exception of the Bible, of which I had been a close student) and it had a lasting influence upon me. I began to make rhymes myself and to imagine stories and adventures.” The second event was the appearance in print of some of his verses, which his sister had, unknown to him, sent to a Newburyport paper edited by William Lloyd Garrison. The great abolitionist thought enough of the poetry to ride out to Whittier's home and urge him to get an education. This event made an indelible impression on the lad's memory.
Realizing that his health would not allow him to make his living on a farm, he tried teaching school, but, like Thoreau, found that occupation distasteful. Through Garrison's influence, Whittier at the age of twenty-one procured an editorial position in Boston. At various times he served as editor on more than half a dozen different papers, until his own health or his father's brought him back to the farm. Such occupation taught him how to write prose, of which he had produced enough at the time of his death to fill three good-sized volumes, but his prose did not secure the attention given to his verse. While in Hartford, editing The New England Review, he fell in love with Miss Cornelia Russ, and a few days before he finally left the city, he wrote a proposal to her in three hundred words of wandering prose. Had he expressed his feelings in one of his inimitable ballads, it is possible that he might have been accepted, for neither she nor he ever married. In the year of her death, he wrote his poem, Memories, which recounts some recollections earlier than his Hartford experiences:—
“A beautiful and happy girl,
With step as light as summer air,
Eyes glad with smiles, and brow of pearl
Shadowed by many a careless curl
Of unconfined and flowing hair;
A seeming child in everything,
Save thoughtful brow and ripening charms,
As nature wears the smile of Spring
When sinking into Summer's arms.”
He was a Quaker and he came to Hartford in the homespun clothes of the cut of his sect. He may have been thinking of Miss Russ and wondering whether theology had anything to do with her refusal, when in after years he wrote:—
“Thine the Genevan's sternest creed,
While answers to my spirit's need
The Derby dalesman's simple truth.”
As Whittier was a skillful politician, he had hopes of making a name for himself in politics as well as in literature. He was chosen to represent his district in the state legislature and there is little doubt that he would have been sent to the national congress later, had he not taken a step which for a long time shut off all avenues of preferment. In 1833 he joined the abolitionists. This step had very nearly the same effect on his fortunes as the public declaration of an adherence to the doctrines of anarchy would to-day have on a man similarly situated. “The best magazines at the North would not open their pages to him. He was even mobbed, and the office of an anti-slavery paper, which he was editing in Philadelphia, was sacked. He wrote many poems to aid the abolition cause. These were really editorials expressed in verse, which caught the attention in a way denied to prose. For more than thirty years such verse constituted the most of his poetical production. Lowell noticed that the Quaker doctrine of peace did not deter Whittier from his vigorous attack on slavery. In A Fable for Critics (1848), Lowell asks:—
”... O leather-clad Fox?
Can that be thy son, in the battlers mid din,
Preaching brotherly love and then driving it in
To the brain of the tough old Goliath of sin,
With the smoothest of pebbles from Castaly's spring
Impressed on his hard moral sense with a sling?”
Whittier did, however, try to keep the spirit of brotherly love warm throughout his life. He always preferred to win his cause from an enemy peacefully. When he was charged with hating the people of the South, he wrote:—
“I was never an enemy to the South or the holders of slaves. I inherited
from my Quaker ancestry hatred of slavery, but not of slaveholders. To
every call of suffering or distress in the South, I have promptly
responded to the extent of my ability. I was one of the very first to
recognize the rare gift of the Carolinian poet Timrod, and I was the
intimate friend of the lamented Paul H. Hayne, though both wrote fiery
lyrics against the North.”
With a few striking exceptions, his most popular poems were written after the close of the Civil War. His greatest poem, Snow-Bound, was published in the year after the cessation of hostilities (1866). His last thirty years were a time of comparative calm. He wrote poetry as the spirit moved him. He had grown to be loved everywhere at the North, and his birthday, like Longfellow's, was the occasion for frequent celebrations. For years before the close of the war, in fact until Snow-Bound appeared, he was very poor, but the first edition of that poem brought him in ten thousand dollars, and after that he was never again troubled by poverty. In a letter written in 1866, he says:—
“If my health allowed me to write I could make money easily now, as my
anti-slavery reputation does not injure me in the least, at the present
time. For twenty years I was shut out from the favor of booksellers and
magazine editors, but I was enabled by rigid economy to live in spite of
His fixed home for almost all of his life was in the valley of the Merrimac River, at East Haverhill, until 1836, and then at Amesbury, only a few miles east of his birthplace. He died in 1892 and was buried in the Amesbury cemetery.
POETRY.—Although Whittier wrote much forcible anti-slavery verse, most of this has already been forgotten, because it was directly fashioned to appeal to the interests of the time. One of the strongest of these poems is Ichabod (1850), a bitter arraignment of Daniel Webster, because Whittier thought that the great orator's Seventh of March Speech of that year advised a compromise with slavery. Webster writhed under Whittier's criticism more than under that of any other man.
”... from those great eyes
The soul has fled:
When faith is lost, when honor dies
The man is dead!”
Thirty years later, Whittier, feeling that perhaps Webster merely intended to try to save the Union and do away with slavery without a conflict, wrote The Lost Occasion, in which he lamented the too early death of the great orator:—
“Some die too late and some too soon,
At early morning, heat of noon,
Or the chill evening twilight. Thou,
Whom the rich heavens did so endow
With eyes of power and Jove's own brow,
* * * * *
Too soon for us, too soon for thee,
Beside thy lonely Northern sea,
Where long and low the marsh-lands spread,
Laid wearily down thy august head.”
Whittier is emphatically the poet of New England. His verses which will live the longest are those which spring directly from its soil. His poem entitled The Barefoot Boy tells how the typical New England farmer's lad acquired:—
“Knowledge never learned of schools,
Of the wild bee's morning chase,
Of the wild flower's time and place,
Flight of fowl and habitude
Of the tenants of the wood.”
His greatest poem, the one by which he will probably be chiefly known to posterity, is Snow-Bound, which describes the life of a rural New England household. At the beginning of this poem of 735 lines, the coming of the all-enveloping snowstorm, with its “ghostly finger tips of sleet” on the window-panes, is the central event, but we soon realize that this storm merely serves to focus intensely the New England life with which he was familiar. The household is shut in from the outside world by the snow, and there is nothing else to distract the attention from the picture of isolated Puritan life. There is not another poet in America who has produced such a masterpiece under such limitations. One prose writer, Hawthorne, in The Scarlet Letter, had indeed taken even more unpromising materials and achieved one of the greatest successes in English romance, but in this special narrow field Whittier has not yet been surpassed by poets.
The sense of isolation and what painters would call “the atmosphere" are conveyed in lines like these:—
“Shut in from all the world without,
We sat the clean-winged hearth about,
Content to let the north wind roar
In baffled rage at pane and door,
While the red logs before us beat
The frost line back with tropic heat;
And ever when a louder blast
Shook beam and rafter as it passed,
The merrier up its roaring draught
The great throat of the chimney laughed.”
In such a focus he shows the life of the household; the mother, who often left her home to attend sick neighbors, now:—
”... seeking to express
Her grateful sense of happiness
For food and shelter, warmth and health,
And love's contentment, more than wealth,”
”... innocent of books,
Was rich in lore of fields and brooks,
* * * * *
A simple, guileless, childlike man,
Strong only on his native grounds,
The little world of sights and sounds
Whose girdle was the parish bounds,”
the aunt, who:—
“Found peace in love's unselfishness,”
“A full rich nature, free to trust,
Truthful and even sternly just,
Impulsive, earnest, prompt to act,
And make her generous thought a fact,
Keeping with many a light disguise
The secret of self-sacrifice.”
Some read Snow-Bound for its pictures of nature and some for its still more remarkable portraits of the members of that household. This poem has achieved for the New England fireside what Burns accomplished for the hearths of Scotland in The Cotter's Saturday Night.
Whittier wrote many fine short lyrical poems, such as Ichabod , The Lost Occasion, My Playmate (which was Tennyson's favorite), In School Days, Memories, My Triumph, Telling the Bees, The Eternal Goodness, and the second part of A Sea Dream. His narrative poems and ballads are second only to Longfellow's. Maud Muller, Skipper Iresons Ride, Cassandra Southwick, Barbara Frietchie, and Mabel Martin are among the best of these.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS—Whittier and Longfellow resemble each other in simplicity. Both are the poets of the masses, of those whose lives most need the consolation of poetry. Both suffer from diffuseness, Whittier in his greatest poems less than Longfellow. Whittier was self-educated, and he never traveled far from home. His range is narrower than Longfellow's, who was college bred and broadened by European travel. But if Whittier's poetic range is narrower, if he is the poet of only the common things of life, he shows more intensity of feeling. Often his simplest verse comes from the depths of his heart. He wrote In School Days forty years after the grass had been growing on the grave of the little girl who spelled correctly the word which the boy had missed:—
“'I'm sorry that I spelt the word:
I hate to go above you,
Because,'—the brown eyes lower fell,—
'Because you see, I love you!'
* * * * *
“He lives to learn, in life's hard school,
How few who pass above him
Lament their triumph and his loss,
Like her,—because they love him.”
Whittier's simplicity, genuineness, and sympathetic heart stand revealed in those lines.
His youthful work shows traces of the influence of many poets, but he learned most from Robert Burns. Whittier himself says that it was Burns who taught him to see
”... through all familiar things
The romance underlying,”
and especially to note that
“Through all his tuneful art, how strong
The human feeling gushes!”
The critics have found three indictments against Whittier; first, for the unequal value of his poetry; second, for its loose rhymes; and third, for too much moralizing. He would probably plead guilty to all of these indictments. His tendency to moralize is certainly excessive, but critics have too frequently forgotten that this very moralizing draws him closer to the heart of suffering humanity. There are times when the majority of human beings feel the need of the consolation which he brings in his religious verse and in such lines as these from Snow-Bound:—
“Alas for him who never sees
The stars shine through his cypress trees
Who, hopeless, lays his dead away,
Nor looks to see the breaking day
Across the mournful marbles play!
Who hath not learned, in hours of faith,
The truth to flesh and sense unknown,
That Life is ever lord of Death
And Love can never lose its own!”
He strives to impress on all the duty of keeping the windows of the heart open to the day and of “finding peace in love's unselfishness.”
JAMES RUSSELL LOWELL, 1819-1891
Early Years.—James Russell Lowell, the son of the Rev. Charles Lowell, was a descendant of one of the best of the old New England families. The city of Lowell and the Lowell Institute of Boston received their names from uncles of the author. His mother's name was Spence, and she used to tell her son that the Spence family, which was of Scotch origin, was descended from Sir Patrick Spens of ballad fame. She loved to sing to her boy in the gloaming:—
“O forty miles off Aberdeen,
'Tis fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,
Wi' the Scots lords at his feet.”
From her Celtic blood her son inherited a tendency toward poetry. When a child, he was read to sleep with Spenser's Faerie Queene and he found amusement in retelling its stories to his playmates.
James Russell Lowell was born in 1819, in the suburbs of Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the fine old historic home called “Elmwood,” which was one of the few homes to witness the birth and death of a great American author and to remain his native residence for seventy-two years.
His early opportunities were in striking contrast to those of Whittier; for Lowell, like his ancestors for three generations, went to Harvard. Because of what the Lowell side of his family called “the Spence negligence,” he was suspended from college for inattention to his studies and sent to Concord to be coached by a tutor. We know, however, that a part of Lowell's negligence was due to his reading and imitating such poetry as suited his fancy. It was fortunate that he was sent to Concord, for there he had the opportunity of meeting Emerson and Thoreau and of drinking in patriotism as he walked “the rude bridge that arch'd the flood” (p. 179). He was elected class poet, but he was not allowed to return in time to deliver his poem before his classmates, although he received his degree with them in 1838.
MARRIAGE AND NEW IMPULSES.—Like Irving and Bryant, Lowell studied law, and then gave up that profession for literature. In 1839 he met Miss Maria White, a transcendentalist of noble impulses. Before this he had made fun of the abolitionists, but under her influence he followed men like Whittier into the anti-slavery ranks. She was herself a poet and she wrote to Lowell after they became engaged:—
“I love thee for thyself—thyself alone;
For that great soul whose breath most full and rare
Shall to humanity a message bear,
Flooding their dreary waste with organ tone.”
Under such inspiration, “the Spence negligence” left him, and with rapid steps he entered the temple of fame. In December, 1844, the month in which he married her, he wrote the finest lines ever penned by him:—
“Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,—
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.”
Lowell's twenty-ninth year, 1848, is called his annus mirabilis , the wonderful year of his life. He had published small volumes of poems in 1840, 1843, and 1847, but in 1848 there appeared three of his most famous works,—The Biglow Papers, First Series, A Fable for Critics, and The Vision of Sir Launfal.
As Mrs. Lowell's health was delicate, Lowell took her abroad, in 1851, for a year's stay. Thackeray came over on the same ship with them, on their return in 1852, and proved a genial companion. The next year Mrs. Lowell died. When he thought of the inspiration which she had given him and of the thirteen years of her companionship, he said, “It is a million times better to have had her and lost her, than to have had and kept any other woman I ever saw.”
LATER WORK.—After his great bereavement in 1853, Lowell became one of America's greatest prose writers. In 1855 he was appointed Longfellow's successor in the Harvard professorship of modern languages and polite literature, a position which he held, with the exception of two years spent in European travel, until 1877. The duties of his chair called for wide reading and frequent lecturing, and he turned much of his attention toward writing critical essays. The routine work of his professorship often grew irksome and the “Spence negligence” was sometimes in evidence in his failure to meet his classes. As a teacher, he was, however, frequently very stimulating.
He was the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, from its beginning in 1857 until 1861. All of the second series of the Biglow Papers appeared in this magazine. From 1864 to 1872 he was one of the editors of the North American Review.
In 1877 he became the minister of the United States to Spain. The Spanish welcomed him to the post that Washington Irving had once filled. In 1880 Lowell was transferred to England, where he represented his country until 1885. No other American minister has ever proved a greater success in England. He was respected for his literary attainments and for his ability as a speaker. He had the reputation of being one of the very best speakers in the Kingdom, and he was in much demand to speak at banquets and on special occasions. Many of his articles and speeches were on political subjects, the greatest of these being his address on Democracy, at Birmingham, in 1884.
Although his later years showed his great achievements in prose, he did not cease to produce poetry. The second series of the Biglow Papers was written during the Civil War. His Ode Recited at the Harvard Commemoration in 1865, in honor of those who fell in freeing the slave,
“Who in warm life-blood wrote their nobler verse,”
his three memorial poems: (1) Ode Read at the One Hundredth Anniversary of the Fight at Concord Bridge (1875), (2) Under the Old Elm (1875), written in commemoration of Washington's taking command of the Continental forces under that tree, a century before, and (3) Ode for the Fourth of July, 1876, are well-known patriotic American poems.
After returning from England and passing from the excitement of diplomatic and social life to a quiet New England home, he wrote:—
“I take my reed again and blow it free
Of dusty silence, murmuring, 'Sing to me.'
And, as its stops my curious touch retries,
The stir of earlier instincts I surprise,—
Instincts, if less imperious, yet more strong,
And happy in the toil that ends with song.”
In 1888 he published a volume of poems called Heartsease and Rue . He died in 1891 and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, near his “Elmwood” home, not far from the last resting place of Longfellow.
POETRY.—Lowell wrote many short lyrical poems, which rank high. Some of them, like Our Love is not a Fading Earthly Flower, O Moonlight Deep and Tender, To the Dandelion, and The First Snow-Fall are exquisite lyrics of nature and sentiment. Others, like The Present Crisis, have for their text, “Humanity sweeps onward,” and teach high moral ideals. Still others, like his poems written in commemoration of some event, are instinct with patriotism.
He is best known for three long poems, The Biglow Papers, A Fable for Critics and The Vision of Sir Launfal. All of these, with the exception of the second series of The Biglow Papers , appeared in his wonderful poetic year, 1848.
He will, perhaps, be longest known to posterity for that remarkable series of papers written in what he called the Yankee dialect and designed at first to stop the extension of slavery and afterwards to suppress it. These are called “Biglow Papers” because the chief author is represented to be Hosea Biglow, a typical New England farmer. The immediate occasion of the first series of these Papers was the outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846. Lowell said in after years, “I believed our war with Mexico to be essentially a war of false pretences, and that it would result in widening the boundaries and so prolonging the life of slavery.” The second series of these Papers , dealing with our Civil War, began to be published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1862. The poem lives to-day, however, not for its censure of the war or for its attack on slavery, but for its expression of the mid-nineteenth century New England ideals, hard common sense, and dry humor. Where shall we turn for a more incisive statement of the Puritan's attitude toward pleasure?
“Pleasure doos make us Yankees kind o' winch,
Ez though't wuz sunthin' paid for by the inch;
But yit we du contrive to worry thru,
Ef Dooty tells us thet the thing's to du,
An' kerry a hollerday, ef we set out,
Ez stiddily ez though't wuz a redoubt.”
The homely New England common-sense philosophy is in evidence throughout the Papers. We frequently meet, such expressions as:—
“I like the plain all wool o' common-sense
Thet warms ye now, an' will a twelve-month hence.”
“Now's the only bird lays eggs o' gold.”
“Democracy gives every man
The right to be his own oppressor.”
“But Chance is like an amberill,—it don't take twice to lose it.”
“An' you've gut to git up airly,
Ef you want to take in God.”
In the second series of the Papers, there is one of Lowell's best lyrics, The Courtin'. It would be difficult to find another poem which gives within the compass of four lines a better characterization of many a New England maiden:—
”... she was jes' the quiet kind
Whose naturs never vary,
Like streams that keep a summer mind,
Snowhid in Jenooary.”
This series contains some of Lowell's best nature poetry. We catch rare glimpses of
“Moonshine an' snow on field an' hill
All silence an' all glisten,”
and we actually see a belated spring
“Toss the fields full o' blossoms, leaves, an' birds.”
The Vision of Sir Launfal has been the most widely read of Lowell's poems. This is the vision of a search for the Holy Grail. Lowell in a letter to a friend called the poem “a sort of story and more likely to be popular than what I write about generally.” But the best part of the poem is to be found in the apotheosis of the New England June, in the Prelude to Part I.:—
“And what is so rare as a day in June?
Then, if ever, come perfect days;
Then Heaven tries the earth if it be in tune,
And over it softly her warm ear lays.”
The poem teaches a noble lesson of sympathy with suffering:—
“Not what we give, but what we share,—
For the gift without the giver is bare;
Who gives himself with his alms feeds three,—
Himself, his hungering neighbor, and Me.”
Lowell said that he “scrawled at full gallop” A Fable for Critics , which is a humorous poem of about two thousand long lines, presenting an unusually excellent criticism of his contemporary authors. In this most difficult type of criticism, Lowell was not infallible; but a comparison of his criticisms with the verdicts generally accepted to-day will show his unusual ability in this field. Not a few of these criticisms remain the best of their kind, and they serve to focus many of the characteristics of the authors of the first half of the nineteenth century. It will benefit all writers, present and prospective, to read this criticism on Bryant:—
“He is almost the one of your poets that knows
How much grace, strength, and dignity lie in Repose;
If he sometimes fall short, he is too wise to mar
His thought's modest fulness by going too far;
'Twould be well if your authors should all make a trial
Of what virtue there is in severe self-denial,
And measure their writings by Hesiod's staff,
Who teaches that all has less value than half.”
Especially humorous are those lines which give a recipe for the making of a Washington Irving and those which describe the idealistic philosophy of Emerson:—
“In whose mind all creation is duly respected
As parts of himself—just a little projected.”
Prose.—Lowell's literary essays entitle him to rank as a great American critic. The chief of these are to be found gathered in three volumes: Among My Books (1870), My Study Windows (1871), Among My Books, Second Series (1876). These volumes as originally issued contain 1140 pages. If we should wish to persuade a group of moderately intelligent persons to read less fiction and more solid literature, it is doubtful if we could accomplish our purpose more easily than by inducing them to dip into some of these essays. Lowell had tested many of them on his college students, and he had noted what served to kindle interest and to produce results. We may recommend five of his greater literary essays, which would give a vivid idea of the development of English poetry from Chaucer to the death of Pope. These five are: Chaucer, in My Study Windows; Spenser , in Among My Books, Second Series; Shakespeare Once More, and Dryden, in Among My Books, First Series; and Pope, in My Study Windows. If we add to these the short addresses on Wordsworth and Coleridge, delivered in England, and printed in the volume Democracy and Other Addresses (1886), we shall have the incentive to continue the study of poetry into the nineteenth century.
Lowell's criticism provokes thought. It will not submit to a passive reading. It expresses truth in unique and striking ways. Speaking of the French and Italian sources on which Chaucer drew, Lowell says:—
“Should a man discover the art of transmuting metals, and present us with
a lump of gold as large as an ostrich egg, would it be in human nature to
inquire too nicely whether he had stolen the lead? ...
“Chaucer, like Shakespeare, invented almost nothing. Wherever he found
anything directed to Geoffrey Chaucer, he took it and made the most of
“Sometimes he describes amply by the merest hint, as where the Friar,
before setting himself softly down, drives away the cat. We know without
need of more words that he has chosen the snuggest corner.”
Lowell usually makes the laziest readers do a little pleasant thinking. It is common for even inert students to investigate his meaning; for instance, in his statements that in the age of Pope “everybody ceremoniously took a bushel basket to bring a wren's egg to market in,” and that everybody “called everything something else.”
The high ideals and sterling common sense of Lowell's political prose deserve special mention. In Democracy (1886), which should be read by every citizen, Lowell shows that old age had not shattered his faith in ideals. “I believe,” he said, “that the real will never find an irremovable basis until it rests on the ideal.” Voters and lawmakers are to-day beginning to realize that they will go far to find in the same compass a greater amount of common sense than is contained in these words:—
“It is only when the reasonable and the practicable are denied that men
demand the unreasonable and impracticable; only when the possible is made
difficult that they fancy the impossible to be easy. Fairy tales are made
out of the dreams of the poor.” [Footnote: Democracy and Other
Addresses, p. 15.]
General Characteristics.—Lowell has written verse which shows sympathetic treatment of nature. His lines To the Dandelion:—
“Dear common flower, that grow'st beside the way,
Fringing the dusty road with harmless gold,
First pledge of blithesome May
Which children pluck, and full of pride uphold
* * * * *
... thou art more dear to me
Than all the prouder summer-blooms may be,”
show rare genuineness of feeling. No one not enthusiastic about nature would ever have heard her calling to him:—
“To mix his blood with sunshine, and to take
The winds into his pulses.”
He invites us in March to watch:—
“The bluebird, shifting his light load of song
From post to post along the cheerless fence,”
and in June to lie under the willows and rejoice with
“The thin-winged swallow, skating on the air.”
Another pronounced characteristic which he has in common with the New England group is nobility of ideals. His poem entitled For an Autograph, voices in one line the settled conviction of his life:—
“Not failure, but low aim, is crime.”
He is America's greatest humorist in verse. The Biglow Papers and A Fable for Critics are ample justification for such an estimate.
As Lowell grew older, his poetry, dominated too much by his acute intellect, became more and more abstract. In Under the Old Elm, for example, he speaks of Washington as:—
“The equestrian shape with unimpassioned brow
That paces silent on through vistas of acclaim.”
It is possible to read fifty consecutive lines of his Commemoration Ode without finding any but abstract or general terms, which are rarely the warp and woof out of which the best poetry is spun. This criticism explains why repeated readings of some of his poems leave so little impression on the mind. Some of the poetry of his later life is, however, concrete and sensuous, as the following lines from his poem Agassiz(1874) show:—
“To lie in buttercups and clover-bloom,
Tenants in common with the bees,
And watch the white clouds drift through gulfs of trees,
Is better than long waiting in the tomb.”
In prose literary criticism, he keeps his place with Poe at the head of American writers. Lowell's sentences are usually simple in form and easily understood; they are frequently enlivened by illuminating figures of rhetoric and by humor, or rendered impressive by the striking way in which they express thought, e.g. “The foolish and the dead alone never change their opinion.” A pun, digression, or out-of-the-way allusion may occasionally provoke readers, but onlookers have frequently noticed that few wrinkle their brows while reading his critical essays, and that a pleased expression, such as photographers like, is almost certain to appear. He has the rare faculty of making his readers think hard enough for agreeable exercise, and yet he spares them undue fatigue and rarely takes them among miry bogs or through sandy deserts.
Lowell's versatility is a striking characteristic. He was a poet, reformer, college professor, editor, literary critic, diplomatist, speaker, and writer on political subjects. We feel that he sometimes narrowly escaped being a genius, and that he might have crossed the boundary line into genius-land, if he had confined his attention to one department of literature and had been willing to write at less breakneck speed, taking time and thought to prune, revise, and suppress more of his productions. Not a few, however, think that Lowell, in spite of his defects, has left the impress of genius on some of his work. When his sonnet, Our Love is not a Fading Earthly Flower, was read to a cultured group, some who did not recognize the authorship of the verses thought that they were Shakespeare's.
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, 1809-1894
LIFE.—The year 1809 was prolific in the birth of great men, producing Holmes, Poe, Lincoln, Tennyson, and Darwin. Holmes was descended from Anne Bradstreet, New England's “Tenth Muse” (p. 39) His father was a Congregational clergyman, preaching at Cambridge when Oliver was born. The family was in comfortable circumstances, and the boy was reared in a cultured atmosphere. In middle age Holmes wrote, “I like books,—I was born and bred among them, and have the easy feeling, when I get into their presence, that a stable boy has among horses.”
He graduated from Harvard in the famous class of 1829, for which he afterward wrote many anniversary poems. He went to Paris to study medicine, a science that held his interest through life. For thirty-five years he was professor of anatomy in the Harvard Medical School, where he was the only member of the faculty who could at the end of the day take the class, fagged and wearied, and by his wit, stories, and lively illustrations both instruct and interest the students.
His announcement, “small fevers gratefully received,” his humor in general, and his poetry especially, did not aid him in securing patients. His biographer says that Holmes learned at his cost as a doctor that the world had made up its mind “that he who writes rhymes must not write prescriptions, and he who makes jests should not escort people to their graves.” He later warned his students that if they would succeed in any one calling they must not let the world find out that they were interested in anything else. From his own point of view, he wrote:—
“It's a vastly pleasing prospect, when you're screwing out a laugh,
That your very next year's income is diminished by a half,
And a little boy trips barefoot that your Pegasus may go,
And the baby's milk is watered that your Helicon may flow.”
He was driven, like Emerson and Lowell, to supplement his modest income by what he called “lecture peddling.” Although Holmes did not have the platform presence of these two contemporaries, he had the power of reaching his audiences and of quickly gaining their sympathy, so that he was very popular and could always get engagements.
His scientific training made him intolerant of any philosophical or religious creed which seemed to him to be based merely upon superstition or tradition. He was thoroughly alert, open-minded, and liberal upon all such questions. On subjects of politics, war, or the abolition of slavery, he was, on the other hand, strongly conservative. He had the aristocratic dread of change. He was distinctly the courtly gentleman, the gifted talker, and the social, genial, refined companion.
Holmes was a conscientious worker, but he characteristically treated his mental processes in a joking way, and wrote to a friend: “I like nine tenths of any matter I study, but I do not like to lick the plate. If I did, I suppose I should be more of a man of science and find my brain tired oftener than I do.” Again he wrote, “my nature is to snatch at all the fruits of knowledge and take a good bite out of the sunny side—after that let in the pigs.” Despite these statements, Holmes worked steadily every year at his medical lectures. He was very particular about the exactness and finish of all that he wrote, and he was neither careless nor slipshod in anything. His life, while filled with steady, hard work, was a placid one, full of love and friendships, and he passed into his eightieth year with a young heart. He died in 1894, at the age of eighty-five, and was buried in Mt. Auburn cemetery not far from Longfellow and Lowell.
POETRY.—In 1836 he published his first volume of verse. This contained his first widely known poem, Old Ironsides, a successful plea for saving the old battleship, Constitution, which had been ordered destroyed. With the exception of this poem and The Last Leaf, the volume is remarkable for little except the rollicking fun which we find in such favorites as The Ballad of the Oysterman and My Aunt. This type of humor is shown in this simile from The Ballad:—
“Her hair drooped round her pallid cheeks, like seaweed on a clam,” and in his description of his aunt:—
“Her waist is ampler than her life,
For life is but a span.”
He continued to write verses until his death. Among the last poems which he wrote were memorials on the death of Lowell (1891) and Whittier (1892). As we search the three volumes of his verse, we find few serious poems of a high order. The best, and the one by which he himself wished to be remembered, is The Chambered Nautilus. No member of the New England group voiced higher ideals than we find in the noble closing stanza of this poem:—
“Build thee more stately mansions, O my soul,
As the swift seasons roll!
Leave thy low-vaulted past!
Let each new temple, nobler than the last,
Shut thee from heaven with a dome more vast,
Till thou at length art free,
Leaving thine outgrown shell by life's unresting sea!”
Probably The Last Leaf, which was such a favorite with Lincoln, would rank second. This poem is remarkable for preserving the reader's equilibrium between laughter and tears. Some lines from The Voiceless are not likely to be soon forgotten:—
“A few can touch the magic string,
And noisy Fame is proud to win them:—
Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!”
He wrote no more serious poem than Homesick in Heaven, certain stanzas of which appeal strongly to bereaved hearts. It is not easy to forget the song of the spirits who have recently come from earth, of the mother who was torn from her clinging babe, of the bride called away with the kiss of love still burning on her cheek, of the daughter taken from her blind and helpless father:—
“Children of earth, our half-weaned nature clings
To earth's fond memories, and her whispered name
Untunes our quivering lips, our saddened strings;
For there we loved, and where we love is home.”
When Holmes went to Oxford in 1886, to receive an honorary degree, it is probable that, as in the case of Irving, the Oxford boys in the gallery voiced the popular verdict. As Holmes stepped on the platform, they called, “Did he come in the One-Hoss Shay?” This humorous poem, first known as The Deacon's Masterpiece, has been a universal favorite. How the Old Hoss Won the Bet tells with rollicking humor what the parson's nag did at a race. The Boys, with its mingled humor and pathos, written for the thirtieth reunion of his class, is one of the best of the many poems which he was so frequently asked to compose for special celebrations. No other poet of his time could equal him in furnishing to order clever, apt, humorous verses for ever recurring occasions.
PROSE.—He was nearly fifty when he published his first famous prose work. He had named the Atlantic Monthly, and Lowell had agreed to edit it only on condition that Holmes would promise to be a contributor. In the first number appeared The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. Holmes had hit upon a style that exactly suited his temperament, and had invented a new prose form. His great conversational gift was now crystallized in these breakfast table talks, which the Autocrat all but monopolizes. However, the other characters at the table of this remarkable boarding house in Boston join in often enough to keep up the interest in their opinions, feelings, and relations to each other. The reader always wants to know the impression that the Autocrat's fine talk makes upon “the young man whom they call 'John.'“ John sometimes puts his feelings into action, as when the Autocrat gives a typical illustration of his mixture of reasoning and humor, in explaining that there are always six persons present when two people are talking:—
1. The real John; known only to his Maker.
2. John's ideal John; never the real one, and often very unlike him.
3. Thomas's ideal John; never the real John, nor John's John, but often
very unlike either.
1. The real Thomas.
2. Thomas's ideal Thomas.
3. John's ideal Thomas.”
“A certain basket of peaches, a rare vegetable, little known to boarding-houses, was on its way to me,” says the Autocrat, “via this unlettered Johannes. He appropriated the three that remained in the basket, remarking that there was just one apiece for him. I convinced him that his practical inference was hasty and illogical, but in the meantime he had eaten the peaches.” When John enters the debates with his crushing logic of facts, he never fails to make a ten strike.
A few years after the Autocrat series had been closed, Holmes wrote The Professor at the Breakfast Table; many years later The Poet at the Breakfast Table appeared; and in the evening of life, he brought out Over the Teacups, in which he discoursed at the tea table in a similar vein, but not in quite the same fresh, buoyant, humorous way in which the Autocrat talked over his morning coffee. The decline in these books is gradual, although it is barely perceptible in the Professor. The Autocrat is, however, the brightest, crispest, and most vigorous of the series, while Over the Teacups is the calmest, as well as the soberest and most leisurely.
Holmes wrote three novels, Elsie Venner, The Guardian Angel, and The Mortal Antipathy, which have been called “medicated novels” because his medical knowledge is so apparent in them. These books also have a moral purpose, each in turn considering the question whether an individual is responsible for his acts. The first two of these novels are the strongest, and hold the attention to the end because of the interest aroused by the characters and by the descriptive scenes.
GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS.—Humor is the most characteristic quality of Holmes's writings. He indeed is the only member of the New England group who often wrote with the sole object of entertaining readers. Lowell also was a humorist, but he employed humor either in the cause of reform, as in The Biglow Papers, or in the field of knowledge, in endeavoring to make his literary criticisms more expressive and more certain to impress the mind of his readers.
Whenever Holmes wrote to entertain, he did not aim to be deep or to exercise the thinking powers of his readers. Much of his work skims the surface of things in an amusing and delightful way. Yet he was too much of a New Englander not to write some things in both poetry and prose with a deeper purpose than mere entertainment. The Chambered Nautilus, for instance, was so written, as were all of his novels. His genial humor is thus frequently blended with unlooked-for wisdom or pathos.
Whittier has been called provincial because he takes only the point of view of New England. The province of Holmes is still narrower, being mainly confined to Boston. He expresses in a humorous way his own feelings, as well as those of his fellow townsmen, when he says in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table:—
“Boston State House is the hub of the solar system. You couldn't pry that
out of a Boston man if you had the tire of all creation straightened out
for a crowbar.”
Like Irving, Holmes was fond of eighteenth-century English writers, and much of his verse is modeled after the couplets of Pope. Holmes writes fluid and rippling prose, without a trace of effort. His meaning is never left to conjecture, but is stated in pure, exact English. He not only expresses his ideas perfectly, but he seems to achieve this result without premeditation. This apparent artlessness is a great charm. He has left America a new form of prose, which bears the stamp of pure literature, and which is distinguished not so much for philosophy and depth as for grace, versatility, refined humor, bright intellectual flashes, and artistic finish.
Three natives of Massachusetts and graduates of Harvard, William H. Prescott, John Lothrop Motley, and Francis Parkman, wrote history in such a way as to entitle it to be mentioned in our literature. We cannot class as literature those historical writings which are not enlivened with imagination, invested with at least an occasional poetic touch, and expressed in rare style. Unfortunately the very qualities that render history attractive as literature often tend to raise doubts about the scientific method and accuracy of the historian. For this reason few histories keep for a great length of time a place in literature, unless, like Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York, they aim to give merely an imaginative interpretation of a past epoch. They may then, like Homer's Iliad, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and some of Irving's and Cooper's work, be, in Celtic phrase, “more historical than history itself.” History of this latter type lives, and is a treasure in the literature of any nation.
WILLIAM H. PRESCOTT (1796-1859).—Like Washington Irving, Prescott was attracted by the romantic achievements of Spain during the years of her brilliant successes, and he wrote four histories upon Spanish subjects: a History of the Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella (1837), a History of the Conquest of Mexico (1843), a History of the Conquest of Peru (1847), and a History of the Reign of Philip II. (1855-1858), the last of which he did not live to complete.
He was a careful, painstaking student. He learned the Spanish language, had copies made of all available manuscripts and records in Europe, and closely compared contemporary accounts so as to be certain of the accuracy of his facts. Then he presented them in an attractive form. His Ferdinand and Isabella and the part he finished of Philip II. are accurate and authoritative to-day because the materials which he found for them are true. The two histories on the Spanish conquests in the New World are not absolutely correct in all their descriptions of the Aztecs and Incas before the arrival of the Spaniards. This is due to no carelessness on Prescott's part, but to the highly colored accounts upon which he had to depend for his facts, and to the lack of the archaeological surveys which have since been carried on in Mexico and Peru. These two histories of the daring exploits of a handful of adventurers in hostile lands are as thrilling and interesting as novels. We seem to be reading a tale from the Arabian Nights, as we follow Pizarro and see his capture of the Peruvian monarch in the very sight of his own army, and view the rich spoils in gold and silver and precious stones which were carried back to Spain. In relating the conquest of Mexico by Cortez, Prescott writes the history of still more daring adventures. His narrative is full of color, and he presents facts picturesquely.
JOHN LOTHROP MOTLEY (1814-1877).—As naturally as the love of adventure sent Prescott to the daring exploits of the Spanish feats of arms, so the inborn zeal for civil and religious liberty and hatred of oppression led Motley to turn to the sturdy, patriotic Dutch in their successful struggle against the enslaving power of Spain. His histories are The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1856), The History of the United Netherlands (1860-1868), The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland (1874).
The difference in temperament between Prescott and Motley is seen in the manner of presenting the character of Philip II. In so far as Prescott drew the picture of Philip II., it is traced with a mild, cool hand. Philip is shown as a tyrant, but he is impelled to his tyranny by motives of conscience. In Motley's The Rise of the Dutch Republic , this oppressor is an accursed scourge of a loyal people, the enemy of progress, of liberty, and of justice. Motley's feelings make his pages burn and flash with fiery denunciation, as well as with exalted praise.
The Rise of the Dutch Republic is the recital of as heroic a struggle as a small but determined nation ever made against tremendous odds. Amid the swarm of men that crowd the pages of this work, William the Silent, of Orange, the central figure, stands every inch a hero, a leader worthy of his cause and of his people. Motley with an artist's skill shows how this great leader launched Holland on her victorious career. This history is a living story, faithful to facts, but it is written to convince the reader that “freedom of thought, of speech, and of life” are “blessings without which everything that this earth can afford is worthless.”
In choosing to write of the struggle of Holland for her freedom, Motley was actuated by the same reason that prompted his forefathers to fight on Bunker Hill. He wanted to play at least a historian's part in presenting “the great spectacle which was to prove to Europe that principles and peoples still existed, and that a phlegmatic nation of merchants and manufacturers could defy the powers of the universe, and risk all their blood and treasure, generation after generation, in a sacred cause.”
The History of the United Netherlands continues this story after Holland, free and united, proved herself a power that could no longer remain unheeded in Europe. The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, which brings the history of Holland down to about 1623, was planned as an introduction to a final history of that great religious and political conflict, called the Thirty Years' War,—a history which Motley did not live to finish.
Although no historian has spent more time than Motley in searching the musty records and state archives of foreign lands for matter relating to Holland, it was impossible for a man of his temperament, convictions, and purpose to write a calm, dispassionate history. He is not the cool judge, but the earnest advocate, and yet he does not distort facts. He is just and can be coldly critical, even of his heroes, but he is always on one side, the side of liberty and justice, pleading their cause. His temperament gives warmth, eloquence, and dramatic passion to his style. Individual incidents and characters stand forth sharply defined. His subject seems remarkably well suited to him because his love of liberty was a sacred passion. With this feeling to fire his blood, the unflinching Hollander to furnish the story, and his eloquent style to present it worthily, Motley's Rise of the Dutch Republic is a prose epic of Dutch liberty.
Francis Parkman (1823-1893)—The youngest and greatest of this group of historians was born of Puritan blood in Boston in 1823. Parkman's life from early childhood was a preparation for his future work, and when a mere lad at college, he had decided to write a history of the French and Indian War. He was a delicate child, and at the age of eight was sent to live with his grandfather, who owned at Medway, near Boston, a vast tract of woodland. The boy roamed at will through these forests, and began to amass that wood lore of which his histories hold such rich stores. At Harvard he overworked in the gymnasium with the mistaken purpose of strengthening himself for a life on the frontier.
In 1846, two years after graduation, he took his famous trip out west over the Oregon Trail, where he hunted buffalo on the plains, dragged his horse through the canyons to escape hostile Indians, lived in the camp of the warlike Dacota tribe, and learned by bitter experience the privations of primitive life.
His health was permanently impaired by the trip. He was threatened with absolute blindness, and was compelled to have all his notes read to him and to dictate his histories. For years he was forbidden literary work on account of insomnia and intense cerebral pain which threatened insanity, and on account of lameness he was long confined to a wheel chair. He rose above every obstacle, however, and with silent fortitude bore his sufferings, working whenever he could, if for only a bare half hour at a time.
His amazing activity during his trips, both in America and abroad, is shown in the Massachusetts Historical Society Library, which contains almost two hundred folio volumes, which he had experts copy from original sources. With few exceptions, he visited every spot which he described, and saw the life of nearly every tribe of Indians. His battle with ill health, his strength of character, and his energetic first-hand study of Indian and pioneer life are remarkable in the history of American men of letters. He died near Boston in 1893.
Because of their subject matter, Parkman's works are of unusual interest to Americans. When he returned from his pioneer western trip, he wrote a simple, straightforward account, which was in 1849 published in book form, under the title of The California and Oregon Trail. This book remains the most trustworthy, as well as the most entertaining, account of travel in the unsettled Northwest of that time. Indians, big game, and adventures enough to satisfy any reasonable boy may be found in this book.
His histories cover the period from the early French settlements in the New World to the victory of the English over the French and Indian allies. The titles of his separate works, given in their chronological order, are as follows :—
The Pioneers of France in the New World (1865) describes the experiences of the early French sailors and explorers off the Newfoundland coast and along the St. Lawrence River.
The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century (1867) tells of the work of the self-forgetting Jesuit Fathers in their mission of mercy and conversion among the Indians. Fifty pages of theIntroduction give an account of the religion, festivities, superstitions, burials, sacrifices, and military organization of the Indians.
La Salle, or the Discovery of the Great West (1869), is the story of La Salle's heroic endeavors and sufferings while exploring the West and the Mississippi River.
The Old Regime in Canada (1874) presents the internal conflicts and the social development of Canada in the seventeenth century.
Count Frontenac and New France under Louis XIV. (1877) continues the history of Canada as a French dependency, and paints in a lively manner Count Frontenac's character, his popularity with the Indians, and his methods of winning laurels for France.
A Half Century of Conflict (1892) depicts the sharp encounter between the French and English for the possession of the country, and the terrible deeds of the Indians against their hated foes, the English.
Montcalm and Wolfe (1884) paints the final scenes of the struggle between France and England, closing practically with the fall of Quebec.
The History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac (1851) shows one more desperate attempt of a great Indian chief to combine the tribes of his people and drive out the English. The volume closes with the general smoking of the pipe of peace and the swearing of allegiance to England. The first forty-five pages describe the manners and customs of the Indian tribes east of the Mississippi.
The general title, France and England in North America, indicates the subject matter of all this historical work. The central theme of the whole series is the struggle between the French and English for this great American continent. The trackless forests, the Great Lakes, the untenanted shores of the St. Lawrence and the Mississippi form an impressive background for the actors in this drama,—the Indians, traders, self-sacrificing priests, and the French and English contending for one of the greatest prizes of the world.
In his manner of presenting the different ideals and civilizations of England and France in this struggle, he shows keen analytical power and strong philosophical grasp. He is accurate in his details, and he summarizes the results of economic and religious forces in the strictly modern spirit. At the same time, these histories read like novels of adventure, so vivid and lively is the action. While scholars commend his reliability in dealing with facts, boys enjoy his vivid stories of heroism, sacrifice, religious enthusiasm, Indian craft, and military maneuvering. The one who begins with The Conspiracy of Pontiac, for instance, will be inclined to read more of Parkman.
In the first volumes the style is clear, nervous, and a trifle ornate. His facility in expression increased with his years, so that in Montcalm and Wolfe he has a mellowness and dignity that place him beside the best American prose writers. Although Prescott's work is more full of color, he does not surpass Parkman in the presentation of graphic pictures, Parkman has neither the solemn grandeur of Prescott nor the rapid eloquence of Motley, but Parkman has unique merits of his own,—the freshness of the pine woods, the reality and vividness of an eyewitness, an elemental strength inherent in the primitive nature of his novel subject. He secured his material at first hand in a way that cannot be repeated. Parkman's prose presents in a simple, lucid, but vigorous manner the story of the overthrow of the French by the English in the struggle for a mighty continent. As a result of this contest, Puritan England left its lasting impress upon this new land.
ENGLISH LITERATURE OF THE PERIOD
Most of the work of the great New England group of writers was done during the Victorian age—a time prolific of famous English authors. The greatest of the English writers were THOMAS CARLYLE (1795-1881), whose Sartor Resartus and Heroes and Hero Worship proved a stimulus to Emerson and to many other Americans; LORD MACAULAY (1800-1859), whose Essays and History of England, remarkable for their clearness and interest, affected either directly or indirectly the prose style of numberless writers in the second half of the nineteenth century; JOHN RUSKIN (1819-1900), the apostle of the beautiful and of more ideal social relations; MATTHEW ARNOLD (1822-1888), the great analytical critic; CHARLES DICKENS (1812-1870), whose novels of the lower class of English life are remarkable for vigor, optimism, humor, the power to caricature, and to charm the masses; WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY (1811-1863), whose novels, like Vanity Fair, remain unsurpassed for keen satiric analysis of the upper classes; and GEORGE ELIOT (1819-1880), whose realistic stories of middle class life show a new art in tracing the growth and development of character instead of merely presenting it with the fixity of a portrait. To this list should be added CHARLES DARWIN (1809-1882), whose Origin of Species (1859) affected so much of the thought of the second half of the nineteenth century.
The two greatest poets of this time were ALFRED TENNYSON (1809-1892) and ROBERT BROWNING (1812-1889). Browning's greatest poetry aims to show the complex development of human souls, to make us understand that:—
“He fixed thee 'mid this dance
Of plastic circumstance.”
[Footnote: Rabbi Ben Ezra.]
His influence on the American poets of this group was very slight. Whittier's comment on Browning's Men and Women is amusing:—
“I have only dipped into it, here and there, but it is not exactly
comfortable reading. It seemed to me like a galvanic battery in full
play—its spasmodic utterances and intense passion make me feel as if I
had been taking a bath among electric eels.”
Tennyson through his artistic workmanship and poetry of nature exerted more influence. His Arthurian legends, especially Sir Galahad (1842), seem to have suggested Lowell's Vision of Sir Launfal (1848). The New England poets in general looked back to Burns, Wordsworth, Keats, and other members of the romantic school of poets. Lowell was a great admirer of Keats, and in early life, like Whittier, was an imitator of Burns.
LEADING HISTORICAL FACTS
As might be inferred from the literature of this period—from Whittier's early poems, Mrs. Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, Lowell's The Biglow Papers, and from emphatic statements in Emerson and Thoreau—the question of slavery was the most vital one of the time. From 1849, when California, recently settled by gold seekers, applied for admission as a state, with a constitution forbidding slavery, until the end of the Civil War in 1865, slavery was the irrepressible issue of the republic. The Fugitive Slave Law, which was passed in 1850 to secure the return of slaves from any part of the United States, was very unpopular at the North and did much to hasten the war, as did also the decision of the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case (1857), affirming that slaves were property, not persons, and could be moved the same as cattle from one state to another. Various compromise measures between the North and the South were vainly tried. When Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860, South Carolina led the South in seceding from the Union. In 1861 began the Civil War, which lasted four years and resulted in the restoration of the Union and the freeing of the slaves.
Before Holmes, the last member of this New England group, died in 1894, both North and South had more than regained the material prosperity which they had enjoyed before the war. The natural resources of the country were so great and the energy of her sons so remarkable that not only was the waste of property soon repaired, but a degree of prosperity was reached which would probably never have been possible without the war. More than one million human beings perished in the strife. Many of these were from the more cultured and intellectual classes on both sides. Centuries will not repair that waste of creative ability in either section. France, after the lapse of more than two hundred years, is still suffering from the loss of her Huguenots. It is impossible to compute what American literature has lost as a result of this war, not only from the double waste involved in turning the energies of men to destruction and subsequently to the necessary repairs, but also from the sacrifice of life of those who might have displayed genius with the pen or furnished an encouraging audience to the gifted ones who did not speak because there were none to hear.
The development of inventions during this period revolutionized the world's progress. Cities in various parts of the country had begun to communicate with each other by electricity, when Thoreau was living at Walden; when Emerson was writing the second series of his Essays ; Longfellow, his lines about cares “folding their tents like the Arabs and as silently stealing away”; Lowell, his verses To the Dandelion ; and Holmes, his complaint that his humor was diminishing his practice. By the time that Longfellow had finished The Courtship of Miles Standish, and Holmes The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, messages had been cabled across the Atlantic. A comparison with an event of the preceding period will show the importance of this method of communication. The treaty of peace to end the last war with England was signed in Belgium, December 24, 1814. On January 8, 1815, the bloody battle of New Orleans was fought. News of this fight did not reach Washington until February 4. A week later information of the treaty of peace was received at New York. A new process of welding the world together had begun, and this welding was further strengthened by the invention of that modern miracle, the telephone, in 1876.
The result of the battle between the ironclads, the Monitor and the Merrimac (1862), led to a change in the navies of the entire world. Alaska was bought in 1867, and added an area more than two thirds as large as the United States comprised in 1783. The improvement and extension of education, the interest in social reform, the beginning of the decline of the “let alone doctrine,” the shortening of the hours of labor, and the consequent increase in time for self-improvement,—are all especially important steps of progress in this period.
Authors could no longer complain of small audiences. At the outbreak of the Civil War the United States had a population of thirty-one millions, while the combined population of Great Britain and Ireland was then only twenty-nine millions. Before Holmes passed away in 1894 the population of 1860 had doubled. The passage of an international copyright law in 1891 at last freed American authors from the necessity of competing with pirated editions of foreign works.
The great mid-nineteenth century group of New England writers included Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, who were often called the Concord group, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, Daniel Webster, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, and the historians, Prescott, Motley, and Parkman.
The causes of this great literary awakening were in some measure akin to those which produced the Elizabethan age,—a “re-formation” of religious opinion and a renaissance, seen in a broader culture which did not neglect poetry, music, art, and the observation of beautiful things.
The philosophy known as transcendentalism left its impress on much of the work of this age. The transcendentalists believed that human mind could “transcend” or pass beyond experience and form a conclusion which was not based on the world of sense. They were intense idealists and individualists, who despised imitation and repetition, who were full of the ecstasy of discoveries in a glorious new world, who entered into a new companionship with nature, and who voiced in ways as different as The Dial and Brook Farm their desire for an opportunity to live in all the faculties of the soul.
The fact that the thought of the age was specially modified by the question of slavery is shown in Webster's orations, Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin, the poetry of Whittier and Lowell, and to a less degree in the work of Emerson, Thoreau, and Longfellow.
We have found that Emerson's aim, shown in his Essays and all his prose work, is the moral development of the individual, the acquisition of self-reliance, character, spirituality. Some of his nature poetry ranks with the best produced in America. Thoreau, the poet-naturalist, shows how to find enchantment in the world of nature. Nathaniel Hawthorne, one of the great romance writers of the world, has given the Puritan almost as great a place in literature as in history. In his short stories and romances, this great artist paints little except the trial and moral development of human souls in a world where the Ten Commandments are supreme.
Longfellow taught the English-speaking world to love simple poetry. He mastered the difficult art of making the commonplace seem attractive and of speaking to the great common heart. His ability to tell in verse stories like Evangeline and Hiawatha remains unsurpassed among our singers. Whittier was the great antislavery poet of the North. Like Longfellow, he spoke simply but more intensely to that overwhelming majority whose lives stand most in need of poetry. His Snow-Bound makes us feel the moral greatness of simple New England life. The versatile Lowell has written exquisite nature poetry in his lyrics and Vision of Sir Launfal and The Biglow Papers. He has produced America's best humorous verse in The Biglow Papers and A Fable for Critics. He is a great critic, and his prose criticism inAmong My Books and the related volumes is stimulating and interesting. His political prose, of which the best specimen is Democracy, is remarkable for its high ideals. Holmes is especially distinguished for his humor in such poems as The Deacon's Masterpiece, or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay and for the pleasant philosophy and humor in such artistic prose as The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. He is the only member of this group who often wrote merely to entertain, but his Chambered Nautilus shows that he also had a more serious aim.
When we come to the historians, we find that Prescott wrote of the romantic achievements of Spain in the days of her glory; Motley, of the struggles of the Dutch Republic to keep religious and civil liberty from disappearing from this earth; Parkman, of the contest of the English against the French and Indians to decide whether the institutions and literature of North America should be French or English.
This New England literature is most remarkable for its moral quality, its gospel of self-reliance, its high ideals, its call to the soul to build itself more stately mansions.
REFERENCES FOR FURTHER STUDY
For contemporary English history consult the histories mentioned on p. 60. The chapter on Victorian literature in the author's History of English Literature gives the trend of literary movements on the other side of the Atlantic during this period.
Contemporary American history may be traced in the general works listed on p. 61, or in Woodrow Wilson's Division and Reunion.
In addition to the works of Richardson, Wendell, and Trent (p. 61), the following may be consulted:—
Nichol's American Literature.
Churton Collins's The Poets and Poetry of America.
Vincent's American Literary Masters.
Stedman's Poets of America.
Onderdonk's History of American Verse.
Lawton's The New England Poets.
Erskine's Leading American Novelists. (Mrs. Stowe, Hawthorne.)
Brownell's American Prose Masters. (Especially Emerson and Lowell.)
Howells's Literary Friends and Acquaintance. (Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes.)
Frothingham's Transcendentalism in New England.
Dowden's Studies in Literature. (Transcendentalism.)
Swift's Brook Farm.
Fields's The Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Lodge's Daniel Webster.
Woodberry's Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Holmes's Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Garnett's Life of Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Sanborn's Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Cabot's A Memoir of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 2 vols.
E. W. Emerson's Emerson in Concord.
Lowell's Emerson the Lecturer, in Works, Vol. I.
Woodbury's Talks with Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Sanborn's Henry David Thoreau.
Salt's Life of Henry David Thoreau.
Channing's Thoreau, The Poet Naturalist.
Marble's Thoreau, His Home, Friends, and Books.
James Russell Lowell's Thoreau, in Works, Vol. I.
Burroughs's Indoor Studies, Chap. 1., Henry D. Thoreau .
Woodberry's Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Henry James's Hawthorne.
Conway's Life of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Fields's Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Julian Hawthorne's Nathaniel Hawthorne and his Wife.
George Parsons Lathrop's A Study of Hawthorne.
Bridge's Personal Recollections of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
Rose Hawthorne Lathrop's Memories of Hawthorne.
Julian Hawthorne's Hawthorne and his Circle.
Gates's Studies and Appreciations. (Hawthorne.)
Canby's The Short Story in English, Chap. XII. (Hawthorne.)
Samuel Longfellow's Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow with Extracts from his Journals and Correspondence, 3 vols.
Higginson's Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Carpenter's Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Robertson's Life of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Carpenter's John Greenleaf Whittier.
Higginson's John Greenleaf Whittier.
Perry's John Greenleaf Whittier.
Pickard's Life and Letters of John Greenleaf Whittier, 2 vols.
Greenslet's James Russell Lowell, his Life and Work.
Hale's James Russell Lowell. (Beacon Biographies.)
Scudder's James Russell Lowell, A Biography, 2 vols.
Hale's James Russell Lowell and his Friends.
James Russell Lowell's Letters, edited by Charles Eliot Norton.
Morse's Life and Letters of Oliver Wendell Holmes, 2 vols.
Haweis's American Humorists.
Ticknor's Life of William Hickling Prescott.
Ogden's William Hickling Prescott.
Peck's William Hickling Prescott.
Holmes's John Lothrop Motley, A Memoir.
Curtis's The Correspondence of John Lothrop Motley.
Sedgwick's Francis Parkman.
Farnham's A Life of Francis Parkman.
Since the works of the authors of the New England group are nearly always accessible, it is not usually necessary to specify editions or the exact place where the readings may be found. Those who prefer to use books of selections will find that Page's The Chief American Poets, 713 pp., contains nearly all of the poems recommended for reading. Prose selections may be found in Carpenter's American Prose , and still more extended selections in Stedman and Hutchinson's Library of American Literature.
TRANSCENDENTALISM AND THE DIAL.—Read Emerson's lecture on The Transcendentalist, published in the volume called Nature, Addresses, and Lectures. The Dial is very rare and difficult to obtain outside of a large library. George Willis Cooke has collected in one volume under the title, The Poets of Transcendentalism, An Anthology (1903), 341 pp., some of the best of the poems published in The Dial, as well as much transcendental verse that appeared elsewhere.
SLAVERY AND ORATORY.—Selections from Uncle Tom's Cabin may be found in Carpenter, 312-322; S. &H., VII., 132-144. Webster's Reply to Hayne is given in Johnston's American Orations, Vol. I., 248-302. There are excellent selections from Webster in Carpenter, 105-118, and S. &H., IV., 462-469. Selections from the other orators mentioned may be found in Johnston and S. &H.
EMERSON.—Read from the volume, Nature, Addresses, and Lectures , the chapters called Nature, Beauty, Idealism, and the “literary declaration of independence” in his lecture, The American Scholar. From the various other volumes of his Essays , read Self-Reliance, Friendship, Character, Civilization.
From his nature poetry, read To Ellen at the South, The Rhodora, Each and All, The Humble-Bee, Woodnotes , The Snow-Storm. For a poetical exposition of his philosophy, read The Problem, The Sphinx, and Brahma.
THOREAU.—If possible, read all of Walden; if not, Chaps. I., Economy, IV., Sounds, and XV., Winter Animals (Riverside Literature Series). From the volume called Excursions , read the essay Wild Apples. Many will be interested to read here and there from his Notes on New England Birds and from the four volumes, compiled from his Journal, describing the seasons.
HAWTHORNE.—At least one of each of the different types of his short stories should be read. His power in impressing allegorical or symbolic truth may be seen in The Snow Image or The Great Stone Face . As a specimen of his New England historical tales, read one or more of the following: The Gentle Boy, The Maypole of Merry Mount , Lady Eleanore's Mantle, or even the fantastic Young Goodman Brown, which presents the Puritan idea of witchcraft. For an example of his sketches or narrative essays, read The Old Manse (the first paper in Mosses from an Old Manse) or the Introductionto The Scarlet Letter.
The Scarlet Letter may be left for mature age, but The House of the Seven Gables should be read by all.
From his books for children, The Golden Touch (Wonder Book) at least should be read, no matter how old the reader.
LONGFELLOW.—His best narrative poem is Hiawatha, and its strongest part is The Famine, beginning:—
“Oh, the long and dreary Winter!”
The opening lines of Evangeline should be read for both the beauty of the poetry and the novelty of the meter. The first four sections of The Courtship of Miles Standish should be read for its pictures of the early days of the first Pilgrim settlement. His best ballads are The Wreck of the Hesperus, The Skeleton in Armor, Paul Revere's Ride, and The Birds of Killingworth. For specimens of his simple lyrics, which have had such a wide appeal, read A Psalm of Life, The Ladder of St. Augustine, The Rainy Day, The Day is Done, Daybreak, Resignation, Maidenhood, My Lost Youth.
WHITTIER.—Read the whole of Snow-Bound, and for specimens of his shorter lyrics, Ichabod, The Lost Occasion, My Playmate, Telling the Bees, The Barefoot Boy, In School Days, My Triumph, An Autograph, and The Eternal Goodness. His best ballads are Maud Muller, Skipper Ireson's Ride, and Cassandra Southwick.
LOWELL.—From among his shorter lyrical poems, read Our Love is not a Fading Earthly Flower, To the Dandelion, The Present Crisis, The First Snow-Fall, After the Burial, For an Autograph, Prelude to Part I. of The Vision of Sir Launfal. From The Biglow Papers, read What Mr. Robinson Thinks (No. III., First Series), The Courtin' (Introduction to Second Series), Sunthin' in the Pastoral Line (No. VI., Second Series). From A Fable for Critics, read the lines on Cooper, Poe, and Irving.
The five of Lowell's greater literary essays mentioned on page 254 show his critical powers at their best. The student who wishes shorter selections may choose those paragraphs which please him and any thoughts from the political essay Democracy which he thinks his neighbor should know.
HOLMES.—Read The Deacon's Masterpiece, or the Wonderful One-Hoss Shay, The Ballad of the Oysterman, The Boys, The Last Leaf, and The Chambered Nautilus. From The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, the student may select any pages that he thinks his friends would enjoy hearing.
THE HISTORIANS.—Selections from Prescott, Motley, and Parkman may be found in Carpenters American Prose.
QUESTIONS AND SUGGESTIONS
POETRY.—Compare Emerson's Woodnotes with Bryant's Thanatopsis and A Forest Hymn. Make a comparison of these three poems of motion: The Evening Wind (Bryant), The Humble-Bee(Emerson), and Daybreak (Longfellow), and give reasons for your preference. Compare in like manner The Snow-Storm (Emerson), the first sixty-five lines of Snow-Bound (Whittier), and The First Snow-Fall (Lowell). To which of these three simple lyrics of nature would you award the palm: To the Fringed Gentian (Bryant), The Rhodora (Emerson), To the Dandelion (Lowell)? After making your choice of these three poems, compare it with these two English lyrics of the same class: To a Mountain Daisy (Burns), Daffodils (Wordsworth, the poem beginning “I wandered lonely as a cloud"), and again decide which poem pleases you most.
Compare the humor of these two short poems describing a wooing: The Courtin' (Lowell), The Ballad of the Oysterman (Holmes). Discuss the ideals of these four poems: A Psalm of Life(Longfellow), For an Autograph (Lowell), An Autograph (Whittier), The Chambered Nautilus (Holmes).
What difference in the mental characteristics of the authors do these two retrospective poems show: My Lost Youth (Longfellow), Memories (Whittier)? For a more complete answer to this question, compare the girls in these two poems: Maidenhood (Longfellow):—
“Maiden, with the meek, brown eyes,
In whose orbs a shadow lies,”
and In School Days (Whittier), beginning with the lines where he says of the winter sun long ago:—
“It touched the tangled golden curls,
And brown eyes full of grieving.”
Matthew Arnold, that severe English critic, called one of these poems perfect of its kind, and Oliver Wendell Holmes cried over one of them. The student who reads these carefully is entitled to rely on his own judgment, without verifying which poem Arnold and Holmes had in mind.
Compare Longfellow's ballads: The Skeleton in Armor, The Birds of Killingworth, and The Wreck of the Hesperus, with Whittier's Skipper Ireson's Ride, Cassandra Southwick, and Maud Muller.
Compare Whittier's Snow-Bound with Burns's Cotter's Saturday Night. In Whittier's poem, what group of lines descriptive of (a) nature, and (b) of inmates of the household pleases you most?
What parts of Hiawatha do you consider the best? What might be omitted without great damage to the poem?
In The Courtship of Miles Standish, which incidents or pictures of the life of the Pilgrims appeal most strongly to you?
What was the underlying purpose in writing The Biglow Papers and One-Hoss Shay? Do we to-day read them chiefly for this purpose or for other reasons? In what does the humor of each consist?
PROSE.—Why is it said that Mrs. Stowe showed a knowledge of psychological values? What were the chief causes of the influence of Uncle Tom's Cabin?
What are Webster's chief characteristics? Why does he retain his preeminence among American orators?
What transcendental qualities does Emerson's prose show? From any of his Essays select thoughts which justify Tyndall's (p. 192) statement about Emerson's stimulating power. What passages show him to be a great moral teacher?
What was Thoreau's object in going to Walden? Of what is he the interpreter? What was his mission? What passages in Walden please you most? What is the reason for such a steady increase in Thoreau's popularity?
Point out the allegory or symbolism in any of Hawthorne's tales. Which of his short stories do you like best? What is Hawthorne's special aim in The Snow Image and The Gentle Boy? What qualities give special charm to sketches like The Old Manse and the Introduction to The Scarlet Letter? What is the underlying motive to be worked out in The House of the Seven Gables ? Why is it said that the Ten Commandments reign supreme in Hawthorne's world of fiction? Was he a classicist or a romanticist (p. 219)? What qualities do you notice in his style?
In Lowell's critical essays, what unusual turns of thought do you find to challenge your attention? Does he employ humor in his serious criticism?
What most impresses you in reading selections from The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, the humor, sprightliness, and variety of the thought, or the style? What especially satisfactory pages have you found?
Make a comparison (a) of the picturesqueness and color, (b ) of the energy of presentation, (c) of the power to develop interest, and (d) of the style, shown in the selections which you have chosen from Prescott, Motley, and Parkman. Compare their style with that of Macaulay in his History of England.