« ElőzőTovább »
nervous effects of the rapidity with which an interlude in the literary life of writers men and women live in the New World who are also versifiers, critics, essayists, are accentuated by influences of climate. biographers, and journalists. Something A certain delicacy of feature, grace of like the classification of literature which movement, deatness of pose, distinguish. prevails in the Old World is required in both the mental and the physical products the New. A fatal facility of speech gives of the country. Its literature, like its undue preponderance to talk; newspapers beauty, belongs to nervous, highly strung, and magazines usurp the place of books ; keenly susceptible organizations. Amer. the best men become editors instead of ican artists are dexterous in management authors; every one is content to be the of lights and shades; they dispose sketches telegraph of public opinion. upon the canvas with the cleverness of
These national characteristics mark the French masters. American poets call up products of American novelists. 1o En. graceful images in graceful words, and gland, the same currents are flowing with invest common life with an air of refine- alarming rapidity. In the stress and straio
American thought is apt to be of life, Englishmen also are losing their sosuperficial. Their thinkers rarely think a lidity, their repose, their reserved strength, thing out; they are suggestive rather than both of mind and body. England is growforcible; they play with their difficulties ing Americanized, and the similarity be. as cats play with mice ; they rarely grap-tween the two nations is, in our opinion, ple with problems and squeeze from them becoming daily more marked. Grace, their life. Their theologians expatiate on freshness, quickness of perception, are creeds which are networks of dogmatic the gifts of the best American novelists. mysticism, or compounds of Puritanism But, as a rule, these gifts are counterbalwith transcendental sentiment. American anced by limitations, which are as much humor is rarely of a rollicking kind; it is physical as intellectual; streogth, depth, dry, not rich ; fine rather than deep; sub richness, pathos, are wanting. In its extle, not broad. It depends upon quick travagant, or imitative stages, American perceptions of analogies, or upon exag- fiction retained the verdancy of youth. gerations of facts, rather than upon a At the close of the Civil War it passed broadly comic sensibility. Americans with a bound into a literature of old age. have produced no plays which deserve The times have been against America, so the name, and in power of dramatic inven. far as the highest work of matured intel. tion they are deficient. Their voices, like lectual power is concerned. New England, their laughter, are seldom rich or rounded, at least, has entered too soon upon an as though they proceeded from hidden Alexandrian era of keep criticism and fee. recesses of being. Their variety of the ble production. It is to these conditions English language is modified so as to gain that we attribute the special characteristics time. Their utterance is rapid; they drop of American fiction. American novelists their voices at the end of the sentence in excel in short stories. Theirs is the their hurry to reach the next; their idioms gist of representing episodes, incidents, are compressed; even their spelling is phases, not the power of constructing clipped. Cold, self-possessed, preco- well-compacted plots or creating comcious, alert, keen-witted, Americans seem posite characters. Their strength lies in wanting in fervor, passion, repose, and alertness of observation and acuteness of expansiveness. Their versatility is phe-analytical perception. In simple outline nomenal; but the gift is dangerous if it sketches, the quickness with which salient dissipates powers or squanders talents. peculiarities are seized gives the figures Few writers devote themselves to letters vitality. In more finished pictures, espeas their sole vocation with the self-devocially in the higher scales of humanity, tion by which alone the highest literary creative sympathy is more valuable than work is produced. Novel-writing is not subtlety of analysis or rapidity of perundertaken by persons who have any ception. Elaborate portraits, painted by special aptitude for the work. It forms | American novelists, may arrest attention by scientific drawing of muscles, yet they | Michael Wigglesworth, the Quarles of the are little more than lifeless mechanisms. New World, or of Phillis Wheatley, the The artist must give something of his negro poetess, possesses only an antiquaown, or the features necessarily remain rian interest. The Revolution period prowooded. Except keen observation, felic. duced orators, statesmen, and politicians, ity of expression, and technical skill, but po men of letters. Between the conAmerican novelists contribute little or clusion of the War of Independence and nothing to their lay-figures. Too artistic the commencement of the present century to attempt anything beyond their powers, a rapid change passed over the face of they rarely approach great subjects or American society. The intellectual stir great characters. If they make the effort, which accompanied the struggle for indethe passion is usually melodramatic — in pendence, the decline of the narrow theother words, uoreal; the pathos is forced, ocratic ideal, the growth of large cities, because it is artificial ; the sentiment is the rise of a cultured, leisured class, prepitched beyond their strength, and there. pared the way for the profession of letters. fore exaggerated. Consequently they common interests, the absorption of conrestrict themselves to ranges of feeling ficting race elements, the removal of local which lie uniformly low, and to a treat. barriers, gave the nascent literature imment which is realistically photographic. petus and direction. The spirit that
These preliminary observations, which prompted the refusal of British tea inwe believe to be generally, though not duced resistance to the importation of universally, well founded, conduct us first British fiction. America could not long to a sketch of the growth of American fic-remain content with books of amusement tion, and secondly to its present outlook written for another continent in a different and tendencies. The subject is too vast stage as material civilization.
She reto be treated with anything approaching quired a picture of herself — not of the to completeness within the limits of a mother country. But at first the declarasingle article. We propose to divide our tion of literary independence was vigor., hasty sketch of the history of American ously opposed. In social and political life, fiction into two broad periods : (1) before traditions of English toryism and English the war between the North and the South; manners struggled with the demands and (2) after the war. That tremendous event the want of manners of an eager, youthful is, as it were, the watershed of the litera- democracy. So also in the literary world, ture of the people. Before the war, Amer- the two conflicting elements long con. ican fiction was European; since the war, tended for the mastery. its legitimate products have tended to be- “Two things,” says Ryall Tyler, “ were come more and more national, and dis- wanting - that we write our books of tinctively American.
amusements, and that they exhibit our The growth of imaginative literature own manners.” In this spirit he wrote was naturally slow in America. Neither his “ Algerine Captives” in 1797. But the colonial epoch nor the Revolutionary he succeeded in neither of his aims. His period left space for its development. book is too dull to amuse, and too generThe early colonists were absorbed in their alized to depict American society. Tyler work and their religion. Prose fiction belongs to the small group of American was unknown or proscribed. Poetry be- novelists who appeared at the close of the gan with the Bay Psalm book, and for two eighteenth century. This band of pio. bundred years it retained its stiff Puritan neers wrote novels in America, not Amer. form. Except for bibliographers, and ican novels. Even Brown painted neither apart from sermons, controversial theol. his own country nor his own time. ogy, and metaphysics, the literature of
Ryall Tyler's novel is less well known America commences with the nineteenth than his dramas; but, except by professed century.
The poetry of Mrs. Bradstreet students of literature, both are forgotten. an American “ Du Bartas ” — of the old Only two names among American novDutch poets Stendam and Selyns, of lelists of the eighteenth century deserve
commemoration - those of Hugh Brack-, influence of the husband of Mary Wollenridge and Charles Brockden Brown. stonecraft. To his championship of womBrackenridge played a not unimportant en's rights Brown probably owed the high part in the history of the United States. ideal of the female character, which inBorn in Scotland in 1748, he edited the spired him with the portrait of Constantia United States Magazine during the War in “Ormond," and won for him the enthu. of Independence. A Federalist as the siastic admiration of Margaret Fuller. Of term was then understood, he opposed the his novels, "Wieland " (1798) is the most new Federal Constitution lest it should characteristic, and "Ormond” (1799) the create a united state rather than a union finest, product of his talent. Living in a of states. A prime mover in the Whiskey new country which was feverishly intent Insurrection in western Pennsylvania, he on finding the highroad to wealth, Brown wrote in 1794 a vindication of his own dwelis almost exclusively in the remote share in the movement. Democrat though bypaths of human nature. In many points he was, he dreaded the dangers of democ- he gave the keynote to his successors. racy among an uneducated people. With Fond of framing Utopian systems, always a true prevision of the power of fiction as weaving mysteries, explaining novelties by an instrument in political warfare, he still greater novelties, dwelling in a phosmade these forebodings the subject of phorescent climate, searching for eery his “Modern Chivalry." The first part phenomena in the laboratories of medical of the novel was published in 1796, the friends, employing such undefined, obscure second in 1806. It recounts the adven- agencies as somnambulism, spontaneous tures of Captain Farrago and his servant, combustion, and ventriloquism, he is the Teague O’Regan. The former is a Don progenitor of Poe, Holmes, Winthrop, Quixote of the New World; the latter is Hawthorne, O'Brien, and a large school an ignorant Irish bogtrotter, who is per- of American authors. His plots are crude petually thrust into offices of political re- and irregular; his sensibility is exaggersponsibility for which he is totally unfitted. ated; bis horrors are accumulated whole
The interest of Brackenridge's “ Mod- sale; his atmosphere is malarial. Yet ern Chivalry” is political rather than lit- with all his glaring faults it is impossible erary. The reverse is the case with the to dispute his ability. Stiff, ungainly, romances of Charles Brockden Brown, the monotonous, his imagination is narrow in first American novelist who deserves the range. For that very reason it is more name, and the first American writer who intense. He creates an impression of made a profession of letters. Few persons truth by bis singleness of purpose, bis in America knew, or cared to know, of detail, his unvarying insistency, even when Brown. His fame, such as it was, came the reader most recoils from his improba. from the Old World to the New. Yet it ble horrors. is no slight distinction that, of all the Such were the late beginnings of Amerwriters of fiction, he exercised the strong-ican fiction. But although Brown, in “ Ar. est influence over the mind of Shelley. thur Mervyn," paints the ravages of the His novels display traces of the influence yellow fever in Philadelphia, and in “ Edof the romantic school of Mrs. Radcliffe. gar Huntley" introduces some of the sav. But Godwin was his master. With some age figures that haunt new settlements in of his earnestness of manner and intensity the wilderness, his romances cannot be of purpose, though with little of his insight called, in a true sense of the words, nainto character, Brown is a crude, irregu. tional or distinctively American. The lar, coarser Godwin. The spell that he first twenty years of the present century exercises is unrefined, and his effects are were the seedtime for the coming harvest, produced by the raw exhibition of wonders which, in quantity at least, became abunand disasters. Yet, at his best, his intense dant after 1821. Within that period a concentration gives to his work some of number of literary Americans reached the hard impressiveness of “ Caleb Wil. their intellectual maturity. Allston, the liams," a book in whieh he recognized painter, and the author of "Monaldi," was “ transcendent merit.” As Godwin began born in 1779. Paulding, the collaborateur with “Political Justice," so Brown com- of Irving and the author of the “ Dutchmenced with “ Alcuin," a dialogue on the man's Fireside,” was born in the same rights of women and a dialectical discus- year. Timothy Flint, who in “Francis sion of marriage and divorce - a work Berrian" told ihe tale of the Mexican war known to us only through the extracts in the days of Iturbide, was born in 1780. given in Dunlap's wretched life of the The next fifteen years witnessed the author. Here, too, may be traced the births of Washington Irving (1783), Miss
Leslie (1786), R. H. Dana (1787), Cooper ceited volume than his “Wandering Rec(1789), Miss Sedgwick (1790), Neal (1791), ollections.” But Paulding and Neal had Thompson and Kennedy (1795). The list the tide of popular sentiment flowing with contains only two names of men whose them. Unless this fact is appreciated, it fame is European - Washington Irving is impossible to realize the value of Washand Cooper. Yet a few words are justly ington Irving to American literature. due to their forgotten contemporaries. Outside the eddy of these conflicting
American fiction, it must be remem. currents stood Miss Sedgwick. Repre. bered, still lay in the cradle. On the one senting, as she did, the highest culture of hand it tended to copy English models; the society of Boston, and placidly conon the other, to walk at all hazards alone. tented with the conditions of the New It is either feebly imitative, or absurdly World, she was little tempted to join exaggerated. Few writers, at this early Neal's crusade against classical English, stage, occupied a more important position to re-echo Irving's flattery of English tban Paulding. He owed his influence manners and customs, or to vie with as much to his political as to his liter- Cooper in his irritable partisanship for ary reputation; and he exercised it in fa. America. Miss Sedgwick was not the vor of independence. In “Salmagundi” first female novelist. Susannah Rowson, (1807) he aided the two Irvings to satirize born at Portsmouth in 1762, was her the follies of fashionable social life in the best-known predecessor. Actress, schoolstyle of the “Spectator.” But twenty mistress, dramatist, poet, compiler of years of offensive literary patronage schoolbooks, Mrs. Rowson also wrote a changed his tone. He became the pro- number of novels. Into “ Charlotte Temtagonist of his countrymen against the ple”. (1790), “Rebecca ; or, the Fille. superciliousness of English criticism. His de-Chambre (1792), and “ Charlotte's “ Brother Jonathanism” increased as the Daughter” (posthumously published in battle waxed hotter. In the “ Backwoods-1828), she has thrown many of her experi
(1818) he gave free vent to the na- ences of American society during the war. tional sentiment. Four of his lines did" Charlotte Temple," written in the stilted, frequent duty on patriotic platforms and sentimental style of the day, still finds are neither worse por better than the rest readers. In its main outlines it is a true of his verse:
story, opening with the journey of two Neglected Muse of this our Western clime,
young English officers to Portsmouth, How long in servile imitative rhyme
under orders to join their regiments in Wilt thou thy stifled energies enchain,
America. The real name of Charlotte And tread the worn-out path still o'er again?
Temple was Charlotte Stanley, who was
thrown on the streets of New York by In prose and verse this is the burden of her betrayer, Colonel Montresor, the Colobis utterances. Again and again he recurs nel Montraville of Mrs. Rowson's novel. to the charge, and laughs at Brother Jon. Like the villain of the story, Colonel athan for faunting in the secondhand Montresor afterwards married in New finery of Europe. Possessing no dramatic York.
By a strange Nemesis, his eldest talent and do great skill in narration, he son became engaged to his daughter by took to novel-writing, as he himself says, Charlotte Stanley. This part of the story “as people engage in the tobacco or gro-is told in the sequel to “Charlotte Temcery line from seeing, others prosper ple,” which was published after Mrs. mightily in the business.” Nowadays his Rowson's death under the title of “Charnovels are unreadable. In the same at- lotte's Daughter." Matilda Warren's tempt at precocious independence, John melodramatic piety, and Hannab Forster's Neal “out-Jonathaned” Paulding. In the well-meant warnings, are forgotten with preface to“ Rachel Dyer" (1828) hein- such books as “ The Gamesters
or “ The dignantly protests against classical En. Coquette.” Mrs. Tenney's “ Female Quixglish, and appeals to his countrymen “ to otism ”is a satire upon the sentimentalism launch into space and found a new repub- which prevailed in America, as well as in lic of letters.” His own example proved England, at the close of the century. But a warning. In an exaggerated, affected though Miss Sedgwick was not the first, style, jerks, jaunty, and out of breath, he she was by far the best, of the womenproved the fatal Auency of his pen by novelists of the early period. She has pouring forth a succession of novels, trag- been called an American Miss Edgeworth, edies, newspaper articles, and miscella- and she deserves the name for the aim, if neous essays. It has never been our not the power of her writing. Moral senfortune to read a more insufferably con- timent is rarely absent from her books.
All her work is permeated by good sense mortality by the side of the Primroses and good feeling. Her novels, in spite of and Flamboroughs. His nom-de-plume their diffuseness, are still readable. Be. of Geoffrey Crayon is singularly approginning with “ New England Tales" in priate. He is dexterous in his manage. 1822, she touched on many points of ment of light and shade, with an artist's American history and society. “ Red- eye for effects and an artist's taste for wood" (1824) is worth a glance for its disposition and arrangement. But his picture of Virginian society, the house- sketches are chalk drawings rather than hold of Mr. Lenox, Debby Lenox, and life paintings. They resemble copies from at Lebanon springs. “ Hope Leslie ” highly finished, faded pictures, more than (1827), a story of colonial life in 1650, transcripts of fresh impressions taken contains, in Magawisca, the Red Indian from nature herself. He is skilled in makheroine, an impossibly idealized character, ing much out of nothing, and in presenting which is at least interesting from the fact trifles through a pictorial, poetical medium. of its conception. But it was as a writer Never farcical or forced, always delicate of tales of moral sentiment and juvenile and refined, reserved in thought and word, stories that Miss Sedgwick did best ser- he seems, even in youth, to have caught vice. In this field American writers have that spirit of mild serenity of tranquil old deservedly gained a high reputation; and age which breathes in his pages. But his as the precursor of Eliza Leslie, M. E. gifts are narrowly limited. His pathos is Cumins, M. L. Charlesworth, Fanny Fern, scarcely more than tender sentiment; his Susan Warner, Louisa Alcott, and, above humor ought, strictly speaking, to be all, Jacob Abbott, Miss Sedgwick deserves styled unaffected gaiety. the gratitude of her countrymen.
Cooper's fate has been different from In literary history, Paulding, Neal, Ken- that of Irving. If injustice was done him, nedy, and Miss Sedgwick are not forgot. it was by English critics; if he received ten. In literature itself, the only two extravagant eulogy, it was his own counnames which the world remembers are trymen who thus rewarded his literary those of Washington Irving and Fenimore efforts. But for his irritable vanity, bis Cooper. They are the best representatives popularity in America might have been of the two conflicting elements in Ameri- unbounded. “ The Pilot," with its furious can fiction - inherited traditions and na. nationality, “The Leatberstocking Setional sentiment.
ries with their laudation of noble savIt is easy to decry the merits of Irving, ages over civilized gentlemen, exactly hit to attribute his success to favorable cir- the popular sentiment. America hailed cumstances, to define the limitations of him, and with some justice, as ber first his powers.
Possibly Americans are novelist. But when she claimed for him prone to depreciate, Englishmen to exag. originality or indepeodence, she claimed gerate, his merits. His Addisonian imita- too much. He wrote under the influence tions, and his admiration of the Old of Scott, and made a successful effort to World, Alatter the national sentiment of apply Scott's method to the New World. the one as much as they offend the national Like his master, Cooper has the inestisentiment of the other. Irving's writings mable advantage of something to say. came as a revelation to an English public, America in 1820 still stood on the border. which was astonished to find that an land between civilization and barbarism. American could not only appreciate their It was exactly in this borderland that his habits and customs, but also handle their greatest triumphs were achieved. 6. The language with a grace which few of bis Spy," in 1821, established his fame in contemporaries in either continent could both continents. Miss Edgeworth writes rival. Writings, based upon the impres- in that year to express her delight in the sions created by the Old World in a renovelty of his scenes and characters —"a fined observer from the New, possessed at picture of America in Washington's time, the time of their appearance a virgin a surgeon worthy of Smollett or Moore, piquancy. His graceful style makes his and quite different from any of their vari. * Sketch Book " and “ Bracebridge Hall” ous surgeons, and an Irishwoman, Biddy English classics. Nor did he altogether Flanagan, incomparable.” Within the next lose his charm, when, in his later writings, sixteen years he had produced a score of he became more studied, and allowed a novels of American adventure, four stories careful elegance to take the place of natu- the scenes of which are laid in Europe, ral simplicity. But his real triumphs were histories, satires, journals of travel, and won in his Dutch stories. Rip van volumes of political or religious controverWinkle and Ichabod Crane deserve im sies and general squabbles. His last