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Outlines of English and American Literature
Secondary Writers of Prose or Verse
by Long, William J.


The Poets

Among the fifty or more poets of the period of conflict Henry Timrod, Paul Hamilton Hayne and Abram J. Ryan are notable for this reason, that their fame, once local, seems to widen with the years. They are commonly grouped as southern poets because of the war lyrics in which they voiced the passionate devotion of the South to its leaders; but what makes them now interesting to a larger circle of readers are their poems of an entirely different kind,--poems that reflect in a tender and beautiful way the common emotions of men in all places and in all ages. Two other prominent singers of the southern school are Theodore O'Hara and James Ryder Randall.

In another group are such varied singers as Richard Henry Stoddard, George H. Boker, Henry Howard Brownell, Thomas B. Read, John G. Saxe, J. G. Holland and Bayard Taylor. These were all famous poets in their own day, and some of them were prolific writers, Holland and Taylor especially. The latter produced thirty volumes of poems, essays, novels and sketches of travel; but, with the exception of his fine translation of Goethe's Faust and a few of his original lyrics, the works which he sent forth so abundantly are now neglected. He is typical of a hundred writers who answer the appeal of to-day and win its applause, and who are forgotten when to-morrow comes with its new interests and its new favorites.

Fiction Writers

Comparatively few novels were written during this period, perhaps because the terrible shadow of war was over the country and readers were in no mood for fiction. The most popular romance of the age, and one of the most widely read books that America has ever produced, was Uncle Tom's Cabin (1852), which has been translated and dramatized into so many tongues that it is known all over the earth. The author, Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896), wrote several other stories, all characterized by humor, kindness and intense moral earnestness. Some of these, such as Oldtown Folks, The Minister's Wooing, The Pearl of Orr's Island and Oldtown Fireside Stories have decidedly more literary charm than her famous story of slavery.

Tales of the Sea

The mid-century produced some very good sea stories, and in these we see the influence of Cooper, who was the first to use the ocean successfully as a scene of romantic interest. Dana's Two Years before the Mast (1840) was immensely popular when our fathers were boys. It contained, moreover, such realistic pictures of sailor life that it was studied by aspirants for the British and American navies in the days when the flag rippled proudly over the beautiful old sailing ships. This excellent book is largely a record of personal experience; but in the tales of Herman Melville (1819-1891) we have the added elements of imagination and adventure. Typee, White Jacket, Moby Dick,--these are capital tales of the deep, the last-named especially.

Typee (a story well known to Stevenson, evidently) is remarkable for its graphic pictures of sailor life afloat and ashore in the Marquesas Islands, a new field in those days. The narrative is continued in White Jacket, which tells of the return from the South Pacific aboard a man-of-war. In Moby Dick we have the real experience of a sailorman and whaler (Melville himself) and the fictitious wanderings of a stout captain, a primeval kind of person, who is at times an interesting lunatic and again a ranting philosopher. In the latter we have an echo of Carlyle, who was making a stir in America in 1850, and who affected Melville so strongly that the latter soon lost his bluff, hearty, sailor fashion of writing, which everybody liked, and assumed a crotchety style that nobody cared to read.

From Romance to Realism

A few other novels of the period are interesting as showing the sudden change from romance to realism, a change for which the war was partly responsible, and which will be examined more closely in the following chapter. John Esten Cooke (1830-1886) may serve as a concrete example of the two types of fiction. In his earlier romances, notably in Leather Stocking and Silk and The Virginia Comedians (1854), he aimed to do for the Cavalier society of the South what Hawthorne was doing for the old Puritan régime in New England; but his later stories, such as Surrey of Eagle's Nest, are chiefly notable for their realistic pictures of the great war.

The change from romance to realism is more openly apparent in Theodore Winthrop and Edward Eggleston, whose novels deal frankly with pioneers of the Middle West; not such pioneers as Cooper had imagined in The Prairie, but such plain men and women as one might meet anywhere beyond the Alleghenies in 1850. Winthrop's John Brent (1862) and Eggleston's The Hoosier Schoolmaster and The Circuit Rider (1874) are so true to a real phase of American life that a thoughtful reader must wonder why they are not better known. They are certainly refreshing to one who tires of our present so-called realism with its abnormal or degenerate characters.

More widely read than any of the novelists just mentioned are certain others who appeared in answer to the increasing demand of young people for a good story. It is doubtful if any American writer great or small has given more pleasure to young readers than Louisa M. Alcott with her Little Women (1868) and other stories for girls, or John T. Trowbridge, author of Cudjo's Cave, Jack Hazard, A Chance for Himself and several other juveniles that once numbered their boy readers by tens of thousands.

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