All Rights Reserved.
Site last updated
26 June, 2013
The Great Republic by the Master Historians|
The Literary Retrospect
by Bancroft, Hubert H.
|[No chapter of any nation's history has greater interest than that which recalls
the beginnings of its literature. The story of American books and writers
includes the early output of Puritan theologians and chroniclers, and a striking
picture it gives of the struggle against hostile Indians, an adverse climate,
and, we might almost add, the evolution of new ideas. The preceding volumes have
dealt with that period. Our present concern is with the modern pioneers of a
literature known the world through by its national characteristics, a literature
still in the making, but with abundant promise of a future worthy of American
genius. Our selection is taken from "The Literature of the Nineteenth Century,"
by Prof. John P. Lamberton.]
Newspapers appeared early in the eighteenth century. In 1704 the first American
newspaper, The Boston News-Letter, was established. The second, The New England
Courant, was started by James Franklin, in 1720. His troubles in connection with
it are well known from his younger brother Benjamin's famous "Autobiography." In
1765, at the time of the Stamp Act, there were forty news-papers in the
In the year 1800, the gateway to a century of almost magical national
development, the population of the free States was 2,684,616, of the slave
States 2,621,316, making a total of 5,305,932. Philadelphia was the chief city
of the country. It had been the national capital during the Revolution, though
it fell for a time into possession of the British army. Here the Declaration of
Independence, the Articles of Confederaton, and the Federal Constitution had
been framed and signed. Here the Federal Congress met and Washington held his
Republican court. Here were the American Philosophical Society, which had grown
out of Franklin's Junto; the Philadelphia Library, mother of all institutions of
that kind; and the University of Pennsylvania, likewise the outgrowth of
Franklin's matchless genius for public enterprise. The first American monthly
magazine had been issued here by Franklin in 1741. After the establishment of
peace in 1783, other magazines were issued, the principal being the American
Museum. The city, therefore, was the literary centre of the new nation, though
the political capital was in 1800 removed to Washington. Foreigners of
distinction still resorted to Philadelphia, whither they came to visit or to
settle in the New World. It boasted itself to be the American Athens. Noah
Webster was a pioneer of note. As a student of Yale he played the fife as one of
Washington's escort. He produced his Compendious Dictionary in 1805. The state
of the literary profession may be judged by this epigram by Joseph Dennie, "the
American Addison:" "To study with a view to becoming an author by profession in
America is a prospect of no less flattering promise than to publish among the
Esquimaux an essay on delicacy of taste or to found an academy of sciences in
Lapland." Among the earlier writers whose names survive are those of Trumbull,
the satirist; Joel Barlow, William Dunlap, Philip Freneau; Joseph Hopkinson,
writer of "Hail, Columbia!" and Francis Scott Key, author of "The Star Spangled
Banner." Charles Brockden Brown came later, and may be regarded as America's
first professional man of letters and writer of romance.
Washington Irving was the first to gain for American literature the recognition
of European critics. He was born in New York city in 1783. His indeed was an
international mission - to heal to some extent, by the sympathetic charm of his
style and his personality, the breach between the two countries, aggravated by
the second war of 1812. He became "the first literary Ambassador of the New
World to the Old." Like a loyal son of the soil, he breathed the breath of
literary immortality into the traditions of his own country, as well as voyaged
to England in order to write about English scenes and associations. Professor
Richardson has remarked that he was "the first conspicuous American author who
was neigher a Puritan nor a southron; his local tone was that of New York city
and the Hudson." Quick to assimilate the customs and characteristics of other
lands, he was the first to make distinctly American themes familiar to the world
of letters. Returning to New York after a long residence in England, Irving
gathered around him a group of friends now known as the Knickerbocker school,
which comprised James Kirke Paulding (a connection of Irving by marriage, who
afterwards became Secretary of the Navy, under Van Buren), and the poets Drake
and Halleck. All four were Knickerbockers to the bone. Irving served as minister
to Spain from 1842 to 1846. His " Life of Columbus" and other writings on
Spanish themes were followed by the "Life of Washington," and sundry minor
Associated in memory with Irving are the poets Joseph Rodman Drake (1795-1820)
and Fitz-Greene Halleck (1790-1867). These two comrades made their debut in the
Irving style in the "Croaker Papers," a series of humorous and satirical verses
contributed to the New York Evening Post. In the year that Irving in Europe
published "The Sketch Book" (1819), Drake gave America "The Culprit Fay." Three
years before this, Bryant had produced his unique "Thanatopsis;" and Drake's
"Fay," a delicate fairy tale of the Highlands of the Hudson, was the second
best' poem then produced in America.
William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878), who in early youth wrote anonymously a
political satire, "The Embargo," was the first American poet of note. His
stately hymn in blank verse, "Thanatopsis," which appeared in the North American
Review in 1817, was a wonderful masterpiece of precocity, and won him an
audience in England. Wordsworth is said to have learned the poem by heart, and
in dignity of verse and majesty of style it is still to be recognized as one of
the poetical masterpieces of the time.
As Bryant may be regarded as the pioneer American poet, and Irving as the
pioneer essayist and man of letters, so James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851) may be
styled the first American novelist of true distinction. He is one of the world's
great story-tellers, whose defects of style are abundantly compensated by the
invention of his narrative in plot and incident. He became, furthermore, the
first voice of primeval America, of her virgin wilderness, and her aboriginal
children. He created the Indian as a life-size figure of literature, impressive
even if idealized. And as he originated the novel of the forest, so to a certain
extent he originated the novel of the sea.
In those days it was necessary for professional men of letters to adopt, as
Bryant did, the bread winning employment of the newspaper. Literature as a
profession did not really exist, and such giants of literary genius as Poe and
Hawthorne, not to mention Lowell and others, belonged to a generation of poorly
paid Bohemians. In the early forties two Philadelphia magazines began to pay
their contributors with what was then thought to be a princely munificence.
Godey's Lady's Book, which had the chief financial success among the
Philadelphia magazines, had succeeded Dennie's Port Folio in the fine personnel
of contributors. It began in July, 1830, and its circulation grew several years
later to 150,000 a month, largely due to its colored fashion plates. Some-what
dimmed by the prismatic colors of the fashions, some of the earliest
compositions of Poe, Holmes, Lydia H. Sigourney, Frances S. Osgood, Longfellow,
Bayard Taylor, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, appeared in this magazine. Its chief
rival was the Gentleman's Magazine, which George R. Graham, in 1841, purchased
from William E. Burton the actor, and renamed simply Graham's Magazine. "There
is one thing more," said Burton, after concluding the sale. "I want you to take
care of my young editor." The "young editor" was Poe. Later Rufus Wilmot
Griswold, of unpleasant notoriety later, sat in the editorial chair, and Lowell
assisted Poe. Longfellow's "Spanish Student," Cooper's "Jack Tier," and some of
Nathaniel Hawthorne's "Twice-told Tales" appeared in its pages. The Cary
Sisters, Charles Fenno Hoffman, Thomas Dunn English, N. P. Willis, W. W. Story,
E. P. Whipple contributed to it. Among the last were Bayard Taylor and C.
Godfrey Leland. N. P. Willis established the American Monthly Magazine and wrote
popular books of verse and society sketches.
In the Bohemian world of literary newspapers and magazines, Edgar Allan Poe
(1809-1849) found his destiny cast. He was born in Boston, but he never belonged
there, though his first volume, "Tamerlane and Other Poems," bore on its title-
page the words, "By a Bostonian." His father was a penniless actor, and had
married an actress. Early deprived of both parents, Poe was adopted by Mr.
Allan, a wealthy merchant of Richmond, Va. He drank and gambled, ran in debt,
indulged in perverse pride, and was finally disowned by his adoptive father, who
had tried to make a soldier of him at West Point. Turning to literature for
support, Poe won a prize of $100 offered by a weekly paper for a story. His
contribution was "The Manuscript Found in a Bottle." Being brought to the notice
of John P. Kennedy, he was made editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, at
Richmond. He married his cousin, Virginia Clenn, in 1836, and a year later went,
first to New York, and then to Philadelphia, where he was editor of the
Gentleman's Magazine, afterwards Graham's Magazine. He published "Tales of the
Grotesque and Arabesque" (1839), which gave him renown as a prose writer. They
were soon translated into French, and since that time Poe's popularity in France
has exceeded that of any other American writer. Such combination of mathematical
and imaginative powers is unknown elsewhere in all the range of literature.
There is an exquisite fascination and enchanting melody in his verse that seems
beyond the reach of calculating art.
Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He was a
classmate with Longfellow in Bowdoin College. His first books were warmly
received. These half-weird but felicitously told tales marked an epoch in
American literature. They were followed by his delightful tales for children
from "Grandfather's Chair," in which he first treated New England history.
Meanwhile Bancroft, the historian, then collector of customs at Boston,
appointed him a weigher and gauger, a place which the Whigs permitted him to
retain but two years. He also embarked in the Acadian Brook Farm experiment. "I
went to live in Acadia," he said, "and found myself up to my chin in a barn-
yard." Deserting Brook Farm, he married and took the historic gambrel-roofed
house at Concord, from whence issued the tales collected in the "Mosses from an
Old Manse." His second series of "Twice-told Tales," with their Legends of the
Province House, added a fresh romantic interest to Revolutionary Boston. Almost
noiselessly his shy genius had made itself recognized as a new literary force.
He returned to Salem for four years as surveyor in its old Custom House. After
leaving this berth, he gave forth his masterwork, "The Scarlet Letter," in the
preface to which he has told the story of that old Salem institution (1850).
Hawthorne afterwards observed that "no author without a trial can see the
difficulty of writing a romance about a country where there is no shadow, no
antiquity, no mystery, no picturesque and gloomy wrong, nor anything but a
commonplace prosperity in broad and simple daylight." Yet in "The Scarlet
Letter" he had touched even the gloom of Puritanism with the glamour of romance,
as well as achieved a world's masterpiece of psychology. He now retired to
Lenox, Massachusetts, with Herman Melville, author of "Typee," as almost his
sole companion, and wrote the "House of Seven Gables." In 1853 President Pierce
appointed him consul at Liverpool. His Notebooks contain his observations on
life in England, France, and Italy.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was a lineal successor to Irving, whom he
also resembled in his equal treatment of foreign and native themes and legends
alike. Such an academic influence as his, broadened and deepened by generous
travel abroad to prepare him for his Harvard chair, was certainly needed in the
decade after 1830. By his "Poets and Poetry of Europe" he familiarized Americans
with the literature and lore of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Scandinavia, and
even of old Anglo-Saxon days. His "Outre Mer," a book of travel, has kept a
place for itself until to-day. When he came to write his Indian legend of
"Hiawatha," his familiarity with the then little-known literature of the
Northland enabled him to borrow the curious metre, style of imagery, and
treatment of the Finnish epic "Kalevala." As a critic proper, Longfellow
possessed more learning than Poe, but was less truly critical, nor had he the
satire and penetration of Lowell. But it is as the great poet of sympathy, as
America's most popular poet, that Longfellow must be chiefly considered; and, in
the scope of this brief sketch, it is unnecessary to give a systematic account
of his familiar poems. Long-fellow's conspicuous note as a poet was from the
heart, and not the head. He touched his readers with tender poems of common
sentiment and elevating tendency. Perhaps his most scholarly achievement in
poetry was his translation of Dante's "Divina Commedia," published in 1867. How
deeply he lingered throughout this long labor of love under the spell of the
stern Florentine, may be seen in those sonnets inspired by his work and
effectively mirroring on their surface this "mediaeval miracle of song." Long-
fellow's translation is, in many respects, such as the metrical and
onomatopoetic, superior to that of Carey. He was universally regarded with
affection, and England paid her first tribute of memorial honor to an American
writer by placing his bust in Westminster Abbey.
James Russell Lowell (1819-1888) succeeded Longfellow in his chair at Harvard.
If not of Longfellow's rank as a poet, he was a greater critic and essayist, and
had great influence for good in critical times. He was appointed Minister to
England by President Hayes, where he won high and lasting favor, and received
flattering degrees from Oxford and Cambridge. His "Fable for Critics," and the
"Bigelow Papers" sparkled with homely humor, wit, satire, patriotism, and
idyllicism, the latter being unique in literature. It is, however, chiefly as
critic and essayist that he is best known. In his three books of literacy
criticism and fancy, "Fireside Travels," "Among My Books," "My Study Windows,"
he proved himself to be America's most scholarly critic. The old English authors
Chaucer, Spenser, the dramatists of Elizabeth's reign, attracted his attention
particularly. But his catholicity of taste was also accompanied by a catholicity
of subjects. In "My Garden Acquaintance," and "A Good Word for Winter," he
displayed notable graces of style; and his paper "On a Certain Condescension of
Foreigners," was a capital "retort courteous" to the woes inflicted upon America
by foreign critics, and continues to be a compensating solace even to this day.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was the most potent force in New England
thought. In 1832, after his wife's death, he gave up the Congregational
ministry, for reasons of conscience, and travelled in Italy, France, and
England, where began the lifelong friendship with Thomas Carlyle. His
transcendental writings attracted wide attention, and he retained his popularity
as a lecturer during forty-six years.
He smiled approval on the Brook Farm experiment, but took little part in it
except to contribute to the Dial. But he did assist with voice and pen in the
anti-slavery agitation. In 1847 he went on a second visit to England, which was
rich in observation and effect on his mind. After his return his lectures on
Plato, Shakespeare, Napoleon, Swedenborg, and others, were published under the
title, "Representative Men" (1850). This proved popular, and still more so was
his "English Traits" (1856). More readers could appreciate his judgement of
great men and nations than could understand his sublime philosophy of the
Emerson had but rarely contributed to periodical literature; but in 1857 a group
of his friends - Longfellow, Lowell, Holmes - arranged in his parlor for the
publication of the Atlantic Monthly, Lowell being editor. For some years Emerson
contributed to it regularly prose and verse. His essays were collected in "The
Conduct of Life" (1860); "Society and Solitude" (1864), and "Letters and Social
Aims" (1876); his poems in "May-Day" (1867). He edited a collection of poetry by
other authors in "Parnassus" (1874), and a selection of his own "Poems" (1876).
Thereafter he wrote but little, though he revised and edited his former
publications. The projected "Natural History of the Intellect," on which he had
labored for many years, was never put into a form suitable for publication. In
the latter years of his life his mind and memory failed. After his death his
correspondence with Carlyle was edited by Professor Charles Eliot Norton (1883).
John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-1892), born at Haver-hill, Massachusetts, was not
only the chief Quaker poet, but the clearest voice of New England country life.
Bred on a farm, he found his first poetic inspiration in reading the poems of
the inspired Scotch ploughman, Robert Burns. At the age of twenty he had earned
enough by farm chores and shoemaking to secure some instruction at Haverhill
Academy, and then became a district school-teacher. He contributed verse to the
Free Press and found a lasting friend in the editor, William Lloyd Garrison, who
enlisted him in the anti-slavery crusade. In 1835 Whittier was a member of the
Massachusetts Legislature. From 1837 to 1839 he edited the Pennsylvania Freeman,
at Philadelphia, where his office was sacked and burnt by a mob. His delicate
health obliged him to return to Amesbury, Massachusetts, where with his sister
he led a frugal life, contributing chiefly to the National Era, published in
Washington. Gradually his books of poems made their way, and when the struggle
for Kansas came, in 1856, he was recognized as the poet of freedom. These
militant poems of a peace-loving Quaker helped to prepare the Northern people
for the Civil War. When the Atlantic Monthly was founded,. Whittier was a
frequent contributor. His verse celebrated there the emancipation of the slaves;
but in his lallad of "Barbara Frietchie" he told effectively the story of the
old woman of Frederick, Maryland, who waived the Union flag over the troops of
Stonewall Jackson, and was gallantly spared by him. This tribute to Northern
loyalty and Southern chivalry has become a national classic. His masterpiece is
"Snow-Bound," a characteristic American poem. He ranks next in popularity to
Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-1894) was the last survivor of the Cambridge poet-
group. He was the son of Rev. Abiel Holmes, a Harvard pastor, who wrote "The
Annals of America." Having graduated from Harvard in 1829, he studied law and
medicine, and spent three years in Europe. He was but twenty-one years old when
he made his famous protest, "Old Ironsides," which saved the frigate
Constitution from destruction, and not much older when in "The Last Leaf" he
combined humor with the deepest pathos. Holmes was professor of medicine at
Dartmouth College for a year, but settled in Boston in 1840, and seven years
later was made professor at Harvard. Besides lecturing there and on the lyceum
platform, he wrote patriotic and entertaining poems for occasions, and became
the laureate of his Alma Mater, inditing forty poems in her honor. One of these,
"The Boys," is the jolliest class poem ever written. Holmes was also the bard of
Boston, whose state-house he pronounced to be "the hub of our solar system." But
his lasting fame was due to the founding of the Atlantic Monthly, in 1857. His
contribution was in the form of a serial, "The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table."
The series was renewed, in 1859, in "The Professor," and continued, in 1873, as
"The Poet at the Breakfast Table." Novels and books of verse appeared during
these years. In 1884 he published "Our Hundred Days in Europe," telling of his
observations there fifty years after his first visit. Then, in his eightieth
year, the veteran renewed his conversational contributions to the Atlantic in a
series called "Over the Tea-Cups," full of the same shrewd sense and tender
sentiment as "The Autocrat." He lived to be a "Last Leaf," yet without losing
his geniality and optimism, preserving to the last the fresh spirit of youth.
Other New England writers of note were Margaret Fuller, Bronon Alcott, Lydia
Maria Child, Mrs. Sigourney, philosophic and progressive teachers. The North
American Review was founded in 1815, and gathered around it a brilliant circle
of writers, of whom Edward Everett (1794-1865) was one of the strongest. Everett
unloaded his treasures of German thought. More than a hundred articles came from
his pen. In 1824 his address before the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard on
"The Circumstances Favorable to the Progress of Literature in America," was a
prophetic precursor of Emerson's dissertation on "The American Scholar,"
delivered before the same society thirteen years later. Everett was noted for
his high classical scholarship and for the careful finish of his prose style.
But he was not merely a literary man; he was active in public affairs. He
represented Boston in Congress for ten years, was governor of Massachusetts for
three years, United States minister to England for four years, president of
Harvard for three years, secretary of state in President Fillmore's cabinet for
one year, and United States senator for one year, when he resigned on account of
impaired health. Yet afterwards he delivered in various parts of the country an
oration on Washington for the purpose of raising a fund to purchase Mount Vernon
and preserve it intact as a national memorial. His final service was in
delivering the oration at the dedication of the National Cemetery at Gettysburg,
in November, 1863. His speeches were polished to the perfection of classical
oratory, and were full of admiring contemplation and thoughtful admonition.
William Ellery Channing was a great name in the early days of liberal religious
thought. The Brook Farm experiment grew out of the transcendental movement. It
lasted from 1840 until 1847. Among its members were George William Curtis,
Charles Anderson Dana, John Sullivan Dwight, Margaret Fuller, and George Ripley.
A new view of history was developed, as an outgrowth of the transcendental
philosophy inaugurated by the German Kant, and carried out more fully by his
successors. History was no longer regarded as a gathering of isolated arbitrary
facts, but as the study of the progress of mankind. National history could not
be properly considered apart from its relation to the general movement. Each
nation was an actor in a great world's drama. Its contribution was best
understood when properly presented in its true connection. The first group of
historians is headed by George Bancroft (1800-1891). The progress of his famous
work was interrupted by periods of service to the country. After a term as
collector of the port of Boston, he was called by President Polk to his cabinet,
as secretary of the navy, in 1845. He then founded the Naval Academy at
Annapolis. He also, in anticipation of the Mexican War, issued orders which
helped to secure possession of California. In 1846 he was sent as minister to
England. Returning three years later, he fixed his residence in New York, and
devoted his time to the history, but occasionally ventured in other fields.
During the Civil War he was a firm friend of the Union; and after its close, he
was sent by President Johnson as minister to Germany, where he remained until
1874. His later residence was at Washington, though his summers were spent at
Newport, where his rose-garden was celebrated.
His great history was the result of conscientious research, careful
consideration of authorities, and enthusiasm for the subject. Its style is
brilliant, though in the early volumes sometimes discursive and declamatory.
Probably the best part of his work is the last, written after the Civil War and
the discussion of questions of reconstruction had shed new light on the
fundamental principles of the Union and the Constitution. Though the author had
not historical genius of the highest order, he was eminently fitted for his task
by a liberal education, by his capability and disposition to take pains, and by
his judicial insight, which was only occasionally distorted by partisan bias.
Perhaps improperly called the "History of the United States," the work in its
utmost extent tells only the story of the foundation of the nation, but it does
point out the sources of its greatness, and sets forth the virtues of democratic
government in a vehement, oratorical way, which rather provokes than disarms
criticism. Yet the whole work, showing at first the exuberant enthusiasm of
youth, and finally and cautious wisdom of age, is a grand epic of democracy.
Richard Hildreth's "History of the United States" is dry in style, judicial in
tone, never aiming at brilliance or entertainment.
William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859) was not a profoundly philosophical
historian, yet he became the most brilliant and famous of our historical
writers. This was owing no less to his selection of romantic themes in which the
American people felt an interest, as belonging to the New World, than to his
artistic arrangement of the events, and to his captivating style.
The first instalment of Prescott's life-work appeared in 1837, having cost him
more than ten years' assiduous labor. It was the "History of Ferdinand and
Isabella," printed at his own expense. The romantic nature of the subject,
enhanced by the author's dignified yet charming style, gave it a popularity
which it has retained to the present day. It was soon translated into several
European languages, and caused the author to be ranked as the foremost of
American historians. In 1843 appeared the "Conquest of Mexico," which had an
unparalleled reception, both from the general public and from the highest
authorities. It won special praise from Wilhelm von Humboldt, who had visited
that country. Four years later the "Conquest of Peru" was published.
John Lothrop Motley was a man of high scholarship and varied attainments, but
was late in concentrating his labor on the historical work which was to give him
fame, the "Rise of the Dutch Republic." He also wrote the "History of the United
Netherlands," and was minister to Austria and England.
Another historian, who, like Prescott, labored under the affliction of partial
blindness, and yet achieved memorable results, was Francis Parkman. Descended
from the earliest settlers of Massachusetts, he was born in Boston in 1823, and
was educated at Harvard College. He studied law, but he had already determined
to devote his life to an adequate presentation of the great conflict between the
French and English for the possession of North America. In order to understand
the background of the subject fully, he resolved to examine the manners and
customs of Indians as yet unaffected by contact with the whites. For this
purpose, in 1846, he explored the wilderness towards the Rocky Mountains, and
lived for several weeks among the Dakota Indians in that region, then just
becoming known. Although previously strong and fond of exercise, the privations
which he endured rendered him an invalid for life. The immediate results of his
observations and experiences were given in his picturesque series of historical
writings, of which "Montcalm and Wolfe" is the splendid climax. This list of
writers may include the name of Harriet Beecher Stowe, whose "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
had so great a reception among the opponents of slavery.
The growing commercial and political importance of New York, its increase of
wealth, and the enterprise of its publishers, both of books and periodicals,
tended to make it a literary centre before the close of the first half-century.
George William Curtis is better known by his "Easy Chair" essays in Harper's
Weekly than by his books, graceful though they are. Bayard Taylor wrote much,
travelled widely, and translated Faust in the original metres. He was appointed
minister to Germany in 1878, and died there soon after.
In the South, before the Civil War, literature was not generally favored. Men of
intellectual ability there became statesmen, ministers, orators, and jurists.
Yet some of these gave occasional attention to literary work, and a few devoted
themselves to it almost entirely.
The principal literary figure of the Old South was William Gilmore Simms (1806-
1870), who was born in Charleston, South Carolina, where his father had come
from the North of Ireland, shortly after the Revolution. He wrote historical,
geographical, and didactic works; but he lives only in his romances, which are
numerous and stirring. Albert Pike (1809-1891) studied law, commanded a force of
Cherokee Indians on the Confederate side at the battle of Pea Ridge. His "Hymns
to the Gods" and other poems showed high lyric power. John Esten Cooke undertook
to do for Virginia what Simms had done for South Carolina. He published the
novel "Leather Stocking and Silk," which was soon followed and surpassed by "The
Virginia Comedians," probably the best Southern novel written before the war.
Others of his early stories were "The Last of the Foresters" and "Henry St.
John, Gentleman." During the Civil War Cooke served on the staff of various
Confederate generals. Afterwards he retired to his farm near Winchester, and
wrote biographies of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and several novels relating to
the great conflict. Among those were "Mohun: or, the Last Days of Lee and His
Paladins," and "Hilt to Hilt: or, Days and Nights in the Shenandoah."
Paul Hamilton Hayne (1831-1886), bearing a name famous in the annals of South
Carolina, was the finest poet of the South. He was a native of Charleston, and
edited literary periodicals there until the war, when he served on the staff of
General Pickens. His house and property were destroyed in the bombardment of
Charleston, and, after the war, he settled at Copse Hill, Georgia, where he
pursued literary work till his death. Among his best poems are "The Pine's
Mystery," the ballad "The Battle of King's Mountain," "The Lyric of Action." His
war lyrics are thrilling, and his descriptive and meditative verses are
exquisite in music and thought.
Henry Timrod (1829-1867), also born in Charleston, suffered from ill-health and
poverty, yet wrote poems full of ardent devotion to the South and its lost
cause. His war lyrics, grand and impetuous, won for him the title of "the
Tyrtaeus of the South." His poems were edited by P.H. Hayne.
Abram Joseph Ryan (1840-1886), born of Irish parents, at Norfolk, Virginia, was
equally devoted to the Southern cause. He was a Catholic priest, and served as
chaplain in the Confederate army. After the war he edited religious and literary
papers in New Orleans and Knoxville, and had charge of a church at Mobile. In
1880 he published his "Poems, Patriotic, Religious, Miscellaneous." He died at
Louisville, Kentucky, in 1886. He is best known by his lament over the defeat of
the Confederacy, "The Conquered Banner," and the spirited tribute to the
Southern leader, "The Sword of Robert Lee."
The most remarkably original singer of the South was Sidney Lanier (1842-1881),
who was chosen to write the cantata for the opening of the Centennial Exhibition
at Philadelphia. He was descended from a long line of musicians, and
distinguished his poetry by the intermingling of musical effects. He was born at
Macon, Georgia, and studied at Oglethorpe College, until the war broke out, when
he entered the Confederate service. He was captured on a blockade-runner, and
held prisoner for five months. The hardships of war developed consumption, and
the rest of his life was a courageous struggle with that disease. Though his art
was too fine and high for general appreciation, Lanier is by many regarded as
one of the greatest American poets.
Of minor poets, whose name is legion, it is not possible to make even a passing
mention. The test of time will sift them according to their quality.
Perhaps the first of our nature-essayists was Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862),
who was born at Concord, Massachusetts, and died there. The son of a farmer, he
was educated at Harvard, and for a time taught school. But after a while he took
up his self-appointed work of minute observation of nature. He attached himself
to Emerson, who always showed him friendly regard. In 1845 he built himself a
hut on the shore of Walden Pond, and lived as a recluse in communion with
nature. His experiences and observations were embodied in "Walden, or Life in
the Woods" (1854). He had already published "A Week on the Concord and Merrimac
Rivers" (1848). Thoreau was an apostle of plain living and high thinking, and
practiced what he preached. His life was a protest against all forms of
superfluous comfort, and an effort to reach harmony with nature, as the basis of
Wilson Flagg (1805-1894) also deserves a place among the American nature-
essayists. Born at Beverly, Massachusetts, he was educated at Phillips Academy,
Andover, and studied medicine. He was a keen observer of outdoor life and
natural phenomena. His writings were contributed to Boston newspapers and to the
Atlantic Monthly. His best-known works are "Halcyon Days," "A Year with the
Trees," and "A Year with the Birds."
Another man who took delight in the portrayal of outdoor nature with the pen was
William Hamilton Gibson (1850-1896). He was also an artist and book-illustrator.
The most startling and debatable contribution to American literature is that
made by Walt Whitman (1819-1892). It claimed to be the true voice of Democratic
America; and, while the claim has been admitted by a scholarly; few here, and
acknowledged by an equal number of scholarly poets in Europe, there is no
evidence that it has been so accepted anywhere by the people.
Under the initials "H. H." an American woman won high regard as a poet, and
afterwards showed brilliant descriptive power in prose. Later, when her name was
fully disclosed, she took up the cause of the Indian, and in history and a
popular novel pleaded in his behalf with the Government and the people of the
United States. Helen Fiske was born in 1831, at Amherst, Massachusetts, where
her father was professor in the college. At twenty-one she was married to
Captain Edward Hunt of the United States army, and wandered with him in
different parts of the country. When he was killed by the explosion of a mine
and her daughter died, Mrs. Hunt was plunged in the deepest grief. After some
time she began to write meditative and descriptive poems, which attracted
attention by their strong feeling and vivid fancy. Sometimes they took the form
of parable or allegory, but they were best when they painted out-door nature.
Mrs. Hunt then wrote prose descriptions, which were collected under the title
"Bits of Travel," and proved attractive to even a wider circle of readers. They
abound in humor as well as pathos, and show the delicate insight of women. Other
books of the same class followed. Two novels in the "No Name" series are known
to have been from her pen,-"Mercy Philbrick's Choice," and "Hetty's Strange
History." The stories published under the pen-name "Saxe Holme" have also been
ascribed to her. After she was married to Mr. William Jackson, in Colorado, she
became fully aware of the gross wrongs done to the Indians, and exerted herself
to secure justice for them from the nation. For this purpose she studied the
full history of Government dealings with the red men, and summed it up in "A
Century of Dishonor," making a passionate appeal for removal of the national
disgrace. This was followed by the powerful story "Ramona," written shortly
before her death, in 1885. This expiring effort of her genius is perhaps its
John Porter Lamberton