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Outlines of English and American Literature|
by Long, William J.
| The early part of the nineteenth century (sometimes called
the First National period of American letters) was a time of
unusual enthusiasm. The country had recently won its independence
and taken its place among the free nations of the world; it had
emerged triumphant from a period of doubt and struggle over the
Constitution and the Union; it was increasing with amazing rapidity
in territory, in population and in the wealth which followed a
successful commerce; its people were united as never before by
noble pride in the past and by a great hope for the future. It is
not surprising, therefore, that our first really national
literature (that is, a literature which was read by practically the
whole country, and which represented America to foreign nations)
should appear in this expansive age as an expression of the
The four chief writers of the period are: Irving, the pleasant
essayist, story-teller and historian; Bryant, the poet of primeval
nature; Cooper, the novelist, who was the first American author to
win world-wide fame; and Poe, the most cunning craftsman among our
early writers, who wrote a few melodious poems and many tales of
mystery or horror. Some critics would include also among the major
writers William Gilmore Simms (sometimes called "the Cooper of the
South"), author of many adventurous romances dealing with pioneer
life and with Colonial and Revolutionary history.
The numerous minor writers of the age are commonly grouped in local
schools. The Knickerbocker school, of New York, includes the poets
Halleck and Drake, the novelist Paulding, and one writer of
miscellaneous prose and verse, Nathaniel P. Willis, who was for a
time more popular than any other American writer save Cooper. In
the southern school (led by Poe and Simms) were Wilde, Kennedy and
William Wirt. The West was represented by Timothy Flint and James
Hall. In New England were the poets Percival and Maria Brooks, the
novelists Sarah Morton and Catherine Sedgwick, and the historians
Sparks and Bancroft. The writers we have named are merely typical;
there were literally hundreds of others who were more or less
widely known in the middle of the last century.
The first common characteristic of these writers was their
patriotic enthusiasm; the second was their romantic spirit. The
romantic movement in English poetry was well under way at this
time, and practically all our writers were involved in it. They
were strongly influenced, moreover, by English writers of the
period or by settled English literary traditions. Thus, Irving
modeled his style closely on that of Addison; the early poetry of
Bryant shows the influence of Wordsworth; the weird tales of Poe
and his critical essays were both alike influenced by Coleridge;
and the quickening influence of Scott appears plainly in the
romances of Cooper. The minor writers were even more subject to
foreign influences, especially to German and English romanticism.
There was, however, a sturdy independence in the work of most of
these writers which stamps it as original and unmistakably
American. The nature poetry of Bryant with its rugged strength and
simplicity, the old Dutch legends and stories of Irving, the
pioneer romances of Cooper and Simms, the effective short stories
of Poe,--these have hardly a counterpart in foreign writings of the
period. They are the first striking expressions of the new American
spirit in literature.
Selections for Reading
Irving's Sketch Book, in Standard English
Classics and various other school editions (see "Texts" in General
Bibliography); The Alhambra, in Ginn and Company's Classics for
Children; parts of Bracebridge Hall, in Riverside Literature;
Conquest of Granada and other works, in Everyman's Library.
Selections from Bryant, in Riverside Literature and Pocket
Cooper's Last of the Mohicans, in Standard English Classics and
other school editions; the five Leatherstocking tales, in
Everyman's Library; The Spy, in Riverside Literature.
Selections from Poe, prose and verse, in Standard English Classics,
Silver Classics, Johnson's English Classics, Lake English Classics.
Simms's The Yemassee, in Johnson's English Classics. Typical
selections from minor authors of the period, in Readings from
American Literature and other anthologies (see "Selections" in