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