The period of conflict has no definite limits on either
side, but for convenience we may think of it as included between
the years 1840 and 1876. Its earlier years were filled with an
ever-increasing agitation of the questions of slavery and state
rights; its center was the Civil War; its close was the Centennial
Exposition at Philadelphia, which we have selected as an outward
symbol of a reunited country.
The most noticeable feature of the age, apart from the great war,
was its ceaseless political turmoil. Of deeper significance to the
student of literature was the profound mental unrest which showed
itself in reform movements, in various communistic societies like
Brook Farm, in an eager interest in the poetry of other nations, in
the establishment of college professorships of foreign literatures,
in the philosophical doctrine of transcendentalism, and in many
other efforts of mid-century Americans to enlarge their mental
A host of minor writings of the period reflect the sectional
passions or interests that stirred our people deeply at the time,
but that are now almost forgotten. The comparatively small body of
major literature was concerned with the permanent ideals of America
or with the simple human feelings that have no age or nationality.
In general, it was a time of poetry rather than of prose, being
distinguished above all other periods of American literature by the
number and quality of its poets.
Our detailed study of the age includes: (1) The major or so-called
elder poets, Longfellow, Whittier, Lowell, Holmes, Lanier and
Whitman. (2) The life and work of Emerson, who was both poet and
prose writer. (3) The career of Hawthorne, the novelist of
Puritanism, who is commonly ranked at the head of American
fiction-writers. (4) A brief review of the secondary writers of
prose and verse. (5) An examination of the work of Thoreau, the
most individualistic writer in an age of individualism, and of
Parkman, whom we have selected as representative of the American
Selections for Reading
Typical selections from minor writers of
the period in Calhoun and MacAlarney, Readings from American
Literature; Stedman and Hutchinson, Library of American Literature,
and various other collections. Important works of all major writers
are published in inexpensive editions for school use, a few of
which are named below. Longfellow's short poems, Evangeline, parts
of Hiawatha and of Tales of a Wayside Inn, in Riverside Literature;
selections from the narrative poems in Lake English Classics;
selected poems in various other school series.
Whittier's Snow Bound and selected short poems, in Riverside
Literature, Maynard's English Classics, etc.
Lowell's Sir Launfal, selected short poems and selected essays, in
Riverside Literature, Maynard's English Classics.
Holmes's poems, selected, in Maynard's English Classics; The
Autocrat, in Everyman's Library; selected prose and verse, in
Lanier's poems, with selections from Timrod and Hayne, in Pocket
Classics, Maynard's English Classics, etc.
Whitman's poems, brief selections, in Maynard's English Classics;
Triggs, Selections from the Prose and Poetry of Walt Whitman.
Emerson's poems, in Riverside Literature; Representative Men and
selected essays, in Pocket Classics; Nature and various essays, in
Hawthorne's House of the Seven Gables and selected short stories,
in Pocket Classics; Twice-Told Tales and other selections, in
Thoreau's Walden, in Everyman's Library; Walden and selections from
other works, in Riverside Literature.