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The history of the United States from the beginning of the nineteenth century to the Civil War had almost an epical character. During the early years the new nation successfully defended itself against the sniping of three foreign enemies, while such American statesmen as Washington and Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe slowly won for their country the respect if not the affection of European powers. Within a half century, American pioneers had pushed across the forest and mountain barriers, the great rivers and deserts, to the shores of the Pacific, and northwest into Alaska. The power, imagination, and opportunity quickened by political freedom and nationalism were expressed in the development, more rapid than ever before seen, of government, trade, shipping, manufactures, agricultural wealth and an expanding system of roads and waterways. While the material genius of the country expressed itself luxuriantly, cultural institutions, already strong in the colonies, ex


panded rapidly; and such authors as Irving, Cooper, Hawthorne, Poe, Emerson, Longfellow, Melville, and Whitman forged a new literature, rich in native character and tradition, and recognized as American by the world at large. If American literature, like the European literature of the time, was romantic in character, it was not so by imitation, but by virtue of the abounding strangeness of this new continent, and the experience of a way of life in which, for a time, it seemed that the theoretical possibility of uninterrupted human progress might be concretely realized. And then, slowly revealed, the tragic flaw in the American state came into view, the widening, unhealing breach between the sections—and the appalling catastrophe of the Civil War rang down the curtain on an epoch.


The city of New York, which by 1800, with a population of sixty thousand, had become the largest city in the United States, was destined to be for several

decades the literary capital, the city of the so-called Knickerbocker authors, who derived this label from Washington Irving's Knickerbocker's History of New York (1809). Prominent among the Knickerbockers were many writers now of only minor interest: such poets as Drake and Halleck, and such men of letters as Charles Fenno Hoffman, Paulding, Verplanck, and Willis. Irving was the only author of this immediate group to achieve high literary distinction, but two other great New York writers, Bryant and Cooper, shared to some degree the Knickerbocker spirit. This spirit was a large-minded, romantic acceptance of life, ranging from Bryant's serious religion of nature to Irving's fantasy and burlesque, and encouraging, especially among its essayists, a worldly sophistication and witty gaiety. The New York theater flourished, and in the development of newspaper journalism the city soon led the nation.

Philadelphia, which had been called "the Athens of America" during the late colonial period, continued to produce literary works, but few of its writers rose to prominence, and many of the more talented found their way to New York, as they have been doing ever since. Philadelphia continued as the center of a new popular periodical literature, represented by Godey's and Graham's; it long remained an incubating ground for liberal ideas and humanitarian reform; and it maintained leadership in the development of science and technology. Meanwhile, the South built a flourishing agrarian

civilization and a distinguished planter-aristocracy on the shaky foundations of slavery, while expending a great deal of its energy, and much of its traditional genius for statesmanship, in defending that doomed institution. At Richmond, and more importantly at Charleston, there developed small coteries of writers, but none were of national prominence except Poe and the Charlestonian William Gilmore Simms. The latter was greatly praised and widely popular, but today few beside the literary specialist are acquainted with his faintly Byronic poetry, or with his many novels of frontier adventure. Cooper has outlived this later rival because of his true sense of history and his creation of a few living characters.

In this first period of our national literature, however, the most spectacular development was the movement generally known as the "renaissance" of New England. It began in a new intellectualism, Unitarian and transcendental, which was crowned by the appearance of the works of Emerson in the late thirties, and by the later masterpieces of Thoreau. New England contributed vitally to the reform movements, especially abolition; it produced, in such figures as Hawthorne, Longfellow, Holmes, and Lowell, creators of a literature which combined a high democratic idealism with a patrician intellectual leadership.


The remarkable and opulent literature which developed in various regions is best explained by reference to certain stirring

events of our national history, infused by the surging romanticism which had its sources both at home and abroad. Romanticism is not an organized system, but rather a particular attitude toward the realities of man, nature, and society. From the middle of the eighteenth century, the romantic spirit gradually strengthened, especially in Germany, France, and England; in English literature it flourished earlier than in America, particularly among such writers as Burns, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley, Keats, and Byron. In reaction against the neoclassical spirit, the romantic preferred freedom to formalism and emphasized individualism instead of authority. He exalted the imagination above either rationalism or strict fidelity to factual delineation. He rejected the validity of material reality in favor of innate or intuitive perception by the heart of man: "intimations of immortality" were taken to prove immortality. In consequence, the romantic gave faith and credence to ideality and elevation to a reality that was considered more lofty, and truer, than the evidence of substantial things. Romantic reliance upon the importance of the subconscious, inner life was illustrated in Emerson's intuitionalism, and also produced a profound interest in abnormal psychology, shown, for instance, by Poe and Hawthorne.

Yet in its view of nature, the romantic movement was essentially simple, as compared with that of rationalism: its universe was beautiful, and man was the chosen and favored creature in

it, as in the nature poems of Wordsworth, Bryant, or Longfellow. In another manifestation, romanticism reveled in strangeness and mystery, producing in one direction the medievalism of Keats and Lowell, and in another the fantastic visions of Coleridge or Poe.

One impulse of romanticism was humanitarian; it romanticized the "common man"; it produced an age of reform movements; it developed a lavish enthusiasm for the primitive-for ancient ballads, epics, and folk literature, and for the "noble savage," usually in the idealization of the American Indian. In some manifestations, especially in America, it reveled in broad forms of humor and burlesque. In every country, romanticism produced a luxuriant new literature, with wide variations among authors, but everywhere certain characteristics persisted: opulence and freedom, devotion to individualism, a reliance upon the good of nature and "natural" man, and an abiding faith in the boundless resources of the human spirit and imagination.

Basically, the romantic spirit is rebellious; it thrives in turbulent times, in revolution and conflict; it encourages an optimistic expectation of improvement. These conditions of romanticism had been present in the American and French revolutions. The later period, which produced such American romantics as

as Bryant, Irving, and Cooper, was also a time of hopeful challenge. During the youth of this generation, the young republic asserted its independence over and over again: in two

diplomatic victories over the French, in leading the world against the Barbary pirates, in resisting British pretensions by war in 1812; and finally, in announcing its western hegemony by the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Internally an even more astonishing accomplishment extended the American dominion from the Northwest Territory to Oregon, from Louisiana to the Rockies and (by means of the Mexican War in 1848), through the southwest from Texas to California. For such romantics as Bryant, Irving, Cooper, and their lesser emulators this expansion was a contagious influence, and these frontiers were an invitation to adventure, strongly reflected in their writings.

However, a number of our most powerful romantic authors had been brooding upon problems for which optimism and expansion provided no answers. In Poe and Hawthorne the spiritual questioning of romanticism found its first great American representatives. In their chief works they sought the reality of man in the hidden recesses of the mind and the spirit, and probed these obscure sources of behavior and moral judgment. Poe, like Keats and Coleridge, embodied his revelations in aesthetic symbolism, except in his tales of detection and science

a form of narrative that he invented. By contrast, Hawthorne, equipped with a penetrating sense of history, found his

symbolism in man's conflict with the vestiges of the past, indelibly fixed in his moral nature and his social environment. Before Poe and Hawthorne, symbolic litera

ture had appeared in America only in the expression of the rapt visions of early religious mystics, such as Edwards and Woolman; now Poe especially carried symbolic idealism to a level so advanced that he became the inspiration for certain of the French symbolists, and hence a strong influence on the literary expression of the twentieth century. Melville, another great original, stands closer to the tradition of Hawthorne than to any other. Like Hawthorne, he was obsessed by the enigma of evil, but while the New Englander prevailingly took the Puritan morality as a point of departure, Melville drew symbols from land and sea for his explorations into the shadowed heart of the universe.


Early in the nineteenth century the new republic began to experience the social disorders inevitably attendant upon its unprecedented expansion in territory, population, and industrial activity. American writers responded with a swelling tide of literature devoted to humanitarian reform movements. During the thirty years before the Civil War the population of the United States increased from thirteen to thirty million white Americans. Although nearly half of the nation's population had pushed beyond the Alleghenies by 1830, there were already at that time increasing concentrations in eastern urban and industrial centers, where recent immigrants accounted for about 12 per cent of the nation. The remarkable development of industry and financial institutions

was accompanied by economic crises and a kind of poverty that the younger agrarian nation had not known. Even the frontier, for all its glamor, adventure, and homestead land, was the scene of back-breaking labor, and of stringently limited educational and cultural opportunity. The election in 1800 of Jefferson, a patrician who trusted the people, has been regarded as breaking the ruling authority of "the rich, the well-born, and the able," and in 1828 the frontier elected its own popular hero, Andrew Jackson, with a direct mandate from the common people. The increasing determination of these masses to be heard in the national government remained a powerful influence against the entrenchment of monopoly and privilege. For these masses Negro slavery was an intolerable threat against the enterprise of free men; and the spirit of the frontier, no less than the moral abhorrence which impelled the North, was influential in precipitating the Civil War.

Respect for the common man and a belief in his capacities was a romantic assumption honored by writers on every hand. Bryant, as a great metropolitan editor, espoused human and civil rights, supported the nascent labor movement and many other reforms, and steadily opposed the extension of slavery. Hawthorne and Melville continued to regard the improvement of society as indispensable for the spirit of mankind. The transcendentalists in general resembled Thoreau rather than Emerson in their active and often rebellious participation in sup

port of various reforms, and especially abolition. Fundamentally, if in varying measure, the reform spirit infused the writing of such New England Brahmins as Longfellow, Lowell, and even Holmes, while Whittier, a man of the people, spent himself, and perhaps mortgaged his artistic potential, in humanitarian causes. New reform movements and organizations flourished, and reform became a profession attracting talented and powerful leadership. Welldirected groups directed groups joined forces with British reformers to improve the standards of criminology, to abolish inhuman punishments and imprisonment for debt, to clean up the loathsome jails and provide rehabilitation instead of punishment. Societies for aid to the physically handicapped bore fruit in schools for the deaf and the blind, and asylums for the insane-Dorothea Dix added this interest to her earlier crusade for prison reform.

The American Temperance Society was founded in 1826, and many lecturers, some as prominent as Channing, Beecher, and Garrison, drew large audiences, while local church communities organized auxiliaries of pledge-signers. The women's rights movement drew such strong leaders as Margaret Fuller, journalist of transcendentalism, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Lucretia Mott. In 1848, the movement rose to the national scale with the meeting of the first women's congress at Seneca Falls, New York. Women crusaded for equality with men in educational oppor

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