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The truth is, that the school of letters which began in 1798 with the work of Brockden Brown and persisted throughout the lifetime of Sir Walter Scott in the writings of Irving, of Cooper, and of Bryant, never dealt with deeply significant matters. Almost from the time when Bryant first collected his poems, the literature made in New York and under its influence became less and less important. New York newspapers, to be sure, of which the best examples are the “ Evening Post ” and the “ Tribune,” were steadily gaining in merit and influence; but literature pure and simple was not. If we may hold Poe to have belonged to the general phase of American literary activity which we have been considering, — the only phase which during the first half of the nineteenth century developed itself outside of New England, — we may say that this literary activity reached its acme in the work of Poe, itself for all its merit not deeply significant. And even in Poe's time, and still more surely a little later, the literature of which he proves the most important master declined into such good-humoured trivialities as one finds in the “Knickerbocker Gallery” and in the life and work of Willis. By the middle of the nineteenth century, in fact,

the literary impulse of the Middle States had proved aboritive. For the serious literature of America we must revert

to New England.

BOOK V

THE RENAISSANCE OF NEW

ENGLAND

BOOK V

THE RENAISSANCE OF NEW ENGLAND

I

SOME GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS OF NEW ENGLAND

From the time, shortly after 1720, when Franklin left Boston, where Increase and Cotton Mather were still preaching, we have paid little attention to that part of the country.

For during the seventy-two years which intervened between Cotton Mather's death and the nineteenth century, Boston was of less literary importance than it was before or than it has been since. To understand its revival, we must call to mind a little more particularly some general characteristics of New England.

A glance at any map will show that Boston, whose geographical position has obviously made it the principal city of that region, may be distinguished from most American cities by the fact that, comparatively speaking, it is not on the way anywhere. The main line of travel from abroad to-day comes to the port of New York. People bound thence for Washington proceed through Philadelphia and Baltimore; people bound westward are pretty sure to tend toward Chicago; people going southwest pass through St. Louis or New Orleans; people going around the world generally sail from San Francisco; but the only people who are apt to make the excursion from New York to Boston and return are those who do so on purpose. Of course, the ease of intercommunication nowadays combines with several other causes to disguise this isolation of the capital city of New

one

England. All the same, an isolation, socially palpable to any one who lives there, really characterises not only the city, but the whole region of which it is the natural centre.

This physical isolation was somewhat less pronounced when the English-speaking settlements in America were confined to the fringe of colonies along the Atlantic seaboard. Even then, however, a man proceeding by land from Boston to Philadelphia had to pass through New York; and so proceeding from New York to Virginia or the Carolinas had to pass through Philadelphia ; but the only people who needed to visit Boston were people bound thither. It had happened, meanwhile, that the regions of Eastern Massachusetts, although not literally the first American colonies to be settled, were probably the first to be politically and socially developed. Sewall's “ Diary,” for example, is an artless record of busy life in and about Boston, from 1674 to 1729. In spite of the many archaic passages which make it so quaintly vivid, it has few more remarkable traits than the fact that the surroundings and in many respects the society which it represents are hardly yet unfamiliar to people born and bred in Eastern New England.

In the first place, the whole country from the Piscataqua to Cape Cod, and westward to the Connecticut River, was almost as settled as it is to-day. Many towns of Sewall's time, to be sure, have been divided into smaller ones; but the name and the local organisation of almost every town of his time still persist; in two hundred years the municipal outlines of Massachusetts have undergone hardly more change than any equal space of England or of France. In Sewall's time, again, the population of this region, though somewhat different from that which at present exists, was much like that which was lately familiar to anybody who can remember the New England country forty years ago. It was homogeneous, and so generally native that any inhabitants but born Yankees attracted attention; and the separate towns were so distinct

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