Oscar Gerson Oliver Perry Cornman.

A brief topical survey of United States history online

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the home an account of the events in all parts of the world.
Enormous quantities of books of all sorts are printed, so that
reading matter may be cheaply purchased. Great free libraries,
some founded by the generosity of rich philanthropists, such

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PROGRESS IN EDUCATION 165

as Andrew Carnegie, others supported by public taxation, are
important influences for popular education. Even small towns
boast of their free libraries. Travelling libraries have also
been successfully employed.

Public lectures by distinguished scientists, writers, and trav-
ellers have always been popular, and have contributed not a
little to the education of the people. In some places, notably
in New England, this kind of public education became a well-
developed lyceum system. University extension is a develop-
ment of the lyceum plan. Universities now give courses of
afternoon and evening lectures at various local centres, and
direct to some extent the collateral reading of their audi-
tors. Effective work has been done in this way, and the
movement is a growing one. A still more recent plan for
popular adult instruction is that of giving free evening lectures
in the schoolhouses, the system being under the control of
boards of public education.

The Sunday school is another educative influence that has
been growing in importance. The Sunday schools of to-day
have nearly as large an enrollment as the public schools.

275. Summary. — The great public school system, embracing
elementary (primary and grammar) and high schools, the
colleges and universities, free libraries, church and Sunday
schools, university extension and other popular systems, afford
such splendid opportunities for both child and adult that a
high grade of intelligence characterizes the American people.
Moreover, the daily newspapers offer such valuable daily in-
struction that the poorest workingman may be well informed
on the questions of the day, and able to think for himself and
intelligently exercise the right of suffrage as a citizen of the
great republic.



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CHAPTER XIII
GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE

Origin and Growth of American Literature. — 276. Progress in Lit-
erature, 277. American Literature is Englisli. 278. The First
Printing Press.

The Colonial Period (1607-1765). — 279. Character of Colonial Writ-
ings. 280. Colonial Writers.

The Revolutionary Period (1765-1812). — 281. Character of the
Period. 282. Thomas Paine. 283. Thomas Jefferson. 284. The
Federalist. 285. Other Writers.

The Birth of American Literature. — 286. Change beginning in Mon-
roe's Administration. 287. Washington Irving. 288. James Feni-
more Cooper. 289. William Cullen Bryant. 290. John Greenleaf
Whittier. 291. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. 292. Oliver Wendell
Holmes. 293. Nathaniel Hav7thorne. 294. Edgar Allan Poe. 295.
Harriet Beecher Stowe. 296. Ralph Waldo Emerson. 297. James
Russell Lowell.

The Historians. — 298. William Hickling Prescott. 299.- George Ban-
croft. 300. John Lothrop Motley. 301. Francis Parkman.



166 n ]

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CHAPTER XIII

GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE
I. Origin and Growth of American Literature

276. Progress in Literature. — The growth of the nation in
population and its progress in education, science, and art has
been accompanied by an important development in literature.
Starting with practically no literature whatever, the United
States now ranks prominently among the literary countries of
the world. Its leading writers, poets, historians, and novelists
have gained recognition and are now widely read in Europe as
well as on this side of the ocean. Literary progress has been
encouraged by the granting of copyrights to authors which
give them the exclusive right to the publication of their works
for a considerable period of years. This power was wisely
granted to Congress by the Constitution, and it has been
productive of excellent results. Agreements have been made
within recent years between the United States and the leading
nations of the world, enabling an author to copyright his works
in any of these countries. It took years of agitation to secure
this intemational copyright (1891), and its effect upon the
growth of literature has been marked.

277. American Literature is English. — We have seen in a
preyious chapter how England became supreme in America;
how, in other words, English ideas and traditions were to be-
come prominent factors in American civilization, and especially
that the English language was to be the language of the people.
How thoroughly this last effect has been produced is very
evident to-day. English is the language of our courts, schools,
churches, newspapers, and books. This language with its

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168 SURVEY OF UNITED STATES HISTORY

power and beauty of expression is, next to our love of free-
dom, our richest and dearest inheritance from England. No
greater hope could have inspired the minds of the founders of
this continent than that our literature should be a continua-
tion of the literature of England. England has produced some
of the greatest dramatists, poets, and novelists that the world
has ever known. America can justly be proud that her litera-
ture employs a language which has been so effectively
used by Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth, Byron, Scott, and
Thackeray.

278. The First Printing Press. — The first printing press in
America was established at Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1639.
The following year (1640) the first book ever printed in America
was published. It was entitled the " Bay Psalm Book." Al-
though this work in itself was of little literary value, consist-
ing of psalms in very poor verse, nevertheless a start had been
made. Many other books were subsequently printed, and the
number has steadily increased until to-day, with the invention
of the improved steam press, thousands of volumes are printed
daily, and their cost has been much reduced.

II. The Colonial Period (1607-1765)

279. Character of Colonial Writings. — During the first cen-
tury of English settlement in America, there was little time
for literature. Cities were to be built, roads cut through the
wilderness, and the Indians were an ever present source of dis-
turbance. A certain amount of tranquillity and peace of mind
is necessary for the growth of art or literature, and these fac-
tors are always absent in a new country beset with savage
tribes. The people were too busy for reading, much less for
writing. Hence during the colonial period there were but few
books. These were chiefly written by ministers, who were
about the only persons who had time or inclination for such
matters. In thinking of American literature we seldom in-
clude this period, and the books of the time may be said to
have mainly an historical interest for the student of literature.

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GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE 169

As almost all the American settlers came to this country on
account of religious persecution, it was natural that most of
their books should be of a religious, or rather theological, char-
acter. " Between the years 1706 and 1718 all the publications
known to have been printed in America number at least five
hundred and fifty. Of these all but eighty-four were on reli-
gious topics, and of the eighty-four, forty-nine were almanacs."
These almanacs were conspicuous in most households of colo-
nial days, and were regarded as indispensable. They con-
tained information upon the crops, weather, and roads. " Poor
Eichard's Almanac" was one of the most famous, and con-
tained, in addition to the usual almanac information, many
proverbs which have become familiar, such as : " God helps
them that help themselves," " Early to bed and early to rise,
makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise." The publication of
the almanac was begun by Benjamin Franklin in 1732, and the
work became very popular; its maxims have been circulated
wherever the English language is spoken.

280. Colonial Writers. — The three most prominent literary
men of the colonial period were Cotton Mather (1663-1728), a
very learned Puritan clergyman who wrote over four hundred
books on religious subjects; Jonathan Edwards (1703-58),
also a theological writer of great reasoning powers, his princi-
pal work being " Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will " ; and
Benjamin Franklin (1706-90). His "Autobiography" is his
principal literary work. All his writings are characterized by
homely wit and wisdom. His scientific writings and discov-
eries also attracted wide attention. He originated the Phila-
delphia Library, the University of Pennsylvania, and the
American Philosophical Society.

lU. The Revolutionary Period (1765-1812)

281. Character of the Period. — From the time of the first
resistance of the colonists to the rule of Great Britain,
up to the establishment of the independent government, in
other words during the time that thoughts of liberty stirred

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170 SURVEY OF UNITED STATES HISTORY

the hearts and minds of the American people, the literature —
if it can be called such — took a decided change. During the
colonial period the writings were mostly theological and argu-
mentative ; in the Revolutionary period they were mainly politi-
cal and passionate. They began with the fiery speeches of
orators like Patrick Henry and James Otis, and ended during
the formation and discussion of the Constitution with the
carefully prepared political papers of men like Hamilton and
Madison. The Revolution thus produced many great orators
and statesmen who have left remarkable writings and state
letters. The principal orators of the time were Samuel Adams,
James Otis, Josiah Quincy, and Patrick Henry. Many of their
speeches have become familiar, and we can easily imagine how
their eloquent delivery must have stirred the feelings of the
people during those exciting times.

282. Thomas Paine (1737-1809). — Thomas Paine was an
important character of the Revolutionary period on account of
the effect produced by his political writings. He attempted
to justify the principles which were afterwards fought for in
the French Revolution, and urged the colonists to achieve com-
plete independence. In "The Crisis," which Washington in
1776 ordered to be read to all the troops, and which did much
to inspire and encourage them, these stirring words are found :
" These are the times that try men's souls. The summer
soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink
from the service of his country; but he that stands it now
deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."

283. Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826). —Thomas Jefferson de-
serves a large place in the history of American writers, if not
in the history of American literature, on account of his author-
ship of the Declaration of Independence, one of the greatest
political documents ever written.

284. The Federalist. — The Federalist was the name given
to a series of papers written by Alexander Hamilton, John
Jay, and James Madison. Its object was to convince the
people of New York of the excellence of the Constitution and

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GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE 171

to urge them to ratify it. Fiske says of The Fedei^cUiat that
it is " undoubtedly the most profound and suggestive treatise
on government that has ever been written." Hamilton is
deserving of the greatest credit for this work, as he originated
it and was its largest contributor.

285. Other Writers. — During this period there were other
political writers, the most important of whom were Fisher
Ames, John Marshall, and William Wirt. The Eevolution
also produced some poets, notably John Trumbull, Joel Barloe,
and Philip Freneau. They wrote patriotic verses and ballads
glorifying the deeds of the Americans, and often directed the
weapons of satire and ridicule against the Tories.


IV. The Birth of American Literature

286. Change beginning in Moiuroe's Administration. — After
the country had settled down from the exciting times of the
Kevolutionary struggle, and the War of 1812 had assured
national stability, people had leisure for scientific and literary
pursuits. The nation had passed through its period of weak-
ness, and had taken its place in the family of nations of the
world. Times of peace are always encouraging to the arts
of peace, — science, fine arts, literature, — and so we find an
array of authors, beginning with Washington Irving, who have
made it possible to speak of a real American literature. The
theology of the colonial period and the politics of the Kevolu-
tionary period were succeeded by the literature of the newly
established republic. A very few only of the large list of
names which deserve a place in the history of American liter-
ature can be here considered, and of these but very brief
accounts can be given. Every student should become familiar
with the works of our greatest authors, not by reading mere
accounts of them, but by reading the books themselves.

287. Washington Irving (1783-1859). — Washington Irving
has been called the "Father of American Literature." His
writings, through their undeniable literary value, were the first
to become famous in Europe. Up to this time people in Eng-

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172 SURVEY OF UNITED STATES HISTORY

land had scorned the idea of any great literary work emanat-
ing from America. Irving's style was at once elegant, clear,
smooth, and characterized by a delightful humor. His " Sketch
Book," containing the well-known stories " Rip Van Winkle "
and ** The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," should be i;ead by every
person who wishes to be entertained and amused by masterful
description, genuine emotion, and clean, pure humor. Among
his best-known works are " Knickerbocker's History of New
York," a delightfully comic history of the early Dutch settlers
of New Netherland, " Wolfert's Roost," a collection of stories ;
and a number of biographical and historical works, the most
important of these being, " Life of Columbus," " Conquest of
(iranada," " Alhambra," and " Life of Washington."

288. James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851). — James Feni-
more Cooper was the first great American novelist. He has
been called the " American Scott," as his tales bear some resem-
blance to the works of the famous author of the " Waverley "
novels. His writings are principally tales of adventure, the
scenes being laid in American forests or upon the sea. Cooper
spent his early years on the frontier, and thus learned by
actual experience and association the kind of life which he
has so well portrayed in his novels. His first successful
work was " The Spy," the story of which was based upon an
incident of the American Revolution. This book was highly
praised in England and France, so that it may properly be said
that he was the second writer to show to the world that we
were to have a literature of our own. Shortly after "The
Spy," Cooper published a series of books known as the
" Leather Stocking Tales," dealing with life in the wilderness
and giving a vivid description of the Indians. Natty Bumpo
(Leather Stocking) is the hero of the stories, and his adventures
are narrated in an interesting manner in "The Deerslayer,"
" The Last of the Mohicans," " The Pathfinder," « The Pio-
neers," and " The Prairie." Cooper may be said to have origi-
nated the sea story. All who have written sea stories since
have merely imitated him. His principal works of this descrip-

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GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE 173

tion are "The Pilot," John Paul Jones being the title charac-
ter, "The Red Rover," and " The Water Witch." These books
will be interesting so long as boys are boys and exciting
adventures graphically described have the power to hold the
attention.

289. WiUiam CuUen Bryant (1794-1878). — William Cullen
Bryant was our first great poet. On account of his love of
nature and beautiful descriptions of natural scenery, he has
been called the " American Wordsworth." He was essentially
a poet of nature, and the subjects which he describes most
picturesquely are American landscapes and scenery. One of
his most famous poems, " Thanatopsis," is in blank, Le. un-
rhymed verse, and deals with the subject of death. This
poem is the more worthy of our admiration and wonder when
we consider that Bryant was a lad of but seventeen when
he wrote it. He later published a scholarly translation of
Homer's great epics, the " Iliad" and " Odyssey." The poems in
which his love of nature is most manifest are " To a Water-
fowl," "Green River," "The Death of the Flowers," and
"The Evening Wind." The first stanzas of his lines "To a
Waterfowl" well show his power of descriptive imagery : —

" Whither, midst falling dew,
While glow the heavens with the last steps of day,
Far through their rosy depths dost thou pursue
Thy solitary way ?

** Vainly the fowler's eye
Might mark thy distant flight to do thee wrong.
As, darkly painted on the crimson sky.
Thy figure floats along.

** Seek'st thou the plashy brink
Of weedy lake or marge of river wide.
Or where the rocking billows rise and sink
On the chafed ocean side ? "

290. John Greenleaf Whittier (1807-92). — John Greenleaf
Whittier is sometimes known as New England's Quaker Poet.



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174 SURVEY OF UNITED STATES HISTORY

Although he had not so thorough an education as some of our
other writers, his poems breathe a spirit of sincerity, and their
sentiments are lofty and noble. He was a great lover of free-
dom, and was prominently connected with the anti-slavery
movement in the North. His poems did much to stir up the
masses against slavery, and contributed largely to bring about
the final emancipation of the slave. Like Bryant, Whittier
was also a lover of nature, and some of his poems are master-
pieces of description of New England scenery. Next to Long-
fellow, he is our most popular poet. Some of his poems are
"Barbara Freitchie," "Voices of Freedom," "To William Lloyd
Garrison," "Skipper Ireson's Ride," "Snow Bound," and "Bare-
foot Boy." The opening lines of the last-named poem give a
good example of his sincere and hearty style : —

*♦ Blessings on thee, little man,
Barefoot boy with cheek of tan.
With thy turned up pantaloons
And thy merry whistled tunes ;
With thy red lip redder still
Kissed by strawberries on the hill ;
With the sunshine on thy face
Through thy torn brim's jaunty grace :
From my heart I give thee joy,
I was once a barefoot boy."

291. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-82). — Henry

Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a few prose works, but he is
principally known, admired, and loved on account of his
poetry. He is the most popular and widely read poet of
America. His writings show the effect of foreign travel and
study, but many of them are so clear and simple that even
children can understand and enjoy them. The first collection
of poems which he published was entitled "Voices of the
Night." It contained some of his most popular verses, " The
Psalm of Life," " The Eeaper and the Flowers," " Footsteps
of Angels," and " The Beleaguered City." Somewhat later was
published a volume containing the beautiful poem entitled

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GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE 175

"The Building of the Ship," closing with the following mag-
nificent lines : —

'* Thou, too, sail on, O ship of state !
Sail on, O union, strong and great I
Humanity with all its fears,
With all its hopes of future years.
Is hanging breathless on thy fate I

** Sail on, nor fear to breast the sea,
Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee,
Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears.
Our faith triumphant o'er our fears,
Are all with thee, — are all with thee !"

" Tales of a Wayside Inn " was the title of another famous
book of verse. Its best-known poems are "Paul Eevere's
Kide " and " King Olaf." " Evangeline/' a beautiful poetical
story of the expulsion of the Acadians; "Hiawatha," the
epic of the red race of America ; and " The Courtship of
Miles Standish," a romance of New England colonial days, give
beautiful and interesting descriptions of the people and times
to which they relate.

292. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809-94). — Oliver Wendell
Holmes was both a pcJet and a prose writer. Most of his writ-
ings contain a delicate humor, and are replete with bright and
original thoughts. His best-known prose works are "The
Autocrat of the Breakfast Table,'' "Professor at the Break-
fast Table," and « Poet at the Breakfast Table." The first
of these is deservedly the most famous. Two novels "Elsie
Venner " and " The Guardian Angel," are both stories of a
weird character. Holmes's best known poems are " The
Chambered Nautilus," "The Deacon's Masterpiece," and
"The Last Leaf."

293. BTathaniel Hawthorne (1804-64). — Nathaniel Haw-
thorne has been styled the " greatest imaginative writer since
Shakespeare." He is probably the most artistic writer that
America has yet produced. He wrote numerous short stories.

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176 SURVEY OF UNITED STATES HISTORY

Some are fanciful and weird, and deal with events and scenes
of colonial times. Many contain impressive moral lessons, e.g.
"The Great Stone Face." The collections of short stories
are entitled " Twice-told Tales," " Mosses from an Old Manse,"
"Snow Image," "Wonder Book," and "Tanglewood Tales."
The latter two contain interesting stories for children. Haw-
thorne's principal novels are "The Scarlet Letter," one of
the greatest novels ever written, " House of the Seven Gables,"
and " The Marble Faun."

294. Edgar Allan Poe (1809-49). — Edgar Allan Poe was
the author of numerous prose stories and poems. The subjects
of his writings are generally weird. He has been compared
with Hawthorne, as they both were very imaginative; but-
all of Hawthorne's works had moral applications which Poe's
commonly lacked. Poe's poetry is charmingly written, the
versification being musical and euphonious. "The Raven"
and " The Bells " are his two best poems.

295. Harriet Beecher Stowe (1812-98). — Harriet Beecher
Stowe helped with a novel to bring about what Whittier's
poems also partly accomplished, viz., the abolition of slavery.
" Uncle Tom's Cabin " will be remembered as long as the Civil
War is mentioned in history. It is one of the most popular
novels ever written, and became famous in Europe as well as
in America.

296. Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-82). — Ralph Waldo
Emerson was a great thinker, poet, and essayist. His writings
are profound, and show great learning and power of original
thought. Some of his principal works are " Nature," a philo-
sophical and theological study ; " Representative Men," " Con-
duct of Life," " Society and Solitude."

297. James Russell Lowell (1819-91). — James Russell
Lowell was prominent as critic, essayist, and poet. His
prose writings show great literary skill and judgment. Two
of his best-known poems are the " Ode to Freedom " and " The
Commemoration Ode." The most important works of Lowell
are " The Vision of Sir Launfal ; " " The Biglow Papers," a

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GROWTH OF AMERICAN LITERATURE 177

humorous satire written in Yankee dialect ; and the " Fable
for Critics," which is a critical satire on American poets.
The following beautiful lines upon Abraham Lincoln are from
*/ The Commemoration Ode : '' —

"... Standing like a tower,
Our children shall behold his fame,
The kindly, earnest, brave, foreseeing man,
Sagacious, patient, dreading praise not blame.
New birth of our new ^oil, the first American."

V. Historians

298. William Hickling Prescott (1796-1859). — William
Hickling Prescott was one of Our greatest historians. He
dealt with Spanish subjects in such an interesting way that his
works are as entertaining as romance. His principal works are
** Reign of Ferdinand and Isabella/' " Conquest of Mexico/' and
" Conquest of Peru."

299. George Bancroft (1800-91). — George Bancroft is
famous for his " History of the United States." While not so
interesting as Prescott's work, it is one of the most scholarly
and authoritative histories ever written.

300. Jolm Lothrop Motley (1814-77). — John Lothrop
Motley is considered by some as the greatest of American his-
torians. His writings deal with the history of the Netherlands.
They are graphic and scholarly. His principal works are
entitled "The Rise and Fall of the Dutch Republic" and
"The History of the United Netherlands."

301. Francis Parkman (1823-93). — Francis Parkman is
one of the most brilliant and vivid historians. He chose for


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Online LibraryOscar Gerson Oliver Perry CornmanA brief topical survey of United States history → online text (page 13 of 18)