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- History of American Literature - 1/65 -


HISTORY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE

BY REUBEN POST HALLECK, M.A. (YALE) AUTHOR OF "HISTORY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE"

[Illustration: THE RETURN OF RIP VAN WINKLE]

PREFACE

The wide use of the author's _History of English Literature_, the favor with which it has been received in all parts of the United States, and the number of earnest requests for a _History of American Literature_ on the same plan, have led to the writing of this book. It has not appeared sooner because the author has followed his rule of making a careful first-hand study, not only of all the matter discussed, but also of a far greater amount, which, although it must be omitted from a condensed textbook, is, nevertheless, necessary as a background for judgment and selection.

The following chapters describe the greatest achievements in American literature from the earliest times until the present. Many pupils fail to obtain a clear idea of great American authors and literary movements because textbook writers and teachers ignore the element of truth in the old adage, "The half is greater than the whole," and dwell too much on minor authors and details, which could reasonably be expected to interest only a specialist. In the following pages especial attention has been paid, not only to the individual work of great authors, but also to literary movements, ideals, and animating principles, and to the relation of all these to English literature.

The author has further aimed to make this work both interesting and suggestive. He has endeavored to present the subject in a way that necessitates the comparison of authors and movements, and leads to stimulating thinking. He has tried to communicate enough of the spirit of our literature to make students eager for a first-hand acquaintance with it, to cause them to investigate for themselves this remarkable American record of spirituality, initiative, and democratic accomplishment. As a guide to such study, there have been placed at the end of each chapter _Suggested Readings_ and still further hints, called _Questions and Suggestions_. In _A Glance Backward_, the author emphasizes in brief compass the most important truths that American literature teaches, truths that have resulted in raising the ideals of Americans and in arousing them to greater activity.

Any one who makes an original study of American literature will not be a mere apologist for it. He will marvel at the greatness of the moral lesson, at the fidelity of the presentation of the thought which has molded this nation, and at the peculiar aptness which its great authors have displayed in ministering to the special needs and aspirations of Americans. He will realize that the youth who stops with the indispensable study of English literature is not prepared for American citizenship, because our literature is needed to present the ideals of American life. There may be greater literatures, but none of them can possibly take the place of ours for citizens of this democracy.

The moral element, the most impressive quality in American literature, is continuous from the earliest colonial days until the present. Teachers should be careful not to obscure this quality. As the English scientist, John Tyndall, has shown in the case of Emerson, this moral stimulus is capable of adding immeasurably to the achievement of the young.

The temptation to slight the colonial period should be resisted. It has too often been the fashion to ask, Why should the student not begin the study of American literature with Washington Irving, the first author read for pure pleasure? The answer is that the student would not then comprehend the stages of growth of the new world ideals, that he would not view our later literature through the proper atmosphere, and that he would lack certain elements necessary for a sympathetic comprehension of the subject.

The seven years employed in the preparation of this work would have been insufficient, had not the author been assisted by his wife, to whom he is indebted not only for invaluable criticism but also for the direct authorship of some of the best matter in this book.

R. P. H.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER I COLONIAL LITERATURE

CHAPTER II THE EMERGENCE OF A NATION

CHAPTER III THE NEW YORK GROUP

CHAPTER IV THE NEW ENGLAND GROUP

CHAPTER V SOUTHERN LITERATURE

CHAPTER VI WESTERN LITERATURE

CHAPTER VII THE EASTERN REALISTS A GLANCE BACKWARD

* * * * *

SUPPLEMENTARY LIST OF AUTHORS AND THEIR CHIEF WORKS

INDEX

[Transcriber's note: Index not included in this electronic version.]

HISTORY OF AMERICAN LITERATURE

CHAPTER I

COLONIAL LITERATURE

RELATION TO ENGLISH LITERATURE.--The literature produced in that part of America known as the United States did not begin as an independent literature. The early colonists were Englishmen who brought with them their own language, books, and modes of thought. England had a world-famous literature before her sons established a permanent settlement across the Atlantic. Shakespeare had died four years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth. When an American goes to Paris he can neither read the books, nor converse with the citizens, if he knows no language but his own. Let him cross to London, and he will find that, although more than three hundred years have elapsed since the first colonists came to America, he immediately feels at home, so far as the language and literature are concerned.

For nearly two hundred years after the first English settlements in America, the majority of the works read there were written by English authors. The hard struggle necessary to obtain a foothold in a wilderness is not favorable to the early development of a literature. Those who remained in England could not clear away the forest, till the soil, and conquer the Indians, but they could write the books and send them across the ocean. The early settlers were for the most part content to allow English authors to do this. For these reasons it would be surprising if early American literature could vie with that produced in England during the same period.

When Americans began to write in larger numbers, there was at first close adherence to English models. For a while it seemed as if American literature would be only a feeble imitation of these models, but a change finally came, as will be shown in later chapters. It is to be hoped, however, that American writers of the future will never cease to learn from Chaucer, Spenser, Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, and Wordsworth.

AMERICAN LITERATURE AN IMPORTANT STUDY.--We should not begin the study of American literature in an apologetic spirit. There should be no attempt to minimize the debt that America owes to English literature, nor to conceal the fact that American literature is young and has not had time to produce as many masterpieces as England gave to the world during a thousand years. However, it is now time also to record the fact that the literature of England gained something from America. Cultivated Englishmen to-day willingly admit that without a study of Cooper, Poe, and Hawthorne no one could give an adequate account of the landmarks of achievement in fiction, written in our common tongue. French critics have even gone so far as to canonize Poe. In a certain field he and Hawthorne occupy a unique place in the world's achievement. Again, men like Bret Harte and Mark Twain are not common in any literature. Foreigners have had American books translated into all the leading languages of the world. It is now more than one hundred years since Franklin, the great American philosopher of the practical, died, and yet several European nations reprint nearly every year some of his sayings, which continue to influence the masses. English critics, like John Addington Symonds, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edward Dowden, have testified to the power of the democratic element in our literature and have given the dictum that it cannot be neglected.

Some of the reasons why American literature developed along original lines and thus conveyed a message of its own to the world are to be found in the changed environment and the varying problems and ideals of American life. Even more important than the changed ways of earning a living and the difference in climate, animals, and scenery were the struggles leading to the Revolutionary War, the formation and guidance of the Republic, and the Civil War. All these combined to give individuality to American thought and literature.

Taken as a whole, American literature has accomplished more than might reasonably have been expected. Its study is especially important for us, since the deeds associated with our birthplace must mean more to us than more remarkable achievements of men born under other skies. Our literature, even in its humble beginnings, contains a lesson that no American can afford to miss. Unless we know its ideals and moral aims and are swayed by them, we cannot keep our heritage.


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