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CHAPTER III.

1865-1912.

MODERN TENDENCIES IN AMERICAN LITERATURE.

Lack of perspective for characterizing this period of American literature — The four representative names of the period — The changing conception of democracy in Lowell and Whitman — The still newer democracy of recent writers - Literary progress and retrogression - The democratization of recent literature - The high average of literary technique — The dearth of truly great literary productions since Uncle Tom's Cabin - The "uplift movement" reflected in our literature · General reflections.

It is not easy to say what word or words the future historian of American literature will employ in order to designate the period from the death of Lincoln in 1865 to that of Mark Twain in 1910. Perhaps, with his better perspective, he will see that more years must be added if he would obtain a period based upon logical reasons rather than upon mere expediency or convenience. On the other hand, he may find that somewhere within these 45 years a new note is struck, a new direction taken, and he may conclude to begin a fresh period with the year 1901 the first of the Twentieth cen

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our historian of the future might entitle one of his chapters "The Period of True Democracy, 1901", or that he might show his bias by employing the less complimentary designation, "The Day of the Muck-Rakers."

Fortunately, however, it does not fall to our lot to occupy the authoritative, albeit somewhat uncomfortable, seat of the historian. We are on our feet, and but a small part of the thick, hurrying crowd. The best we can do, and the most that can be expected of us, is quietly to elbow our way out and to stand for a moment to one side, recalling some impressions of the march we have been making and commenting upon the salient features of the motley procession that is scurrying past.

One impression - perhaps the most important we shall receive-is borne in upon us by the glimpse we have had, through their names, of three striking figures - all of them important contributors to American literature, two of them Presidents of the United States, and one of them, in the opinion of many of his admirers, as

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LITERATURE.

clearly the greatest author of the epoch we are considering as he is easily the most cosmopolitanly famous of modern American writers pure and simple that is, of men whose fame rests primarily upon the written word. Lincoln, Mark Twain, Roosevelt whatever else these three names may stand for, they plainly stand for that subtle, indefinable something known as Americanism. Add to them a fourth name, that of Walt Whitman, who in some senses (though not so completely as Lincoln), belongs to what is often regarded as the Golden Age of our literature, the period from 1830 to 1865. His fame is a matter of some forty years' standing and, like the fame of the three men to whom we have added him, is racily American. Set these four men over against the chief representatives of our older literature and note the contrast. Irving, Cooper, Poe, Hawthorne, Longfellow, Whittier, Emerson, Holmes, Lowell - every one of them (including Poe), was truly American in heart and mind; yet is there not a raciness-a tang - about the Americanism of Lincoln, Whitman, Mark Twain and Roosevelt that is either not distinguishable or else less clearly discernible in the Americanism of the elder group? We are not surprised, for example, to learn that in the original series of the English Men of Letters, edited by John Morley, a volume on Hawthorne was included. The inclusion of a volume on Whitman in the later series seems more of a tour de

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force. The period since the Civil War, whatever else it has done for our literature, has surely intensified its national character. national character. Precisely how it has accomplished this result is something for the future masters of criticism to ponder over; but we may be very certain that the great writers of the early years of the Republic, from Franklin to Hawthorne, played an important part in bringing about the transformation.

The truth of this last statement becomes obvious after a moment's survey of the career of Lowell, who was born the same year as Whitman and died less than a year before him. The first series of the Biglow Papers could not well be mistaken for anything but an American product; yet, if the author's point of view had been that of the entire American people, the history of the Nation as a whole might have been greatly changed. Right or wrong, that point of view was comparatively sectional. A generation later, who was better capable of striking the true American note than Lowell? Witness the notable address on "Democracy "delivered at Manchester, England, in 1884. The great struggle of the 60's did more than liberate the slaves; it eventually liberated the American mind from sectionalism. The earlier struggle of the 40's and the period of territorial development that followed it expanded the American mind and more or less freed it from provincialism and colonialism. Liberation and expansion

are the key-notes of the later prose work of Lowell, and they are seen to some extent in his poetry, although the latter in the main is less significant in its Americanism. They are the keynotes also of the entire work of Whitman and, indeed, of the whole literature of the period with which we are here concerned.

But while the phrase 66 a liberated and expanded Americanism " may be of service in helping us to characterize the spirit of our latter-day literature, a moment's reflection may reflection may cause us to ask whether it carries us sufficiently far in our analysis and whether it is adequate to our purposes when we attempt a characterization of the literature of the entire period. All the names we have cited are those of true Americans whose genius has been increasingly subject to liberation and expansion. Most of them have stood for democracy and have sounded the "civic note "in their writings. But is there not a marked difference between the democracy of Lowell and that of Roosevelt, and is not the democracy of the latter particularly characteristic of the literature produced during, let us say, the last ten years of our period that is, the first decade of the Twentieth century?

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It seems almost certain that this question must be answered in the affirmative. Whatever else they were, the great Americans of the last century were individualists, and their political ideas, while taking account

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of the people, emphasized the powers and duties of the chosen representatives of the people—that is, were on the whole individualistic. The most conspicuous American of our own day, on the other hand, although displaying in his every word and action a marked individuality, is far from being an individualist in his political theories and his public activities. For him, as for most Americans, the voice of the people is in a larger sense than ever before the voice of God. The representative is much more the people's mouthpiece than a truly constituent part of an ideal system of government a man of powers commensurate with his responsibilities. We may resolutely decline to use the epithets "socialistic" and "collectivistic" in connection with the political, economic, and social evolution that has taken place in America in the last two decades; but we shall be blind if we fail to recognize the fact that, with the breaking down of sectionalism, with the enormous growth of our population resulting in the occupation, more or less adequate, of our continental domain, and with the acquisition of insular possessions, the American people has been welded into a more compact, articulate, and selfregulated mass of human beings with approximately common thoughts and purposes than any political observer of 1865, the year of Appomattox, could have regarded as possible. The day of the individual and the class is far from over, but its sun has passed

LITERATURE.

the meridian. The day of the popular mass is not yet fully upon us, but its sun-for in political astronomy the sight of two suns at one time is not an unusual phenomenon - is well above the horizon.

Are these reflections out of place in a sketch of the evolution of recent American literature? It would seem not, when we consider that from the earliest colonial period our literature has faithfully reflected the political, economic and social ideals of our people. The chief literary monuments of the Seventeenth and early Eighteenth centuries were those of a Congregational aristocracy in New England and of an agricultural aristocracy in the South. The chief literary The chief literary monuments of the end of the Eighteenth and the beginning of the Nineteenth centuries were the writings of the founders of the Republic, of the exponents of a representative democracy organized into a federation of States. With the advent of Irving, Cooper and Bryant the æsthetic value of our literature was greatly increased, but its value as a stimulus to the civic virtues was at least equally augmented. With the next generation this phenomenon was repeated on a larger scale, the poetry of Longfellow and Whittier and the ethical essays of Emerson coöperating with the orations of Webster to develop throughout the North and West a homogeneous population of clear intelligence, glowing patriotism, and active civic spirit. The fact that Poe

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and Hawthorne stood somewhat apart from this development of "citizen literature," and that it is precisely these two writers in whom we discover our two greatest literary artists, does not vitiate the truth of the contention that from the founding of Jamestown to the outbreak of the Civil War our men of letters were, first and foremost, truly democratic citizens utilizing their special gifts for the welfare of the country as a whole, rather than artists shutting themselves up with their dreams in isolated, enchanted towers of their own conceiving.

When the war was well over and the worst of the period of reconstruction was behind the united Nation, we celebrated worthily the centenary of our founding. Perhaps, since many of our greatest authors were still living and writing, we did not clearly perceive that the generation which was born and had grown up in the midst of the dissensions that led to the war, did not count among its writers' men equal to those who had given America, or, speaking more strictly, New England, the Golden Age of its literature. Bayard Taylor, for example, true poet and versatile man of letters though he was, never fully realized his ambition to secure a place beside Longfellow and Whittier and Lowell. His friends, Aldrich, Stoddard, and and Stedman, Stedman, despite worthy achievements, were also hampered in their race for their high artistic goal. Yet there was progress

as well as retrogression, and, as formerly, our literature went hand in hand with our National development.

Scarcely had the smoke of the battlefields cleared away before an unwonted spirit of literary activity became manifest in the South. The year 1867 saw the first book of Sidney Lanier, and in the few years that remained to him he gave his native section and his country a small body of true poetry, one of the few notable contributions to the higher forms of literature made by the Nation in the last 50 years. Soon he was followed Soon he was followed by writers of prose fiction-John

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ston, Harris, Cable and their successors who interpreted to a sympathetic public the spirit of their little understood section, thus making for National union and broad patriotism. Meanwhile, marking both the growth of the West and the increasing predominance of prose over poetry as a literary medium for a newspaper and magazine reading public, three new writers had begun careers destined to be of great distinction - Samuel L. Clemens, better known as "Mark Twain," Bret Harte, representing the westward expansion of the Nation, and William Dean Howells, representing both an intensified interest in our National life and a cosmopolitan absorption of the best theories and methods of literary art then current in the world at large. Any view of these men which confines itself to their individual books or considers them only as representatives of

classes of writers that sees, for example, in Mark Twain only our greatest humorist and in Mr. Howells only our chief writer of realistic fictionis misleading through its narrowness. These authors and those they have influenced are, above all, representative of the attainment by our literature of what may be called a continental quality, so far as concerns its breadth, and of a truly National or racial quality, so far as concerns its depth of spirit.

The period from 1865 to 1900, during which all the writers just named did their most characteristic work, saw also the development of less distinctively American elements in our literature than those represented by the exponents of the new South and West and of the old North and East, as these regions were interpreted by writers of local fiction using realistic methods. It used to be customary to couple the names of Mr. Howells and Mr. Henry James and also to speak of the latter as the chief representative of international fiction; but the evolution of the author of Daisy Miller and Washington Square seems to show that, at bottom, he represents for American literature that development of artistic self-consciousness and that intensified interest in psychology which are characteristic of latter-day literature throughout the world. It is this that makes Mr. James really international or cosmopolitan rather than the facts that America has long since ceased to be his home and that

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