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Cambridge History of American Literature: volume 2 (ed. Trent, William Peterfield, 1862-1939., Erskine, John, 1879-1951., Sherman, Stuart Pratt, 1881-1926., Van Doren, Carl, 1885-1950.) 22 0 Browse Search
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters 14 0 Browse Search
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shed miserably in the starving time. But he was of the stuff from which triumphant immigrants have ever been made, and it is our recognition of the presence of these qualities in the Captain which makes us think of his books dealing with America as if they were American books. There are other narratives by colonists temporarily residing in the Virginia plantations which gratify our historical curiosity, but which we no more consider a part of American literature than the books written by Stevenson, Kipling, and Wells during their casual visits to this country. But Captain Smith's True Relation impresses us, like Mark Twain's Roughing it, with being somehow true to type. In each of these books the possible unveracities in detail are a confirmation of their representative American character. In other words, we have unconsciously formulated, in the course of centuries, a general concept of the pioneer. Novelists, poets, and historians have elaborated this conception. Nothing is
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 2: the first colonial literature (search)
y and expense. George Sandys, scholar and poet, finds his solace during a Virginia exile in continuing his translation of Ovid's Metamorphoses. Colonel Norwood, an adventurer who belongs to a somewhat later day, since he speaks of having read Mr. Smith's travels, draws the long bow of narrative quite as powerfully as the redoubtable Smith, and far more smoothly, as witness his accounts of starvation on shipboard and cannibalism on shore. This Colonel is an artist who would have delighted Stevenson. All of these early tellers of Virginia tales were Englishmen, and most of them returned to England, where their books were printed and their remaining lives were passed. But far to the northeast of Virginia there were two colonies of men who earned the right to say, in William Bradford's quiet words, It is not with us as with other men, whom small things can discourage, or small discontentments cause to wish themselves at home again. One was the colony of Pilgrims at Plymouth, heade
e valor of the men who fell at Eutaw Springs. There was patriotic verse in extraordinary profusion, but its literary value is slight, and it reveals few moods of the American mind that are not more perfectly conveyed through oratory, the pamphlet, and the political essay. The immediate models of this Revolutionary verse were the minor British bards of the eighteenth century, a century greatly given to verse-writing, but endowed by Heaven with the prose-reason mainly. The reader of Burton E. Stevenson's collection of Poems of American history can easily compare the contemporary verse inspired by the events of the Revolution with the modern verse upon the same historic themes. He will see how slenderly equipped for song were most of the later eighteenth-century Americans and how unfavorable to poetry was the tone of that hour. Freneau himself suffered, throughout his long career, from the depressing indifference of his public to the true spirit of poetry. An old college mate of
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 6: the Transcendentalists (search)
he printed only two books, A week on the Concord and Merrimac rivers-which was even more completely neglected by the public than Emerson's Nature--and Walden, now one of the classics, but only beginning to be talked about when its shy, proud author penned his last line and died with the words moose and Indian on his lips. Thoreau, like all thinkers who reach below the surface of human life, means many different things to men of various temperaments. Collectors of human novelties, like Stevenson, rejoice in his uniqueness of flavor; critics, like Lowell, place him, not without impatient rigor. To some readers he is primarily a naturalist, an observer, of the White of Selborne school; to others an elemental man, a lover of the wild, a hermit of the woods. He has been called the poet-naturalist, to indicate that his powers of observation were accompanied, like Wordsworth's, by a gift of emotional interpretation of the meaning of phenomena. Lovers of literature celebrate his sheer
Bliss Perry, The American spirit in lierature: a chronicle of great interpreters, Chapter 7: romance, poetry, and history (search)
, who evidently did nothing except to write a few books. His rare, delicate genius was scarcely touched by passing events. Not many of his countrymen really love his writings, as they love, for instance the writings of Dickens or Thackeray or Stevenson. Everyone reads, at some time of his life, The Scarlet letter, and trembles at its passionate indictment of the sin of concealment, at its agonized admonition, Be true! Be true! Perhaps the happiest memories of Hawthorne's readers, as of Kipf intelligent Americans is the prologue to a smile of recognition, comprehension, sympathy. The word Goldsmith has now lost, alas, this provocative quality; the word Stevenson still possesses it. The little Doctor, who died in the same year as Stevenson, belonged like him to the genial race of friends of mankind, and a few of his poems, and some gay warm-hearted pages of his prose, will long preserve his memory. But the Boston which he loved has vanished as utterly as Sam Johnson's London.
rica. He found the way and they brought back the glory and the cash. I have sometimes imagined Poe, with four other men and one woman, seated at a dinner-table laid for six, and talking of their art and of themselves. What would the others think of Poe? I fancy that Thackeray would chat with him courteously, but would not greatly care for him. George Eliot, woman-like, would pity him. Hawthorne would watch him with those inscrutable eyes and understand him better than the rest. But Stevenson would be immensely interested; he would begin an essay on Poe before he went to sleep. And Mr. Kipling would look sharply at him: he has seen that man before, in The Gate of a hundred sorrows. All of them would find in him something to praise, a great deal to marvel at, and perhaps not much to love. And the sensitive, shabby, lonely Poe-what would he think of them? He might not care much for the other guests, but I think he would say to himself with a thrill of pride: I belong at this