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Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, II (search)
s in London society were often censured as being too English in appearance and manner, and as wanting in a distinctive flavor of Americanism. He instanced Ticknor and Sumner; and we can all remember that there were at first similar criticisms on Lowell. It is indeed a form of comment to which all Americans are subject in England, if they have the ill-luck to have color in their cheeks and not to speak very much through their noses; in that case they are apt to pass for Englishmen by no wish oftemporary. The time may come when not a line of current English poetry may remain except the four quatrains hung up in St. Margaret's Church and when the Matthew Arnold of Macaulay's imaginary New Zealand may find with surprise that Whittier and Lowell produced something more worthy of that accidental immortality than Browning or Tennyson. The time may come when a careful study of even the despised American newspapers may reveal them to have been in one respect nearer to a high civilization th
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, VI (search)
Emerton, Wendell Holmes, and Bigelow than to that of any English poet (celle de n'importe quel poete anglais.) This transformation of Emerson into Emerton, and of Lowell, probably, to Bigelow, is hardly more extraordinary than to link together three such dissimilar poets, and compare Browning to all three of them, or, indeed, to he other way, which is at least more dignified, is rarely successful except when combined with personal residence and private acquaintance. Down to the year 1880 Lowell was known in England, almost exclusively, as the author of the Biglow Papers, and was habitually classed with Artemus Ward and Josh Billings, except that his audience was smaller. The unusual experience of a diplomatic appointment first unveiled to the English mind the all-accomplished Lowell whom we mourn. In other cases, as with Prescott and Motley, there was the mingled attraction of European manners and a European subject. But a simple and home-loving American, who writes upon the t
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, VII (search)
mitate. The service of all these men, and its results, give a measure of the tonic afforded in the Boston of that day. Nay, Emerson himself was directly responsible for much of their strength. To him more than to all other causes together, says Lowell, did the young martyrs of our Civil War owe the sustaining strength of moral heroism that is so touching in every record of their lives. And when the force thus developed in Boston and elsewhere came to do its perfect work, that work turned out its own sufficient stimulus. In the cases of a writer like Poe, we trace no tonic element. The great anti-slavery agitation and the general reformatory mood of half a century ago undoubtedly gave us Channing, Emerson, Whittier, Longfellow, and Lowell; not that they would not have been conspicuous in any case, but that the moral attribute in their natures might have been far less marked. The great temporary fame of Mrs. Stowe was identified with the same influence. Hawthorne and Holmes were
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, IX (search)
Empire some stir was made by a book claiming that Paris was already the capital of the world-Paris capitale du monde. Mr. Lowell has lately made claims rather more moderate for London, suggesting that a time may come when the English-speaking race n for its centre, with all roads leading to it, as they once led to Rome. But it is plain that in making this estimate Mr. Lowell overlooked some very essential factors—for instance, himself. If ancient Rome had borrowed for its most important liteave ceased to be the Rome of our reverence; and yet this is what has repeatedly been done in London by the selection of Mr. Lowell. Or if the province of Britain had furnished a periodical publication—an Acta Eruditorum, let us say—which had been r what, for want of a better name, I will call the Yankeeizing tendency. But apart from these suggestions as to London, Mr. Lowell has urged and urged strongly the need of a national capital. He has expressed the wish for a focus of intellectual, mo<
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, XI (search)
are just now saying that the late Mr. Tupper had a larger income from the sales of his works than Browning, Tennyson, and Lowell jointly received,—but it does not take so long to determine which among an author's works are the best; and it is probabl Holmes should read the latter of these two poems, though he is still permitted to add the former. From the moment when Lowell read his Commemoration Ode at Cambridge, that great poem took for him the same position; while out of any hundred critics be equally unmistakable. When Harriet Prescott Spofford's first youthful story, Sir Rohan's Ghost, originally appeared, Lowell selected from it with strong admiration, in the Atlantic Monthly, the song, In a Summer Evening; and it still remains theed architect; its texture is so firm, its cadence so grand, that it seems more and more likely to rank as being, next to Lowell's Ode, the most remarkable poem called out by the Civil War. It is such writing as Keats pronounced to be next to fine do
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, XIII (search)
st, to convey a distinct sensation of background. Of course, when this background obtrudes itself into the foreground, it becomes intolerable; and such books as Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy are tiresome, because they are all made up of background, and that of the craggiest description; but, after all, the books which offer only foreground are also insufficient. I do not see how any one can read the essays of Howells and James and Burroughs, for instance, after reading those of Emerson or Lowell or Thoreau, without noticing in the younger trio a somewhat narrowed range of allusion and illustration; a little deficiency in that mellow richness of soil which can be made only out of the fallen leaves of many successive vegetations; a want, in fact, of background. It is to be readily admitted that there is no magic in a college, and that any writer who has a vast love of knowledge may secure his background for himself, as did, for example, Theodore Parker. Yet he cannot obtain it wi
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, XV (search)
rican humor nothing strikes an American more, on his first visit to England, than the frequent discussion of American authors who are rarely quoted at home, except in stumpspeeches, and whose works hardly have a place as yet in our literary collections, and who still are taken seriously among educated persons in England. The astonishment increases when he finds the almanacs of Josh Billings reprinted in Libraries of American Humor, and given an equal place with the writings of Holmes and Lowell. Finally he is driven to the conclusion that there must be very little humor in England, where things are seriously published in book form which here would only create a passing smile in the corner of a newspaper. He finds that the whole department of American humor was created, so to speak, by the amazed curiosity of Englishmen. It is a phrase that one rarely hears in the United States; and if we have such a thing among us, although it may cling to our garments, we are habitually as unc
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, XVIII (search)
actual table, arranged in order of pre-eminence, is as follows, the number following each name representing the number of books, or parts of books, referring to the person named, and enumerated in the Cleveland catalogue. The actual works of the author himself are not included. The list is as follows:— Washington.48 Emerson, Lincoln (each)41 Franklin 37 Webster34 Longfellow33 Hawthorne25 Jefferson23 Grant22 Irving21 Clay19 Beecher, Poe, M. F. Ossoli (each)16 Theodore Parker, Lowell (each)15 John Adams, Sumner (each)14 Cooper, Greeley, Sheridan, Sherman (each)12 Everett11 John Brown, Channing, Farragut (each)10 Garrison, Hamilton, Prescott, Seward, Taylor (each) 9 Thoreau7 Bancroft6 Allston5 Edwards, Motley (each)5 This list certainly offers to the reader some surprises in its details, but it must impress every one, after serious study, as giving a demonstration of real intelligence and catholicity of taste in the nation whose literature it represents. Wh
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, XXI (search)
c self-consciousness, a tender introspection in the region of the heart, a kind of studious cosseting of one's finer feelings. Perhaps it is not generally recognized how much more abundant was this sort of thing forty years ago than now, and how it moulded the very temperaments of those who were born into it, and grew up under it. Byron had as much to do with creating it as any one in England; but more probably it goes back to Rousseau in France; hardly, I should think to Petrarch, to whom Lowell is disposed to attribute it, and who certainly exerted very little influence in the way of sentimentality on his friend Chaucer. But the Byronic atmosphere certainly spread to Germany, as may be seen by the place conceded to that poet in Goethe's Faust; although Goethe's Werther, and Schiller's Die Rauber showed that the tendency itself was at one time indigenous everywhere. In England, Bulwer and the younger Disraeli aimed to be prose Byrons; and in Moore and Mrs. Hemans, followed by Mrs.
Thomas Wentworth Higginson, The new world and the new book, XXIV (search)
erate in keeping up the common standard. It is too much to ask of any single nation that it should do this alone. Can it be that the real source of the change, if it is actually in progress, may be social rather than literary? It is conceivable that the higher status of the dime novel in England may be simply a part of that reversion toward a lower standard which grows naturally out of an essentially artificial social structure. Is it possible that some strange and abnormal results should not follow where one man is raised to the peerage because he is a successful brewer, and another because he is Alfred Tennyson? No dozen poets or statesmen, it is said, would have been so mourned in England as was Archer the jockey; nor did Holmes or Lowell have a London success so overpowering as that of Buffalo Bill. In a community which thus selects its heroes, why should not the highest of all wreaths of triumph be given to Mr. Haggard's Umslopagaas, that dreadful-looking, splendid savage?
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