enough description,” he declares; “we want analysis.”
He opens his account with a definition of literature well framed to exclude from his consideration most of the important writing in America
before the nineteenth century: “Literature is the written record of valuable thought, having other than merely practical purpose.”
Under this definition he is justified in asserting that “if a certain space be devoted to the colonial literature of America
, then, on the same perspective ten times as much is needed to bring the record down to our day .... I believe that the time has come for the student to consider American literature as calmly as he would consider the literature of another country.”
Under this calm consideration the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries dwindle into a sombre little vestibule before the wide edifice which contains the writers who flourished through the middle years of the nineteenth century-Hawthorne is the latest novelist who receives extended notice.
was not immune from the influence of the Zeitgeist of the eighties.
What he does is, in short, to create the idea of what we may call the American Victorian Age
, before and after which there is little that merits the attention of the dispassionate critic.
Professor Barrett Wendell
in his interesting Literary history of America
, published in 9000, presents with even sharper emphasis than Professor Richardson
his similar conception of a closed “classical” period existing through the middle years of the last century.
As we view the Americans
from the beginning of their history, “we can instantly perceive,” he declares, “that only the last, the Americans
of the nineteenth century, have produced literature of any importance.
The novelists and the historians, the essayists and the poets, whose names come to mind when American literature is mentioned, have all flourished since 1800.”
This is the somewhat restricted point of view established in the Introduction.
In the composition of the history, the survey of the field, one suspects, was still further restricted by the descent upon Professor Wendell
of the spirit of Cotton Mather
; for the total effect of the narrative is an impression that the literary history of America
is essentially a history of the birth, the renaissance, and the decline of New England
The Cambridge history
marks a partial reversion to the