must beware, of course, of what the late Charles Francis Adams
once called the “filiopietistic” fallacy.
The “American” qualities of our literature must be judged in connection with its conformity to universal standards of excellence.
Tested by any universal standard, The Scarlet letter
is a notable romance.
It has won a secure place among the literature written by men of English blood and speech.
Yet to overlook the peculiarly local or provincial characteristics of this remarkable story is to miss the secret of its inspiration.
It could have been written only by a New Englander, in the atmosphere of a certain epoch.
Our task, then, in this rapid review of the chief interpreters of the American
spirit in literature, is a twofold one.
We are primarily concerned with a procession of men, each of whom is interesting as an individual and as a writer.
But we cannot watch the individuals long without perceiving the general direction of their march, the ideas that animate them, the common hopes and loyalties that make up the life of their spirit.
To become aware of these general tendencies is to understand the “American” note in our national writing.
Our historians have taught us that the history of the United States
is an evolution towards political