AMERICAN LITERATURE :
The Pilgrim Fathers set foot on American soil in the 17 th Century but it was not until the 19 th that America could claim a place of importance in the development of English Literature .The reason for this are two fold.
In the first place great literature is determined largely by a nation’s leisure and prosperity ; and in studying the literature of our own country we have seen how that the great periods of literature synchronise with our freedom from political and international worries. While people are fighting for their physical well being there is no time for letters and the old Puritan settlers were more concerned with felling trees than with making lyrics. They were content to live epics before they wrote them; for the stimulus of Art sank in to insignificance before the stimulus of the encroaching Indian.
In the Second place, Puritanism at best is not a favourable soil for the blossoming of literary art .
The Puritan did not interest himself with the sensuous manifestation of life ; he shunned the world for him was not a place of glorious adventure but rather a place of tribulation , a preparation for an another and better world.
In England there are a few names , notably Milton and Bunyan who showed , given leisure and oppurtunity in the one case , and spiritual turmoil in the other , what Puritanism could do for letters . Yet Milton , after all belong partly to the Renaissance , and Bunyan’s literary work was a happy accident. So if the Puritans , as a body , in England did little, the Puritans across the Atlantic were likely to do still less , for they represented the most uncompromising of their kind.
Cromwell had some feeling for the fine arts; but of his followers , as we know hated the arts as they hated loose living , and in England there was no Puritan reaction such as that which came over England at the time of the restoration. Therefore the first book to be printed in New England was a hymn book- the Bay Psalm Book ; and that the first notable writers were religious , like Jonathan Edwards . Puritans , when it does express itself in literature , instinctively does so in terms of religion; but there was an other and subsidiary reason for the religious note in New England letters.
Among the settlers the one class the least bound down to manual labour was the clergy. They, at any rate, enjoy comparative immunity from the arduous work of colonisation. They, therefore were the first to break the silence.
What are the centres from which American Literature has sprung?
Roughly speaking , we may say two – one at Virginia , the other at Massachusetts .
There wasn’t any material improvement in American verse during the major part of the 18 th
Century . One change was a lighter style creeping unmistakably into American letters American humour was dawning ; though the dawn was somewhat grey. Yet the intense seriousness of the Puritan outlook is touched with a livelier and more flippant sprit. The satirical vigour of Benjamin Church ( b. 1739 ) , and the agreeable Odes of Nathaniel Evans ( 1742-1767) , mark , at any rate , a progress in the art of verse .
The period of the Revolution is more provocative of prose than of verse;; but the verse , such as it is , exhibits a higher literary quality than had hitherto been shown. Joseph Stansbury (1750- 1809), a loyalist, proved a humorous and effective singer. Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791) is a pleasant ballad writer – by fits and starts – notably his battle of the Kings , while his son Joseph is familiar through his well known Lyric , Hail Columbia ! On a higher plane is Philip Freneau ( 1752-1832) , of Huguenot Stock, a patriotic poet of genuine power , who turned his eventful and stormy life to literary account. A good illustration of his work may be found in his verses , The Indian Burying - Ground .
Joel Barlow (1754-1812) ) showed skill in the treatment of the Heroic Couplets and his best remembered for his Mock- Heroic , Hasty Pudding .
During the Revolutionary Period Philadelphia had been the literary centre of importance and this primacy continued down to 1809.
William Clifton (1772- 1799) continued to uphold the forceful , satirical traditions of New England and Robert Paine (1773- 1811) was a versatile song -writer . The verse of the time was almost entirely polemical , and political and dealt in a coarse and noisy sprit with the rival claims of Federal and democratic republicanism .
The vital poetic Literature started in the person of William Cullen Bryant (1794-1878) Bryant wrote verses that were dignified and reflective in their character and like Wordsworth , conserned with Nature and the primal qualities of men and women . He was poetic moralist regarded with respect and sober admiration .Though inferior to Wordsworth in poetic genius one instinctively associates these poets with each other , for the large restfulness of Wordsworth, his austere
Morality and cool , benegnant power are equally characteristic of Bryant .Yet though an admirer of Wordswoth and naturally influenced by him his work is more reminiscent of Cowper and Collins .But he is in sense and echo , and there is a quite , insistent individuality about his work which is essentially the product of a thoughtful and high minded , self -contained , and not very flexible nature.
Fitzz Greene Hallecea (1790-1867) and Joseph Red Man Drake (1795-1820) were Bryant’s contemporaries.
Richard Henry Dana Sr. (1787-1879) was a better critic than poet and he followed the foot steps of Cowper and Wordsworth. He was more at home in simple Wordsworthian themes.
Washington Allston(1779-1843) the painter was a valued friend of the poet Coleridge.
Francis Scott Key(1780-1843) of Mayland is rememberde for his vigorous sentiments expressed in his patriotic songs.`The Star Spangled Banner’
Well-known poets and prose writers:-
Longfelllow, Whittier and Whitman.
Edgar Allen Poe,Holmes,Lowell,Ralph Waldo Emerson,Thoreau
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow(1807-1882 )
In 1833 he published Coplas De Manrique and in 1834 Outre Mer, Voices of the Night(1839) were a collection of poems and this volume included The Psalm of Life, The Beleaguered City and The Midnight Mass of Dying Year, Hyperion, a prose romance followed the same year.
His other works include poems on Slavery(1842);The Spanish Student(1843),Belfry of Bruges(1846), Evangeline(1847),Kavanagh(1849). The Golden Legend, a story of the middle ages, Hiawatha; dealing with Indian traditions. The world famous Village Blacksmith had made its appearance in 1841 in ballads and poems.
Miller Standish(1858), Tales of a Wayside Inn(1863) and a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy(1867-1870), Three Books of Song and Christus(1872) Aftermath(1873) Hanging of the Crane(1874) Marque of Pandora(1875) Keramos(1878) and Ultima Thule in two parts(1880 and 1882) .
His popularity has been rivaled only by Tennyson, the first insistent impression conveyed to us by Longfellow’s verse is its deft and delicate grace. He was not a Prose man but his little romances Hyperion and Kavanagh are well worth reading for the delightful fancies in which they abound.
There is a singing quality in Longfellow’s words that is often underrated. His melodies have nothing in them of the opulent splendor of Swinburne’s or the haunting sweetness of Tennyson’s ; the music is thinner , but music , nonetheless , pleasant and appealing in its note.
Longfellow’s poems lend themselves to a musical setting better than Shelly or Tennyson, because he did not pack them with too much music. Tennyson , Shelly, Swinburne , lose rather than gain by a musical setting , for they have all the music they need . The very perfection of their art stands in their way as song -writers.
Longfellow is at bottom a moralist, as nearly all American writers are ; His poems were impersonal and the emotions expressed are general , not particular. He was a genuine poet with a power of swift and direct appeal.
The chief defect in American verse , perhaps, lies in its excess of culture . The majority of the poets are men of scholarly attainments , steeped in literature , rather than in life and although some of them , fite Whittier and Lowell found inspiration in the social and political development of their time, they were lacking on the whole in a large , virile grasp of life , a first – hand elemental viguir that comes to those who have lived widely and deeply , and whose song is the direct product of their intimate experiences.
Miscellaneous verse writers :
During the time that Whitman was sounding a new note in Literature a number of lesser writers were continuing the elder tradition of verse. Among those may be mentioned Nathaniel Parker Willis (1806- 1867) a facile writer whose sentimental verse , now almost forgotten , was once as popular as the verse of Tom Moore.
Charles Fenno Hoffman : 1806- 1884)
- less popular and singularly unequal , but a sweet singer at his best and Dr Thomas William Parsons of Boston :1819- 1892) who belongs to the considerable school of scholarly verse- writers , he was strongly affected by Dante Revival, and no poem that he wrote is happier in its dignity and grace than the Lines on a Bust of Dante.
Two figures of greater literary importance are Bayard Taylor (1825-1878 ) and Sidney Lanier (1842-1881) , Taylor was and illustrious traveller for two years ,seeing a good deal of the democratic life both of Germany and Italy. His first success was made in travel –letters and he always excelled in these, but he was an effective ballad – writer ; his life was one of tragic amd varied interest; he essayed much , but perhaps he will best be remembered for his fine translation of Goethe’s Faust and his delightful Travel Chat.
Lanier- musician, soldier , poet and critic – fought for the South in the American War and emerged from his harrowing experiences broken in health. His skill as a musician is exhibited in the verse, notably The Marshshes of Glynn, Sunrise, and Corn. He died of consumption in North Corolina, after a vain search for climes to restore his health. A less considerable figure in American letters than Taylor , he is if not a more accomplished , a more original poet.
Among the ballads evoked by the civil war there us none better than the familiar Maryland,My Maryland, by James Rider Randall. The democratic ideals have entered more and more intimately into the poetry if the age, and although no poets of commanding power have arisen, yet such names as Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1896) are sufficient indication of the sound technical accomplishment and imaginative fervour to be found among a large number of letter – day poets.
William Bliss Carman (1861) - his first work, Low Tide on Grand Pre , was published in 1893, and at once made its mark. He especially happy as a song- writer , example: Behind the Arrae , Ballads of List Haven .
PROSE : American prose was launched in the stormy waters if Puritantheology.
During the 17th Century the theocratic ascendancy of the Puritan weakened and the religious enthusiasm the ecclesiastic fervour of that era gave place to the political aspiration and democratic spirit of the 18 th century. Literature then became gradually secularised.
Fiction and the Essay: Roger Williams , Jonathan Edward , Benjamin Grannklin, John Woolman Winthrop ,James Lane Allen , Francis Marion ,Winston Churchill, Wilkins ,Gilbert Parker and many others.