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country. Theology, in claiming his general thought, did not engross his mind, and the political, social, moral, and literary topics of the day found in him an able expositor. As a lecturer and magazinist he exercised a wide and benign influence over the intelligence and culture of the last generation; and in his writings there is to be found so much of absolute, imperishable truth, so many intrinsically noble principles, and such simplicity, directness, and eloquence of statement, that they never can become obsolete, but must remain as perennial as truth and rhetoric themselves. His address on Self-Culture occupies in American literature a rank similar to that which Milton's Areopagitica, or "Plea for the Liberty of the Press," occupies in English literature.
Earlier, in their day of popularity, at least, than the foregoing authors were William Wirt, Tudor, Fay, Sands, and Kimball. The first is allowed, even by a recent English Review,* to "have written many moral essays which endow him with a reputation inferior to few since the time of Di Johnson."
More recently, Donald G. Mitchell (Ik Marvel), in his Reveries of a Bachelor and Dream-Life, has graced the sphere of Belles-Lettres with pen-pictures whose natural sentiment and poetic flavor are equaled only by the unambitious incidents they delineate. T. W. Higginson, Dr. Holland (Timothy Titcomb), E. P. Whipple, W. D. Howells, and Mary A. Dodge (Gail Hamilton), have also attained a good report in this sphere of letters. (See Supplement I.)
Criticism.-Critical literature, among any people, is an autumn fruit, succeeding, often at a considerable interval,
nitative and creative essays. In our literature it can lay claim to not more than fifty years of activity, but these have been eventful ones. Among their most substantial and monumental productions we may claim An American Dictionary of the English Language, by Noah Webster, and another by Joseph E. Worcester; The Cyclopædia of Amer*Westminster, October, 1870.
ican Literature, by E. H. and G. L. Duyckinck; Poets ana Poetry of America, and Female Poets of America, by R. W. Griswold; Poets and Poetry of the West, by W. T. Coggeshall; Dictionary of Authors, by S. A. Allibone; New American Cyclopædia and Lippincott's Pronouncing Biographical Dictionary. These works, generally speaking, express the lifelong devotion of men eminent for large knowledge and critical acumen. The various leading literatures of Europe, together wit their representative writers, have found enthusiastic students and able interpreters and reviewers in the persons of Richard H. Dana, Richard H. Wilde, Henry Read, John S. Hart, Alexander H. Everett, James Russell Lowell, E. P. Whipple, George Ticknor, R. W. Emerson, George Ripley, H. T. Tuckerman, D. A. Wasson, Jones, Hoffman, and others.
This class of writers and the essayists have been mainly instrumental in building up solid magazines in our midst, such as The North American Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Harpers' Magazine, The Overland Monthly, and The Galaxy.* Concerning the character of American magazine literature, we have the following staunch testimony fresh from across the waters: "The periodical essays in the North American Review and the Atlantic Monthly, for instance, are in every sense equal to the best in our own (English) reviews. There is an occasional tartness about them, but they are seldom deficient in knowledge, in wide appreciative sympathy, and critical acumen. And this excellence is found in both the critical and creative essays."†
Prose Humor.-Perhaps no walk of literature affords so little room for distinction and permanent success as this. In the first place, to have been born a humorist for the poet himself is not a more direct gift from heaven than the humorist—and in the second place, to possess the hardihood that will keep one in the high, bright, true road, and
* In the same connection may be named Lippincott's Magazine, Apple tons' Journal, and Scribner's Monthly, now the Century Magazine.
t Westminster Review, October, 1870.
not permit a lounging into the bypaths or short cuts of mere drollery or literary buffoonery,—these are rare endowments. American prose literature has revealed only a few humorous productions of intrinsic and permanent value.
First in time and in merit is the Knickerbocker History of New York, from the versatile pen of Washington Irving. The subjects of this elaborate piece of humor are, in the main, veritable historical characters, and, as we are convinced before reading far into the work, no less veritable subjects of burlesque. Their conduct all seems to be most natural, nay, to be the inevitable outcome of their peculiar physical and mental organization, and yet, withal, so primitive and inexperienced as to prove irresistibly ludicrous. The greater part, however, of this effect must be attributed to Irving's inimitable power of hyperbole and epithet and a remarkable faculty for discovering and delineating the amusing weaknesses of humanity. And then the labored, pompous, would-be classical and seemingly authentic character of the language of the narrative, together with its emphasis of unimportant minutiæ, add, in no small degree, to the manysided charm of the work.
Irving's wealth of humor is further demonstrated, though in a different vein and less elaborately, in The Legend of the Sleepy Hollow, Rip Van Winkle, The Stout Gentleman, and a number of other sketches that lie scattered throughout his voluminous and genial writings.
The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, is the only other prose composition which deserves to be classed among the productions of legitimate humor in our literature. "Autocrat of the Breakfast Table. A very de lightful book-a handy book for the breakfast table. A book to conjure up a cozy winter picture of a ruddy fire and singing kettle, soft hearth-rug, warm slippers and easy. chair; a musical chime of cups and saucers, fragrance of tea-and-toast within, and those flowers of frost fading on the windows without, as though old Winter just looked in, but his cold breath was melted, and so he passed by. . . .
The humor and the poetry of the book do not lie in tangible nuggets for extraction, but they are there; they pervade it from beginning to end. We cannot spoon out the sparkles of sunshine as they shimmer on the wavelets of water, but they are there, moving in all their golden life and evanescent grace.
Of the rhymed humor of Holmes, as well as that of Saxe, and of Lowell's Biglow Papers, we have already spoken under the head of poetry. Of simply poetical and national caricaturists and writers of funny sketches, depending, perhaps, more upon a grotesqueness of style and orthography than upon any other element of the ludicrous, we have had many.†
Travel.-Under this head we treat of a branch of letters in which American talents have acquired not only a national, but even a universal, reputation. This remark will hold good whether we take into account the interesting tone of the works and their artistic excellence, or the authentic and scientific character of the information afforded. No people have traveled more extensively, or with a more hearty love or intelligent appreciation of Nature, Art, and Society, or have recorded their observations in a spirit of greater candor, than have Americans. The reasons for this are obvious.
"With few time-honored customs or strong local associations to bind him to the soil, with little hereditary dignity of name or position to sustain, and accustomed from infancy to witness frequent changes of position and fortune, the inhabitant of no civilized land has so little restraint upon his vagrant humor as a native of the United States. The American is by nature locomotive; he believes in change of air for health, change of residence for success, change of
*North British Review, November, 1860.
A few of the best known are (using their pseudonyms) Sam Slick Jack Downing, Artemus Ward, Josh Billings, Petroleum V. Nasby, Mrs Partington, John Phoenix, and Mark Twain. (See Supplement D.)
society for improvement. Pioneer enterprise is a staple of our history. Not only do the economy of life and the extent of territory in the New World train her citizens, as it were, to travel-their temperament and taste also combine to make them tourists. Their existence favors quickness of perception, however inimical it may be to contemplative energy. Self-reliance leads to adventure. The freedom from prejudice incident to a new country gives more ample scope to observation, and the very freshness of life renders impressions from new scenes more vivid. Thus free and inspired, it is not surprising that things often wear a more clear and impressive aspect to their mind than they do to the jaded senses and the conventional views of more learned and reserved, but less flexible and genial, travelers.”*
Irving, Willis, and Taylor are the most eminent of the purely pictorial school of tourists. Contemporary with these, it would not be difficult to enumerate some fifty or more authors whose works have enriched this department of letters; but the writings of more recent travelers must assert a prior claim on the ground, at least, of general and scientific reliableness. Of this kind we may mention Nile Notes of a Howadji, by G. W. Curtis; Arctic Researches and Life among the Esquimaux, by C. F. Hall; The Open Polar Sea, by Dr. Isaac Hays; Arctic Explorations, by Dr. E. K. Kane; The States of Central America, by E. G. Squier; Excursions in Field and Forest, by H. D. Thoreau; A Journey to Brazil, by Louis Agassiz; and the works of Samuel Bowles, J. Ross Browne, Walter Colton, W. D. Howells, J. J. Jarves, 1. J. Page, S. I. Prime, A. D. Richardson, Benjamin Silliman, J. L. Stephens, and George S. Hillard.
Journalistic Literature.-Though this literary plant cannot be claimed as one indigenous to America, yet it is here that it thrives under the most normal conditions. In monarchical countries generally the press is kept under surveillance more or less rigid, and its utterances of opinion, * H. T. Tuckerman: Sketch of American Literature.