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charm of his conversation and the goodness
of his heart, nor the pioneer service he ren-
dered to letters before the provincial fetters
were at all loosened.
The advent of Cooper, Bryant, and Hal-
leck, was some twenty years after the rec-
ognition of Irving, but thereafter the stars
thicken in our literary sky, and when in
1832 Irving returned from his long sojourn
in Europe, he found an immense advance
in fiction, poetry, and historical composi-
tion. American literature was not only
born, – it was able to go alone. We are
not likely to overestimate the stimulus to
this movement given by Irving's example,
and by his success abroad. His leader-
ship is recognized in the respectful attitude
towards him of all his contemporaries in
America. And the cordiality with which
he gave help whenever it was asked, and
his eagerness to acknowledge merit in oth-
ers, secured him the affection of all the lit-
erary class, which is popularly supposed to
have a rare appreciation of the defects of
fellow craftsmen.
The period from 1830 to 1860 was that
of our greatest purely literary achievement,


and, indeed, most of the greater names of to-day were familiar before 1850. Conspicuous exceptions are Motley and Parkman and a few belles-lettres writers, whose novels and stories mark a distinct literary transition since the War of the Rebellion. In the period from 1845 to 1860, there was a singular development of sentimentalism ; it had been growing before, it did not altogether disappear at the time named, and it was so conspicuous that this may properly be called the sentimental era in our literature. The causes of it, and its relation to our changing national character, are worthy the study of the historian. In politics, the discussion of constitutional questions, of tariffs and finance, had given way to moral agitations. Every political movement was determined by its relation to slavery. Eccentricities of all sorts were developed. It was the era of “transcendentalism'' in New England, of “come-outers ” there and elsewhere, of communistic experiments, of reform notions about marriage, about woman's dress, about diet; through the open door of abolitionism women appeared upon its platform, demanding a various emancipation; the agitation for total abstinence from intoxicating drinks got under full headway, urged on moral rather than on the statistical and scientific grounds of to-day; reformed drunkards went about from town to town depicting to applauding audiences the horrors of delirium tremens, – one of these peripatetics led about with him a goat, perhaps as a scapegoat and sin-offering; tobacco was as odious as rum; and I remember that George Thompson, the eloquent apostle of emancipation, during his tour in this country, when on one occasion he was the cynosure of a protracted antislavery meeting at Peterboro, the home of Gerrit Smith, deeply offended some of his coworkers, and lost the admiration of many of his admirers, the maiden devotees of green tea, by his use of snuff. To “lift up the voice” and wear long hair were signs of devotion to a purpose. In that seething time, the lighter literature took a sentimental tone, and either spread itself in manufactured fine writing, or lapsed into a reminiscent and melting mood. In a pretty affectation, we were asked to meditate upon the old garret, the deserted hearth, the old letters, the old well-sweep, the dead baby, the little shoes; we were put into a mood in which we were defenseless against the lukewarm flood of the Tupperean Philosophy. Even the newspapers caught the bathetic tone. Every “local '' editor breathed his woe over the incidents of the police court, the falling leaf, the tragedies of the boarding-house, in the most lachrymose periods he could command, and let us never lack fine writing, whatever might be the dearth of news. I need not say how suddenly and completely this affectation was laughed out of sight by the coming of the “humorous ” writer, whose existence is justified by the excellent service he performed in clearing the tearful atmosphere. His keen and mocking method, which is quite distinct from the humor of Goldsmith and Irving, and differs, in degree at least, from the comic almanac exaggeration and coarseness which preceded it, puts its foot on every bud of sentiment, holds few things sacred, and refuses to regard anything in life seriously. But it has no mercy for any sham. I refer to this sentimental era— remembering that its literary manifestation was only a surface disease, and recognizing fully the value of the great moral movement in purifying the national life—because many regard its literary weakness as a legitimate outgrowth of the Knickerbocker School, and hold Irving in a manner responsible for it. But I find nothing in the manly sentiment and true tenderness of Irving to warrant the sentimental gush of his followers, who missed his corrective humor as completely as they failed to catch his literary art. Whatever note of localism there was in the Knickerbocker School, however dilettante and unfruitful it was, it was not the legitimate heir of the broad and eclectic genius of Irving. The nature of that genius we shall see in his life.

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