Chapter 3


I. The New Literature: The Knickerbocker Group.
II. Washington Irving: 1783-1859.
III. James Fenimore Cooper: 1789-1851.
IV. William Cullen Bryant: 1794-1878.


WITH the turn of the century, our young republic entered upon an era of expansion and development which can be described only as marvelous. The rapid progress in the settlement of the West, the influx of foreign immigration, the growth of the larger cities, extension of transportation systems by construction of canals and government roads, application of the new inventions employing the power of steam in river navigation and on railroads, -- these features of American progress during the first fifty years in our first completed century of national existence can be here but thus briefly summarized. It is unnecessary to attempt a full historical outline of that period of growth and change except to note that coincidentally with this expansive period of material prosperity and growth, our national literature entered upon what we may not inaptly term its golden age -- the age of its best essayists, novelists and poets, our real American men of letters.

Birth of the New Literature.

We have traced the slow steps of literary effort recorded in the several colonies to the close of their existence as colonies; and, immediately after the period of revolution, we have recognized the new and fresh impulse of creative imagination in the little group of simple nature-poems by Philip Freneau, and imaginative power of somewhat differing type in the sombre but not altogether unreal romances of Charles Brockden Brown. But Freneau and Brown are only heralds of coming achievements; of the appearance of a literature national in scope and of importance sufficient to command recognition by the people of England and the Continent, and possessed of an artistic excellence felt and enjoyed by all.

New York.

There were evidences of literary activity in Boston, in Philadelphia, and in New York. Little groups of literati, as they liked to call themselves, mightily interested in the development of a national literature, gave an atmosphere that was helpful to literary effort; and they themselves accomplished what could be accomplished by interest, patriotism, and industry when joined with talent, modest if not mediocre. For some reason, New York took precedence over Boston and Philadelphia in these first decades of the nineteenth century and not only sheltered a coterie of enthusiastic, congenial comrades of the pen, whose lively essays in both prose and verse provoked the humor of the town, but pushed into the light of more than local fame the names of Paulding, Halleck, Drake, and Dana; and before the quarter mark in the century was reached had produced two of the century's greatest writers, Irving and Cooper. These are the Knickerbocker writers, so called in deference to the old Dutch traditions of Manhattan, the spirit of which was directly inherited by most of them, and the influence of which appeared to some extent in their work. In 1825, the poet Bryant came to live in New York, and his name is therefore grouped with those already mentioned, although not a native of the state. He was, however, of their generation and, like Halleck and Dana, an adopted son of New York.

The significance of these first decades of the nineteenth century in their relation to the beginnings of the new literature will appear when we note the dates of the following events. It was in 1807 that the Irvings, together with their friend Paulding, published the first of the anonymous Salmagundi papers; in 1809, appeared the humorous masterpiece, the Knickerbocker History of New York. In 1817 it was that the editors of the North American Review -- itself a publication only two years old -- printed Bryant's great poem Thanatopsis and his Inscription for the Entrance to a Wood. Irving's Sketch-Book, appearing in 1819, established that writer's place permanently in the leadership of American letters. In 1821, Cooper published his second novel -- and first success -- The Spy; and that same year was further signalized in a literary way by the printing at Boston of Bryant's first volume of verse. By 1825, Irving had added Bracebridge Hall and Tales of a Traveller to his earlier volumes; Cooper had written The Pioneers and

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