RomanticismUNIT TWOTHE ROMANTIC PERIOD, 1820-1860: ESSAYISTS AND POETSRomantic ideas centered around art as inspiration, the spiritual and aesthetic dimension of nature, and metaphors of organic growth. Art, rather than science, Romantics argued, could best express universal truth. The Romantics underscored the importance of expressive art for the individual and society. In his essay "The Poet" (1844), Ralph Waldo Emerson, perhaps the most influential writer of the Romantic era, asserts: For all men live by truth, and stand in need of expression. In love, in art, in avarice, in politics, in labor, in games, we study to utter our painful secret. The man is only half himself, the other half is his expression. Romanticism was affirmative and appropriate for most American poets and creative essayists. America's vast mountains, deserts, and tropics embodied the sublime. The Romantic spirit seemed particularly suited to American democracy: It stressed individualism, affirmed the value of the common person, and looked to the inspired imagination for its aesthetic and ethical values. Certainly the New England Transcendentalists -- Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and their associates -- were inspired to a new optimistic affirmation by the Romantic movement.TranscendentalismThe movement was based on a fundamental belief in the unity of the world and God.Transcendentalism was intimately connected with Concord, a small New England village 32 kilometers west of Boston. Concord was the first inland settlement of the original Massachusetts Bay Colony.Concord was the site of the first battle of the American Revolution, and Ralph Waldo Emerson's poem commemorating the battle, "Concord Hymn," has one of the most famous opening stanzas in American literature: By the rude bridge that arched the floodTheir flag to April's breeze unfurled,Here once the embattled farmers stoodAnd fired the shot heard round the world.
Ralph Waldo Emerson 1803-1882Emerson's philosophy has been called contradictory, and it is true that he consciously avoided building a logical intellectual system because such a rational system would have negated his Romantic belief in intuition and flexibility. In his essay "Self-Reliance," Emerson remarks: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Yet he is remarkably consistent in his call for the birth of American individualism inspired by nature. Most of his major ideas -- the need for a new national vision, the use of personal experience, the notion of the cosmic Over-Soul, and the doctrine of compensation -- are suggested in his first publication, Nature (1836).
Henry David Thoreau 1817-1862He is the most attractive of the Trascendentalists today because of his ecological consciousness, do-it-yourself independence, ethical commitment to abolitionism, and political theory of civil disobedience and peaceful resistance. His ideas are still fresh, and his incisive poetic style and habit of close observation are still modern. Thoreauss masterpiece, Walden, or Life in the Woods, explains his preference for living rooted in one place.
Walt Whitman 1819-1892Leaves of Grass (1855), which he rewrote and revised throughout his life, contains "Song of Myself," the most stunningly original poem ever written by an American. More than any other writer, Whitman invented the myth of democratic America. "The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature. The United States is essentially the greatest poem." When Whitman wrote this, he daringly turned upside down the general opinion that America was too brash and new to be poetic.
The Barhmin PoetsIn their time, the Boston Brahmins (as the patrician, Harvard-educated class came to be called) supplied the most respected and genuinely cultivated literary arbiters of the United States. Their lives fitted a pleasant pattern of wealth and leisure directed by the strong New England work ethic and respect for learning.
Henry Wadsworth 1807-1882He was responsible for the misty, ahistorical, legendary sense of the past that merged American and European traditions. He wrote three long narrative poems popularizing native legends in European meters "Evangeline" (1847), "The Song of Hiawatha" (1855), and "The Courtship of Miles Standish" (1858).
James Russell Lowell 1819-1891He began as a poet but gradually lost his poetic ability, ending as a respected critic and educator. Lowell's A Fable for Critics (1848) is a funny and apt appraisal of American writers, as in his comment: "There comes Poe, with his raven, like Barnaby Rudge / Three-fifths of him genius and two-fifths sheer fudge."
Oliver Wendell Holmes 1809-1894It encompasses collections of humorous essays (for example, The Autocrat of the Breakfast-Table, 1858), novels (Elsie Venner, 1861), biographies (Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1885), and verse that could be sprightly ("The Deacon's Masterpiece, or, The Wonderful One-Hoss Shay"), philosophical ("The Chambered Nautilus"), or fervently patriotic ("Old Ironsides").
TWO REFORMERSJohn Greenleaf Whittier (abolitionist)Margaret Fuller (feminist)John Greenleaf Whittier 1807-1892He was an ardent abolitionist. Whittier is respected for anti-slavery poems such as "Ichabod," and his poetry is sometimes viewed as an early example of regional realism.His best work, the long poem "Snow Bound, This simple, religious, intensely personal poem, coming after the long nightmare of the Civil War, is an elegy for the dead and a healing hymn.
Margaret Fuller 1810-1850The first professional woman journalist of note in America, She wrote influential book reviews and reports on social issues such as the treatment of women prisoners and the insane. Some of these essays were published in her book Papers on Literature and Art (1846). Her most significant book, Woman in the Nineteenth Century. It originally had appeared in the Transcendentalist magazine, The Dial, which she edited from 1840 to 1842.
Emily Dickinson 1830-1886Like Poe, she explores the dark and hidden part of the mind, dramatizing death and the grave. Yet she also celebrated simple objects -- a flower, a bee. Her poetry exhibits great intelligence and often evokes the agonizing paradox of the limits of the human consciousness trapped in time. She had an excellent sense of humor, and her range of subjects and treatment is amazingly wide. Dickinson's 1,775 poems continue to intrigue critics, who often disagree about them.
THE ROMANCENathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864Herman Melville 1819-1891Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849
Nathaniel Hawthorne 1804-1864
Many of Hawthorne's stories are set in Puritan New England, and his greatest novel, The Scarlet Letter (1850), has become the classic portrayal of Puritan America. It tells of the passionate, forbidden love affair linking a sensitive, religious young man, the Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale, and the sensuous, beautiful townsperson, Hester Prynne. salvation. Hawthorne used the idea of a curse on the family of an evil judge in his novel The House of the Seven Gables.
Herman Melville 1819-1891
Melville found himself in poverty with no college education. At 19 he went to sea.Moby-Dick; or, The Whale, Melville's masterpiece, is the epic story of the whaling ship Pequod and its "ungodly, god-like man," Captain Ahab, whose obsessive quest for the white whale Moby-Dick leads the ship and its men to destruction.
Edgar Allan Poe 1809-1849
Edgar Allan Poe, a southerner, shares with Melville a darkly metaphysical vision mixed with elements of realism, parody, and burlesque. He refined the short story genre and invented detective fiction. Many of his stories prefigure the genres of science fiction, horror, and fantasy so popular today.
Themes of death-in-life, especially being buried alive or returning like a vampire from the grave, appear in many of his works, including "The Premature Burial," "Ligeia," "The Cask of Amontillado," and "The Fall of the House of Usher." Poe's twilight realm between life and death and his gaudy, Gothic settings are not merely decorative. They reflect the overcivilized yet deathly interior of his characters disturbed psyches.Women Writers and ReformersAmerican women endured many inequalities in the 19th century: They were denied the vote, barred from professional schools and most higher education, forbidden to speak in public and even attend public conventions, and unable to own property. Through letters, personal friendships, formal meetings, women's newspapers, and books, women furthered social change. They courageously demanded fundamental reforms, such as the abolition of slavery and women's suffrage, despite social ostracism and sometimes financial ruin.Lydia Child 1802-1880Angelina Grimk 1805-1879Sarah Grimk 1792- 1873Elizabeth CadyStanton 1815-1902Sojouner Truth 1797-1883Harriet Beecher Stowe 1811-1896Harriet Jacobs 1818-1896Harriet Wilson 1807-1870Frederick Douglas 1817-1895
Harriet Beecher Stowe 1811-1896
Harriet Beecher Stowe's novel Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly was the most popular American book of the 19th century.Reasons for the success of Uncle Tom's Cabin are obvious. It reflected the idea that slavery in the United States, the nation that purportedly embodied democracy and equality for all, was an injustice of colossal proportions.