Throughout the nineteenth century, as we have already observed' both writers and readers had been actively interested in the creation of an American literature' Longfellow had made a plea for a native American poetry as early as 1825' but like many others he had thought chiefly in terms of substituting native New England birds for the skylarks and nightingales of English poetry' and he soon received the futility of that kind of superficial nationalism. Other writers followed William Gilmore Simms in the belief that "to he national in literature, one must needs be sectional." But as Melville said in the mid-century, the usual mistake of those Americans who looked forward to e coming of a literary genius among us was that "they somehow fancy he will come in the costume of Queen Elizabeth's day."
However popular these fallacies may once have been, need not concern us here. They had, after all, no influence except among second- and third-rate authors. We can learn more from another and more enduring attitude toward the problem, namely faith in "the West" as the source of the distinctively American element in character and therefore in literature. It was truly a national faith, shared by many who otherwise had little in common. In Israel Potter, written four years after Moby Dick, Melville ascribed the peculiarly American quality of Ethan Allen to his "essentially Western' spirit, that spirit which "is, or will be (for no other is or can be), the true American one." When Thoreau went out for a walk he found that' though he turned round and round irresolute, his instinct inevitably led him to walk southwest or west. "Eastward I go only by force; but westward I go free. . . . I must walk toward Oregon' and not toward Europe' And that way the nation is moving' - - "' And Whitman saw in 'the grandeur and superb monotony" of the Western prairies the home of America's "distinctive ideas and distinctive realities."
One of the most interesting expressions of the typical popular confidence in the West appeared in an article by J. Milton Mackie called "Forty Days in a Western Hotel' which was published anonymously in Putnam's Magazine in December 1854. It pulls together so many of the threads of the vernacular tradition as we have defined it' and weaves them so skillfully into the fabric of the Western faith that it is worth quoting here at some length.
I saw in the West [Mackie wrote]' no signs of quiet enjoyment of life as it passes. . . . At present the inhabitants are hewing wood and drawing water-laying the foundations of a civilization which is yet to be, and such as has never been before. . . . Though men do not write books there, or paint pictures, there is no lack' in, our western world, of mind. The genius of this new country is necessarily mechanical' Our greatest thinkers, are not in the library, nor the capitol' but in the machine shop. . . . The youth of this country are learning the sciences, not as theories' but with reference to their applications to the arts. . . . Even literature is cultivated for its jobs; and the fine arts are followed as a trade. . . .
This is a quite different attitude from that of Thoreau, for example, to whom the West was really only another name for the wild for the forests and savage wilderness from which civilization could draw nourishment and renewed vigor. It suggests, rather, an aspect of the West which should be sharply distinguished from the frontier as it was defined so effectively by Frederick Jackson Turner. Turner's theory, first presented in 1893, dealt with the effects upon our history of the area of free land moving westward as the wilderness was settled, where savagery and civilization were continually in tension. His book, The Frontier in American History, was a tremendously fruitful one and much of the best recent historical work has owed a great deal to its insights and suggestions. But the frontier has since come to be thought of chiefly as Thoreau thought of it-as geographical wilderness; it is this conception of the West which has underlain most of the recent analyses of the significance of the frontier in our history and literature.
Mackie, a graduate of Brown, who had gone on to tutor there from 1835 to 1838, and had since traveled extensively in Europe and the West Indies as well as in the United States, sees the West in a less romantic perspective. He fasten s on the Westerner's utilitarian attitude toward the arts and sciences, his mechanical bent, and his freedom from European influence. In Boston or Charleston it was easy enough for a writer to agree with Longfellow's brother-in-law, Tom Appleton, that Europe was "the home of his protoplasm."' But beyond the centers of cultivation and good breeding-and not just on the advancing frontier either-men were to a considerable extent free from Eu- ropean precedents and forces' The man of the industrial town, the man in the machine shop, had placed himself as completely as Turner's frontiersman . Under influences destructive to many of the gains of civilization" and looked at things just as independently and with as little regard or appreciation for the best Old World experience' The new environment was the product of both frontier democracy and machine civilization, and from it inevitably emerged new attitudes toward writing' and new themes which would interweave to make a fabric whose texture would seem harsh and garish to those who were familiar with the great tradition of English literature.
Anyone who reads widely in American nineteenth-century literature must be struck with the reiteration, in a variety of terms and in many different contexts, of an attitude which was foreshadowed by William Ellery Channing in 1830. The aristocratic institutions of the Old World, Channing declared, had all tended to throw obscurity over 'what we most need to know, and that is the worth and claims of a human being." But in America, he thought, man was not hidden from us by so many disguises as in Europe, and he therefore hoped that our literature would explore and develop that consciousness of our own nature which teaches us at once self-respect and respect for others.
Channing knew well enough that his prosperous Boston contemporaries were fearful of the political power of "the labouring classes," and he also knew that their fear was justified in so far as the masses could be used as tools. He insisted nevertheless that it was the vices of the prosperous which bring about a community's downfall, and he denounced those who used the French Revolution as a horrible example of what happens when the mob has power' The saddest aspect of the age, he said in 1840, "is that which undoubtedly contributes to social order. . . . It is the selfish prudence which is never tired of the labour of accumulation, and which keeps men steady, regular, respectable drudges from morning to night."
It may well be true (as has been argued by Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.) that Charming in the long run sabotaged the liberal principles of his day by urging reform only in ways in which it could not practically be achieved' Certainly his talk about "the Elevation of the Sour' in the Lectures on the Elevation of the Labouring Portion of the Community (1840) is either complacent or naive' But he was not frightened or dismayed by the outcropping of violent revolutionary activity in Europe in the forties' and it would be unfair to assume that it was only because the ocean separated this world from the world of violence that he could hail it as "the dawning of that great principle, that the individual is not made to be the instrument of others . . . ; and that he belongs to himself and to God, and to no human superior."
It has been fashionable in recent years to emphasize the economic rather than the moral and religious elements in democratic thought' and criticism has therefore tended to ignore one of the basic motives in American life and literature. Channing's Unitarian liberalism was only one manifestation of an impulse which recurs in many different forms.' The socialist communities and religious sects of the nineteenth century frequently gave expression to related attitudes' Among the Campbellites and their followers in western Pennsylvania and Ohio, for instance, it led to a belief in democratic America as the new Jerusalem' "a new political heaven and a new political earth, where each man would interpret the Bible for himself and sectarianism would be dissolved into divine unity. One of the leading Campbellites was a man named Walter Scott, described by a fellow preacher as one of the first on this continent "who took the old field-notes of the apostles and run [sic] the original survey, beginning at Jerusalem'" Scott's most important book, The Messiahship, was published in Cincinnati in 1860, and salted down amid its arguments touching baptism, the symbolism of the scriptures, and other theological matters, there are repeated evidences of the democratic faith. "Everything in old society nearly, that is truly desirable," Scott wrote' "is royal or aristocratic; the people cannot reach it; it belongs, if it is good, to the rich; if bad' to the poor." But Luther and Washington had given us "a new religion and a new society in a new world."
Among our writers this attitude produced a widespread interest in reaching a large audience rather than a select few' On one level it prompted Catharine Maria Sedgwick's pious query, "If the poet and painter cannot bring down their arts to the level of the poor, are there none to be God's interpreters to them?" On quite a different level it led Melville, in his enthusiasm for Hawthorne's Mosses, to call upon America to recognize those of her writers "who breathe that unshackled, democratic spirit of Christianity in all things, which now takes the practical lead in this world." And in still another form--and one which reflected little enthusiasm for democracy--it found expression in Poe's defense of the short prose tale as the form which, next to lyric poetry, "should best fulfill the demands of high genius." The tale, he pointed out, permitted the writer a vast variety of modes or inflections of thought and expression in a form "more appreciable by the mass of mankind" than any other' Similarly, in a letter to Charles Anthon, written in June 1844, Poe outlined his interest in establishing a magazine of his own which would satisfy the contemporary demand for "the curt, the terse, the well-timed, the readily-diffused, in preference to the old forms of the verbose and ponderous and the inaccessible".
Forty years later elements of the same basic attitude found expression in Mark Twain's famous letter to Andrew Lang' "I have never tried in even one single instance," he wrote in 1889, "to help cultivate the cultivated classes. I was not equipped for it' either by native gifts or training' And I never had any ambition in that direction, but always hunted for bigger game-the masses." He had his fling' too, at the critics who assumed that if a book didn't meet the standards of the cultivated class it was valueless' If a critic should start a religion' he went on' it would not have any object but to convert angels, and where was the use of that? The thin top crust of humanity-the cultivated -were worth pacifying and coddling and nourishing with delicacies' to be sure, but for himself Mark Twain could see no satisfaction in feeding the overfed' He was only half in jest when he argued that "It is not that little minority who are already saved that are best worth trying to uplift' I should think, but the mighty mass of the uncultivated who are underneath". His friend, William Dean Howells, meant something very similar when be said two years later that art must make friends with need, or perish. It would be a suicidal mistake' he insisted, for art to take itself from the many and give itself to the few, for "the art which . . . disdains the office of teacher is one of the last refuges of the aristocratic spirit which is disappearing from politics and society, and is now seeking to shelter itself in aesthetics"' The same basic attitude is still current in our ov'7n time, as when Upton Sinclair, defending his novels against an academic review in the Atlantic Monthly, retorted that "somebody has to write for the masses and not just for the Harvard professors."
This concern with the ethical uses of the arts in a democratic society had' of course, received its most explicit statement in the works of Emerson and Whitman. "Art"' said Emerson' "has not yet come to its maturity if it do not put itself abreast with the most potent influences of the world, if it is not practical and moral, if it do not stand in connection with the conscience' if it do not make the poor and uncultivated feel that it addresses them with a voice of lofty cheer'" And Whitman, rebelling against everything represented by the popular conception of culture, had demanded "a programme . . . drawn out, not for a single class alone, or for the parlors or lecture-rooms, but with an eye to practical life, the West' the workingman, the facts of farms and jack-planes and engineers....I should demand of this programme or theory a scope generous enough to include the widest human area."
The aesthetic problems involved in this attitude need not be elaborated here. For the moment it is necessary only to indicate that over a period of many years concern with the availability of the arts and with the ethical and (in the non-sectarian, even anti-church sense) religious purposes of literature was shared by so many American writers. The opposite tendency also existed, to be sure. There were always people who wanted to preserve the arts inviolate from contact with the vulgar masses. (Appleton's in 1869 dismissed scornfully any and all arguments in favor of what it called "the multiplication fo poor copies of inferior pictures by means of chromolithography," just as the aesthetic snobs of our own day refuse to countenance even the best contemporary color reproduction of paintings.) There were always some who acknowledged no connection between art and use. But through all the changes in literary fashion, among the so-called romanticists equally with the realists, and in all sections of the country, American writers-with a few notable exceptions-would have agreed with the ' doctrine which Orestes Brownson had expounded in 1843: that the literature of America should breathe a free, noble, and generous spirit' give expression to the love of man as man, and impart to all who came under its influence "the needed wisdom to labor for the moral, the religious' the intellectual, and the physical well-being of all men."
As one would expect' this attitude toward the functions of the arts was reflected in the subject matter with which our writers concerned themselves' At its worst it led to the attempt to sugar-coat useful knowledge and to insinuate all sorts of dry erudition and historical lore into fictional form. It was this sort of thing which led Appleton's Journal to protest that Harriet Beecher Stowe's Oldtown Folks was a sample of what it unhappily admitted was a distinctively American kind of fiction which gave expression to the utilitarianism of the people' At its best, however, it led to a realization of the importance of everyday life, to a stalwart reckoning with the actualities of our civilization.
"Give me insight into today," Emerson had said in his Phi Beta Kappa address at Harvard in 1837," and you may have the antique and future worlds. What would we really know the meaning of? The meal in the firkin; the milk in the pan; the ballad in the street; the news of the boat; the glance of the eye; the form and gait of the body...." And ten years later, in the essay on "The Poet" he cast his belief into the form of a challenge which has become a landmark in our cultural history:
Time and nature yield us many gifts, but not yet the timely man, the new religion, the reconciler, whom all things await. . . . We have yet had no genius in America' with tyrannous eye, which knew the incomparable value of our materials, and saw in the barbarism and materialism of our times, another carnival of the same gods whose picture he so much admires in Homer; then in the Middle Age; then in Calvinism. Banks and tariffs, the newspaper and caucus, Methodism and Unitarianism' are flat and dull to dull people, but rest on the same foundations of wonder as the town of Troy and the temple of Delphi, and are as swiftly passing away' Our log-rolling, our stumps and their politics, our fisheries, our Negroes and Indians, our boats and our repudiations, the wrath of rogues and the pusillanimity of honest men, the northern trade, the southern planting, the western clearing, Oregon and Texas, are yet unsung.
It was left to Walt Whitman to take up Emerson's challenge and explore the full range of his conception of a poet' But American writers both before and after Emerson were preoccupied with the actualities of everyday life and tried, with whatever limitations of understanding, to know their meaning' Our first professional novelist, Charles Brockden Brown, announced himself as "one of those who would rather travel into the mind of a ploughman than into the interior of Africa'" Margaret Fuller, during her term as book reviewer for Horace Greeley's Tribune in the midforties, chanced on an anonymous novel called Ellen which, though coarsely written, she fastened upon as a genuine example of an increasingly common type of fiction. It was, she observed, a transcript of the "crimes, calumnies, excitements, half-blind love of right, and honest indipation7 which were characteristic of the uncultivated classes. Further, it gave a picture of the kind of life which Cooper or Miss Sedgwick "might see, as the writer did, but could hardly believe in enough to speak of it with such fidelity'" Yet even Miss Sedgwick' for all her sentimental fondness for uplift, understood something of the intrinsic dignity of the human being. In one of her contributions to the Token she stated a belief (to which many of her novels and tales bore witness) that every family, however insignificant in the stranger's eye, has a world of its own which offers a richer field for exploring the infinite story of human relations than the deeds of gods and heroes. And thirty years later, out of a very different background, we have Edward Eggleston~s declaration' in the preface to The Circuit Rider (1874)--a landmark in the realistic representation of the lawless frontier--that no man is worthy to be called a novelist "who does not endeavor with his whole soul to produce the higher form of history, by writing truly of men as they are, and dispassionately of those forms of life that come within his scope....The story of any true life is wholesome, if only the writer will tell it simply...."
Much has been made by both social and literary historians of the sentimental rot-the "pure Cinderella with a touch of Bluebeard," as Della T. Lutes defined it--which has formed such a large part of the reading matter of the American people. But this emphasis on the trashy melodramatic novels and stories which have been written and read in such numbers from the days of Charlotte Temple and Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth to the present has tended to obscure the fact that an opposite tendency has also existed, much of it outside the limits of what is commonly regarded as literature even in its broad sense.
Constance Rourke was the first to point out that the long delay in the development of the novel as a literary form in America may have resulted in part at least from the fact that its function was fulfilled by other forms of reading matter. She called attention in her essay on the Shakers to the controversial literature which sprang up between members of the communities and their critics in the "outside world." As an example she used the pamphlets written by Mary Dyer and her husband during their controversy over the children and property which he took with him when he joined the Shaker community at New Lebanon. Both husband and wife' as Miss Rourke noted, had the gift for portraying concrete instances that good novelists possess, and both frequently quoted sworn testimony of neighbors and friends who likewise had an eye for specific details and a sense of narrative pace' The Dyers and the Shakers were the center of all these events and episodes' but their story emerged against a three-dimensional background built up out of domestic habits' the rise of errant personalities, and vivid discussion of sexual relationships revealing considerable psychological insight' Indeed' Miss Rourke was quite accurate in saying that in these pamphlets the very substance of the novel was exhibited "with far more candor than in any English novel of the period or indeed of the entire nineteenth century. Only Fielding or Smollett could have matched it."
From the earliest times there have been personal narratives of life in the new country, vivid records of individual adaptations to new environments. There were the narratives of Indian captivity, of which Mrs. Mary Jemison's was perhaps the most widely read' full of high and terrible adventure and loaded with specific details about how to get along in the wilderness and about the charms and miseries of savage life. There were the minute psychological revelations of the innumerable religious autobiographies and biographies, well represented by those collected in Jonathan Edwards' Faithful Narrative of the Surprising Work of God (1737) and later in the campmeeting testimonies of the saved and damned' There were the wild and bloody narratives of border violence like Virgil Stewart's History of the Detection, Conviction, Life, and Designs of John A. Murel (1835).
At every stage in our history there have been conflicts and conquests-religious, political, and economic-out of which have come such personal narratives' set against a lively background of social struggle and development. The "anti-rent" agitation in New York in the 1840s, the abolitionist movement of the pre-Civil War years, the Mormon controversy, the populist movement, and the exploration and settlement of the West all furnished materials for pamphlets, newspaper articles' and books by the men and women who participated in them. Pat Crowe, His Story, Confession and Reformation, a paper-bound booklet published in 1906, is set against the background of popular resentment against the beef trust at the end of the century, and is typical of the best of these personal narratives' Crowe had kidnaped Eddie Cudahy, son of the Omaha packer, in 1900--the very year in which the trust succeeded in eliminating competition in buying, so as to fix prices--and he had demanded and collected twenty-five thousand dollars' ransom' The first part of the paperbound booklet contains Crowe's own direct, undramatized narrative of the affair ("I want to start right by confessing in plain English that I was guilty of the kidnapping"); a reprint of a magazine article by W. H' Hodge' claiming that the Omaha jury which acquitted Crowe didn't consider the question of guilt but only the question "Isn't it all right to rob a member of the beef trust if you can?"; and Crow6's reply, defending the verdict as "the most popular ever returned in Nebraska'" But the most interesting part of the book is the full text of the "Address to the jury" by which Crowe's attorney, Albert S' Ritchie' had swayed the jurors to acquit a guilty man' There is a dramatic immediacy about it, a sense of social forces shaping the lives of the individuals present in the courtroom at that very moment, which surpasses any scenes in the plays or novels of the period' "Much as I admire my friend, the county attorney here, who shows so much enthusiasm and warmth for Mr. Cudahy and for the State, so mingled that you cannot distinguish them . ' "' Ritchie begins, thrusting his words deep down into the popular resentment against the rising power of industrial monopoly; and as he speaks the courtroom scene comes alive, and the popular attitudes are clear. "if you will give me a million dollars"' he continued, .and make me a vice-president of the Cudahy Packing Company, I can pretty near move the social world in the City of Omaha"' It becomes plain as the drama unfolds that the jury's vote was not to acquit Crowe but to indict monopoly.
Such narratives were, however, only one of the many kinds of writing which our literary histories have neglected but which have performed the double function of satisfying the demands of the reading public and at the same time exploring the techniques for coping with new ways of life in a new environment. The almanacs which hung on a nail in almost every kitchen evolved a pattern of anecdote' comment, and humor with a distinctly native flavor. Melville had grown up on Webster's Albany Almanacs in the thirties and rediscovered them years later with relish. And Hamlin Garland was only one of thousands of Americans who in the sixties' seventies' and eighties pored over the testimonials in the almanacs distributed by the makers of Hostetter's Bitters and Allen's Cherry Pectoral, dwelling on their realistic accounts of the aches and pains of humankind and their heartening statements of cures.
Something of this same clinical interest attached to the "doctor books" and collections of recipes which were as universally owned as the Bible and far more widely read' But these books have another and greater importance to us. The most famous was probably Dr. Chase's Recipes; or, Information for Everybody, which was first published in 1863 and in the next thirteen years sold over seven hundred thousand copies. The author, A. W. Chase, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, had been in the drug and grocery business for a number of years when he decided to study medicine. Thereupon he put together a pamphlet containing recipes he had learned in his business, and for seven years traveled "between New York and Iowa" selling the pamphlets and pumping everyone he met for useful information in every practical field. The material thus collected made up the book, divided into departments for merchants and grocers' tanners and harness makers' painters' blacksmiths, gunsmiths, home bakers and cooks' and others.
Apparently the recipes gave satisfaction; the book contains innumerable testimonials from professors at the University of Michigan and other worthy citizens' But the clue to its universal popularity is contained in a review of it which appeared in the Syracuse (New York) Journal. For, as the paper said, the eight hundred recipes were "interspersed with sufficient wit and wisdom to make it interesting as a general reading book, besides the fact that it embraces only such subjects as have a practical adaptability to 'Everybody's' everyday use'" It is not an inconsiderable social phenomenon that three quarters of a million Americans of the Gilded Age paid out a dollar and a quarter for a "reading book" dealing solely with such matters of everyday usefulness as how Byron Rose' of Madison' Ohio' tanned and finished horsehides for harness leather, how elm bark made a horrendous tapeworm "come away" from the daughter of Mr. E. Fish, of Beardstown, Illinois, and how C. Keller, gunsmith, of Evansville, Indiana, browned his gun barrels.
The public welcomed any useful and informative book, and Dr. Chase had many rivals in the race to supply the demand' One of the most successful was Thomas E. Hill, of Aurora, Illinois' an industrious and enthusiastic penmanship teacher who became publisher and editor of the local newspaper, mayor of the town, and author of Hill's Manual of Social and Business Form, which went through thirty-nine editions in the ten years following its publication in 1873. Hill subtitled his book "A Guide to Correct Writing" and dedicated it to "the millions who would' and may, easily and gracefully express the right thought." It is also a bible of decorous social deportment and correct business and legal procedures, combined with a guide to the refinements of culture. But it is more than merely another of that vast number of books which appeared in England and America during the nineteenth century, designed to feed the middle-class appetite for self-improvement and self-culture' Hill devised a distinctive formula which fitted into the native American interest in specific detail. The models he offers as guides-to the mother writing to a teacher to excuse her child from school, the inventor applying for a patent, and the man who wants to mortgage the family farm-are in all cases apparently genuine letters or documents, most of them bearing the names of actual people and places' The man who wanted to write his will could model it on that of Warren P' Holden, of Bennington, Vermont' The young man on his travels could get ideas for his letter home from one written by Alfred T. Weeks' during a visit to the "old home in Cambridge, New York, to his family in the West. The boy who wanted to become an apprentice could study the agreement made between fourteen-year-old Allan Ellis, of Pittsburgh, and the blacksmith Marcus Moran. And the pioneer settler who wanted to encourage a friend in the East to emigrate could be guided by the letter Martin Fuller, of Big Stranger, Kansas, wrote to Chas. W. Canfield of Toledo, Ohio.
These letters and documents still retain something of the fascination they must have had for the men and women who dog-eared and almost wore out their copies of the Manual. The book offered, in effect, a vast panorama of the nation at work and at play, settling new country, building towns and factories, burying the dead, giving parties, courting, organizing village lyceums and "protective associations" against horse thieves, with real people -your own neighbors-as the actors. In Hill's section on "How the United States Are Governed" the operations of legislatures are illustrated by a detailed and stubbornly realistic narrative of a freshman congressman's schooling in the techniques of introducing a bill, pushing it through committee by lobbying and by deals with other congressmen, and finally bringing it to a vote. There is no more vivid and unvarnished picture of American politics in our literature than Hill's straightforward, saltily satirical account of how Representative Smith of the Tenth District of Wisconsin got a federal appropriation for a dam across a non-navigable stream on which he wanted to operate a steamship line.
One of the most significant features of such books as those by Chase and Hill is that they achieved national scope by radiating outward from a Midwestern center and localizing themselves in so many specific places, and that they comprehended such a diversity of activities and occupations in terms of concrete events in the lives of individual citizens. It was a vernacular technique to which the cultivated literary tradition made no contribution but from which-as Whitman demonstrated-it could draw vitality.
It is high time these vernacular sources were fully explored in other fields. Years before Chase and Hill, for example, and five years before Leaves of Grass itself, a frontier physician named Daniel Drake had published a book which should be recognized as a landmark in our literary history. It bore the ungainly title, A Systematic Treatise, Historical, Etiological, and Practical, on the Principal Diseases of the Interior Valley of North America, and it was first published in Cincinnati in 185o. Drake was a crusty, indefatigable doctor, born and raised in a Kentucky frontier settlement. During the academic year he quarreled with his fellow professors on the staff of the medical college he had helped to establish, and in the summers, for thirty years, pursued evidence out of which to build his theory of the relationship of disease to climate, geography, and social environment. On horseback and on foot if there were no other means of transportation he traveled more than thirty thousand miles from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, and from the Alleghenies to the Rockies, talking with every physician he met, mingling with all kinds of people, making notes on climate, soil, and wind, employing topographical engineers and draftsmen to make plans of the localities noted for specific diseases, recording the occupations, habits, racial and social backgrounds of the people, and relating all this to the incidence of yellow fever, pneumonia, intermittent fever, and other diseases.
His work is one of the monuments in the development of American medical science, but that is not what concerns us here. The point is that Drake's book played a part in the development of techniques for recording the sprawling divergences of American life in concrete, local, and factual terms.
In contrast with the tradition of actuality which was developed in these non-literary forms, there were, of course, quite different tendencies in much of the fiction and poetry which was most popular with American readers. The "Choice Selections from the Poets" which Hill included in his Manual offer a fair sample of the kind of thing his readers wanted as a relief from the frequently harsh realities of life in booming towns and cities and on lonely farms. "How dear to this heart are the scenes of my childhood" was in this sense the theme song of the century. It appeared over and over again, in Whittier's
God pity them both! and pity us all
and in Florence Percy's
Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Looking back to youth, for many Americans, meant looking eastward-either to some longer-settled region in this country, or to Europe itself. Time-past did not extend downward into a wealth of accumulated experience on the ground where you stood but stretched backward across plains and mountains and perhaps the sea. In youth, and in his buoyant moods, the American faced west. The boys Hamlin Garland grew up with during the sixties and seventies in the lumber town at the mouth of the Black River in Wisconsin and on the prairies of Iowa all talked of Colorado, never of New England, and his father's favorite song was "Freedom's Star":
Then o'er the hills in legions, boys,But to Garland's mother, as to many pioneer women, moving West meant "not so much the acquisition of a new home as the loss of all her friends and relatives." And even his father in some moods talked nostalgically of the East while refusing to revisit it-proudly saying "I never take the back trail." There were moods in every American which required him to hold onto the elastic threads connecting him with the cultivated tradition, however thin they had been stretched.
It was these moods that were exploited by the publishers who brought out editions of the English novelists and poets and to which many minor American writers gave expression. Ralph L. Rusk, in his definitive study of The Literature of the Middle Western Frontier, has pointed out that although there were few people on the frontier in the thirties who read about any subject but politics, there was nevertheless a good market in the more settled communities for the work of the English romantic sentimentalists like Felicia Hemans and Thomas Moore, and that both Scott and Byron enjoyed an unparalleled popularity. By 184.0, indeed, there were steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi which bore such names as Lady of the Lake, Marmion, Corsair, and Mazeppa--a rather touching evidence of the compelling need somehow to relate the vernacular environment to the cultivated tradition, even if only by such a superficial device as a label.
The sentimental novels which formed such a large part of nineteenth-century reading matter both in England and America offer some instructive evidence of the divergence between English and American attitudes. The most notable trend in their development during the seventy years after the founding of the federal government was the increasing tendency to make fiction out of what exists, rather, than out of things wished for and dreamed of. The stock figures of the early American novels in this class were the seduced maiden, the captivating libertine, the mercenary parents, and the reformed rake-all borrowed straight from Richardson's Pamela, Clarissa, and Sir Charles Grandison. The heroines were delicate, full of sensibility, devoted to the thankless task of refining and spiritualizing man, winning, if successful, an adoring and reclaimed husband, but ready otherwise to reclaim the sinner by an uncomplaining, lingering decline which would "teach how innocence should die." By mid-century, however, the heroines were typified by Mrs. C. L. Hentz's Rena, who was "very fond of the poetry of the kitchen, such as the beating the whites of eggs," and the novels themselves frequently revolved -like Elizabeth Wetherell's Queechy--around plain domestic duties and hard work.1
In some measure this change was the result of the conscious effort of a number of women writers "to do good," as Sarah Josepha Hale put it, "especially to and for our sex." Mrs. Hale was for forty years the editor of Godey's Lady's Book, and month after month she hammered home to her feminine readers the message which Ola E. Winslow summarized thus: "You have a mind; cultivate it. Home is woman's proper sphere; stay in it. Woman's influence is profound; exercise it." As Miss Winslow says, women like Mrs. Hale and Catharine Maria Sedgwick did what the women's rights leaders, or idealists like Emerson and Whitman couldn't possibly have done for the same audience, stripping off layer after layer of romance and moonlight from the literature of the average woman reader, and helping her to plant her feet solidly on the American earth.
But the trend toward reality in the novels, and the emergence of the heroine who had two hands and knew how to use them, probably owed even more to the tradition which was developed in the non-literary personal narratives which were referred to earlier in this chapter-to Mrs. Jemison's story, for instance, or to such narratives as that of Deborah Sampson, published in 1'797 under the title The Female Review: or, The Memoirs of an American Young Lady. Deborah had disguised herself as a man and served as a soldier in the Continental Army for more than two years, during which time, as the book assures us, "she performed the duties of every department and preserved her chastity inviolate."
What was true of the sentimental novels was also true of the sensational fiction of dark and gruesome texture which was so widely read, especially by young men. In the novels of George Lippard, for example, this sensational matter took on characteristics directly related to the kind of social drama illustrated in Pat Crowe's confessions. Lippard, who was a friend of Poe's and whose work may possibly have influenced him, wrote a number of melodramatic tales of vice in large cities and in 1850 founded a semisocialist "Brotherhood of the Union" which aimed to wipe out the sources of poverty and crime. New York: Its Upper Ten and Lower Millions (Cincinnati, 1854) is a loosely organized narrative dealing with the fulfillment of the terms of an eccentric will left by a wealthy New Yorker who committed suicide in 1823. The plot evolves through a series of episodes involving sex crimes, murders, robberies, kidnaping, and political intrigue, and the settings include brothels, slums, gambling dens, and the palaces of the rich. But through all this there is woven a thread of flamboyant yet effective preaching of Lippard's romantic socialism, with savage attacks on ministers and priests who preach a clockwork gospel "invented some years ago for the purpose of supplying the masses with something to believe and themselves with a good salary" while ignoring "the true Word . . . which enjoins the establishment of the kingdom of God, on earth, in the physical and intellectual welfare of the greatest portion of mankind."
The hero of the book (if it has a single hero) is Arthur Dermoyne, intelligent shoemaker who refuses to enter a profession because, as he says, "I cannot separate myself from that nine-tenths of the human family who seem to have been born to work and die." His dream is to lead a group of workmen out of the city shops to the West where they can build a community in which "every man will have a place to work and every one will receive the fruits of his labor," and where, without priest or monopolist or slaveholder, they can worship "that Christ who was himself a workman, even as he is now the workman's God." But the most interesting point is that when one of the other characters charges Dermoyne with having absorbed the doctrines of the French school (presumably those of Fourier, whose socialist theories were widely known in America at the time), he replies that they were the ideas of his Pennsylvania-Dutch forebears who had emigrated from Germany to William Penn's colony a hundred and fifty years before. It was an assertion of Lippard's consciousness of the native roots of his faith.
Of all the strands which are woven into the fabric of vernacular American writing, humor might seem to have least connection with the religious faith in democracy which motivated so many of our writers. Yet the two are closely related. In her book on American Humor (1931), Miss Rourke showed, for instance, how the comic spirit co-operated "to fulfill the biblical cry running through much of the revivalism of the time: `to make all things new."' Humor, especially the frontier variety, served as a,^ leveling agent, deflating lofty notions and tossing aside all alien traditions, partly out of sheer delight in destruction but also as a part of the necessary process of clearing the ground for new growth. As one of the burlesque writers of the sixties said, the thing he and his fellow humorists were doing for literature was "simplifying matters-strip- ping them of their excrescences," the very thing that American mechanics and builders were doing in machine design and house construction.
Miss Rourke has pointed out that the central figures in the humorous writing of the period of national expansion were the representatives of racial or regional elements of the new society-the Yankee, the backwoodsman, the Negro-broadly drawn types which emerged from and belonged to the mass of the people and to the insurgent and revolutionary class. They formed a "comic trio," each member of which took on coloring from the other two as the types developed, though they never blended into a single symbol. Each represented a class which had been torn from all roots in an established culture and which willingly or unwillingly had become wanderers. And as their world is created-in the monologues of Yankee Hill, the sayings of Seba Smith's Major Jack Downing, the tall tales of the Crockett almanacs, Johnson J. Hooper's "campaign biography" of Captain Simon Suggs, and the Negro minstrelsy of Jim Crow, Zip Coon, and Dan Tucker-it takes form as a richly detailed panorama of the raw realities of American life which provides a setting for repeated comic triumphs of sharp wit or outlandish rascality, frequently operating in terms of the wildest fantasy.
Much of this humorous writing had its sources in oral tales-the stories about legendary figures like Davy Crockett and Mike Fink and the tall stories which were swapped around campfires in the wilderness, in country stores and taverns, on steamboats and trains. And these tales were often grotesque and humorous handlings of the same everyday materials which we have encountered in other vernacular forms. An Englishman riding in a stagecoach between Wheeling and Zanesville in the forties, for example, listened to his fellow passengers swapping yarns which blended outrageous and exuberant fantasy with the same class of factual material which Daniel Drake was amassing for his monumental treatise. "The unhealthy condition of some of the Western rivers, the Illinois in particular, was the subject of their discourse," he recorded.
One asserted that he had known a man to be so dreadfully affected with the ague, from sleeping in the fall on its banks, that he shook . . . all the teeth out of his head. This was matched by another, who said there was a man from his State, who had gone to Illinois to settle, and the ague seized him so terribly hard that he shook off all his clothes . . . and could not keep a garment whole, for it unravelled the very web, thread by thread, till it was all destroyed.And the climax was capped by still a third who told of a friend of his who got the ague so bad that he shook his whole house down about his ears and buried himself in the ruins.
Similarly the humorous writings, like other forms of the vernacular, all have panoramic sweep. The inclusive realism of the backgrounds against which the sagas of Simon Suggs, Sut Lovingood, and the others are set is another manifestation of the same impulse to encompass and localize the diversities of the American environment which we have traced in the "doctor books" and in Hill's famous Manual. Like Dr. Drake, and Dr. Chase too, for that matter, the authors of the humorous classics of the frontier were peripatetic. A. B. Longstreet, the author of Georgia Scenes, and Johnson Hooper were both lawyers who had traveled the circuit in their regions. George W. Harris, creator of Sut Lovingood, had learned to know Tennessee as a jeweler's apprentice, river-boat captain, silversmith, postmaster, hunter, journalist, and inventor. It is no wonder that their books reveal every aspect of the life of the frontier.
Much has been made of the quality of wild exaggeration in these humorous narratives. Exaggeration has, indeed, been repeatedly specified as the significant element in all characteristically American humor. And it does form a large part of our humorous tradition. On that famous January morning when it was so all screwen cold that the very daybreak froze fast as it was trying to dawn, Davy Crockett (as the 3-854 Crockett Almanac tells us) decided something must be done or creation itself would be done for. So he took up a fresh bear and beat the animal against the ice "till the hot ile began to walk out on him at all sides."
I then took an' held him over the airth's axes [Davy recounted] an' squeezed him till I'd thawed 'em loose, poured out about a ton on't over the sun's face, give the airth's cogwheel one kick backward till I got the sun loose-whistled "Push along, keep movin'1" an' in about fifteen seconds the airth gave a grunt, an' began movin'. The sun walked up beautiful, salutin' me with sich a wind o' gratitude that it made me sneeze. I lit my pipe by the blaze o' his top-knot, shouldered my bear, an' walked home, introducin' people to the fresh daylight with a piece of sunrise in my pocket.
Something of this same quality has appeared in less genuinely poetic form in much of our oratory, and has always provided our humorists with grist. As far back as the middle of the eighteenth century Mather Byles, the grandson of old Increase Mather, had created a satirical portrait of Richard Stentor, who was "moderately speaking, Nine Foot high, and Four in Diameter," and who delivered an oration in praise of Beacon Hill, hailing it as "so pompous, magnificent, illustrious, and lofty-towering, that, as I twirle around my Arm with the artful Flourish of an Orator, I seem to feel my Knuckles rebound from the blew vault of Heaven . . . ." And the tradition of oratorical bombast was still fair game for the humorists a century and a quarter later when Orpheus C. Kerr travestied their technique in his delightfully anticlimactic: "The sun rushed up the eastern sky in a state of patriotic combustion, and as the dew fell upon the grassy hillsides, the mountains lifted their heads and were rather green." But in all the grandiose oratory which democratic politi produced, and in all the non-literary humorous writin there was an expansive gusto, an inventive and nervy ha dling of language, and a bold contempt for ordered fo which offered a healthy contrast to the sterile decorousne of most of the cultivated literature of the period. It w from such sources that Mark Twain drew, and it is to the that we can trace many of those elements in his style a manner which made him the first writer of internatio stature who is thoroughly and completely American.
These Western and frontier elements of vernacular literature were of great importance, as many of our histori and critics have realized. But they were not the sole el ments of the tradition. We should not let the brilliance Turner's theory blind us to other aspects of the emerg' cultural patterns. Yet even H. L. Meneken, whose histo cal and critical study of the American language has be one of the most stimulating achievements of recent schol ship, seems to have pursued his investigations chiefly alo the trails lighted by the Western star. It is to the influen of "the great open spaces" that he assigns the credit f the distinctive characteristics of American speech in nineteenth century. To be sure, he acknowledges that "t slums of the great Eastern cities" continued to provid what could be called frontier conditions even after th frontier had vanished at the end of the century, and ' another place he urges intensive studies of American sla and of "American trade argots" as well as further inves gation "of the novelties introduced into the language the great movement into the West." But throughout books the emphasis is placed upon the frontier as source of the American elements in our language.
And so it is, if you focus your interest on the flashi neologisms like sockdolager, hornswoggle, or absquatulate But many of the frontier words were more startling th useful, and their total contribution to the American I guage as it is now used has probably been overemphasiz At all events, when Mencken draws up a list of words illustrate the current, twentieth-century differences between American and English usage on the level of everyday speech, remarkably few of the American words appear to have had their origins on the frontier. Most of them, on the contrary, come from technological and industrial sources--as in the case of such railroad terms as caboose,freight car, and roundhouse (in English usage, brake-van, goods wagon, and running shed)--or from the world of trades and commerce, as with ashman, clapboard, and truck farmer (in England, dustman, weatherboard, and market gardener). Even a casual search through lists of American words and phrases will turn up a number which are plainly of vernacular origin in the special sense that we have applied to that term. For example: to know the ropes (from sailing ships), to pan out (from mining), single-track mind, jerk-water, and to clear the track (from railroads), claw hammer (slang for full-dress tailcoat, from carpenter's tool). It is amusing to note, furthermore, that many political terms of American origin are borrowings from technology: we speak of political organizations as machines, and politics is full of such terms as steering committee, logrolling, pump priming, to steamroller, and to engineer.
The romantic glamour of the frontier has apparently bewitched even the iconoclastic sage of Baltimore into neglecting a lead which was suggested by a British observer of our language more than a hundred years ago. For in 1837, as Mencken himself has noted, Captain Marryat remarked on the tendency in America for technical words and phrases to enter into general speech by metaphor, as an example of which he offered the transformation of "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel" into "straining at a gate and swallowing a sawmill." Elsewhere Mencken quotes a specimen of frontier brag which illustrates the same phenomenon: "I'm the ginewine article, a real double-acting engine, and I can out-run, out-jump, etc., etc." Perhaps after all Howells was right when he said that American writers would find the sources of a vital native language not only in the great open spaces but in both "the shops and fields."
Granted the purposes which were so much a part of the vernacular tradition and granted the universal appeal of its subject matter, it was inevitable that-side by side with the development of new oral and written forms for handling its materials-there would be a corresponding development of techniques for distribution of its products. The plays and variety shows in which the figures of the comic trio were developed were taken by traveling theatrical troupes into the remotest settlements. P. T. Barnum's "Grand Scientific and Musical Theater," his first traveling show, toured the Southern states in two wagons, and from the earliest days similar troupes gave performances on canalboats and flatboats, and later on the elaborate showboats which plied the Western rivers. The characteristics of oral literature, its personal and anecdotal flavor, its racy and colloquial style, were developed in the Lyceum lecture circuits established by such men as Josiah Holbrook and James Redpath and later in the Chautauqua camps and tent shows. Almost all the prominent writers of the period from 1830 to 3924 had traveled across the country at least once, lecturing at village Lyceums or at Chautauquas. Never before in history had so many authors had firsthand contact with such vast audiences in so many diverse communities.
In book publishing also there were significant developments. Both Dr. Chase and Thomas E. Hill; for example, set up their own special printing and publishing establishments to handle their books, and neither was satisfied with the conventional process of distribution through bookstores. As Chase announced in his preface, his book was sold "only by Travelling Agents, that all may have a chance to purchase; for if left at the bookstores, or by advertisement only, not one in fifty would ever see it."
Subscription publishing, as this method was called, was an important development in the latter half of the century. It is described in The Great Industries of the United States (1873) as a fairly new branch of the book business, which was becoming more popular every year because it was the best, if not the only, means of introducing books to a large circle of readers, "especially in interior towns which are remote from book-publishing and book-selling centers." Essentially it was simply an industrialized extension of the earlier system (described in 1843. by S. G. Goodrich, the bookseller and publisher) whereby peddlers-mostly from Connecticut, apparently-bought books and almanacs wholesale from some supplier like the Pearl Street Bookstore in New York, and then traveled by horse and wagon through the Southern and Western states, selling them at any house where they could find "a sucker." But in subscription publishing the traveling agents carried with them samples only, taking orders for later delivery.
That the new method was successful, and that it was admirably suited to the vernacular forms, is indicated by the fact that it was a subscription publisher who brought out all Mark Twain's early books. Not long after The Innocents Abroad was published by the American Publishing Company in Hartford, Twain wrote to its proprietor, Elisha Bliss, that everywhere he went on his lecture tours he found that an agent had been there before him and many people had read the book. "It is easy to see, when one travels around," he added, "that one must be endowed with a deal of genuine generalship in order to maneuver a publication whose line of battle stretches from end to end of a great continent, and whose foragers and skirmishers invest every hamlet and besiege every village hidden away in all the vast space between."
Important as all these factors were in the development of the vernacular, the most serviceable vehicle of all was journalism. No literary vehicle is more flexible than the newspaper, and none responds more directly to the tastes and preferences of its readers. Many of the writers who have figured in the development of a distinctively American literature--Whitman and Mark Twain among them--have at some time been newspapermen or newspaper contributors.
It is a notable fact that the essential feature of the su cess of cheap journalism in England and America, first exploited in the United States by Benjamin H. Day's New York Sun (1833) and the other penny dailies of the thirties, turned out to be human-interest stories: non-political local news about people who were-or might be-known to the reader. It was the same principle which Chase and Hill were later to rely on in their books. It was precisely what Mark Twain, out in Virginia City in the mad mining days, had in mind when he wrote to his sister in St. Louis that she would never make a good reporter because she didn't appreciate the interest that attaches to names. "An item is of no use," he told her, "unless it speaks of some person, and not then, unless that person's name is distinctly mentioned. The most interesting letter . . . is one that treats of persons . . . rather than the public events of the day." American journalism from the beginning has demonstrated that we are more interested in what local individuals do, and what they say about politics, than we are in what goes on in the rest of the world, or what really happens in politics. From Ben Franklin's Dogood Papers to Finley Dunne's Mr. Dooley and on down to Will Rogers and thence to Winchell, Pegler, and Eleanor Roosevelt, Americans have been specialists in personal journalism.
So we have come full circle and are back again to the individual human being whose worth, Charming had said, it should be the function of our literature to show. We have seen how, in a variety of subliterary ways, the vernacular tradition improvised techniques to tear away the disguises from men living under democratic institutions in a machine age. But the search for new forms and techniques was by no means confined to these subliterary areas.
Think, for a moment, of the eminent American writers of the nineteenth century and notice how many of them are difficult to classify in terms of the literary forms in which they worked. Was Melville a novelist? Certainly not in the sense that Thackeray, Flaubert, or even Tolstoy were novelists. Typee, Omoo, and Mardi are not novels by any definition, and Moby Dick itself is-in form-altogether unlike any other book ever written, a compound of tragic drama, treatise on whaling technology, allegory, philosophical speculations, adventure narrative, and seamanship manual. Were Emerson and Thoreau essayists and poets? But Emerson's essays are really oral lectures, and his stature as a writer depends fully as much on the Journals as upon the essays; it is the Journals after all which come closest to being the kind of "Montaigne's book" he wanted, "full of fun, poetry, business, divinity, philosophy, anecdote, smut." Thoreau's masterpiece, Walden, is part poetic record of a personal adventure, part a philosophy of rebellion against social conformity, and part the record of a reporter-naturalist. For years Whitman's Leaves of Grass was only reluctantly admitted to be poetry. ("Confused, inarticulate, and surging in a mad kind of rhythm which sounds as if hexameters were trying to bubble through sewage," Professor Barrett Wendell of Harvard's English department called it in his Literary History of America in 1900.) The author of Huckleberry Finn, Life on the Mississippi, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, and Roughing It is hard to label in terms of the forms he worked in. Even Hawthorne and Poe, who on first thought are easily classified as writers of fiction, were the creators of a new form: the modern short story.
The influence of vernacular elements is notable in the work of all these writers. Charles Olson called attention to the fact that the whaling ship, which Melville wrote about in Moby Dick, was one of the most highly developed industrial machines of its time, and it is significant that it was in writing this book that Melville for the first and only time succeeded in fusing the techniques of reporting and of allegory, which, as Professor Matthiessen has said, were his two contrasting methods of dealing with material.
The vernacular elements in Emerson's writing are no less important for being less obvious. Constance Rourke was the first to call attention to the relationship between his lectures and the oral and communal dialogues of the humorists, the lyrical strain which had sounded in the midst of Jack Downing's Yankee lingo, "the air of wonder, the rhapsodic speech" of Western tall talk. But the relationship had been sensed in Emerson's own time. Two newspaper accounts of his lectures were included, side by side with samples of Down East and frontier humor, in Yankee Smith's American Broad Grins, one of innumerable such collections brought out in the fifties and sixties. One of the accounts, in spite of its self-consciously arty journalism, moves very close to the rhapsodic boasting of the frontier demigods, in its picture of the gentle Yankee speaker as "a spiritual shuttle, vibrating between the unheard of and the unutterable."
Like a child he shakes his rattle over the edge of chaos, and swings on the gates of the past, and sits like a nightingale in a golden ring, suspended by a silver cord from a nail driven into the zenith.
One is reminded of Lowell's less ebullient description of Emerson's lectures as "a chaos full of shooting stars, a jumble of creative forces."
Emerson learned his techniques the hard way, in small towns and villages all over the land where he gave Lyceum lectures. In spite of his shy and withdrawn nature and his predilection for contemplation rather than action he never lost his conviction that his audience must include the great mass of people who "understand what's what as well as the little mass." He had scathing contempt for the "pert gentlemen" who assumed that the whole object was "to manage `the great mass' and they, forsooth, are behind the curtain with the Deity and mean to help manage."
Emerson's lectures-like the published essays which were based upon them-were loosely organized as compared with the formal prose of a contemporary like Lowell. But they had a vitality and flexibility which his oral medium required. His friend Carlyle objected that his paragraphs were square bags of duck shot rather than beaten ingots, and he himself seems to have felt occasionally that his essays should have had more continuity. But fundamentally Emerson cared little for the purely literary values. He put his writing to different tests, measuring it against values inherent in the vernacular environment.
Out in Beloit, Wisconsin, for instance, on a January day in 1856 when the temperature was down somewhere between twenty and thirty degrees below zero, he made this entry in his journal:
This climate and people are a new test for the wares of a man of letters. All his thin, watery matter freezes; 'tis only the smallest portion of alcohol that remains good. At the lyceum, the stout Illinoian, after a short trial, walks out of the hall. The Committee tell you that the people want a hearty laugh . . . . Well, I think with Governor Reynolds, the people are always right (in a sense), and that the man of letters is to say, These are the new conditions to which I must conform. The architect who is asked to build a house to go upon the sea, must not build a Parthenon, or a square house, but a ship. And Shakespeare, or Franklin, or Aesop, coming to Illinois, would say, I must give my wisdom a comic form, instead of tragics or elegiacs, and well I know to do it, and he is no master who cannot vary his forms, and carry his own end triumphantly through the most difficult.That is a typically Emersonian passage not only in the freshness of its imagery but also in its modesty and honesty. The Illinoian walked out on him, and the Hinoian was the very man he was after. The Illinoian wanted a laugh. Very well, then, that was a fact which genius should accept and turn to its own account.
To be sure, Emerson was never able to give comic form to his own genius-as Mark Twain was later to do in the same vernacular medium of the platform lecture. But, as he said of the sailor preacher, Father Taylor, he did succeed in making abstractions "accessible and effectual" to hearers who were not much given to reading philosophical essays, and in the process of doing so he created a personal idiom more instant and supple than any in our literature before him. What matter if he could not meet the cultivated tradition's standard of polished and finished prose? "Only that good profits which we can taste with all doors open, and which serves all men."
Whitman, too, drew on vernacular oral techniques in evolving a form suited to his purposes. Faced with the vast panorama of American life, the poet, he insisted, must abandon conventional poetic form and rhyme and seek a more flexible, more eligible medium of expression, "enlarging, adapting itself to comprehend the size of the whole people." The form of expression which had most powerfully moved him and which contributed most to his own style was the "passionate unstudied oratory" of men like the Quaker preacher Elias Hicks, to whom he had listened as a boy on Long Island, and Emerson's friend Father Taylor. Dilating confidently in the oratorical rhythms of a language which, as Emerson described it, was compounded from the Bhagvat-Geeta and the New York Herald, Whitman sometimes lapsed into such unconscious burlesque as the exclamatory line from "Night on the Prairie":
How plenteous! how spiritual! how resumé!
But at its rare best the instrument he had created was the most flexible and powerful medium yet created for expressing the American scene. Even in the much-deprecated "catalogue passages" there are such visually and emotionally concise, reportorial lines as these from Section 15 of "Song of Myself":
The extent of the influence of vernacular forces on the major writers of nineteenth-century America is only briefly suggested by the instances given here. Nothing has been said of the journalistic origins of the short story form which Hawthorne and Poe created; nor have we attempted to explore such obvious areas as the influence upon Whitman and Mark Twain of their years as newspaper editors. But enough has been said, perhaps, to indicate that a considerable part of the characteristically American quality in the work of our major writers stems from the influence of the vernacular tradition. Wherever we look in the writing of the nineteenth century we are likely to encounter one or more of the vernacular characteristics of utilitarian ethics, concern with the value of the individual, and the panoramic effort to comprehend a diversity of people and places in specific local and factual terms; and we are sure to find these characteristics developed in writing aimed at wide audiences-in personal narratives (from outright autobiographies like Franklin's to books like Melville's Typee and Redburn and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn and Life on the Mississippi), in books of information, in humorous writing, and in journalism.
Now let us see how some of these same vernacular qualities have manifested themselves in American painting, where the medium of expression is less subject to utilitarian demands than the written word.
1 For a fascinating survey of these books see the volume by Herbert R. Brown cited in the bibliography. Return