The Mind of the Middle East

The literature of the Middle East during the years of the romantic revolution, unlike contemporary letters north and south, revealed no coalescing unity of spirit and purpose; it was rather the casual and somewhat fortuitous expression of two cities, both of which were divided by language and custom into fairly equal groups, and neither of which had developed a homogeneous native culture. There were no intellectual hinterlands to Philadelphia and New York, as there were to Boston and Charleston and Richmond; no common ideals spread over broad areas, no dominant schools of thought, no branching roots by which a common literature might be nourished. In consequence it may, perhaps, be reckoned a misuse of terms to speak of the mind of the Middle East, as one may speak of the mind of New England or of the Old Dominion, where in spite of pronounced variations of individual temperament a common culture had set its mark on the literature. There were few common ties and few intellectual sympathies to bind together the men of letters of New York or Philadelphia. Certainly Irving and Paulding and Cooper and Melville and Whitman reveal none of that strong community of taste and purpose that marks the Concord group, or the Boston-Cambridge group, or even the Charleston group. They expressed no common culture, they had been disciplined in no common faith, and they were held together by no common economic or political or intellectual interests; as a result their writing is a frank expression of individual temperament and taste, unfettered by schools, drawing its nourishment from no common soil. They stand on their own feet, and to understand them requires no critical examination of a complex cultural background. And yet this very diversity may prove to be symptomatic of the hurrying changes that the rise of the middle class was bringing to America to the city perhaps even more dramatically than to the country. The confusions and diversity of thought that mark the literature of Philadelphia and New York may, perhaps, most adequately suggest the mercurial temper of the revolutionary transition from the eighteenth century to the nineteenth, of which the romantic spirit was the natural expression.